Some of you have been asking me privately whether I’ve become an atheist, a skeptic, or some sort of non-believer, so I thought I’d take a minute to just share with you some of my personal beliefs, which are admittedly always fluid as I learn and grow. In short, no. I have skepticism about religion and New Age spirituality, for sure, but I am not an atheist and still have a rich, if shifting, spiritual life. Let me see if I can explain it at all, since the numinous nature of direct experience is hard to put into words.
I am a mystic and also an Internal Family Systems (IFS) practitioner, which is the “how” of my spiritual path. This path does not include “spiritual bypassing,” but it does include social justice and caring about global issues like getting a handle on the Covid pandemic, addressing environmental collapse, and doing what we can to protect the survival of our species, on behalf of our children.
My path has taken me deep into the Mystery of whatever you call Source, which I call my “Inner Pilot Light,” and there aren’t many beliefs in that Great Mystery, but if I had to pick a belief system, I’d say I believe in the Divine spark within all matter, whether you call that spark God or Goddess or energy or the Universe or whatever. I believe this Divine spark is in everything and everybody, and that the only thing that keeps us from inhabiting that divinity full time is the traumatic wounding that cloaks it. I do not believe this core of our being can ever be damaged or broken, even when the trauma is severe, and as such, it is a resource everyone has the potential to access via healing trauma so that inner divinity can lead the way and guide your decisions and behavioral choices.
I do not believe any being is a monster or that any human is beyond redemption. I believe all of us can be godly if we do the hard inner shadow work to reclaim our innate wholeness- integrating light and dark. I also believe humans can be evil if we fail to take responsibility and hold ourselves and each other accountable for doing the hard deep inner work to heal the traumas that might lead to abusive, narcissistic, selfish, greedy, and sociopathic kinds of behaviors that are a side effect of traumatic wounding (and are therefore treatable if someone is humble enough to accept treatment).
The spirituality that most resonates with me is the spirituality most Indigenous people I’ve met believe in, nature-based animism that acknowledges that all matter has consciousness and is deserving of respect, devotion, compassion, and kindness. My most beloved “God” lives inside of me as my Inner Pilot Light and connects me to that spark in all beings (every mystical religion, psychotherapy, and philosophy has its own name for this imminent divinity).
I guess you could say my God is love and kindness and that love fuels my compassion for the suffering of others and of myself, which sounds cliche, but it’s how it feels in my heart. This love shows up in my impulse towards social justice work and is now fueling my health equity activism in bringing trauma healing to anyone who is ready for it via my non-profit Heal At Last. And this kindness is not the meek, limp “nice” sort of kindness commonly seen in those who practice spiritual bypassing, but a kindness rooted in the courage to try to take a stand and do the right thing so innocent and vulnerable people don’t need to suffer needlessly. Much of my public health activism this year has been fueled by my understanding of the loving-kindness needed to protect the elderly, the chronically ill, the more vulnerable BIPOC, and others who suffer more from Covid because of various conditions that make them more vulnerable. Love and kindness sometimes require us to make personal sacrifices because we love others. I have a hard time understanding why some have been so unwilling to make the smallest sacrifices to their precious “freedoms,” but I see rebellion against what is best for the whole as a trauma symptom, and all trauma deserves our compassion, even if those rebellious behaviors infuriate us because they lack love and kindness for the whole of humanity.
I believe there is a kind of universal conductor that works through my Inner Pilot Light to guide me towards some kind of Divine Will, but I don’t believe in some fixed destiny or a God outside me that picks what happens to me or karma as it’s commonly understood (as a kind of punishment for sin or wrongdoing). I do believe in accountability and natural consequences, and when we step away from what is loving (to our own parts and to other beings), things can get wonky. I believe in justice, and when people behave in ways that are unjust, I believe in restorative justice as a path to individual and community healing when wrongdoings are perpetrated.
That’s why I see climate crisis and systemic racism and white supremacy as spiritual issues. Any spirituality that does not activate us to prioritize social justice and take a stand for the vulnerable and oppressed, holding those who double down on injustice (often via spiritual bypassing) accountable for the harm they cause makes no sense to my heart. Climate crisis and racial oppression, genocide, colonization, and white supremacy are what happen when we turn our backs on loving the Earth and all of her creatures and when (mostly white) people in power care more about protecting their power and privilege than they care about correcting injustice and doing what is morally right.
I believe those who choose power and privilege over social justice sacrifice intimacy for the cheap hit of “oneupmanship” and the financial and social rewards that go with being “one up.” It saddens me that most “spiritual people” center power over social justice and compassionate action to ease the suffering of others. Life could be so much deeper and richer if those in power were willing to sacrifice being on top so we could all be equal. Any spirituality that doesn’t teach this is worthless in my eyes.
It seems heartbreaking to me that many of the tragedies that happen in the world happen unequally to the oppressed, not to the people responsible for those tragedies (oil executives, privileged white people who over-consume, greedy politicians, cultic New Age leaders, abusive priests, etc) So I can’t explain why that is, but “their souls chose to suffer” or “They are old souls who chose to incarnate into a difficult life before they were born so they can grow spiritually” doesn’t feel accurate to me either. I’ve spent much of my life trying to answer the question “Why do innocent people have to suffer,” but I have failed in my quest. After years of seeking, I honestly don’t know why bad things happen to good people and why people who make bad choices are so rarely held accountable for those bad behaviors, but I certainly am not going to pretend I can make sense of the vast injustices and disparities of privileges of the world. It’s unfair and it breaks my heart and leaves me feeling helpless, but I won’t dare “silver-lining” that much suffering with some fluffy aphorism intended to make me feel less guilty. Maybe our parents were right, and life is just not fair.
I believe spiritual guidance does exist and that we can trust it. I believe it comes from what I call our four “Whole Health Intelligences”- not just mental intelligence, but also intuitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, and somatic intelligence. As such, I believe emotions are a key piece of our inner guidance and that no emotion is “bad” or “negative.” All are here to help us when we learn to work with them masterfully.
When we tune into other forms of guidance, like spiritual or intuitive guidance, some people may experience this guidance coming from spirit guides, animal spirits, angelic beings, or other “outside” forces, but for me, at this point in my journey, it comes from my own Inner Pilot Light (heart, body, mind, emotions, and wisdom) as that God in me connects me to the God of all embodied, incarnate beings, animate or inanimate.
When I attune to, trust, and have the courage to follow these intelligences and guidance, I feel a sense of “being in the flow,” or the Tao, or whatever you want to call this state of serendipitously unfolding synchronicity, which can feel magical. I also get that some of what I’m calling flow may be the result of my white privilege, so I’m really questioning all that. As one reader said, “Did you ‘manifest’ that or is it your privilege?”
Internal Family Systems (IFS), the trauma healing spiritual path founded by Richard Schwartz, PhD has become the closest thing to a religion that I follow, trust, and practice. And yes, it was created by a white male and I can already see inherent biases built into the model that I am unpacking to make it fit my direct experience. Even with its limitations, IFS is still the closest thing I can find to an explanation of the truth of my genuine spiritual and mystical experiences. If I had to pick deities to explain my faith, the real Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as told in the gnostic gospels, are still my favorite historical mystics.
My spirituality is really about how to be a loving citizen of Planet Earth. Nature is my church, so environmental activism has to be part of my spiritual life. Earth’s inhabitants are my congregation, so social justice has to be part of my spirituality. None of us are free until we are all free. All species of life and all forms of matter deserve our worship and devotion. I do not support any human-centric religion because there is a spark of God in EVERYTHING. One need only study the Fibonacci sequence in nature to realize what a miracle the heaven we live in is.
Earth offerings are part of my spiritual practice, as is walking in nature several times a day and becoming intimate with my “parts” via daily IFS meditation and “parts practice” with my IFS practice partner Emma, who has helped keep me sane with daily check-in’s during the pandemic.
Science is also part of my spirituality, and modern medicine can be a MIRACLE- although we need to update the evidence-based medicine model to resolve the two false assumptions upon which this model is based (1-that you can separate the medicine or model from the practitioner delivering it and 2-that patients in a clinical trial can be truly separated without energetic entanglement (thus, placebo effects.) We also need to resist making science a religious dogma that cannot be mended when we discover it is flawed and imperfect, which it currently is.
I don’t believe in dogma and don’t trust anyone in the world of spirituality or science who does. People with dogmatic beliefs think they’re certain in an uncertain world. Dogmatic believers are not open and curious, they’re not willing to be challenged or admit when they’re wrong, and this makes them dangerous. My beliefs change all of the time, which humbles me because I keep thinking I’ve hit the limits of the number of mistakes people can make in one lifetime and then I outdo myself- again. I’ve played with the idea of believing nothing, and that doesn’t feel right either. So beliefs are like waves in the ocean for me, something my mind likes to roll with, but as changing as the tides.
I believe in Mystery, and if Mystery could be demystified by science (so we could control the Mystery, of course), I’m not sure It would want to be. Which kind of makes me chuckle because my curious scientist parts sure do want to understand the mysteries of things like “miraculous” healing. Yet a decade of study, direct experience, and research has failed to give me the answers. Which is kind of cute. I think the Mystery has a sense of humor and likes to play hide and seek.
I’m reluctant to claim to “know” anything, which is why I’m calling these beliefs and not truths, but if I know anything, it’s that when our hearts take the lead and we have the courage to follow our hearts (or Inner Pilot Lights or “center” or “Self”), our spirituality becomes natural and doesn’t require belief, which is cognitive (attaching to beliefs means we’re in our heads, not our hearts.) When we’re in our hearts, compassionate action and being a benevolent presence in the world is the only thing that makes sense anymore. Sometimes compassionate action looks fierce, like when we’re holding those who abuse power accountable for the harms they’ve done and demanding reparations for the victims of that harm. But if fierce compassion is coming from the heart, it’s the love of the Mama Bear standing up for those who are more vulnerable and may struggle, because of heavy trauma burdens, to stand up for themselves. Any science, medicine, or spirituality that doesn’t protect the vulnerable needs to get heave-hoed onto the garbage bin.
Part of my spirituality is my belief that we are inherently interconnected and interdependent and must therefore have a strong conscience when it comes to protecting each other and helping each other thrive. I think “self-help” and “rugged individualism” have done great damage to our understanding that we NEED one another and must rely on communities of spiritual and social justice and trauma healing support. This is part of what fuels my non-profit work, to rebuild communities of healing, minus the toxic hierarchies and abuses of power that lead to cults. We are trying to cult-proof this non-profit so no one person has too much power and vulnerable trauma survivors can do our best to keep ourselves and each other safe, supported, nurtured, intimate, and in a space of trust and tenderness. It is my hope that rebuilding communities, where Inner Pilot Lights can shine together, will begin to stitch back together the threads of humanity’s unraveling tapestry in ways that could help us rally together to rebuild a better world. If nothing else, at least we will go down together, clinging to one another and praying there’s something beautiful on the other side of this dimension.
So…wow. I’ve never tried to answer this question before and this feels terribly incomplete, but it’s the Cliff Notes of my inner life.
What about you? How would you describe your beliefs or your personal flavor of spirituality?
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