I've been wanting to talk to you about something but it's taken some time to put it together. It's so hard to put it all into words. So, I guess I'll just start way back in the very beginning.
My parents divorced when I was two years old and I grew up with my mom's side of the family until I was about seven. This side of the family is Mormon, however my mother is not. I don't remember going to church much or practicing any religion before being about six years old. My mom and I moved in with her mom and naturally, being a little girl, I was encouraged to go to church every Sunday with my grandmother. I honestly didn't think much about the fact that my mom didn't go. I guess I just accepted that isn't what she did. It's not that I hated going to church by any means, but I do remember it being so incredibly boring and I always especially felt left out because I didn't know any of the stories that all the other children seemed to know from the Bible.
When I was seven years old my father's parents gained custody of me and my grandmother on that side of the family was raised Christian. At the time she was attending our local community Church that was just a few blocks up the road from our house and that's what I started to do with her on Sundays. I remember finding this place a bit more "fun." It was small, only two main rooms and a kitchen, so I didn't get lost and I knew my way around. I recognized faces when I came in each week, I began to make friends with other girls, and if I arrived early enough I could help ring the steeple bell to signal church was about to be in session. Still, something didn't sit with me quite right. I just didn't feel that connection like I could see other people experiencing. During the week at home we didn't read the Bible and we didn't pray before our meals, but I do remember that it wasn't right to say Gods name in vein, (oh my God) and I did pray before bed.
I'm sure part of sticking to a church-going routine became challenging as I was visiting my mother every other weekend and these weekends I visited her we didn't go to church. It wasn't before too long in my childhood that I realized I enjoyed the pleasures of sleeping in on a Sunday morning and when I told my grandma that I now lived with about this she didn't fight me on it. Mind you both my grandfathers (on either sides of the family) didn't join for church either. Just an interesting bit I remember.
So I stopped going to church and I started sleeping in. I made best friends with a girl who said, "Oh my God," and when my grandma heard me say it she didn't like it at first and then she stopped persisting. I started developing an attitude that religion divides families and provides a place for judgement. In fact, I saw it happening to the people that were closest to me on my mother's side of the family. With religion not being pressed in the household I was living in full time, I slowly drifted farther and farther away from any sort of religious ties.
I remember going from 8th grade into high school and it seemed like everybody who was religious started getting deemed as weird and more of my friends that I knew were converting to say they didn't identify as religious anymore. I went through a sort of dark "goth/emo" phase during my 8th grade years and I think it morphed into an indie punk attitude at the beginning of high school. The people I surrounded myself with and got to know better had no religious ties. Actually, they made fun of religion, and were all extremely sarcastic and cynical about the idea of it. As it would happen, I adopted all of these traits myself. I remember having one good friend in particular who was so uncomfortable with just the mention of the word God, that I would tease her that I was trying to save her, and she would get completely freaked out.
Even though I didn't consider myself a religious person, and I openly didn't believe in God, I never felt like this truly disrupted my relationship with my family. My father's mother, who was raising me and whose house I was living in, probably pinned me as an angsty teenager. There are a lot of contributing factors, but angsty I was indeed. She never pressed any sort of religion on to me and I would consider our house very open minded, especially held up next to my Mormon family, which was the only other comparison I had in my life. At my Mormon family events, which there were many, I took on the black sheep blanket with my mother, my (homosexual) aunt, her daughter, and her kids (my cousins). I remember feeling like the odd one out. I remember feeling judged, I remember feeling looked down on. I don't remember how much of that was a perception I put on myself or how much of it was true, but I also remember my aunt always telling me that no matter what, we're family, and above all else that's what brings us together - above all else that is why we go. It really gives me goosebumps as an adult thinking on how noble and courageous a mindset that is for my aunt to take on. To stand her ground and say something like that despite the oh so personal core beliefs being profoundly different (not to mention passive agressive pressure received from family members to "see the light" and "change her mind"). This mindset for sure had a major impact on my life.
As I continued growing up I continued not identifying with God and not identifying with any religion. However, I started tuning into myself more. When I talk about my fitness journey I often comment how I was not an active person as a teenager, and it's true, I was not very active and there are plenty of humorous stories for how I tried to get out of doing physical activities in school. By the time I graduated high school I was taking time for myself, going to the gym on a regular basis, and fitting in runs here and there (even though that is another love hate relationship in itself). In the coming years my experiences through fitness and the people I met in my life allowed me to stay open-minded, as well as explore my physical boundaries through health and wellness.
It was after the split of a long-term relationship in 2013 that I declared I was going to travel starting the following Summer, when my roller derby season ended and my lease was up on my Seattle apartment. June 2014, I would embark out into the world. This decision, and the experiences to follow, hands down changed my life and undoubtedly was the most spiritually invested time of my life so far. I started stretching regularly, meditating more, I met spiritual healers, made friends with energy workers, and I ended up purchasing my first oracle card deck only two months into the trip. These are a style of guidance type cards. I used them daily, I treated them with care. Wherever I went, I kept a daily routine, with my cards, with myself, and often with my fitness. It's just simply what I made time for, no matter where I was. More often than not I found myself surrounded by people who either had the same interest or were genuinely interested in learning more about this personal practice I had taken upon myself.
Still, I didn't dive full heartedly into yoga until November 2014. In my life I'd experienced the sublime bliss of a savasana pose, I'd experienced the glimpses of releasing the mind and simply experiencing the body. I always knew that I felt extremely good, as well as closer to myself, whenever I indulged in a yoga class, but still I didn't start to identify with yoga the way that I do now until that November. I was on that long-term trip through Mexico, staying in Tepotzlan with my lover of that time who had recently joined me on the trip, working to live at this beautifully quaint little bed and breakfast run by a middle-aged Czech woman. Somehow I had come across Erin Motz's 30 day free yoga challenge on YouTube and upon starting it I fell in love and dedicated myself to the next 30 days. We woke up every morning to do yoga on the patio in the middle of the back Garden. It was truly serene. What I particularly remember about starting my yoga journey is that my chaturangas completely sucked! I remember face-planting on my mat, often in the middle of that garden patio, always coming up laughing. Slowly but surely feeling my strength grow.
It was the following March, 2015, that I solo ventured to a 200 hour, 3-week, intensive yoga teacher training located on the land of a beautiful nature reserve in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Of course, this was a life-changing experience in and of itself, but this is truly where that word God came back around for me.
It was an evening yoga class and we were all laying on the floor winding down, in a reclined spinal twist. I remember people’s arms out in a T shape and our teacher of the evening, Jun, put on this song that I had heard before, but never really listened to. It was popular of the time and I had heard it here and there. Everyone started singing along. It was the song, Aloha de Akua by Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People. I didn’t know the words, but for the chorus he repeats the phrase:
“Aloha, Aloha, Kuleana, Kuleana.” I know it may be awkward to try to pronounce that, let alone imagine how it’s sung in a song, but you might recognize it if you YouTube it. I didn’t know the words, so as I was laying there, soaking up everyone enjoying each others company, embracing each other, singing together, I was listening to the words really for the first time. I found myself put-off by the mention of the word God in the song. (After looking it up now, I see it’s actually only mentioned twice in the entirety of the five minutes) Still, it made me uncomfortable. For example the opening line sings:
Lend your ears, lend your hands, lend your movement, anything you can. Come to teach, come to be taught.Come in the likeness in the image of God…
That's when I stopped listening because I was simply put-off. I was drawn back to the Now of listening around me to everyone enjoying each other’s company again. It was a curious moment. Fully enjoying the experience, but not liking the music. It seemed so silly. I carried this with me for awhile. Then, somehow, I feel as though the Universe aligned with me, because I started hearing that song EVERYWHERE! The more I listened to it, the more open I allowed myself to be, and the more I enjoyed the song. Before I knew it, I knew every single word and loved singing along. The funny thing is, the next line of lyrics in the opening line says, ‘cause, you can be like that, with all that humbleness, and all that respect.' I’ve come to love Nahko’s music because of how uplifting it is for the soul. Reminding us of our power, especially in community, and tribing together. Respecting Mother Earth. You don’t have to be “spiritual” for this either, I challenge you, don’t let the words put you off.
If you don’t believe in anything at all, can you at least believe in nature? Can you believe that there is an innate intelligence within all living things, within this world, on our planet? The birds know when to fly south, they migrate and fly for hundreds of thousands of miles sometimes. Turtles swim thousands of miles in the sea. The seasons change, plants adapt. Humans transformed from hunter and gatherers to growers and farmers, the cells of our body communicate with each other and keep us alive, through electrical currents no less! Some call it science, I enjoy also calling it the magic of life.
It was during my nine month travel excursion through Mexico and Centro America that Osho books kept popping up in my life. Perhaps another sign from the Universe? Sure, I could take it like that. There were a couple places I stayed that had some Osho books on the shelf, so I would flip through them and read some passages. Every single passage had me left in awe and wonder. The words deeply resonated with me and made me want to read the whole book, but the timing just didn’t feel right.
A couple months after I had gotten home from my travels, I found myself in the Bellingham Village bookstore, in Fairhaven. I saw the book Dang Dang Doko Dang by Osho and felt compelled to purchase it. I tried starting it a couple times, but it didn't click. A few months later (Fall 2015) I took a three week trip to Thailand, gratefully with some other book lovers, brought my book along, and found myself plowing through the pages within a week span. This is zen philosophy and I am not a heavy reader. I was floored that the book captivated me so much to keep me reading straight through, let alone feeling like I was actually absorbing everything. It's a crazy statement, but this book has also had a profound influence on my life. There are some really deep passages shared. I highlighted frantically while I read it, even going back to highlight entire chapters in the contents section at the front of the book.
One thing that was introduced in the first pages was talking about the word God. How dirty that word has become. How by simply saying it you put people off. Osho goes on to explain how narrow words are and how God is not a person or even an entity, but perhaps a feeling of love. He said, Words like God and Loveshould not be used too much, otherwise their beauty is lost. With this I could not agree more. Of course, Osho goes crazy in-depth and talks on all kinds of deeper levels, at least that's how I personally experience it, and the resonation within myself goes so deep with it.
Through these statements, I realized that I get to define God however I want to. The word God doesn't need to be associated with my own personal negative religious ties and experiences from my life. I could transpire it to be the Universe, to be love, to be myself, to look within.
With this book and other practices I have put into my life, I've learned that God is not a magical all mighty being that shuns you for your sins. This very book gives another great example that has really stuck with me since I read the passage:
"It is so simple to see that the creator has to be related with the creation. A port is deeply related with his poetry, has to be, he loves his poetry...A sculptor loves the statue he has made. Watch a sculptor when he has finished a statue, how he touches and feels it - almost as if it is the girl of his dreams, his beloved. Watch a sculptor when in difficult circumstances, he has to sell his artwork. Tears come to his eyes.
If God is the creator, he has to be close to creation, he has to be deeply in love with his creation. But then you cannot condemn man, and then you cannot make man feel guilty. And if you cannot force man to feel guilty, then churches cannot exist, then their whole business disappears. The whole business of the church exists only if you are guilty. Because your guilt, you need their help; because of your guilt, you need salvation.
If God is already close to you, and if God is already breathing in you, singing in your heart, then what is the need of any salvation? If God has created you, then how can you be sinners? Then you cannot be condemned, the signature of God is on you."
I'm sure there can be a million and one comebacks from multiple religious perspectives on why the above paragraphs do not ring true, but this rang a deeply resonating bell inside of me. I had a wave of warmth and realization that started to grow the confirmation within myself that I am wonderful just the way I am. All my habits, tendencies, curiosities, it is all completely natural. This is life. We are meant to experience. My compiling practice that stemmed from an article on letting go of judgement merged so wonderfully with this concept. Yet it brings me back to my main point here:
Change your relationship with the word God.
Flip your perspective. Take it back, own it. Let it be yours. Let this entire life and all it's experiences be yours. We have no place in telling others what is right and what is wrong, especially not under God's word. In all religions all across the world I hear people preaching for peace and love, yet fighting and tearing each other a part. How deeply flawed is this? For you to have such a deep personal belief within yourself that you are easily hurt and bothered by others' actions?
Let's move this away from religion for now.
This is a new challenge I have been taking on in my life regularly. Where you find yourself being offended, feeling hurt, and taking things personally - that is an opportunity for growth. That is an opportunity to have a different perspective. Hone your reactions so you're not so snappy. Allow yourself to experience your reactions without verbally reacting. (This takes practice!) Then, give yourself grace for when you do lash out about something or another, notice that initial reaction, and don't be so embarrassed that you can't own your mistakes. We are human. Mistakes do happen. That is a natural part of life. It is simply between communication and this "personal space" we set up around ourselves that causes all of life's dramas. These days, when I have a sour reaction, when I hear myself getting snappy, when I feel my blood running through my veins, or my stomach suddenly tighten up, I own these as a part of who I am. I say out loud something like: "I can feel myself having a reaction here and that is why I just said that. I didn't mean it, it just came out." When you work with the people in your life to have open, up front, honest communication and allow yourselves to hold vulnerable space for each other, your entire world is going to open up and you will experience life in a whole new light. Just remember, where you meet resistance, where you feel hurt, you have a challenge to look at within yourself, but you also have the option to not give any energy to any situation either. Save your breath, time, energy, all your precious resources, for good, for love, to make the world a better place, because why the hell not?
Since I have let the walls come down around the word God, I have opened myself up to countless new experiences. Including feeling closer to my family and feeling as if I understand people better in general, because I have created my own definition. I can listen to podcasts and music that mention God without feeling put-off, I can uphold conversations just the same, still I am constantly evaluating my personal space, what bothers me, and why. You see, the people that hold God in their hearts as love, as well as a creator, see the connection and necessity to spread that around. Then there are others of us who do the exact same thing with other words. Nature, Universe, Spirit, Energy. Replace any of these in a sentence with God and notice how it becomes whatever you want it to be. Notice how we're all talking about the exact same thing. Notice how you feel a little closer to yourself.
Let go of judgement, embrace yourself, and love life just a little bit more.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Charlie Kaufman:
“We're all one thing, like cells in a body. 'Cept we can't see the body. The way fish can't see the ocean. And so we envy each other. Hurt each other. Hate each other. How silly is that? A heart cell hating a lung cell.”