When I was a little girl I never wanted to go to heaven. My logic was that because hell was hot, then heaven must be cold and being a Southern girl, I hated cold weather. Hell was never really used as a threat in my home, I just knew and heard that you have to be good so that you don’t end up there. I remember thinking that because Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins that it made no sense to me why there would ever be a hell?
My mother always told me to be a good person and more than any other religious teachings she taught me that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I still find supreme truth in that statement and with very few addendum see how it governs much of my interaction with others. In my home I do not ever remember a cross, a painting, or anything remotely religious besides a Bible that my mother later gave to me; she had been given it when my Grandfather passed away and it is enclosed in a wooden case. It was the only book (besides Eat Pray Love–more about that later) that I brought with me when I moved to San Diego. I do remember praying when I was little, right before bed. A practice I still continue, only I tend to talk to God more often than once a day, it is most commonly an all day conversation interrupted by brief periods of personal interactions.
When I was in high school I used to go to church with my friend KSO and her family, it was a Baptist church which I’d always heard was lively and dramatic (my family was mostly Methodist and my immediate family was Catholic). I enjoyed it and always enjoyed the music that was played. One particular sunday the sermon was from the book of Matthew, now one of my favorite books, and the scripture of focus was the story of Peter walking to Jesus:
New International Version (NIV)
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
That day after hearing the Pastors words about faith, not doubting, and keeping our eyes fixed on God even despite storms I decided to go up during alter call and get what the Baptist call “saved”. Only, it didn’t make any sense to me because it was to my understanding that Jesus died for us and on the day of his resurrection we were saved. Why did I need to be saved again? I believe in that day, the day that I felt so very connected to holy teachings I began to feel very skeptical of holy institutions and practices. There was too many unknowns and too many people saying too many different things. To me, God was not subject to interpretation, God just was. Period.
As my mother began to be involved with RCIA (Rites of Christian Initiation) classes, the dialogue surrounding religion became present in my home. I remember hearing in church that homosexuality was sinful, and I knew that even premarital sex was sinful to the Catholics. I wondered how my mother could reconcile these things as she was always accepting and nonjudgmental of LGBT in general, and I was a child born as the result of premarital sex. What I always got from her was that God does not create mistakes, and that the love God has for us is perfect even despite our sins; and those sins would always be forgiven if we were repentant. That being said, she also asserted, “But who decides what is sinful?” I think even my mother took it all with a grain of salt.
As I feel my current spiritual beliefs are dangerously close to mysticism, I think that perhaps the lack of religious structure in my home allowed for my free reign of spiritual exploration. I wondered what my mother would think when I told her about the energy I felt. When I explained it to her, her reaction was far more understanding than I anticipated. When I share with her my thoughts about internal divinity and the tao beliefs that our way serves the greater way and that the universe is self-sufficient, she does not scoff, she engages the conversation. I think perhaps that is why I asked her to complete this assignment with me. Absolutely to learn about her, but also for me to share with her more clearly my beliefs.
The first time that I felt someone else must share my perspective on God was in reading Eat Pray Love. By that time I had already had my accident, but I still did not really think much of anyone else who must feel the way I felt about the world and the higher power governing it. My best friend had read it and raved about it and I knew there was a movie being made about it so I wanted to read it before the movie was released. It took me weeks to read it, and even in the middle of reading it I stopped and started over again. To date I have read the book four times and each time I pick it up, I seem to be right on a section that speaks directly to my life. It was Liz Gilbert, and Shirley McClaine, and Oprah, and Wayne Dyer, and Eckert Tolle who opened my thinking and exponentially multiplied the possibilities for spiritual growth.
Even though I ready Eckert’s The Power of Now long before Eat Pray Love it felt too far away from me. It felt too big and in counseling it would be likened to diagnosing the client on the first day, you have to meet people where they are. I wasn’t ready for those ideas quite yet. However, after the voyage to Italy, India, and Indonesia with Liz I felt completely cracked open and ready to absorb more. After Eat Pray Love I went back to my notes from Eckert and they made sense. I looked back on my post about The Tao of Pooh and they made sense. It was like the whole world just fell into place.
When the old man asked me in person what I really wanted, I found other, truer words [than help with boy trouble]. ”I want to have a lasting experience of God,” I told him. ”Sometimes I feel like I understand the divinity of this world, but then I lose it because I get distracted by my petty desires and fears. I want to be with God all the time. But I don’t want to be a monk, or totally give up worldly pleasures. I guess what I want to learn is how to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God.” Ketut said he could answer my question with a picture. He showed me a sketch he’d drawn once during meditation. It was an androgynous human figure, standing up, hands clasped in prayer. But this figure had four legs and no head. Where the head should have been, there was only a wild foliage of ferns and flowers. Then there was a small smiling face drawn over the heart. “To find the balance you want,” Ketut spoke through his translator, “this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it’s like you have four legs, instead of two. That way you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way, you will know God.”
And it made so.much.sense. I want to feel God’s presence at all times without being disengaged from the world I live in, how do I maintain that balance of spiritual and physical presence? The thing that comes to mind was a run I went on one night last summer:
Over the course of my lifetime I have had many conversations with God. I have never, until last night, had a conversation with the God that dwells within me. Let me first say that I was very hesitant on writing this post. I have not told anyone about it until now and I’m sure for most people it may be a bit on the edge of outlandish…but really I’m unconcerned. This blog is written for me. And so…
I was on tumblr and I saw a picture of this tattoo, ‘let your fears go’ and I wondered to myself what it was I feared. I’d told myself after spending virtually all day on the couch watching Friday Night Lights that I would go running at 8pm. I closed my computer and headed downstairs to the gym. Before I opened the door I heard the sound of the treadmill going, someone was in there. I retreated. Then, I asked myself again…here’s the convo:
Inner Me: what are you afraid of?
Me: I don’t want anyone to see me.
**Thunder claps, bells and whistles go off inside my head**
Inner Me: Why don’t you want anyone to see you?
Me: I don’t know…
Inner Me: Don’t stop moving until you know.
So then I started running. From my apartment running towards main campus you gotta go uphill. There’s no way around it, and its steep and its unyielding. My legs were aching and my breath was short when I asked again:
Inner Me: What are you afraid of?
Me: Being Seen! I said that.
Inner Me: Why don’t you want to be seen?
Me: I don’t know!!
Inner Me: Don’t you dare stop. Keep going until you know.
Up the hill, past the basketball pavilion, around the bend to the main entrance, up the hill past the student life pavilion, past the university center I can see the Immaculata. She softly demands:
Inner Me: What are you afraid of?
Me: Being seen…I didn’t know it. I don’t know why. Maybe that’s why I’m running. Because I hate–
Inner Me: No. Because you love.
Me: Because I love me then (unconvinced). I deserve better I guess.
Inner Me: Why do you deserve better?
Me: (annoyed) I don’t fail! I never fail. I’ve never failed at anything except getting this weight off. I didn’t fail at calculus. I didn’t fail at biology. I didn’t fail at graduating or friendships or anything. I DON’T FAIL but I’m failing at this. I always do.
Inner Me: Why didn’t you fail at calculus?
Me: I got a tutor.
Inner Me: Why didn’t you fail at biology?
Me: I stayed after…got help from the teacher. Okay I’ve asked for help. I get it, but I’ve asked for help with this too. I’ve asked people what worked for them, how they did it. I have tried but nothing ever sticks…it always falls apart.
Inner Me: Haven’t you lost 60 lbs?
Inner Me: How did you do it?
Me: I starting eating differently.
Inner Me: Who helped you?
Me: Um…I don’t know. No one I guess.
Inner Me: no one told you to eat less junk? More vegetables? More water? Less fast food? No one.
Me: No one. I just knew it had to change.
Inner Me: Why do you deserve better?
Inner Me: *waits*
Me: I am a divine being. And I’m divinely made.
Inner Me: Go on…
Me: This body isn’t mine…its like a shell or a storm cellar. I’ve retreated here because…because I don’t want to be seen.
Inner Me: Rest.
By this time I’d made it clear across campus. When I got home later I mapped it out and its about 1.3 miles. I got there in just over 20 minutes. It felt like moments. I sat on the balcony and looked out into the ocean. It was dark, but I could see the city and Sea World all lit up. I put my legs up on the railing, and I closed my eyes and prayed. Meditated really…and when I felt the time was right, I got up to head home. I walked with a clear mind until I got back to another hill.
Inner Me: Why don’t you want to be seen?
Me: I don’t know…I think maybe I let it take the pressure off of me; my body.
Inner Me: Explain.
Me: Well, like I don’t have to worry about attention or anything if I am not eye-catching. There’s a lot I’m supposed to do. A lot I’m sure to accomplish, maybe people won’t expect it out of me if they can’t really see me.
Inner Me: because then?
Me: Because then if I fail, they would have expected it.
Inner Me: Will you fail though?
Me: No. I never fail.
No one does. We get exactly what we want. I said I wanted to get healthy, lose weight, get in shape…but more than that I’ve been wanting to stay hidden. So I was failing on one level, but on the deepest level I was getting exactly what I wanted. Now, I want something different. I deserve something different. As I moved I kept repeating to myself “I am a divine being. I am divinely made.” I asked for breath and the wind blew. I asked for strength and I felt the ground bend to my will. I got a cramp at one point and I slowed, Inner me said “Acknowledge it. It hurts. Keep going.” So I did. This voice…it is my voice but it is soft and stern. There is no arguing with it. My voice is much more fickle and unsure. Inner me is always certain and direct.
When I got home my entire body was vibrating. I was a sweaty mess and collapsed on the sofa noticing how I could see the vibrations moving through me. I told myself Thank You.
Me: Did I just become a runner?
Inner Me. You just became yourself.
Me: Even better.
Inner Me: Infinitely better.
The conversation was so perfectly clear and so very poignant that in my account of spiritual moments in my life it is definitely a turning point. It is the point when the dialogue between my inner self and my ego self became strong, it was then when all the things I knew must have been true became absolutely true for me. It was when meditation and church and all those things that are concentrated spiritual energy became part of my every day experiences, at least in a way that I could recognize and grasp. It was literally when I became my Self.