November 7, 2011

Seed in the wind

set me free

like a seed in the wind

to blow around

don’t know where

or why

but just free to land anywhere

then plant again

or fly forever

I am who I am

whether floating or planted

I wrote this thinking of how unsure I am what to believe. Sometimes I feel swayed in all directions, not knowing what to believe about anything. I think this is because I have been letting go of that foundation that had always seemed so secure and knowledgeable about everything. It is uncomfortable to be swayed around, never sure of which direction to lean. Then I thought, why not just let go. Be like a seed in the wind that just flies around without worrying about where it will end up. It may even be random where it will land. Or maybe the wind will just keep pushing it around forever. It won’t land anywhere. But if it ever falls to the ground, it has everything it needs inside it to grow and reproduce just who it is. As do I.

October 25, 2011

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and why I choose not to believe

I recently wrote a blog post about some of my confusion about what to believe. Reading a comment to one of my posts, I began to think again about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Back when I believed whole-heartedly in the bible, I had a whole theory about this tree in the Garden of Eden. Now I’m not so sure whether this story from the beginning of Genesis is actual history or simply a tale, but I still find the imagery to be helpful.

The story goes that the first man and woman, Adam & Eve, were put in a perfect garden with only one possible sin they could do–eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, satan shows up as a serpent and deceives Eve into eating the fruit; then she gives it to her husband, and he eats too. They’re both kicked out of the garden for good, and now the rest of the human race must suffer with the effects of allowing sin into the world. Whether or not that story actually happened really does not matter if one looks at it as a parable.

What were the tellers/writers of this story trying to show us about spirituality and human nature? I believe that the point is, it is better not to know. If you try to know and understand everything about what is good and what is evil–in short, about religion–you end up kicked out of the garden, out of the place of intimacy with God.

When I look at religion as a whole, I see people eating every day of that fruit–always trying to know and understand, to have the “right” beliefs, to have the “truth.” What’s funny is that Jesus once said “I am the truth,” in essence saying that truth is not a set of beliefs but a spiritual being you can have a relationship with.

So even though sometimes I am freaked out that I don’t know what to believe any more, when I think of this story, my heart fills with peace. I don’t believe much in particular, but I do open my heart to relationship.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe too many specifics about God or all the other peripherals religion adds on. And I would rather say I don’t believe for the sake of being real, than to pretend that I have all the answers.

The thing pounding on my head is that if I don’t have the right beliefs, not only do I risk the eternal punishment of hell, but I risk helping other people end up there by not witnessing. So I jeopardize my own salvation and that of every person I come in contact with. But I think this first story from the bible can help with that problem. According to the bible, trying to gain knowledge of good and evil is a sin. So I feel justified in choosing not to know and not to do anything about it for anyone else. Instead of spouting a bunch of beliefs at anyone who comes near me, I choose to be myself, regardless of the consequences.

October 22, 2011

Beliefs that stop intimacy

This morning I was listening, and I heard, you do not need to wear the label “Christian” to know me, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because I am so confused about what to believe, but I also heard that I don’t really have to believe anything to be with God. And I remembered an old Jason Upton sermon where he said “Be is the beginning of belief.” I have focused and worried so much about what I do and don’t believe, but in reality, I don’t think it really matters. It is far more important to be with God than to have a mental picture figured out about it all. And I’m so shocked at myself because of how many beliefs I have let fade away, even the ones I held to the strongest.

Yesterday I was listening to a Darin Hufford podcast about heaven, and he and his friend sounded so positive about heaven. I think I started letting go of my belief in heaven about the same time as my belief in hell. I do have a hope of eventually being one with God, and I hope for things to get better on earth, but I really do not have any idea what heaven might be like. In fact, I am probably more scared about going to hell since I have let go of the label Christian. But actually, that label feels like such a chain on my soul, and I just cannot hold onto it any longer. I think it is because if I wear that label, I feel that I have to convince other people that that is the truth. I cannot be free to just be who I am with others. And I and many other people are so turned off by people who have no interest in relationship other than to convert, that I just cannot be that person anymore.

I finally have a friend who does not believe in God at all. I could never have done that in my Christianese days. I could not have actually been real with her or held a deep friendship because I would have had to convince her to accept all my beliefs to save her soul. But isn’t it odd to believe that what a person does or does not mentally assent to will damn them to hell for eternity or allow them to live uttur bliss for that same eternity? It is so weird, because there are so many things that can cause or help us to believe or not believe something. I think my friend does not believe in God because she has no awareness of God and no experience of God. The Christian way is to take a person like this and scare them about hell and convince them about the Bible until the person “accepts” Christ, even if she still has no experience of God. I think that’s criminal. I think Christianity claims to be about introducing people to God, but for the most part, it is about introducing people to religion. And while I had a lot of experiences with God when I was practicing that religion, these have become very confused in my head and often intermingled with all the religious b.s., so that I can’t really hold onto any of it anymore.

Of course, the last several years of being in Christianity, I was deeply distrustful of religion. Groups I joined felt the same. And even though there was a vast difference between these churches and more religious ones I attended as a child, there was still a lack of intimacy there that went so deep I could not stand it.

In fact, I think lack of intimacy is what has driven me away from Christianity. The belief that your way is right and people who don’t believe it are going to hell forces you to hold back part of yourself from others. My own mother flat out told me that she cannot have real fellowship with me because I don’t believe the way she does. There is always necessarily an undercurrent of her wanting to convert me. As long as she wants to convert me, she cannot know me for who I am. She cannot accept me as I am because she wants to change me. No matter how close we may seem in one moment, in another her religiousness pops back up and she proves once again that she does not know me as she tries to lecture me and change me and I must put up walls once again.

But what about the new age ideas about God being this spirit that flows through all humans? It feels like a river that we can tap into at any time. I have a hope that this spirit that was in Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” is really this spirit of God that flows through all people. It is the divine consciousness or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that anyone can tap into through meditation. It is this spirit of God that brings people to God, whether or not you put some religious name on it.

In fact, I really think that all this naming and labeling of things is really a human invention. It keeps us from God and from the God inside each other, because every label serves to divide us and put us into little boxes that we cannot get out of.

Perhaps all that crying out to God I did in my early 20’s has led to my heart no longer being able to stand all the devision that keeps me from being one with God and especially from being one with other people. Though I never expected my prayers to lead me out of Christianity, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the very thing that did it.

I also think that religion does not foster intimacy simply because religious activities do not naturally lead to intimacy with others. That is not their purpose, and it is a rare thing when it happens, and one must go outside of the religious activities to find it.

July 31, 2011

There is a world inside me.

That is how it feels so much, when I connect with my interior life. It is like a link or a portal into another whole world. And that world, I call it the world of the spirit, is the true reality. So the physical world is not as real, or at least, not as permanent. Even though the spiritual world feels fleeting and dim, that is merely because our attention is so often focused outward. When I glimpse through the portal, I get the feeling that what I am seeing there has so much more weight to it than anything I could experience in the outward world.

There is a world inside me, or at least an opening into another world. There is a world inside me, just waiting to be expressed. Just waiting to be revealed. Through contemplative prayer, I dive into that world. And I am there, instantly in the presence of eternity. I become aware of it, but I lapse back, too. I don’t say that this is something I have to do every day. But when I find it, or it finds me, I feel alive. Alive to Reality.

There is a world inside me of vast proportions. Matter flows from it, matter returns to it. It is pure energy, pure life. This is reality. I open the door and let it flood me for a few minutes, so that I become aware. I close the door and go do something else and don’t come back here for weeks. There’s no guilt in this practice, not unless one chooses guilt. I choose acceptance. Acceptance of myself, but also a real feeling that this is me, this is my identity, and in going here I connect with real life. I can do it as often or as seldom as I want.

In church I used to hear people talk about the spiritual world and the physical world. I heard a lot of talk about it, but I rarely met someone who experienced it. It’s easier to talk about than to do. But it is the connecting that really matters. A lot of people I have met are actually scared of the spiritual world. It is funny, because we all have the world inside us. We all have the portal opening into that vast realm where space and time probably don’t even exist. Yet most people would rather get their spiritual instruction 3rd hand and never experience the spiritual world with their own spirits. Sad but true. The spiritual world is not something to fear. It just is. It is reality, and if we choose to live in reality, we can find the most beautiful, wonderful, and amazing revelations of life and love are flowing into us.

So how does one do this? Go lower. Dive down through your heart, which is you, into your spirit in your belly which is connected to the life force that flows through all eternity, connected to God. This is knowing God. Open the door. Walk through the portal. Glimpse reality.

July 5, 2011

Becoming energized: developing a zest for life from the wellspring inside

I awake and lie in bed, thinking of all the things I could accomplish today. My house is a mess. I just returned from a trip, and there is stuff everywhere to put away–both from rushing around before the trip and from the trip itself. Not only that, but there is just stuff everywhere. My husband and I are in the middle of a major project to declutter our life. Our stuff is driving me crazy! My goal is to get rid of everything unnecessary so we can travel the world without too much baggage. Every time I look around at all the clutter we still have, I feel my energy draining away.

On days when my husband is gone at school, I try to get a ton done, but I just cannot seem to make headway. Instead I scan paper after paper, trying to digitize my files, and the lethargy sets in. I look around at all the dishes, think about how many hours I spent on them yesterday, and just cannot find the willpower to clean the kitchen today. I glance around the living room and see all my daughter’s toys scattered everywhere, but I cannot find it in me to pick them up. So that is how my husband finds me when he gets home–depressed and bored.

Today in my contemplation I took the question of energy. Where does my energy come from? What gives me the ability to get things done?

Have you ever worked a job you hated? I have, several times, and I find myself just barely able to go through the motions. I count the hours until I can leave. On the other hand, I have had plenty of energy for most of the jobs I have had. My creativity was stimulated, my problem-solving skills were in demand, and people were depending on me to finish my projects. I derived energy from the things I had to do. So much so that I became completely unbalanced, not having energy for fun or life outside of work. I simply was not happy unless I was working or thinking about work.

Now there is a certain energy to be derived from working with other people: the synergy that comes from sharing a common goal and working towards it together. I used to love that kind of thing, but at the end of the day, I would be miserable, knowing that I was not living out my true self.  So I no longer want to live my life for other people’s goals.

Even though I am not working at a job with a team of people right now, I still rely on other people’s energy an awful lot. This is not necessarily a bad thing–I feel the synergy when my husband and I work together on decluttering, and I have been very inspired lately by reading blogs such as Married with Luggage and Miss Minimalist. Married with Luggage inspired me to take big steps to change my life into the way I want it to be. Miss Minimalist inspires me to get rid of the crap from my old life that is keeping me from coming into my new life. The other day I read her post about a minimalist kitchen, and I got up, walked into my kitchen, and took a whole box of stuff out and into the storage room (I’ll garage sale or thrift store it all later after I see what it is like to live without it).

Yet I find that other people’s energy is not enough to sustain me, and reading blogs can turn into a distraction that keeps me from having to face the big jobs in my path, like cleaning out my pantry and selling stuff on ebay.

When I start to feel drained, I often turn to cooking and eating. While cooking is an activity that I enjoy, and food does give energy to my physical body, it does not deliver much energy to my soul. Instead it often has the opposite effect of making me even more lethargic.

So in my contemplation today, I realized that all those papers I am scanning have a low energy flow. Even though it feels good to be rid of them, I am not getting through them fast enough to keep up my energy while I declutter. Moreover, those papers are not my source of life; actually they are something I am trying to rid myself of.

In reality, all those sources of energy–working with others, reading inspirational writing, eating, doing stuff, having stuff, decluttering stuff–all come from outside me. Though I can feel energized from these sources, the energy does not last. It does not make me reverberate with a steady hum from who I really am, and at the end of the day, I feel low, like nothing got done, and I go to bed depressed. My happiness comes from what I have accomplished, and I usually have not accomplished enough to feel happy with myself.

I dream of the day when I can look around at my house and see hardly anything in it. I think then my energy will be able to flow more freely, yet I have come to the realization that as long as I derive my energy from outside sources, I will never be happy or balanced. Worse, I will never be myself. Always striving for yet another project just to try wring a little more energy from it, to live a little longer–all this effort pales in comparison to true reality. When I gaze at the ball of fire inside that is God, decluttering my puny little papers seems like a stupid way to try to get energy.

What I heard this morning centers around the meaning of the name “Jehovah,” the English version of the Jewish name of God. I was taught that “Jehovah” means something like “I am that I am.” This has been a powerful idea for me every time that I contemplate the being-ness of God. I got the idea this morning that “Jehovah” is not only the identity of God, but also of each of God’s children. That is the part of me that is divine: I am that I am. I am who I am. I am not saying that I am the person of Jehovah, but that I am the person of myself. I am.

And in my being, there is a wellspring of abundant energy, not just to scan puny papers, but to really LIVE. Living off the energy of doing stuff is fake. It’s a fraud. It’s nothingness and distraction and lifelessness and busywork that keeps me from living. I cast it off!

In contemplation, I center myself on who I am. As I come into the core of my being, I tap into a limitless well of energy that will never run dry.

Today I challenge myself that whenever I feel my energy running low, I am going to close my eyes to the outside world and contemplate, even if just for a minute. I hope that in this way, I can connect to the energy of my being, not my doing.

How do you get energy? Do you find it easy to derive energy from the core of your being? Do you have any method you use to switch to “being energy” from “doing energy”? Let me know in the comments.

June 27, 2011

Why I stopped going to church

So often in life I have found myself in bondage to something I “should” do. A big one for me has been church. I was raised with the idea that I not only should but must go to church, and not just now and then but to every meeting of my church, and not just any church, but the particular one my parents believed has the “truth.”

Although I left the church I was raised in years ago, I could not get away from the command that I must be a part of some church. Yet my heart screamed an emphatic NO! The mantra “I do not belong here!” reverberated from my heart while my will and reason demanded that I faithfully attend.

illustration by Brian Linn

This internal battle grew to the point that going to church became sheer torture. When I went, the ache in my heart grew to unbearable, almost physical pain. I became panicked, ran outside the building, huddled down in my car, and sobbed. The pain often did not subside until after a good night’s sleep. I convinced myself that these were simply demonic attacks, and I was just lonely. When it became clear that I could not stand going to a certain church even one more time, I would move to a new town and try all over somewhere else. Yet no matter how hard I tried to connect with the people at church, and even after I became very happily married, the feeling that I cannot belong at church would not leave.

In December 2008, I discovered a book that would change the course of my life: The Shack. The funny thing is, I learned about this book at church. While The Shack spoke to me in many ways, what really helped me get free of church was the podcast I found by the co-authors of the book–Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. I needed to hear that I was not crazy to think that going to church was just not working for me. Listening to their podcast, I realized I am not alone. Lots of people have stopped going to church, and I can too. Wayne and Brad supplied the permission I still needed at that point to leave the church.

I don’t need their permission anymore; in fact I rarely listen to those guys now. When I do hear a podcast it is usually my husband’s new fav: Into the Wildbut sometimes I go weeks or even months without listening to any religious voices at all. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I can feel my soul clearing.

Sometimes it scares me that I am wandering so far from my religious roots, but at the same time, I am filled with exhilaration. I no longer am chained to a certain way of thought that demands I put on a certain mask and pretend to be a person who fits in that archaic mold.

One turning point came more than two years before I found The Shack. In my last few days in California, I took a personal retreat at the beach. I didn’t hear much or progress far spiritually; I was actually very distracted. But I did hear one thing: “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” Sorry God. I just cannot pretend to be someone else in order to please you any more. The good news is, you never wanted that in the first place.

June 24, 2011

My contemplation goes something like this (at least today):

I sit on the bed, my back cushioned by pillows leaning against the wall, palms open. My eyes are closed. I breathe deeply, follow the word “BE” around and down towards my spirit. My mind runs cartwheels and chases trails of thought. Excitement fills me as I think of this and that project to do, ideas of how something will turn out, what I am going to do today, and my favorite: what I will blog about this contemplation. I realize again that I have been distracted. “Sshhh,” I say to thoughts, and then I remember the word “BE.” I slowly begin to descend again. Now I can feel that vast opening around me. It is the thing I call “eternity” because that is what it feels like to me. I only barely glimpse it this morning, though, but I do feel the familiar pressure on my forehead that comes whenever I am in God’s presence. I think of it as the touch of angels.

My mind doesn’t go blank. (I have found that going into Silence is like exercising a muscle. When you have not done it ever, it is very hard to start because your muscle is so weak as to be almost non-existent. Since I have built up that muscle in the past though, there is the residual memory of how and the ability to do it. But it is very weak and will need to be built up through time.)

So my mind stays aware, but at least is now in listening mode. I consider apologizing and immediately dismiss the idea. But it does make me aware that apologizing is an old habit. I want to come to God apologetic that I have not done enough, come often enough, etc. After all I basically have stopped praying for about 2 1/2 years (with a few prayers interspersed through that). If I should ever apologize for not praying enough it is now. But I don’t. I am not here to apologize, I am here to BE. Then I think of a Bible verse I memorized long ago: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God.” I used to think about that as another “should”–I should not feel condemned,but I do–but in this moment I have a glimpse at a beautiful idea from that quote. Being IN God, in this place of contemplation, in this place there isn’t any more condemnation; condemnation does not exist here. Nor does sin. There is no more thought of sin when you are living from inside God, and you are free to only live.
(Now that I write that I see that I have not captured the heart of what I experienced. I glimpsed a freedom this morning, but when I write a Bible verse I worry that it will just become another law to someone. I am sharing this simply to give you an idea of what I experienced. You have to get your own revelation for yourself.)

“So I can be free from earthly desires and live for the will of God,” I think. But then I remember my desire to live out ME. (I decided a long time ago, I do not want to be Jesus, I want to be myself, and I have been beat over the head for a lot of years with this idea of following the will of God.) So I wonder, do I really want to live out the will of God? But then the answer appears: as I stay in God my desires come to life in God’s life intertwined. So from this place, the true ME can be expressed.

Even though it feels sweet, I let go and return to the surface. I do not look at the clock.

June 23, 2011

I rename myself

I have never really liked my birth name. Going into my contemplative mode the last couple of days, I have been toying with changing my name. I finally thought of one I like: Eva. It is simple with only 3 letters. My old name has 5, but it is hard to spell. It is old-fashioned and archaic. Worse, it is my mother’s middle name, and though I love my mother, I need to pursue my own identity completely separate from hers. As I sat in contemplation today, the thought came to me: why do I have to spend the rest of my whole life with a name I do not like? I feel that it sets the tone for my identity, that I can never rise above the feeling that I get from that name, and honestly, I am sick of it. It feels like settling for less that who I am to keep my old name. Every time I say it, I have this feeling, “Here’s my name. I wish it weren’t, I really don’t want you to think of me this way, but I am lame and weird, so just think of me as that anyway.”

(I am not going to say what my old name is–I am sorry if you are dying of curiosity, but I do not want my readers to think of me by my old name.)

I have already tried to change my name once. I moved to a new city to go to college, and I introduced myself to everyone by my middle name, Michelle. The name stuck, and though it was hard to get used to, to all my acquaintances there, I was Michelle. I did eventually get used to it. The problem was, I actually did not like that name a whole lot better than my first name. And when I left that town at the end of the year, I decided to go back to my original name.

So I know I can do it. Right now I cannot imagine myself as Eva, but I do like the meaning: “giver of life.” This is so much more “me” than “gracious warrior,” the meaning of my old name. I no longer want to be a warrior, but as you can see from the name of this blog, the idea of life and being alive is very important to me. At one time I heard the name LIVE! as coming from the core of my identity, so “giver of life” falls right into that.

And Eva is not so out-of-style as my old name. Although it is uncommon enough that I don’t know anyone by that name (thus it is fresh to me with no baggage associated), it is ranked as #99 in popular baby names. My old name is not even in the list at http://www.babynames.com.

So I am going to try out Eva as my new name and see if it fits. As I am about to make a major change in life and move away from Georgia where I have lived for the past 4 years, it is perfect timing. I will simply introduce myself to people I meet as Eva. The only problem I can see is that I am moving to a Spanish-speaking country (Uruguay), and in Spanish the long sound of our “E” is their “I”. I don’t want to be spelled “Iva”! So I guess I will still have to explain my name’s spelling or just pronounce it with a short “e” like the “e” in “egg.” I actually think that pronunciation is sort of pretty, and it reminds me of “ave,” the Spanish word for “bird.”

Have you ever tried to change your name? Do you think your name sets the tone for how you see yourself as well as how the world sees you? Let me know in the comments.

June 22, 2011

Welcome to this blog

The last three days I have been rediscovering contemplative prayer. This is a practice I learned about several years ago, and I knew then it was going to be a lifelong passion for me. Lately I have been challenged to think about my real goals, and I realized that my real life-long goal is to BE. To be who I am, to discover myself and God through the inward gaze of my soul upon God.

I decided to start this blog to chronicle my contemplative prayer life. I want to do this to keep accountable to pursing this lifestyle, and I hope that things I discover along the way can be a help to others. I would love to engage in a community of people who are practicing similar types of meditation.

Since the subject of this blog is gazing upon God, you might be wondering what religion I am.

I used to be a Christian, but I don’t know if I am one anymore. Since I left institutionalized religion 2 1/2 years ago, I have been laying my beliefs on the table. I think faith and beliefs are separate. Beliefs are of the mind, but faith is of the spirit; it comes from being in contact with the divine in reality.

I don’t know if the beliefs I held as a Christian are true or not; nor do I know if beliefs of other religions are true. I’m not very interested in figuring all that out either. What I do want and what I set my intentions for in my life is going deep in experience of myself, God, and other people.

If you are a Christian reading this blog, I welcome you. I come from a Christian background with experience in many branches. What I have learned about contemplative prayer in the past has mostly been based on Catholic mystics such as Madame Guyon (who is also embraced by non-Catholic Christians), St. John of the Cross, and others. I hope this blog challenges you to go deeper in your experience and encounter of God.

I hope if you are not a Christian that you do not shy away from this blog. This blog is NOT about spreading any one religion. One belief I do hold to at this time is that God (whatever that word signifies) exists outside of religion. The divine being, whoever that may be, emanates with Love and touches the depth of any person who comes deep to Be. I do not think that God is the property of any religion or that you have to be a part of any religion to connect with God.

Also, whatever your beliefs are about God, you are welcome here. A close friend of mine believes that God is merely an energy, a divinity to which we can all attain but not a separate personality. Even though she uses different words and comes from a different background, I have realized that we both have encountered many similar things. Reality is reality, we have merely glimpsed it from different angles.

And if you just want to live deeply but don’t necessarily believe in God at all, I would love to have you here. I want to meet anyone who practices contemplative prayer-style practices, whether or not you think of what you find there differently than I might.

One challenge in writing will be to avoid the word “he” for God. Obviously, God is not a man and does not have gender. In my past, the use of “he” was automatic, but I think this has been part of my problem with religion in general. I hope this does not make my writing stilted, and I might eventually resort to “they,” but I will not use he/she since that implies gender. I am a proponent of the idea that we need a non-gendered singular personal pronoun in this language and that our writing suffers from not having one.

But isn’t that part of what we realize through contemplative prayer? I just did a web search for Contemplative Prayer Blog, and the post I found talks about how this is a prayer of silence. Words are simply not enough to express reality, so we can encounter a more real essence through silence than through language. In some of my English classes in college, we discussed some of the inherent problems of language. I suspect that that might be a subtheme of this blog.

One thing I want to avoid here is religious debate, especially if it seems to be motivated by the desire to convert others to one’s religion or beliefs. If it happens on my blog, I will delete it. I hope readers feel free to share personal beliefs as a part of sharing who they are and what they are learning, but I am not open to anything that seems to be in the spirit of debate. If you are not open to learning from other people’s experiences but simply want to spread your own view, this blog is not the place for you.

Everyone else, welcome.