In my experience religion is usually a well organized, thinly veiled appeal to fear. Christianity especially purports to save souls. After all, we wouldn’t want to lose ours, would we? Isn’t that about the most fear-inducing thing imaginable? This religion has perpetually kept persons in fear of not being accepted by a God (who is Love) and stimulated them to keep their guard up against external foes (visible or invisible) who might attack, damage, or steal them away.
Look at how so many Christians have aligned themselves against the religions of other folks, joining up in socially facilitated alliance against Islam (as well as Buddhism, new age or evil “cults”, etc, etc). The shield is up as if those ‘other’ folks or their ideas (or powers?) plan to do them in.
Yet those things are distractions from one’s moral integrity and spiritual growth, which is internal, one’s state of consciousness. Instead, that shield offered up by religion is a fear pacifier. It deflects attention outward, away from the place of personal spirituality. By holding up that shield, the believer pacifies yet holds in the very fear that they arrived with and which religion utilizes for its benefit. Thus the shield acts as a fear preserver, as the believer maintains a posture of defense against certain attacks from an external evil. For so many religions seem to not know how to let the last, all-powerful words be God is Love and There is no fear in Love …
We all have an emotional nature, the meld of feeling, responding, relating energies that are our core. We have an enormous capacity for multi-dimensional memory and imagination. These can either be nurtured in the direction of Love-Joy-Peace, or in the direction of the shadows and darkness of doubt and fear. So long as their material presences occupy space within our hearts and minds, room remains there for that glue-like gooey black tar ball of fear, guilt, shame, and unworthiness.
This is not theory for me. I have lived it. I grew up as Christian as a person can. I was a true believer. I had my ‘born again’ profession of faith experience a couple weeks before my 9th birthday. I knew nothing else.
I grew up educated in church-run private Christian fundamentalist schools from pre-kindergarten through my senior year of high school. Each of my twelve years of grade school all students were required to memorize a chapter of the Bible and recite it before the class. So I know the Bible. After many years I can now see how it contradicts itself, how its various writers differ, how Christians often misinterpret or mistranslate the books within it. Yet its resounding gong in my ears is that tiny, clear sentence, “God is Love.”
I grew up in fundamentalist churches, some better than others, in which hell was emphasized as much as heaven. They were described as literal places, not at all states of consciousness. So I never knew any real transformation “by the renewing of our minds.” Our fear was pricked regularly and sharply enough to keep us reacting as if we were all that ball of miserable black tar inside us, and clinging to dogma for dear life.
It was so bad that around age 11 I had a nightmare of falling into hell’s lake of fire that was so real I woke in a pool of perspiration and paced the hall for hours, desperate to feel my parents’ affirmation that all was well, but too afraid to wake them for fear they’d just say it was nothing and to go back to bed. It was the most terrifying and torturous experience of my life. Yet I was too young to acknowledge that what was really terrorizing me was my own religion.
By age 18 I had a serious anxiety and depression crisis. I had no choice but to leave the church to stay sane. I didn’t just leave suddenly. It was all the community I had ever known. I tried a similar church, but mega-sized. That didn’t work. I even went to Catholic mass, but it was all the same when I closed my eyes and just listened. After years of exposure to doubt-inducing fear tactics, demonology, ludicrous prophecy scenarios, and repeated emphasis on our unworthy sinful nature, I had to leave organized religion to save my mind.
Any religion purporting to save souls that cannot preserve people’s minds in peace right now is useless to me.
It took enormous courage to leave. I left because of the depression, but it was depressing and lonely. I got some counseling, but I had to go it mostly alone. It was not immediately liberating, but for the first time I slowly found a degree of internal balance. I broke my routine. I stayed up late watching TV. I wrote. I read books on therapy and psychology that focused on the fundamental need of human beings for love and their capacity to give it when healed. I took long walks alone. I avoided church people as much as possible. It allowed me to feel out a real sense of myself as an individual.
Several years later I discovered meditation and after trying and trying again, finally experienced true peace. It was then that I understood the difference between religion and real spirituality. People can get some spirituality in religion. People can get some religion-tainted spirituality by searching on their own. But to have a spiritual practice of my own allowed me to separate from the herd of influence that had been reinforcing unworthiness, shame, guilt, and poor mental health. It allowed me to find balance and really FEEL the true nature of “God” and life itself for the first time.
It was initiated by my own intention, and with consistent practice and discipline I arrived at a peace so deep with an all-encompassing softness throughout my whole being that tears flowed and all worries evaporated. It took weeks of practice two or three times daily and the assistance of the Edgar Cayce radial device.
Lying right there on my bed, breathing gently, guided by the phrase, “Peace, be still,” my consciousness sunk into what I decided to call The Universal Field of Compassion. Finally the nightmare was over. I had found the place of no thought, the void of the eastern mystics where all just IS in perfect acceptance. It was within me all along.
I call it The Universal Field of Compassion because it is everywhere all the time for any person to discover for themselves. I call it that because it was the total experience of Unconditional Love for self and all others simultaneously. There was no objective, no “I-thou,” no separateness, just oneness in Love.
I experienced it as a profoundly here-and-now Bodily Love-Joy-Peace. It was not a mystical experience of the mind, of dreams, of visions, but of palpable, undeniable, grounded, very physical feeling. I felt total acceptance within every inch of my body. For the first time in my life I experienced true total peace.
No religion ever offered me that, nor could any even claim to. That is because no person I had ever encountered in any religion had experienced it. That experience sealed my ownership of my own spirituality. Never again would I be tempted to attach my devotion, worth, security, or approval to any religion or its dogmas.
Churches do lots of good. They offer support, friendship, community, organization for good works — at least a lot of them do. I even attended a Unity church during the year of my meditative transformation. Later I attended a Unitarian-Universalist fellowship for five years. But churches do not offer true Liberation for individuals. Today I practice Zen, not a religion, but a spiritual discipline for me. It gives an outline of meditation practices that can be started by anyone at anytime with some helpful aids to taking its state of mind into daily life.
Most churches are enabling institutions, benefiting from the black, sticky tar of human shame, guilt, and fear in problem-response-solution fashion. When you’re hiding the black goo with a sturdy layer of moral superiority to cover the inferiority reinforced all the time, you’re living as a hypocrite.
If you’ve had the real experience here-and-now, you don’t need any dogmas or distractions about what may come. You are anchored in the physical fact that peace can be achieved within self, and cannot be given to you by anyone or anything else. It comes from your own intention, your own persistence, your own Nature. Anyone can have it, and you want it for everyone. There is no need for moral judgmentalism, because it has become irrelevant.
There is no external enemy that can steal your peace or your soul. Nothing can take away what you have realized is your true nature anyway.
You are not a “worm” of unworthiness. We are as we were in the beginning, “good” — that means beautiful. To me that means touched and molded by Love itself, the power of creation.
That need not induce a specific theological image of a separate being doing the creating to us. Let your mind stretch creation out so far and wide across unimaginable time that you wonder in awe of it as it includes us all in every imaginable form. Let it stretch out within yourself so far and wide that your concept of yourself is of inner Universe within outer Universe of the same nature as all life everywhere.
We all go through tough times. We all go through doubt. These are merely human challenges. But know you and I are worthy of the real Love-Joy-Peace of Spirit, not someone else’s secondhand substitute. Know it is within you. That is because that diamond of many facets, Love, is our true nature.
Peace and Healing deeper than you have ever known,