Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Nebulous Spirituality

“Kind prince, many people are pleased and satisfied with the various limited religious doctrines existing in the world today. They all hope to live in the kingdom of Heaven someday and sit sublimely at the side of their personal deity, but by entertaining such hopes and beliefs they only foster concepts of self and others, longevity and brevity, life and death, and so on without end. With such conceptual entanglements they cannot even listen to the truth, much less study, practice and embrace it or explain it to others. In this case, how can they ever uplift themselves to the subtle, central realm to be with the Universal One of One Universal Life?” –Hua Hu Ching, as taught by Lao Tzu, translation and elucidation by Hua Ching Ni.

I follow a spiritual path. Some people call it a spiritual journey. Either way, there is an implication of motion. I am not standing still. I am traveling. On my journey I meet other travelers. We exchange experiences and impressions. We encourage one another in our growth. We may walk together for brief intervals, but mostly we travel alone.

Just as in a literal journey, some of us carry heavy baggage. Others pack light. Sometimes we pack our suitcase with souvenirs, only to arrive home with some of them broken. Our heaviest bags are usually the preconceived ideas and judgments we carry with us. As I progress, I am dropping a lot of this excess poundage.

When I started down this road, my heaviest bag was Christianity. For most of my life, I had considered myself a Christian. I needed to adhere to a defined belief system. As I grow, I no longer need a clearly defined structure for my beliefs. In fact, my spirituality could be called nebulous.

The word nebulous can take on a negative connotation, as in “unclear” or “weak.” Nebulous means cloud-like; misty; hazy; lacking a definite form. I think the formless is beautiful. I like to go that formless part of my mind where new ideas emerge. I love the romantic image of mist covering the mountains. A crystal clear sky is not always the most beautiful. Mist and clouds reflect and refract light creating beautiful sunsets.

I need to let go of the concepts and doctrines of Christianity. I cannot claim to know what will happen after my death. I know nothing about an afterlife. I do not know where mind or consciousness goes after death and I believe that the body succumbs to physical decay. I do not believe in “the resurrection of the body,” as Christians do. There is very little concrete definition to my spiritual beliefs, and I see that as progress. I feel unburdened by shedding my “Christianity.”

I still read and wish to follow the teachings of Jesus. I still pray. But now, I don’t have any predetermined agenda. I can respect Christianity as a tradition and want my children to learn about it, but I don’t want us to be hindered by notions of Heaven or Hell, the judgment to come, the life everlasting, original sin or any other Christian precepts or concepts. For example, I will never tell my sons, as I was told as a child, “If you have premarital sex God will not bless your marriage,” or “Satan is always lurking nearby to defeat you.”

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit,” and the fruit that distinguishes Christians from other faiths is not charity. Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Taoists are also charitable, as are atheists. Christians are not the only ones giving aid to the sick and poor. Christians are also not distinguished by their message of hope. In fact, many preach about the end of the world and the great destruction to come. The main distinguishing feature of Christianity that I can see is its evangelism. Christians have traditionally worked hard to convert others to their faith.

In disclaiming my Christianity, I am not singling out the Christian faith as worse than the other alternatives. In general, religious doctrine is a burden to people. I simply prefer spiritual development to religious indoctrination. This has been my viewpoint for a long time, but I have persisted in calling myself a Christian when asked about my faith. Usually, it comes out as, “I am a Christian, but…” If I need to qualify my Christianity, then it is probably not serving me well as a belief system. Other Christians will undoubtedly agree with me. We all have the right to claim our beliefs with joy and confidence.

I joyfully claim my nebulous spirituality. I embrace my own values. The cultivation and pursuit of the following values form my spiritual practice: 1) Love, 2) Awareness, 3) Compassion and 4) Equanimity. There are certainly aspects of the Christian faith that are at odds with these values, for example: an emphasis on sin and the need for redemption; the concept of salvation; a focus on the afterlife rather than the here and now. There are many more opposing concepts, but those three alone are enough motivation for me to disengage from Christian faith.

How will I practice going forward? I will continue to pray. I will continue to meditate. I will continue to read the Bible along with religious texts from other faiths. I will practice yoga. I will acquaint myself more and more with presence.

Am I still a cultural Christian? Of course. I will still put up a Christmas tree. I will attend religious services with other family members who request that I do so. I will educate my sons in the tradition of their ancestors and culture. But instead of teaching them that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” I will tell them how Christmas was conceived. They will learn about the pagan traditions that influenced Christian holidays and the development of the Gregorian calendar. They will also learn about the unique and life changing teachings of Jesus Christ, whether or not they choose to adopt Christianity as a belief system. After all, they will be free to choose their own values as they grow. Although I cannot know this now, perhaps one day our individual paths will dissect.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Resilience Through Connection

"This moment for you really is resilient, because you are facing [the legacy of bipolar] it and letting it in.  Otherwise it would be fake resilience.  You can slide away from things and use quasi denial, and not want to face it, and that looks resilient to the world, but that starts to crack.  If you have been through this kind of shit, there’s stuff to face.  If you are reacting when you hear and read this stuff, that is good.  That means your inner self is waking up and saying, 'Me, me!  I know about that.'  Giving yourself a season to pay attention to that takes strength.  I think humility is very big.  Doing what looks strong on the outside isn’t always real strength.  In the end, everyone has to face real emotions."  - Dr. Ellen Luborsky, Psychotherapist

I interviewed Dr. Ellen Luborsky in connection with the book I am writing about the adult offspring of depressed parents.  Dr. Luborsky has written professionally about depression and has worked with many grown children of the depressed. 

I have taken a three month break from writing about resilience and depression.  I am finding that this work brings up a lot of emotions for me.  Coincidentally, my mother's struggle with bipolar disorder has taken a negative turn during this period.  Facing this topic forcefully and directly is often painful. 

My major obstacle in completing this work is affirming my own resilience.  Fortunately, interviewing psychology experts and working with my own therapist has reinforced my confidence.  The quote above illustrates the kind of encouragement I have received as a result of reaching out. 

The ability to reach out and connect is actually the major predictor for psychological resilience.  I am a big communicator and have thrived through connection all of my life.  I use social networking and blogging not so that I can live in a fish bowl, but so that I can consistently reach out to others in the midst of parenting two young children and self-motivating on my own project. 

I am decidedly resuming work on my book, and also on this blog.  I haven't stopped reaching out, and I don't plan to.  An integral part of this practice is my spritual column for  Patch is local news, and I love that, because it is a way to work on a smaller scale, and to do, as Mother Teresa said, "small things with great love."  For each column I connect with an individual or group in my community.  Global begins with local. 

In addition to the column, I am going to post regular entries here.  I am excited about coming out of a reflective and nurturing period and sharing the benefits I am gaining with anyone who is interested.