Like many people, I was raised in a religious home. And like many people, I then grew up, made choices for myself, and decided I didn’t want to be a part of that religion any longer.
This story is not unique by any means. A by-product of growing up in a highly religious environment is that it can feel too confining as you’re growing older and testing your limits. You can’t wait to get away from it, shedding it like a too-small winter coat.
I’ve spent the last 20-ish years floating somewhere in between agnostic and Crunchy-Universal-Love-Hippie on the spirituality scale. I’ve said a lot of things about God or God(s) or No-God(s) that I don’t even know where they came from. That’s because they weren’t founded in anything but my imagination and whatever I could suss out that felt kinda ok. I was making-do.
I’ve spent the last few years evaluating and reevaluating what I think, feel and believe to be true. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time dissecting how the Mind/Body connection of health flows into this because there is a spirituality component of health. The three pillars of fantastic combined health are Energy (both physical and polarity), Nutrition, and Mind/Body Connection (including tools). Those tools include supplements, self-care, and essential oils and other ways that bring the Mind/Body connection closer. And Energy includes your connection to the Divine, whatever you deem that to be and however it’s the most healing for you.
So many times this past year I’ve heard, “Man, Leah! You glow! You really look great!” And I owe it in large part to the changes good health can bring. And like I mentioned above, having spirituality in my life and being able to feel is a big part of good health.
When we talk about reiki and energy clearings/healings and cranial sacral work, it’s really all the same thing. You’re pulling Universal Love & Light from your Source, which then flows through you to help others and yourself. Understanding this was the door that opened me back up to looking at my own spirituality. I guess becoming a Reiki Master has helped me find God.
Along this journey I’ve identified five main points of my own story that I feel might be helpful to others. These are the looming questions and long unidentified non-positive feelings I carried around with me for years, not understanding what they were or how they fit. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in some of these and be inspired to look into your own Self to see where spirituality fits in with you. If you’ve felt something missing, it might be your connection to the Divine.
1. I Was Hurt and Confused
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. Many of the people in an organized church are fine people who are really trying to do their best each and every day. Others are kind of along for the ride, not coming from a place of love, perhaps not sure why they are members of a church to begin with. Maybe they attend because that’s just what they’ve been doing for a long time. Those people can do a lot of harm in their ignorance. I came into contact with many of those.
From a very young age, depending on my teachers at church, I spent a lot of time in the hall. What that really meant was I was asking too many questions or being silly and distracting my neighbors from listening to the teacher, so I was sent out of the class.
I remember on more than one occasion asking what must have been yet another question and having the teacher roll their eyes at me. But here’s the thing: I was being sincere. I really didn’t understand what they were teaching and I wanted answers. The problem being that in a class setting where you have 12 or so little wiggly kids trying to sit in their chairs through a 45 minute lesson, you really just want to get the lesson done, not keep answering the Whys.
My teachers were probably doing the best they could in the situation and I’ve come to understand that they probably didn’t know the answers to tell me, which must have made them uncomfortable. But when they brushed me off and moved on, leaving me with a gaping misunderstanding, I got bored or sad or irritated and started talking to or teasing those next to me, which ended with me out in the hallway until class ended.
I left the children’s Primary and went to the youth classes for ages 12-17 but at that point, I’d spent so much time not getting my questions answered, I figured no one really knew or I didn’t belong there. I spent those ages really struggling to stay active in the church with weeks where my parents insisted I go and me sneaking out and walking home as soon as their backs were turned. Needless to say, church was not a spiritually uplifting or soul-filling experience for me.
I would occasionally have a good teacher and those few stick out in my mind. I didn’t ever really feel a part of the class but I could see them sincerely trying and that meant a lot.
2. I Misunderstood Gospel Principles
Because I didn’t actually learn things at church, I misunderstood a lot of basic gospel principles. This is kind of fascinating to me because you have to understand that I wasn’t only getting teachings for three hours on Sundays, I was getting taught daily at home.
My family had scripture study nightly at 5:30pm every, single, solitary day where we would read a chapter from the scriptures, memorize a monthly scripture passage, sing, and pray together. We also met on Monday night for Family Home Evening where more doctrine was discussed. Plus as a teen I met mid-week for an additional youth meeting at church.
As a family we probably read through the scriptures together over ten times during my youth. That’s a lot of scripture reading and not understanding going on. I remember spending the time while we were reading daydreaming or having conversations in my head, basically doing my time until I got to leave the room.
There were a lot of small things like why we fast or keep the Sabbath day holy or why we pay tithing, but my biggest misunderstanding was the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
I recall having a conversation not too many years ago with someone about how I didn’t want to be a part of why Christ suffered on the cross, if He was indeed real, so I was choosing not to participate. That statement shows just how much I didn’t understand. There is no choosing. If you believe Christ is real and that He died on the cross, it was for you.
Due to the many misunderstandings I’ve had over the years and my lack of knowledge, I made up my own version of what was true. Much of it was based on nothing but old programming and childhood misunderstandings.
To overcome this, I started learning and reading and researching. I had conversations with those that knew more than me. Doing this as an adult helped me process old feelings and find out what the truth was. For the first time in my life, I’ve enjoying reading the scriptures.
3. I Saw a Church Full of Hypocrites
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. (I feel like I’ve said that somewhere before…) But in no way more than in this way was I more confused and understood less.
I looked around at the people that attended church and saw sinners. Men who drank alcohol or did drugs and then went to church and performed sacred covenants. Women who talked about other women in some of the most ugly ways imaginable but then went to church and pretended they were friends. People cheating on their spouses. Liars. People who were into porn. People cheating on their tithing and taxes and making justifications for paying less. So much sin but then so much pretending to be perfect on Sunday. These were the people I was supposed to aspire to be like? These were the people I was supposed to be friends with and who were supposedly representing God’s church?
And here’s where my new understanding finally caught up to my reality. Every organized church is filled with people who are making mistakes and doing wrong. Also true is that they are trying their best, because if there is one thing I do know now, it’s that every person on the face of the planet is doing the best they can, every day of their lives. When they can do better, they do do better. (I said do do.) (Sorry.) (<--See? Repentance in action.) And now that I understand the Atonement better, I see how it fits in with all of these sinners, of which I am one. Could there have ever been a more judgmental person than I was? Highly unlikely. Could that have been more hypocritical of me to be judging each of them and not looking at myself? Nope. (Am I done asking and answering my own questions in this annoying way? Yes.) The church is filled with ill and damaged people. The church is a hospital and there’s no more appropriate place for them to be. The fact that I looked around and expected everyone else to be perfect but not myself is a pretty classic move I guess. Insert something about the sty in your eye here.
4. I Didn’t Feel I Fit In
So. Not fitting in is a theme of my life. Not as a child in church or with my family in general and not as an adult with people my own age. Not with my first husband. Not in elementary, middle, high school or college class settings. Not with Americans sometimes. Not even with the human race occasionally because of our brutality and chilling indifference with each other all around the world but especially in our own backyards.
Having mental and physical illnesses had a way of always keeping me separate from others, if not in reality then at least that’s how I perceived it. But beyond that, I’ve just always felt, well, different. Like I was watching life from inside my head. There was a buffer layer, like a blanket, all around me like insulation. From inside that place I watched people being happy and being sad and having lives like it was a play happening and I wasn’t really a part of it.
When considering becoming more spiritual and attending a church with real other human people, this crossed my mind. If I’m going to go to a church, whatever church I decide to go to, I’ll have to be sitting near other people for meetings and interacting with them afterwards. All that shaking hands and nodding and smiling and such. Could I do it? Could I do it and be genuine or would I be hating every second and watching the clock, waiting to leave? What if someone asks me what I do for a living? The horror.
I have tattoos. I can be a little crass and loud. My sense of humor can include body-humor (see above: do do) much to the chagrin of more refined people like my husband. I don’t like being put on the spot, read: called on to say a prayer or read a scripture or answer a theoretical spiritual question posed by a teacher when I’m not ready for it. Don’t ask me to be smart or witty on the spot. Don’t ask me to wear a funny hat for your amusement.
And what about my political views? I support marriage equality and there’s nothing you run into faster like a brick wall than churches that don’t. I also support social programs and clean, legal abortions for women. Could there even be a church out there that would accept me?
The answer is, yes. Pretty much every church I would want to attend would accept me if I’m going to church to connect to the Divine and to people who are just like me in that they are trying their best every day to be good people and do what they feel they are supposed to do. Getting caught up in the details of what every person who attends that church believes in can be a distraction. And part of keeping my focus on coming to understand the Divine better is not being distracted. If I choose to believe that God knows me, loves me, wants the best for me, and has a plan for me, anything that keeps me from that plan is a distraction, including getting caught up in those details. My job is to check in with the Divine, ask what I’m supposed to be doing, and then go do that thing.
Part of looking around this life with new, spiritual eyes is trying to understand that I just don’t know everything. I’m limited by the confines of my physicalness and my small understanding of What Is. And I’m ok with that because this life is a journey and I’m finally enjoying it.
5. I Couldn’t Feel
This is perhaps the single most damaging thing I experienced. If you can’t feel, you can’t really be in touch with the Divine. You can only get hints and shadows of what real “Feeling” feels like. The combination of my life’s experiences, the foods I ate, the mental challenges I had, and the reality I chose to live in converged to create a bubble of non-feeling where I existed.
As a child I was told to pray and ask with intent and I would feel answers from God that I could then choose to follow as my life’s course. The only problem is that it never worked for me.
From a young age I surmised that one (or both) of two things must be true. 1. Everyone around me from the people in my family to everyone in the town where I grew up, nay, the entire state of Utah must be crazy or lying and/or, 2. God did exist but I was broken and/or beneath God’s notice.
Because I’d never felt any confirmation or peaceful feeling in response to prayer, I had no idea what they were talking about. It wasn’t until this past year that my body was in a state where I could feel anything. But when it happened, it was amazing.
We’re all seeking connection in our lives. We tell our stories and interact with each other moment to moment and connect. The energy we have around us and running through us is what connects us to each other. Sometimes we meet someone new and feel a strong pull, like something cosmic is happening. Sometimes we come into contact with someone and instinctively know that nope, that person is not someone we want in our circle. Becoming familiar with how your energy (and the energy of others around you) works for you or against you is important.
And beyond that, finding your connection to the Divine will be life-changing. Tap into whatever you believe in. Figure out why you believe in it separate from any old thinking patterns from your childhood or those around you. Chart a new, clean course with your Higher Power and it will bring the peace, joy, inspiration and connection you’ve been lacking.
In case it’s helpful to you, here’s how I chose to get started on my own spiritual path. I researched (because that’s what I do) what spirituality means and how it works and what it could do for me.
My goal was to use spirituality as a foundation. I was learning that not having any sort of spiritual foundation meant I was on my own against the world. Choosing to believe in something larger and more powerful than myself meant I had someone/something to lean on when things got tough.
The definition of the word Foundation is literally just an underlying basis or principle for belief. The definition of Spirituality is “almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience.” But a further definition is, “a process of re-formation of the personality.” I love that. I think that’s what we choose to do when we choose to believe in a Higher Power. We’re inviting a re-formation of our personalities. We’re saying yes to changing how we approach our lives and our belief patterns.
I now embrace a much more traditional type of God but in the beginning I had to approach this with baby steps. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, decide if having a strong foundation for your spirituality would be helpful to your healing. At the very least, wade in and find out why you have your current beliefs. It can be scary at first. But it can also be one of the most rewarding things you try.
Here are the steps I took daily/weekly. You could call it a religious regimen or practice. The first column is the more traditional way, the second column is how I tend to think of it, and the last column are the benefits I’ve found from making this a regular practice. Just like anything else, practice helps solidify changes we make and this is no different.
|TRADITIONAL WORSHIP||PERSONAL IDEAS||BENEFITS|
|Praise and Worship||Gratitude – Start a journal or in someway document daily what you’re thankful for.||Brings optimism, positive outlook, raises your vibration higher, helps focus on uplifting things.|
|Read the Word of God||Increase Knowledge – Read uplifting, good books, watch documentaries, broaden your horizons.||Brings empathy/compassion for yourself and others, broader life-view, diminishes depression.|
|Prayer||Meditation, Sit in Quiet, Listen – Try listening to your Higher Power.||Brings your attention to the present and the breath, helps you be in the moment, helps prevent diseases, cultivates intuition.|
|Change||Take Action – When your Higher Power gives you ideas for change, implement those changes as soon as you can.||Helps make personal growth a goal, helps establish lasting ability to remove unwanted stress/cortisol, stops the cycle of learning the same lessons over and over again.|
By embracing these activities and putting them into daily practice, you will build your spiritual strength—your foundation—and begin to experience a powerful new sense of your Higher Power’s presence and purpose. Be aware of what dreams you receive and write them down as soon as you wake up. Look for patterns of limiting beliefs you can work on. Tune into your own intuition and be willing to “go with your gut” on some things while you practice your new spirituality.
Creating rituals and traditions around your beliefs helps solidify them in your brain and increases the rate at which your brain will assimilate your new ideas. This is true for everything we learn, but it’s readily apparent in this arena. This takes time. Just like building a home from the bottom up. Just like a plant that starts from a seed. The secret is that there is no secret. It just takes time.
We know that habits are formed through a process called ‘context-dependent repetition.’ “Habit” means we’ve reached a threshold of efficiency – the automation of frequent behaviors. This allows us to conserve our mental resources because we know how to do it so well, we don’t have to think about it so hard anymore. Creating new habits takes a minimum of 66 days but sometimes longer (even years) to cement those new neural pathways and make it automatic. Don’t give up. Be gentle with yourself. Keep trying.