"How do I know you will be here when I get back?" she asked.
"Where would I go?"
"You could just leave or wander off, and then I’ll be stuck here for the rest of my life."
"If you like, you can take my car keys with you."
"No, I trust you."
"Are you sure?"
"No, but I’ll trust you… this time."
The spiritually dormant, those who have not awoken their spiritual essence, often cite their requirement for proof of the existence of anything. You are born, you carve out an existence for yourself, you die and that is it. Aside from usually either being belligerent, angry or depressed, the spiritually dormant often have other issues. Their perception of things becomes singular and encompasses their view of all things in the collective reality, not just their own personal reality. While everyone is right, those who believe in a singular view of human existence find themselves too often in the wrong. Their righteousness, like that of the spiritually righteous, which allows only their interpretation, does not allow for everyone to be right. Wood is wood. Your birth is just the result of a biological dance between bodily fluids. When you die, you rot in a box and the show is over.
As a recovering atheist and a former card carrying rationalist, it took me a while to realize that the “freethinkers” I was associated with were as dogmatic as the fundamentalist religious types they railed against. This usually led to pointless catfights between two groups of people who were equally unyielding and balanced in their intense need to tell everyone else they were wrong about life, the universe and pretty much everything.
If someone drives you to an appointment and waits in the car for you, how do you know they won’t leave you stranded there? Some might say this is a reason why you need to have your own car and a back-up plan, but often we have a level of trust with a person that gives us reason to believe that they will wait, or at least return in time to pick us up. That trust is based in faith. It is faith in this person that allows us to relax, make our appointment and not spend it worrying about whether or not that person is still going to be there when you are done. There is no reason, no proof, that the person will wait. Trust, faith and perhaps past history are all we have to go on, and yet more often than not we don’t even worry about it or consider the possibility that they will abandon us.
Spirituality is something that is experienced on a personal level. Often we become lost in the quagmire of ideas, philosophies and belief systems that dance around us. Either we have to accept the whole pie these people are selling or we’re not one of them. If you want to belong to a group with a system of beliefs they have all accepted as truth and be counted as one of the faithful, you may have to sacrifice your own beliefs to embrace theirs. Religion isn’t exactly a salad bar, but it is pretty close, unless you want to wear a pin on your lapel that identifies you as “one of them.” What you believe is who you are and any sacrifice of that is spiritual wanderlust. New ideas, new teachings and new beliefs may enter your consciousness, and your spirituality and belief system may evolve and change, but if you cash out yourself to accept someone else’s pre-formatted religion, you’ve lost your own path in order to follow theirs. Followers are often misled, like sheep into a pack of wolves, so with that you must take your chances.
To me, there is still nothing quite as absurd as someone presenting you with a stack of materials to read and saying, "This is what you must accept and believe in to be one of us." When they cap that off with some statement about their belief system being the "one true faith," the best thing to do is run away. Such a person will never accept you for what you are. They will only accept you as a sheep following the parameters of their system. They might treat you to some tasty potluck suppers, or they might feed you to the wolves. It all depends on how much of a foundation they are building on.
Faith is more than just an established system of beliefs that one embraces in order to belong to a flock. A personal spiritual journey brings you into closer contact with the deeper meanings of faith. You can sit in a congregation of two hundred people, all accepting the statements of a leader as a joyous message within the shared faith, but it isn’t hard to believe something and accept it when everyone else around you is shouting “hallelujah” in unison. A true spiritual leader looks to those who do not blindly follow the codes or even his or her own words. A true spiritual leader welcomes questions, challenges and alternative opinions. Real faith is gritty, hard and often painful. It requires you to accept things that you cannot immediately verify as factual or real, and once that proof comes, if it does, then you are no longer working with faith. You are working with established proof. Once you finish your appointment and find your friend still outside waiting, faith ends and the drive home begins.
In many ways, the depth of your spiritual experience can be defined by the amount of faith you are willing to have in yourself and in others. I struggle with faith within my own belief system and I struggle with it frequently. Within that struggle comes the message, “Doubt is what keeps you from becoming blinded. Were it not for doubt you would be easily led astray by those who would take advantage of your blind faith.” Doubt is as important as faith itself, as they do seek to find balance, and in doing so they help you find your own balance. No one can exist if they require absolute proof of all things before they accept them, even those who claim to. It is a recipe for madness and so is the pancake batter produced from blind faith.
So, how does one find balance in their life, come to terms with their personal belief system and orient themselves in such a way that they can function successfully within a collective reality? The first step is to have a good time. Enjoy your life and do the things you enjoy and want to do without disturbing the right of everyone around you to do the same. Laugh at yourself, because if you can’t laugh at yourself you have no business laughing at everyone else. You’re just as much of a nutcase as everyone else, even if you haven’t realized it yet. So am I. Get over yourself.
Once you are willing to accept the first step, you can move on to the second step, which is to believe in yourself. This is impossible until you have learned to laugh at yourself and accept that you are no better than anyone else. If you haven’t completed step one, you are just going to end up dancing with your ego and becoming a self-obsessed prick. No one needs another one of those around, especially one who might be armed. To believe in yourself is to accept yourself, as you are, a person with both strengths and weaknesses. If we didn’t have both, the human experience would be pretty pointless. A perfect person has no business being here. We need to give and to allow others to give to us. If we don’t need anything, and if we don’t need to grow and to learn, then we will never inspire real love or find any common ground with anyone. If you are indeed perfect, you need to go kill yourself now, because you’re on the wrong bus.
If the primary purpose of life is “Give everything you can to everyone you know,” then the central principle of our existence here is to learn and to teach. To help and to guide as well as allowing others to help and guide us, that is the way of this journey, and the only way to sidestep stagnation and a meaningless existence. To believe only in established “truths” and accepted elements leads to stagnation and soul death, because a soul must mutate, evolve and grow or it dies, folding in on itself. If we do not allow ourselves to learn, and to learn through teaching others what we know and understand, then nothing ever changes and existence truly becomes as pointless as a meager stumble from cradle to pine box.
Some elements that are a known truth to one individual may require faith in others to be accepted. As an example, I have no way to prove that the details of my suicide and death are true. Because I was alone and insured no one would find out what happened until I was dead, no one was aware of what I was doing. Because I hid the elements of my death for months afterwards, there is no proof that I ingested what I did in order to kill myself, and that doesn’t even get into any form of acceptance of the details of my death experience. Only by having faith in the honesty of an individual can one accept or believe such things, and considering that doctors, nurses and poison control centers say there is absolutely no way a human being could survive what I did, the faith in my honesty requires another leap.
Faith in what one person tells you about events or tangible things is easier than having faith in something that no one can claim to have absolute certainty about. I have absolutely certainty about the events that occurred during my suicide, but I cannot have absolute certainty over the things I experienced after death. These things can be explained as some combination of dreams and my brain misfiring in some way to create the illusion that the dreams were real. I’ve been through it before with some of the most boring people I’ve ever talked to. While I took their ideas and their interpretations into account and never valued my own beliefs over theirs, I walked on those who told me simply, “You are wrong.” It violates the second principle. Everyone is right.
Faith in its most pure form calls for belief in things that cannot be proven or truly verified. There is not one person who can offer tangible evidence or even the experience of tangible evidence. There are plenty of people who would label me as insane because I “speak” to an angel, and I can often be counted as one of them. The fire of doubt burns with just as much passion as the cool, clear waters of my faith sparkle. You can challenge faith, you can demand the elements of your faith show themselves, but faith isn’t about parlor tricks.
A good friend once told me something about prayer that I continue to remember. "You can’t pray for personal gain, you can only pray for the vision and ability to meet your challenges. You can’t pray for magical changes in the way your life is, you can only pray for the strength to rise above it. The most powerful prayer is the one that asks for nothing. If you don’t have enough faith to pray for nothing, then I suppose praying for the ability to meet your challenges is not too bad."
Love is not balanced by hate. Love is balanced by selfishness. Faith is not balanced by proof. Faith is balanced by doubt. If you can prove something, it no longer requires faith, and if you need proof for faith then you fail to understand its purpose and its power. Requiring proof for faith is as absurd as requiring something in return for your love. If you are looking for either, then you cannot understand faith or love, and you certainly can’t understand yourself. Once you understand both faith and love you become capable of the greatest power humans possess, forgiveness. Without forgiveness there are only swords, scars and ruins.
Rise above the zealots by seeking to understand the nature of your own personal faith and what it means to give without anticipation of return on investment. Faith is about believing in yourself and the nature of what you believe to the point where it doesn’t matter what other people believe because they are just as valid as you are. You don’t need to rally others to your “cause” if you have enough faith not to require their support for your beliefs. A thousand people can sit in a chorus, singing “hallelujah” to the heavens, but how many of them have real faith and how many are just sheep marching to the slaughter? There are indeed some, but on a whole, how many churches and other supposed halls of faith allow for the introduction of outside ideas and challenges of their own? Trends show a change in this approach in many religions, but my experience is that the truly faithful have no issue with challenges and outside ideas. The faithless crusaders who attack, vilify, and mock outsiders shout the loudest because the faithless want to be heard. The faithful are secure in what they believe and no challenge and no alternative idea is perceived as a threat.
I left the church of my youth for these reasons. Others in my age group mocked my questions, challenges and ideas and their parents and elder siblings often supported their derision. I continued to speak, at length, with the youth minister of the church and a small group of people who were secure and strong in their faith. They listened, we talked and communicated, and remain friends to this day. The faithless mob rallied behind the banner they called "Christianity" and drove my mother out of the church some years later because she divorced my father. The faithful came and helped her cope, not only with the circumstances of the divorce, but with the angry words and humiliation of the faithless "Christian flock."
Faith is personal, not a gang mentality. Faith is strength. There is strength in giving. There is strength in love. There is strength in acceptance and understanding, no matter how out of synch someone is with you. There is no strength in attacking or identifying your adversaries and putting a bulls-eye on their forehead. Anyone who needs to punch someone in the face to make a point cannot understand. Those who attack others are the weakest people on the planet. Believe as you will and give others the same right and you will find something elusive has entered your heart. Peace.
What really is so funny about peace, love and understanding?