Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Disclaimer: wishy-washy "spiritual" talk abounds in the following paragraphs. This is all based on my own personal experience, so if it doesn't mesh with your world-view, just remember that we're all living out our own stories and this is just part of somebody elses.

I've been on a bit of a "seeking" kick for a while, I guess you could call it. Asking myself the big questions. A while ago I had thrown myself in the spiritual deep end, in a way, and wanted to see if I could swim without the floatation devices that years of belief and blind faith had built for me. I'd always been interested in spirituality, probably through being involved in church most of my life, but at one point, the beliefs that I had cradled and lived with for so many years became somewhat meaningless.

I saw the purpose of belief for what it was - security. I saw belief to be a surrender of my own freedom to a set of ideals that I had no hand in creating. Instead of trying to live on my own two feet, with my own mind thinking for itself, I had given over a large part of myself to belief. It was the security of belief that was it's main drawcard. In the cocoon of a belief system, a lot of the big questions about life are answered. Life is presented as a package, handed down from one generation to the next, with a set of rules and guidelines sealed with the guarantee of thousands of years of tradition. Even if you don't have it figured out, there's still the comfort of believing that someone else knows what's going on, so just follow their rules and you'll be fine.

However, the answers that my belief system provided were only semi-satisfying. They left me feeling either not smart enough to understand them or not "spiritual" enough for failing to completely surrender to the blind faith required to believe in them. So while I thought I had a set of beliefs and ideals, what I really had was the fervent feeling that I should be believing that which I found impossible to believe. Of course, guilt quickly followed. Probably a result of my Catholic upbringing.

Eventually, through writing and talking, belief and the lack of it suddenly seemed a lot less scary. In talking to people I realised that a lot of others in my circles felt the same way, but hadn't been able to put it into words. There was really nothing to be feeling guilty about. I was still here. Still doing the same things. Still living my life in the same way. I was just no longer deluded into thinking that I should be following somebody else's philosophy of life, without giving it some clear objective thought myself.

Through all this, an intuition emerged. It was something that I'd felt lingering under the guilt and "shoulds" for most of my life. It was the very strong intuition that all I needed was my own self and a clear mind to really probe the deep mystery.

Perhaps paradoxically, I began doing lots of reading. My mind felt like a blank slate and it was ready to explore and absorb some new information. Lots of it. I led (and still continue to lead, to some extent) a somewhat cursory investigation into Eastern philosophies like Vedanta and Zen (via Alan Watts), and also into what would probably be outdatedly labelled "New Age" teachings like those of Eckhart Tolle and Robert Anton Wilson. I found that these readings placed a big emphasis on the lack of a belief system in spiritual progression, and an empowerment of thinking for one's self.

A few years ago, the thought of reading anything from the New Age section of the book store would have made me roll my eyes, laugh and shake my head. I was a much more cynical bastard back then, and I judged most things that didn't fit my little vision of the world as bullshit. I would have seen my current "seeking" self as a cliche - a twenty-something liberal interested in Buddhism, personal development and generally "bucking the system". I dunno. Maybe this is something a lot of people my age go through. Maybe it's "just a phase". Regardless, it's where my life has led me, and I would feel a lack of integrity if I gave it up for fear of becoming "cliche". Besides, cliches are cliche for a reason - because they undergo the necessity of actually occurring.

Anyway, back to the seeking. So pretty much immediately, I found it much more challenging than I'd initially thought it was going to be. The comfort and security that the blanket of an organised belief system brings is so soft and dependable that it seems necessary to function a lot of the time. I would bounce from believing nothing in one moment, to becoming totally dependent on a series of beliefs and presumptions the next. And back again. It became frustrating at times, but at other times, there was a growing feeling of clarity that led me to keep it up.

While the philosophies I was reading about placed a strong emphasis on the lack of a belief system, they also ran the danger of becoming a belief system of their own. The "belief of no belief", if you will. And this happened on occasion. I would get too tied up with "what should be happening" according to the readings, and often forget to think for myself and sincerely ask the questions that needed asking.

I haven't denied Christianity entirely, if at all. I still think the words and story of Jesus hold great value, but in my opinion I think that the Bible has been largely misused by the church and misinterpreted by it's members. Going on this path of personal discovery has led me to find new and fresh meaning in Jesus' words that would have otherwise remained dormant.

I don't know how well I've explained myself here. I don't pretend to be any sort of authority on life, wisdom or spirituality, and when I do, something comes along soon enough to knock me back on my arse and remind me that I don't know shit. Too often it's easy to get caught up in chasing some kind of wisdom or spiritual experience and forget that life, happening right now, is the spiritual experience.

"The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity." ~ Erich Fromm

Anyway, I could go on, and probably should, but I'm a little talked and thinked out for now. I found writing all this down really helpful, though, so I'll endeavor to write down my thoughts more often.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


The Cove said...

heavy stuff.

Joe said...

I don't see what gravity has to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful stuff. It's interesting that I'm going through a similar journey of insight at the moment as well.

Am thinking of how best respond and will do so on my own blog, but for the moment ...

Leaving the "free will" parts aside, this research could say a lot about the need to slow down.

Catherine said...

Hey Joe,

It took me forever to find the time to read this, but I wanted to say that I did, and I emphasise. You've done a good job of articulating my feelings towards faith and belief as well and I feel like I know what you're going through, because I am too.

Thanks for posting this.

Joe said...

Thanks for the reply, Catherine. It's always good to know there are others in your boat. :)

Marty said...

hey joe, I read your post just today. Good on you for articulating your spiritual experiences on your blog, cos it's helping your mates figure out what they are going through too! A lot of us can relate.
Can't wait to have you back at Jeebus and bring the 'deepness', we need it I think. I can't remember the last time we actually talked about our personal spirituality at Jeebus.

Joe said...

Thanks, Marty J!

I'll be back in December, so look forward to the groans of agony that come with SOME people at Jeebus not wanting to get "deep". I'm glad you're on my side, though. Together we will explore the depths of this world and the next! BWUHAHAHAHA!