Have you ever felt like there is something bigger out there?
Like there is a greater purpose for living?
Maybe you have a belief in a God/Universe/Source, but can’t seem to put your finger on it?
If so you are not alone. Although your story to getting to this place may be different than mine, I can ensure you that there is a growing movement of people waking up to this reality.
I couldn’t be more excited.
The Angst of Unknowing
The human experience is universal. There are components in my story that will resonate with yours, and vice versa. We humans have evolved to a great part because of our ability to tell stories and to incorporate them into our lives.
For so long, I have feared sharing mine, because to be honest, I wasn’t really sure where I was heading. But now I have a direction. Not a destination, but a direction.
So here we go.
I grew up in the Midwest to a great, loving family. I loved my childhood and couldn’t be more grateful for everything my family has done and will do for me. However, my family followed a very fundamental Christian theology when I was growing and from my early years, this was something I never agreed with. As I grew older, my resentment turned into confusion then into apathy and finally into complete disinterest.
I couldn’t agree with all the rules.
I couldn’t agree with all the certainty and none of the nuance.
I couldn’t agree with the exclusion and none of the real love that Jesus seemed to exhibit.
I couldn’t agree with a God that I was supposed to fear when the first line of the Bible talks about goodness, not sin.
I couldn’t agree with how the Christians I knew acted afraid, anxious, and certain, but preached about love, contentment, and peace.
I knew there had to be more. I couldn’t imagine being part of something so exclusive, while at the same time it preached unconditional love. It seemed insincere, and at times downright manipulative.
So, like any teenager with some angst and not enough perspective, I entered into a stage of pre-conventional wisdom. Wisdom rooted in naiveté and conviction, rather than wisdom and prudence.
However, I always kept God in my side pocket. You know, just in case I had a big interview or I got into trouble or wanted that new iPhone. He was my hedge against the bad side of life, but I rarely turned to him when things were good.
Tale As Old As Time
This story is nothing new. I see it all around me. A person grows up in a conservative religious environment, feels contained in a box but has no direction on how to deal with these feelings, so they resort to throwing the baby (God) out with the bathwater (Religion).
I don’t blame them. I did the same thing.
Religion seemed wrong. Most of the people I knew that were Christians appeared to be holding onto it out of fear of burning in the afterlife, rather than out of love for the Divine.
I threw the baby out with the bathwater, leaving the profound power of the Divine behind with the religious fundamentalism that I rejected.
My journey culminated one summer as an intern in New York City. I finally had the type of external success I had so longed for my whole life, plus I was living in a city that I viewed as the epitome of that success. Things were great, but my soul was darker than ever.
It’s important to note that I didn’t realize this emptiness at the time. In fact, I felt happier and more excited about life than ever. I even remember one night, lying in my bed, having the confidence to remove God from “my pocket,” because I finally had no need for a “hedge.”
The Storm That Washed Away The Sand
I was confident for the first time in my life. I mean really confident. Like I could finally do anything I wanted to do and with the conviction that I had what it took. I had relinquished the guilt that had filled my mind space during my upbringing by removing my pseudo-attachment to a pagan god figure. Now, I was ready to be who I always wanted to be.
I had relinquished the guilt that had filled my mind space during my upbringing by removing my pseudo-attachment to a pagan god figure. Now, I was ready to be who I always wanted to be.
But my confidence was completely, and utterly grounded in sand. It would not be able to stand firm during the storm that was about to come.
Around my 24th birthday, as I was set to head back home for my senior year of school, my life changed.
I do not contribute the cause of this shift to a Divine intervention, in part because I fail to believe in that view of God, but mostly because the cause was a hangover and an early morning wake and bake. However, the wisdom that has come from the suffering caused that summer has been nothing but a divine grace.
The Myth of God as Pissed Off Old Man
I think that is where I, and most people, lose faith in God. We sit back and wonder why a God that is all mighty and all loving could stand by and watch people suffer. I completely understand why people lose faith. It was a huge proponent of my directionless path out of religion.
But I’ve learned that this view of God is a pagan one. The more compelling view of the Being larger than oneself is one in which it is all mighty and all vulnerable.
It sits in solidarity with suffering. It is not Zeus (or a Man), sending out directives and ordering punishments. It is the very essence of humanity. It is suffering, and it is that which transcends it.
If only I would have known these things before that day in New York, I could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary suffering. However, in that pain, I have developed a deeper faith in that which is unknowable, which has been my healing.
The Panic of Emptiness
Well, I guess I should tell you what happened on that day where the direction of my life changed forever.
I had a panic attack.
Yeah, that is it. But no, that is not it.
The experience shook me to my core and made me fear for my life. It gripped my very insides and twisted them up and would not ring them out. My body felt gone. Lost. Defeated. Dead.
I now know that the cause of this panic attack was an increased level of adrenaline from the THC in my bloodstream, paired with the dehydration of being hung-over, and the memory of a recent family member having a heart attack.
But…At the time I believed I was dying.
What is worse is that I had no understanding of what was going on, so I clung to the fear of the moment and my need for security. I ran from my feelings, thoughts, and emotions, and only recently have I slowed my pace.
I had nothing to anchor myself in, so my confidence was completely ripped from me. My inner self-was fully exposed and what I saw terrified me.
I lived in a state of anxiety for 18 months. Fear was my constant state. And alcohol and achievement were how I tried to squelch that fear.
I had no interest in asking help from anyone.
In the truest since I was an addict. An addict to my understanding of the world. An addict to my health and survival. And an addict to a way of thinking that kept me locked in my own cage for months on end.
Relief Is Found in Accepting Uncertainty
My first slice of peace came from Buddhist thought and meditation. For the first time, someone spoke a language that provided me with tools that I could use.
You are not your thoughts.
All you have is this moment, bask in its beauty.
To move past fear, you must fully accept it.
I recently discovered that these same teachings are found in the ancient Christian mystical traditions as well as many others (Judaism, Sufi Islam, etc). But each of them is a path to the same truth, that there is a purpose for YOU being here.
These truths may seem like common sense to some, but to me they were revolutionary. I had grown up in an individualist religious culture that relied highly on one’s thoughts. A way of thinking the perpetuated my anxiety.
But now, I had been given another lens. A different viewpoint. One that ACTUALLY worked.
Mindfulness meditation and having a deeper understanding of the psychological causes of anxiety helped to heal me. I was able to realign my life and start getting clarity. I no longer was in a constant state of fear.
A Missing Link to The Divine
But for whatever reason, it didn’t feel sustainable. I was devouring every self-help book I could, missing the objective of true spirituality, the idea that you already possess that which you seek.
I was focusing on how I, Ben, could save me, Ben. It seems preposterous when I say it out loud, but in a culture so driven by productivity and self-improvement, it seemed the only way.
I didn’t want to give up my ambition. I feared that would make me weak. Not a real man.
My understanding of success was completely unhealthy. I feared losing myself would leave me without the validation I needed to survive.
So, I tip toed around real transformation and once again kept the tactical components in my side pocket for worst-case scenarios, without going all-in.
The Bell of Newfound Wisdom
However, in late 2016 I came across a podcast interviewing Rob Bell. (It is important to note that during the whole time of seeking for relief for anxiety, I had always maintained an interest in God, but still had yet to believe in it.)
Bell gave me the first glimpse into a new way of interpreting God and the Bible, one devoid of the fundamentalist thinking and exclusion tactics that I so hated. He opened up the wisdom tradition and poured into me a new way of seeing.
He showed me that the Bible was about what it meant to be human, not an ancient rule book. He exposed its faults and emphasized its questioning.
He started me on the path I am on now, and I could not be more grateful.
Meditation. Mindfulness. Acceptance. Grief. Sex. Doubt. Paradox. Anxiety. Success. Equality. Sustainability.
These were all central themes in the Bible, and ones that I had never been exposed to. Instead of excluding others, this wisdom tradition actually taught the opposite.
The Jesus stories talked about a man that denied organized religion. He was a man who sat with the people who were at the edges. A man who embraced everyone, not for what they did (going to church, giving money, etc.), but for who they are (God in man).
He preached of an evolving consciousness, meaning that the group that is oppressed may change, but our responsibility is ALWAYS to include and support them. Yes, “Christians,” that means the LGBTQ community, our Muslim brothers and sisters, the poor, blacks, and Hispanics.
Anyone who is marginalized, Jesus sat in solidarity with him or her. Meaning, anyone who is marginalized now, we are tasked with sitting with them.
The Man Who Changed Everything
After Rob Bell, I found Richard Rohr. Father Rohr has completely changed my life and is the basis for the transformation I have just started. He has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. He has taught me how to sit with fear and anxiety by meditating on them with acceptance and love and moving through them for the betterment of others.
He preaches the real good news.
Inclusion. Expansion. Love. Growth. Fulfillment. Transformation.
When I came across Rohr, it was during a time of profound confusion and unknowing. However, instead of giving the common advice I had heard growing up: “Just Pray About It.” He told me to go deeper into these emotions. He told me to bask in these realities and to learn from them.
Hearing Rohr, Bell, and other was an immense relief to my constant striving for something more. I was tired of always searching. Going from one thing to the next hoping that I would find the something that would once in for all be IT.
I was completely blown away by this new way of seeing not only Christianity but also life. However, it was just a seed, and it would take months and another dark night of the soul before that seed would create the first step towards transformation in my life.
I once again found myself clinging to my egoic self and searching for something that would be able to heal me. The difference this time was that I had new tools. Mainly, I had been given a new way of understanding God that transcended religion and became a real experience.
To Heal, You Must Accept
Anxiety is like a storm. You can try to run away from it, but it will only make matters worse. The only way to heal your fear and to live a life of vitality is to run straight into it. You must accept and be comfortable with the bad and the good.
By sitting with my anxiety, I felt the discomfort fully and started to move through it in an entirely new way, but more profoundly I have been given a deeper understanding of God and my true self.
Today, I sit here writing this to you from a place still filled with doubt, uncertainty, disbelief, and confusion, but for the first time, I accept it. I believe that these feelings are where I will find my true self; the self that lies within, waiting for me to go deep enough to discover it in Him.
I have to shed my ego to move into my real self. You must leave here to go there. You must give up everything if you want to fully live.
So, here I am. Working my way through this new complex, profound, deep, confusing atmosphere with a newfound clarity and even more questions. During this work, I realized that I have been longing to do a daily blog but haven’t out of fear of the direction I would take it, but now I feel I have one and so….
A New Path Forward
Today is the first post for my daily blog. For the next 365 days, I’m going to be writing a short piece on my journey with you. Partly to share what I’m learning and partly to chronicle the journey.
If you have ever felt like there is something bigger, but you just can’t put your finger on it, you aren’t alone. That is the common theme throughout all of history.
Certainty is a lie. Faith is not YOUR certainty in a Source being real, but rather your faith that a Source exists beyond your own understanding.
If you can do this, you will create a life of Wisdom, instead of one of Knowledge. The former sustains a full life, and the latter is just a buoy for your ego.
Go within yourself. Find out if your beliefs are working anymore. If you do, know that I, and millions of others around the world, am waking up to a new consciousness with you.
I hope you join me on this journey.
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