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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Spirituality Part 2 (or Part 3?) – From Here To There

If you haven't read or at least skimmed through my first two blogs about Spirituality, then I highly recommend doing so first before continuing on. I think this is my longest blog yet, or at least close to it! Please be patient with me as I'm still learning, growing, and maturing at my own pace.

My "Salvational Experience"
I covered quite a bit about my "religious history" in my previous blog, but I would like speak about an experience that happened to me when I was about 10 years old or so, that was probably the very beginning of my "spiritual road to enlightenment", sort of speak, along with a couple of other changes that happened throughout my teenage and young adult life…

I was attending a tent meeting with my family, and all during the entire message and the altar call, I was feeling extremely "convicted", to the point I couldn't sit or stand still. I felt a "beckoning" that was so intense; I thought I would explode if I didn't adhere to it. Finally, a man walking around asking people if they would like to come down to the altar noticed my anxiety, and asked me if I wanted to. I probably looked like I had "ants in my pants"! It didn't take much, because before I could even mutter the word, "yes", I was already making my way out into the isle.

As I knelt down at the altar and immediately started praying, I somewhat remember sincerely asking God to forgive me of all my sins, and to save me so I could spend eternity in Heaven with him, Jesus, and my loved ones, so that I wouldn't have to spend it in hell. After I prayed the "sinner's prayer", I noticed that nothing had changed. I wasn't expecting anything miraculous like a "light coming down from the heavens" or anything… just something, so I prayed again, this time even harder than I have ever prayed before. I begged and pleaded with God, to the point of tears, to forgive me of my sins. I prayed that I wanted to change and be a strong Christian, completely devoted to God, and to save me, because I really didn't want to go to hell, and really wanted to go to heaven. By this time, a small group of people was praying around me. I have no idea how long this all took, but it seemed an eternity.

Afterwards, people asked me if I had been saved and how I felt, and of course, I lied to everyone, even to myself. They hugged me and cried, especially my parents and family. I don't remember much after that, except standing outside alone in the darkened parking lot, next to my parents car, ready to leave, feeling even less peaceful than I had before I went down to the altar, and also feeling rejected, angry, sad, and lonely. What had happened and why?! This event was a defining turning-point in my life, but where and why? For about five years, I tried praying to God several times to save me, each time growing more and more angry, depressed, lonely, feeling rejected and resentment, and desperate as of why he wouldn't. Wasn't I good enough for him? He willingly saved people who had done far worse things than I had ever done, so why not me? By the time I was 15, I somewhat understood that "salvation" and Christianity wasn't for everyone, at least not for me. I can honestly say that if people spoke openly and honestly without hesitation and fear, a lot of people have had an experience similar to mine. Now I was about to embark down a "spiritual road" that I had no idea where it was going to take me.

At 15, I all but became a deist, in an angry, resentful form that I felt that God had left mankind. God was no longer around, nor did he care. Whether he had given-up on mankind, or mankind gave-up on him, he was no longer here. I still believed in God, but more along the lines of an unknown, unwritten book in the Bible that took place before the Book of Revelations of how God left man to his own devices. I felt that not only had God abandoned me, but everyone, and people who thought and felt otherwise were delusional or simply a liar. I believed this way until sometime in my college years.

While I was going to a local community college, I was introduced to many different "types" of religions and beliefs. I made a lot of friends who were pagan, agnostics, atheists, different "varieties" of Christianity, or what have you; who were more than happy to share their experiences, thoughts, and beliefs with me very openly, honestly, and often. While attending college, I also worked part-time as a "rent-a-cop" (security guard) at a local hosiery mill, mostly 3rd shift. By this time, the economy was starting to tank badly, jobs were being moved overseas, etc., so most of the plants I guarded were usually dark and lonely… lonely enough to do a lot of thinking, and I mean A LOT OF THINKING! I would spend entire 8-hour shifts of just thinking, not even remembering doing my job while driving home from that previous night, since my job was so repetitive and boring. So, I would question everything, my own personal beliefs, and why I believed what I believed. I came home many mornings so mentally drained and exhausted, I would pass-out fully clothed in my uniform without eating breakfast.

Eventually, I slowly "came to grips" with what I believed and why, and having to make a conscious and subconscious effort to "deny" many of the teachings I grew-up with, and to "build and mold" my own personal beliefs through hours upon hours of self-examination and research, and still doing so occasionally to this day. We're all pieces of clay, molding ourselves into what we want to become, influenced by our personal experiences, environments, and circumstances. Every day and everything is a learning process, until the day each of us take our last breath. Sometimes, it's not easy looking at yourself through a "spiritual mirror". For some people, this "transition" might've been easy, but for me, it made me feel "peaceful", yet nauseated and uneasy, knowing that I was venturing out into a vast, barren land, a desert as far as the eye could see, if you will, where I had never been to before; and no one else was there to guide me, to help me find my own personal "truth, light, and way", but me. I was really scared, because when you start questioning everything, what else do you have left to hold onto? So, here I was and still am, on the "Stage of Life", with no audience, no one around, but only me and the spotlight. I feel that it's an experience many of us have to traverse to find our own personal beliefs, and see ourselves, everyone, and everything around us in a whole new light, for the very first time. I find it as equally important to not only know what you believe, but why you believe what you do. Even if you are strong and firm in your own personal beliefs, sometimes it's "refreshing" and "enlightening" to see yourself, everyone, and everything from an entirely different perspective. If you really want to scare the hell out of yourself, start analytically, philosophically, and scientifically (in other words, extremely thoroughly) question everything you hold very dear and precious to you, especially why you believe in what you do. Shake and tear everything down to the very core and see how well it still holds… how solid it is. Doing that definitely scared the hell out of me, and made me realize that I needed a "stronger foundation" for myself and my own personal beliefs, but not to argue or debate with others (although it helps!), but for my own inner peace and fulfillment. To do so takes a lot of questioning, research, and self-examination, and using all of your efforts to find honest, personal answers to these questions, to help you realize what you believe, and why you believe what you do. Sometimes, we all need a little more than just "faith" (an "f-word" I despise with every cell in my body), and having some sort of true and valid evidence to back and strengthen your beliefs go a long way, not just for others, but for yourself. If you find that all you have to rely upon is simply "faith", then perhaps you should re-examine why you believe in what you believe. I can't provide evidence for everything I believe in, but I feel that I have enough evidence to validate why I believe in what I believe, at least with myself, even if it's not enough evidence for others to draw the same conclusions as I have. Faith says a lot, but evidence speaks even more.

I love and admire this little piece by Timothy Leary that TOOL used as an intro to one of their songs live, "Third Eye" on their "Salival" album:

Think for yourself
Question authority

Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities, the political, the religious, the educational authorities who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open-mindedness; chaotic, confused, vulnerability to inform yourself.

Think for yourself.
Question authority.

Praying, Worship, & Meditation
I personally don't "feel the need" to pray or worship whatever it is that's out there, instead, more-or-less having a general philosophy that I'll leave whatever it is alone and he/she/it/they leave me alone. It's sort'a like a mutual agreement between us, I suppose. Usually when I did try to pray, I felt more-or-less that I was only talking to myself. However, back in my college days, I would spend much time alone meditating, something nearly impossible to do when you have a family now these days, it seems. I remember times of sitting alone in a moonlit room, listening to Dead Can Dance or Lisa Gerrard, and slipping away, if only for a moment of peace. I would either venture far deep within my own mind, or to other fantastic worlds, influenced by both this world and by my own imagination. Meditation takes a lot of practice, something you can't do just once or a few times. It took me many, many attempts before I could completely "turn on, tune in, and drop out" (without the use of LSD, of course!). Meditation is either opening-up your mind to everything around you or closing it off completely. It's a form of deep relaxation, and releasing your daily stresses by either focusing on them intently or simply letting them go. For me, much of meditation is "self-discovery", delving deep inside your head, learning as much as possible about yourself, both the "good and the bad", along with everyone and everything around you. Finding out who you really are, who you want to be; and how you currently "fit" and how you want to "fit" in your relationships with other people and your natural environment all around you. How you perceive yourself, how you perceive others, and how they perceive you. Examining your personality closely, how and why you react to many different situations and scenarios, and how you would like to react, instead. Striving constantly for "personal evolution", but not a physical evolution (of course, changing your lifestyle to improve your quality of life and to live longer never hurts!), but more of a "spiritual evolution".

This is where the "sugary Buddhist" part of me comes out. I do believe that each of us has a "spirit", if you will, and what you decide to do with your "spirit" is completely up to you. Whether it be to change and evolve it, or to remain stagnant, is completely your decision. And only you know how you change and evolve your "spirit", whether it be praying and worshipping to your "God" or "gods", meditating, casting spells, etc. "Spirit" can be looked at as your "soul", your "heart", and/or your "mind". I believe it's all of those things, and has to do with everything that makes you unique and different, not physically, but your overall personality. Your "spirit" intertwines with your body, and with everything and everyone around you, like the strands of a rope, both in the physical and spiritual sense. It's your way of thinking, and what makes you… you. As I've mentioned in my previous Spirituality blog, I believe that we're all connected to one another and to our universe in a way that can't be explained by scientific means. Well, at least not through "satisfactory" means, anyways. I know that sometimes certain emotions can be stimulated through messing around with your brain (I think with the left temporal lobe, but I can't remember) where you may feel many different emotions, and some of them are a connection to ourselves, to each other, and to our universe. So, I don't have a definitive answer to this, and that's why I remain agnostic. I simply just don't know, and I don't feel as if I have to know and understand "what" and "why", but it's just there, in each and all of us, and in everything. I also feel that if we all could explore this interconnectivity that we all share with each other and our universe, that our limitations, knowledge, and experiences are endless and boundless, only by our own imaginations.

Another piece from my favorite TOOL song of all time, titled "Reflections" from their "Lateralus" album. I love it, live it, breathe it…

So crucify the ego
Before it's far too late
To leave behind this place so
Negative and blind and cynical

And we will come to find
Capable of all that's
Imagined and unconceivable

Just let the light touch you
And let the words spill through
Just let them pass right through,
Bringing out our hope and reason.

Before we pine away.

Personal "Spiritual Experiences"
I'm not going to get into a lot of detail here, because personal "spiritual experiences" can't be logically and scientifically debated, examined, or thoroughly tested. So, what's the point? However, I do feel that throughout my life that I have seen, heard, felt, and yes, even smelt enough to know that there is some sort of "afterlife" out there, but that it is so firmly out of our grasp, beyond our finite comprehension to even try to understand it. Once again, there's my agnostic side coming out, and many of these experiences sometimes fall out of the "ordinary explanations" and "conventions" of what both science and most popular religions has to offer. I do, however, feel that we can learn, grow, and mature from these experiences, and attempt at assumptions, explanations, and conclusions that no one else would come to, even if they had experienced the same events. And I've heard of many stories of where these both positive and negative experiences have happened to many people, of different beliefs and all religions. Anyone can make their own assumptions and perceptions, but who really knows except for the people who experienced these events? And to classify some of these events as either "evilly influenced" or simply coincidental is willingly blinded, ignorant, and narrow-minded, because the people who experienced such events definitely doesn't feel the same way, and usually get very upset and offended implying so. Are these experiences "good" or "evil"? Honestly, I believe that "good" and "evil" are relative, being nothing more than a matter of perception. Of course, there are some absolutes, such as murder and stealing, but even those perceptions can and may change depending upon extreme and horrific circumstances. Would you steal or even kill to provide for your family, so that your children wouldn't starve to death? Some people who live in 3rd world countries have had to do so occasionally, not out of choice, but out of shear desperation. Sometimes, you don't have much of a choice but to choose the "lesser of the two evils", such as during election times! LOL ;-) So, once again with that in mind, are these "spiritual experiences" "good" or "evil"? I suppose they could be either, or even both, depending upon how the person who experienced them perceives them, and only they truly know. However, always remember that our minds can easily "play tricks on us", so always question… ALWAYS QUESTION. Many things people experience are just random, coincidental events, and I'll just leave it at that.

Organized Religions
Ok, I'm probably gonna hit a nerve here with some folk, and not to make a huge topic or ordeal out of this, as you may already know or gathered, I'm not a huge fan of "organized religions". I have no problems if people want to "fellowship" with other people with similar beliefs, but it's not what I personally believe. However, throughout human history, it's been mostly "organized religions" that has caused so many wars and so many deaths, so organized religion can be beneficial to many people, as long as it's kept in-check and doesn't try to "convert" others through means of harassment, torture, or genocide. To me, spirituality is so personal, that can only be shared with one's self. Discussions, such as blogging, are a positive outlet, though. I find that putting yourself out there openly, honestly, and publicly for everyone to see and critique is a way of personal discovery and a learning process. But, that's just me.

Marriage & Spirituality
I suppose it's nearly impossible to find someone who shares 100% of your views on religion and science, but if anyone has, it would be my parents. Out of millions of the little details of their beliefs, they might disagree on one or two things, if even that. However, for the most of us, these beliefs, ideas, opinions, perspectives, etc. may vary, and vary a lot between you and your spouse. When Candice and I first met, she thought then that she was somewhat agnostic in her views, but is now a strong Christian. How does that affect our marriage? I'll be honest, our life would be much simpler if we shared the same basic, core beliefs as we once did, but we love and respect each other. We not only try to understand each other's personal beliefs, but why we believe them, and don't try to push them onto each other. As of the time of this writing, Candice hasn't read my Spirituality blogs, and that's fine, because we've discussed our beliefs in detail to each other. We also have come to some sort of agreement that we don't want to force our beliefs onto our kids either, letting them choose and decide what they want to believe. If they want to attend church, then fine, and if they don't, so be it. Right now, at their young age, church is fun. But there will come a time when they'll don't want to go, and I'm afraid my parents will try to make them attend the same way they did to my sister and me. So, we'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that scenario. Sure, church teaches good ethics and morals from a secular point of view, but if my kids don't want to go and be there, then these lessons will only fall on deaf ears.

Is It Really The End?! Finally?!
Ok, I think I am completely done with my "Spirituality" series, for now. I'm completely out of anything else possible to say (ok, time for the cheers!), except that I hope this may have helped anyone, or entertaining, at the least. These blogs are an invite to anyone interested to see me on my "Stage of Life". This is my little, personal journey to seek my own truth, my own light, and my own way. Am I there yet? NOT EVEN CLOSE!!! This journey continues until I take my last breath and my heart beats for the last time, and this journey is different for everyone, for each individual person. I can only hope that you can start yours if you haven't done so already, but you first have to start on this never-ending journey by sincerely and honestly asking yourself "why?".

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