I believe in God, but I have a hard time with religion. I know it might be controversial to speak so frankly about this in a public forum like a blog, but after last week I feel like I must. I don’t think I’ve ever not believed in God or a higher power even though there’s been many times I’ve been angry as hell with him, her, it. I believe there’s a God because my life makes no sense at all on paper and yet it is. The fact that I’m able to make a living dogwalking, that there is music and poetry, that I’m in a beautiful relationship, that I survived my insane adolescence and have been able to help others with all of my experiences. My prayers and resulting coincidences-there just can’t be that many. In an intellectual place like New York City it seems almost taboo to believe in God or talk about it, like it somehow makes me inferior but I find that if my spirituality is in check and I seek that first everything falls into place. When I seek the things of this world first- power, money, fame, success-I’m miserable.
So in my spiritual quest I’ve gone to different churches, temples, and meditation centers. Until last week, I’d been going to one in particular for about six months. I’m not here to slander anyone so I’ll exclude the name, I’ll just say they practice christian mysticism. There were things in the practice that were hard for me to be open-minded about from the beginning but I always try to put my cynicism on the shelf as Herbert Spencer said “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
So in this christian mysticism center they’re big into one taking a formal teacher. The first step to this is a life retrospection, in which you meditate each day on a year or two of your life and write down anything with an emotional charge. You write more about the feelings than a play-by-play of what happened and you share this with the priests at the center. This retrospection is followed by baptism. Once you go through these steps and wait a few months you can apply to be a student. I did all of this then they gave me the student guidelines. The guidelines were attending two 6:30 am morning meditations, two 2 hour classes a week and Sunday service, and tithing 10% of your income. Essentially, attending 5 times a week, which is a lot. Anything one wants to get better at they have to give time to so I figured I’d try this for a few weeks and see if I could do it. Those two weeks were really hard on me, I was working a ton and totally stressed out and this just added to it. Towards the end I had a meltdown and decided I just can’t do all of that in addition to my already full life running my own business, having a relationship, writing etc. I believe God is supposed to add to your life not take from it and that’s what I felt like was happening. I had a horrible nightmare that night that I was dog sitting for someone for several weeks and I kept finding things in the house that were broken, but the dog and I were not breaking them. Frames that had fallen off the walls smashed on the floor etc. I called the owner and told her about the broken stuff and she said, “That’s probably my Grandmother who has Dementia. She lives there, haven’t you seen her?” I said no and went to look for her. I found a terrifying old woman in a closet. I woke up screaming covered in sweat and goosebumps. The next morning I sent an email to the priests telling them I couldn’t be a student. One wrote back to me saying that I would never get out of “the mess” I’m in without their help and that I should stop “running away like I’d habitually done.” Whoa, first of all what mess? My life is pretty great and I’m generally pretty happy. Secondly, anyone who knows me, knows I don’t run from anything. I face my problems and I tend to stay in situations probably longer than I should. The only things I’ve ever run from have been things that weren’t healthy for me. Example: When my band Terset broke up on tour and left me in North Carolina did I go home? NO! I rented a car and went and played shows by myself, talk about hanging in there! The only reason these people probably think I run was because they were always trying to get me to stay longer and I had stuff to do! After two hours at church I’ve gotta get going, a girls gotta make a living etc!
Obviously, this was a huge red flag to me. It seemed like they were trying to manipulate me with the personal information they’d gotten from me in the retrospection. I began to do research on this spiritual center online. They have locations all over the U.S. It turns out there have been a few news articles contemplating whether this place is a cult. There’s also a website by a former priest in the order that has corresponded with people who’ve left the order themselves and family members who’ve been abandoned someone who’s joined the order. I was shocked, I think of myself as a pretty intelligent person who wouldn’t get sucked into a cult but it seems that may have been what was happening. It did feel like they were trying to suck me in and now I felt like leaving was choosing my life over God. Obviously, I needed a bit of deprogramming. It turns out none of these “priests” went to a formal seminary. They have their own training program in the order and wear priest collars. As one of the family letters said “Wearing priest’s clothes and calling yourself a priest does not make you a priest. Using the Catholic Church’s garments is akin to someone dressing up as a policeman. When someone meets them, they are perceived differently because of what they are wearing. It is a psychological trick.”
I personally don’t believe God wants people to abandon their family to “follow” him. I always had a problem with Buddha for this reason. I just don’t think being a renunciate helps anyone. Maintaining your spiritually in the world- now that’s a challenge! Frankly, I learn more from people who have many life experiences and get through them instead of cutting themselves off from normal life.
Needless, to say I’m interpreting my nightmare as a sign that there was something not right all along and this isn’t the path for me. I’m grateful to have realized this before they got their hooks to far into me. I’ll continue to pursue the spiritual path but I think this experience along with others I’ve had definitely makes me weary of formal religion. What’s the old saying? Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there. People are fallible and shouldn’t dictate others moral code. Spirituality is a highly personal thing that must be decided by the individual not the group. All I know is I feel God when I hang with the dogs, when poems come through me, when I witness the love between my friends, family, and I, and when I stop and marvel at the trees or the city. That’s all I need to know.