It lost me at Father. I could not feel the spirituality of my forbears. As a kid I tried to believe God was listening and watching over us, but I couldn’t feel him. Christianity was the ideology and tradition of my ancestors. Believing in it made you a ‘good person’ according to my Grandma, but my brain wouldn’t have it.
My dad had left us and my stepfather was creepy. The concept of praising a voyeuristic, patriarchal Dad was unpalatable, an unfair ask I felt. I wanted to talk about my struggle with that aspect of religion, but Grandma was afraid of pissing God off if he heard me. She shut me down gently with a hint of shame. Still, I couldn’t leave the topic alone.
I became fascinated by religion — all of them — for their mysticism, ritual, art, history and rich, symbolic literature. I even worked in a church for a few years as a psychologist, fascinated by the work of my friend Dr Macnab, a ‘maverick minister’ who said old religion was “dead”. He liked to talk of Presence.
I first experienced being fully present, one with what I was doing and my surroundings, in yoga. It’s a plain, stark, profound non-magic, presence. The spaces between the thoughts, neither good nor bad, no focus on thinking, no judging, just being, as it all swirls on. Presence is beyond our humanity. It has no words, no rules, no name, no boundaries. It’s in us and in everything alive. It just is.
Presence, like dense, full…emptiness…spirituality for the modern unbeliever.
I think of it as the energy of the universe, the power coursing through the cells of all living things, the prana or chi you feel rising and falling in you. It changes state but never dies. Being alive is being animated by the presence of power in the cells that comprise us. Living at our best is communing with it, letting it move in and through us.
Pure energy doesn’t care about belief, or heaven or hell, or whether you swipe your card on the end of the pew. Rich or poor, good or bad are all meaningless to it. It just is. The meaning is up to us.
I know for sure it’s possible to be a loving, compassionate person without religion, without praising the supernatural, (but all enjoyment to you, if that’s your thing).
It’s possible to appreciate the spirit of life, honour the complexity of nature and respect the reality of death, without manufacturing a mum or dad figure, or struggling with a privileged set of myths and metaphors to decode.
It’s possible to experience what feels sacred to you, if anything does, without a gatekeeper. And it’s possible to go one-on-one with your spirituality, or lack of it, with nothing in between. The courage to face our own bare truth may even be part of growing up.
Whatever our image of God or no god at all, the energy that moves through us is our responsibility to manage in the finite time it flows through our unique configuration. Our connection to everyone and everything, and how we allow our energy to flow, is our sole (or is it soul?) responsibility, and the time to do it is limited.
We are our own judge and jury, the ground of our own being, made of the same stuff as all of nature. We create our reality by focusing and directing the energy within us through being present and accountable to ourselves.
Find those things that bring you into an immersive state of flow, present in the moment of your experience. (It’s probably stuff you enjoy and are good at doing). Make flow a daily priority.
Connect in real ways with other beings — listen and be kind, give the gift of your full attention and presence in your relationships.
And speak kindly to yourself in your own mind. Become present to how you shut yourself down with self-criticism or neglecting your desires, and let self-compassion set your energy and emotions free.
Originally published in Thrive Global.