I had a very intense, in-depth conversation with a friend about spirituality last night. If I tried to map the course of this conversation, it would start in New Jersey and wind up somewhere in the handle of the Little Dipper. But it really got me thinking about something I think I've struggled with for most of my adult life: my own spirituality.
I remember my mother telling me once that faith and spirituality become important when you get older, and you begin to exercise or explore it more as you age. I tend to think that has something to do with dealing with our own mortality, but in my own case, I was made more fully aware of my own mortality far earlier than I believe is typical.
The passing of my older brother in 2009 is completely intertwined with my spiritual struggle, uncertainty, and question. Not in the sense of "Why did 'God' (whatever He/She/It may be) allow this to happen?" but more along the lines of what to do with this experience. What does it really mean in the grand scale of things? My aunt also told me that we're to learn a lesson from his passing, that it was meant to teach each of us something. For a long time, I struggled with the various explanations of my lesson. The most immediate and obvious was not taking life for granted, living it to the fullest, doing what makes you happy, etc. But I knew it extended far beyond those base ideas.
Shortly after his death, I felt the need to seek out spiritual guidance, and I thought that the priest at the church where I was baptized and then eventually married was a nice man. I knew at the very least, he would listen, but immediately I was concerned about the guilt of not having set foot in his church since the day I got married nearly a year prior. The Christian Guilt was heavy, but something beyond even that stopped me. It isn't a belief system I subscribe to. I've always struggled with a lot of Christianity's concepts beyond the basic tenets of being a good person, living a good life, do unto others, and so on. Those are wonderful moral guidelines, but at the end of the day, they really aren't enough. I never went to talk to the priest.
Thanks to my job as a book editor, I've had the fortune of reading a lot of New Age books, Pagan and Wicca titles, and I find those paths interesting. I always said that if I was going to be spiritual, I could see myself adhering to that line of thinking. But I never pursued it. Again, perhaps I was younger and not really in need of fulfilling that part of my life, but it would peek out at me now and then, especially when I'd read a book about it. I started to look into self-education, but there are literally tens of thousands of books out there, everyone suggests something different to begin with... it would be like reading the Bible cover to cover and then going out and trying to read all of the books connected to it in any way, shape or form. Just too much to handle. And for whatever reason, I don't think I was ready to really commit myself to that level of learning. There is a lot of study involved with Paganism, as there is with any religion.
It's been on my mind very heavily over the past several weeks, almost an urgency that I have to choose SOMETHING. Last night's conversation made me take a very focused approach to the need I am trying to fulfill. We started talking about the things that make us feel particularly spiritual or connected to something bigger, and it led me to the conclusion that we all instinctively know what awakens that part of us, but perhaps it's a feeling we largely ignore because we've been indoctrinated into whatever system our families are a part of, or that our culture dictates. We instinctively know what is pleasing to us when we eat, or we get a certain feeling when we see a particular person. That's a basic response that we immediately recognize and pay attention to. So, why can't spirituality follow the same path? If I know that when I am on the beach and I experience the ocean and think about the sheer power behind it, as it is governed by the moon, and that gives me that sense of being plugged into the universe, then there is a path that celebrates that feeling. If "blind faith" doesn't work for me, but I need to think about things beyond myself, higher consciousness, how it works, science in conjunction with powers beyond our understanding, then there are places for me to nourish those ideas, explore them and my own mind, and thereby expand my sense of spirituality.
Concepts within nature-based spirituality, transcendentalism, existentialism, Hinduism, and various other mystical systems have always held a fascination for me. But it is beyond interest: It tickles nerves in me, something that I can only reconcile as a total understanding or awakening, even if it is on one point, or only on a base level. Blind faith has never been comfortable for me, and these areas allow for exploration of the self, ideas, the body, our psyche. There is no "box" to think outside of. The entire universe is the "box." And that swirling vortex of questions that evolves from these lines of thought gives me what I can only assume is that feeling of peace or completeness that some derive from prayer in a church or a temple.
This image is a design from Alex Grey (www.alexgrey.com), an artist/philosopher/spiritualist who is absolutely brilliant and has merged psychology, science, existentialism, mystical practice into this complex system of ideas that absolutely blows and bends my mind. This image represents "the foundation of our being, prior to physical reality as emptiness and awareness" (Grey). THIS is what I believe my spirituality is likely made of, at least in part. But the next step is being brave enough to wander out into that universe and see what is waiting for me. There is no "church", no "Bible", no "mass" to guide me. There are many. And it seems that my time to embrace this, to embark on this very new and uncertain path has come. Though a year and a half later, I have a deeper and renewed sense of peace over the loss our family has suffered. My lesson has become clear.