*This will be the final post on the Human Becoming Blog. I decided to close down the website at the end of this month. Hope you have enjoyed reading my work. Thanks.
I love taking something from the bible and unfolding it into linear explanations that cross over into different areas of application and meaning.
A few Sundays back, I was thinking about all the subliminal/subtle ways a church session can move people. The light show, the steam/fog, the music, the repeating of scripture together as a group. The visual stimuli. The sensory integration of reading words on a screen while hearing the preacher say them..... some preachers do the "touch your neighbor and say..." and that forces human contact, human touch.
It's not unlike walking into a spa... the physical stimuli literally alter our mood and physiological state. The smells, sounds, lighting... all these things create a "vibe" and we know (from my previous blog posts) that vibes are contagious. Vibes are nonverbal forms of communication. Vibes attract your tribe... Church can be VERY meaningful when done correctly. I think of the churches I went to as a kid and how they differ from the model, growing Christian Churches of today. The small town country church of my past is, well, dying. So are the people. The building is old, the hymns are old, the preacher is old, and so is everyone in attendance. Hardly anyone young or new to the religion would choose this flavor of worship over the rock concert and charismatic, facebook posting pastor of the modern, growing church. But the old ways work for old people and they aren't interested in change. Why would they be? They are comfortable in a conservative traditional form of worship.
I can see value in both types of church. I can see value in any type of church. I can even see value in nearly any type of religion. But ultimately, all are bound to a brand/culture that limits and restricts them. I'm okay with that to an extent. But I know there's more. I know there're boundaries that must be dissolved in order to get to the root of human nature. For example, a person can show up and do exactly what the workout says, wear the Crossfit gear, eat the Crossfit diet, do exactly as the brand/philosophy prescribed and they will without a doubt get results... but what happens when you remove them from those walls and pluck them out of that specific domain? They freak. They didn't learn how to move their body, they didn't learn to listen to the body, they didn't discover what health really is..they just blindly bought in and followed a protocol. That's not teaching. That's a western/Americanized approach to education/medicine that conpartmentalizes and immitates but it does not holistically understand the concept, and it certainly hasn't instilled the value of self understanding/self education. Should the sole purpose of religion be to provide the concepts and rules of living within a standard of ideology? Should it simply provide the framework, or a template if you will, for the necessary means of which are outlined?
What good does it do to show up on Sunday, sing the word Jesus 47 times, put money in the offering, say the prayer, and leave? What good does it do to take the supplements, put on the clothes, go to the gym, and just go through the motions? Is showing up enough? Some people may say, no, if you're heart is not completely in it then it doesn't count. Some might say if the effort is there, then the work was not wasted, regardless of your attitude during the process. In some ways, I feel like religion fails to deliver the full truth...in fact, sometimes religion acts as a sure defense against having a religious experience. That's no bueno. The same can be said with exercise. Sometimes we think that going to the gym and performing some half-witted reps, following a half-witted program is somehow better than just taking our shoes off and running wild in the grass. What happens to our minds when we become more obsessed with the uniform and less curious about the sport? What happens when we physically "show up" but spiritually/emotionally "check out"?
I found myself becoming critical of not only Crossfit, but all gyms and brands of exercise. I hated how artificial it quickly became for me, but was more disgusted by how shallow and predictable it transformed others into being. The worst part is how blind these other people were to the situation, and rightfully so, they were new and excited to the sport of fitness. They did nothing wrong, they do not deserve to be criticized or judged. Do not confuse my disappointment in a situation for my opinion of character in the people involved. To revisit my question, what does happen when we become programmed machines, going through the motion, smothering ourselves in a brand, finding validity of identity in a dogmatic, robotic culture of methodology? In our will to surrender our free thinking, spontaneous nature, we gain the comfort of familiarity, safety, convenience.
I found myself becoming more and more critical of the church and organized religion in general. I hated how artificial and predictable it became for me. I hated how I was supposed to pretend that the God I know and the experience I have is supposed to fit in this box; it has to fit within these guidelines and concepts or else it isn't welcomed. I felt uncomfortable seeing people at church who spent more time on their hair and outfit and looking the part than they did fasting and meditating. (probably an unfair, hasty judgement on my part, but also probably accurate). I hated how blind and unseasoned some people at church seemed to be. I hated that our church was more active on facebook than a 19 year old girl. I hated how convenient the church tried to make heaven. "Just repeat this prayer with me and you're all saved"... Maybe that is accurate with scripture and thats all it takes but it felt cult-ish. I was very turned off when volunteering in the youth center and they said things like "Did Timmy get his Jesus today?". What? I started having paranoid thoughts about the Lorax and Jesus being branded and packaged on an assembly line...what were we doing here? AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO SPEAKS FOR THE TREES?!?!?
I recently watched " The Power of Myth" with Joseph Campbell on Netflix. (youtube/google Joseph Campbell if you aren't familiar with his work). Not to derail this conversation too badly, but the documentary interviews shed some much needed light in the history of religion, symbolism, mythological tales, humanity, God, the reoccurring themes/motifs/characters that exist within various stories that trace back tens of thousands of years. By the end of this show, I felt more conflicted about religion and more curious and passionate about God than I did before watching it. So, now my question is this... Was watching that documentary hurtful/helpful to my spiritual growth? Is it wrong that I preferred to watch that but didn't feel like going to church last Sunday morning? The documentary had my attention, had my heart and mind, it pulled me in and forced me to think. I did more than show up and perform some arbitrary act of worship. I participated in the game of questioning and reasoning and searching and exploring. I entertained new ideas and reexamined already held beliefs. I sometimes do the same thing in a sermon at church. I sometimes do the same thing in reading the Bible. I sometimes do the same thing while sitting at Cahokoia mounds by myself, staring out into nature. Where does spirituality begin and church end? Where does God reside, in an experience or in a conceptualized framework of story?
“Religion is a defense against the experience of God.”
— C.G. Jung
This series of thought allowed me insight that felt new, but I would imagine was already there. It was just waiting to be discovered. So, at the very least the purpose of church and religion is not to give you a religious experience. Jung also said that the religious experience can only come from the the sub/unconscious mind. In that sense, the purpose of religion and church may be simply to flood our thoughts, our conscious mind with the appropriate language, imagery, symbols. It might be to coat layer after layer of Jesus/God and biblical symbolism onto our brains so that our subconscious mind, our unconscious mind is more prone to having a religious experience of that particular flavor. Plato said our thoughts are immortal and divine. Therefore, to ensure our own eternal/everlasting life, we must flood our thoughts with that of Jesus and what Jesus represents: love, peace, compassion, forgiveness, salvation, hope. This is not to dissimilar from hypnotism or EMDR therapy. It is the repetition of a skill or practice. It is the uniformed programming of what we hear/see/say/do, over and over so it may be imprinted into our minds. Maybe that's ALL we need church and religion to do in our lives. Maybe it was wrong of me to demand or expect the church to provide me with some supernatural, spiritual experience with God. Instead, the benefit of going to church and participating in a religion could be to paint the walls of our unconscious/subconscious mind in order to provide an experience of love and safety and security. This is the power of myth. This is the significance of these stories from the Bible being passed down for thousands of years, even before we had written language. This is how humans have kept our story of God going for all of this time. Its the means to which we carry on the torch of humanity and give meaning, significance to our existence. Without a storyline, characters, imagery, symbolism, etc., The story of us could not survive. That alone is reason to marvel in awe of something bigger and grander than anything or any person to have ever lived. When it comes to the repetition of prayer (think of what a mantra is actually doing), song, worship, traditions of religion, what this is actually doing is hardwiring the myth/symbols into us in a way that allows it to seep into that mysterious part of our mind; the part which never sleeps and is the gateway to the supernatural. In order to get it to sink that deeply into our minds, we have to consistently feed it into our waking minds. And for that reason, I see great value in religion and church. It should never act as a barrier or defense for experiencing God. I want my experience in religion and church to help paint the picture in my heart and mind of who God is and what Heaven looks and feels like, so when the mystical/supernatural/psychedelic/spiritual experience arises, I will have the walls of my mind decorated with peace and love and compassion. When the encounter with God comes, I want to have a reference for who He is, the nature of His love, the notion of my role, my relationship with the Divine.
Now, to completely contradict everything I just said, I do have reason to believe that our image of who/what God is may be our final obstruction. I think the Absolute, the Aum, the Universe, the Brahman, are all ways that allow us to mystify God, rather than confining God to a masculine, bearded man in the sky. I like the idea of God's voice being the sound of thunder and and comparing the nature/characteristics of God to the nature and its characteristics of our physical world. But as I have said before, and to loosely quote something I recall Jordan Peterson saying.... "The Absolute is always something that transcends the finite frame that you place around your perceptions...As soon as you start talking about it, representing it, making statues of it, idealizing it, you LOSE YOUR CONNECTION with the Absolute. Because, you've turned it into something that is concrete and understandable. The Phenomena always transcends the the matter/manner in which you frame it."
I will end it with this:
I do not think that I am any more special than anyone else. I do not think God loves or favors some over others. I think that everyone has their own story to tell, their own obstacles to climb, demons to battle, dragons to slay, lessons to learn. We all have our own tunnel of reality for understanding and interpreting the world around us. I think it is wise to see where your reality tunnel matches up with others. This gives you a sense of comfort and belonging. It allows you to feel as though you are having a connected experience with those around you. I also feel as though you should find out where your reality tunnel does not match up with others. Find the pockets of your reality in which no one else seems to (admittedly) relate to. Those are yours and yours only. Embrace those pockets. Love those differences in yourself because those hold the secrets to your life. Those pieces of you that make you wonder if you're crazy. Those parts of your tunnel that feel like you might be an alien. The little bubbles of you that you instinctively want to hide. Those are yours. Those are the things that guide you and those are the things that, once acknowledged, accepted, and explored, can open you up to a whole other dimension of your reality tunnel. One that allows intuition and passion to flow freely. Our bliss is not found in the ignorance of our flaws. It isn't discovered in the absence of fear or pain. It is awakened in the midst of our chaos...in the belly of our beasts. My reality tunnel feels really fucked up sometimes. Ive felt scared, alone, weak, defeated, lost...all the bad feelings. They exist in my reality tunnel. I've felt the complete opposite at times, too. I've measured and compared my tunnel with others and it matches up so perfectly that I feel super connected and hyper aware of the network of humanity going on around me. With time and experience, I have learned to celebrate the yin and the yang of my tunnel. I do not need validation from other people, as I know their perception is limited and therefore only carries so much weight. I do not need a brand/tribe/culture/religion to identify with, as I know that collectively they are powerful, but individually they are living in a very unique, specific tunnel/dimension of reality themselves.
We inevitably hold on to our own ideology, or own little manner of thinking, and when a large experience of God approaches, one greater than we are prepared to receive, we take flight from it by clinging to the image in our minds. We preserve our faith. When we learn that part of our reality tunnel is different from others, therefore assumed to be less than or flawed, we do the same thing. We run, we hide, we attempt to save face. We learn to preserve our faith.