Having sufficiently buried the traumatic experience I suffered at age fifteen, I once again took up my spiritual journey. At this point in my life, however, it was no longer as if I was going down one stream (represented by my great desire to know the Divine and to lead a spiritual life). Other streams began to join that stream as well. One stream was deeply buried as an under-current. That was the traumatic episode that had just taken place, that I was not going to really confront until nearly fifteen years later. Another stream came about as a result as having gone through that traumatic experience. Having been humbled by the trauma (though at the time I felt more like I had been polluted by it), I also was a little less uptight and loose. Having tasted what the “dark side” was like a little, a darker current existed that over time in my life I would struggle to both understand and purify. But, beyond these other streams entering the main one representing my spiritual quest, was a more insidious stream that came in, one that would muddy up the waters of my spiritual understanding for some time.
Ironically it all began when I made a serious attempt to understand the foundational teachings of my Christian faith, the Bible. It started when I noticed that the Bible I was given at age 8 by my church (a Revised Standard Version) had a 365 day program for reading the Bible at the back of it. Now, at this point I was no stranger to the teachings of the Bible. I was a naturally religious person, and by this I mean I was interested in the teachings of the religion I was raised in. I had poured through my Children’s Bible numerous times. It was a collection of all the major stories of both the old and new testament, filled with beautiful pictures as well. In addition I had read a good part of the Good News version of the New Testament. So, I was pretty confident I knew what I would find when I started my three year daily study of different versions of the Bible. Wow! Did I get that wrong!
To begin with as I went from the Revised Standard Version, to the King James Version, to a version known as The Way, and to checking notes here in there in another translation that was said to be closer to the original Aramaic and Greek, I became very confused. It became quickly obvious that over time someone had messed with the sayings of the Bible. Time and again I would find dependencies between the various versions. Sometimes one version of the Bible would say things so different from another version it was shocking. (As a side note, much later in my life I actually took time to study a rendition of the Bible that placed many of the versions side by side. In addition it actually highlighted words they thought might have actually been spoken of by Jesus. Needless to say there weren’t very many. I also took a lot of time to learn a lot about the history of the Christian church both a few hundred years before and thousands of years after the founding of the Christian church and its many divisions. But, for now, at this point in my life I was simply a little bit soured and confused).
The other thing I noticed in my years of study was how sanitized my Children’s Bible and even the Good News version I had read were. The versions of the Bible I was reading included rape, incest, human sacrifice, misogyny, revenge, jealousy, genocide, homophobia and more. I remember sitting back and thinking in my later teenage years that this God was not someone I felt very proud of. In short, this version of God seemed fairly primitive morally and spiritually. By the end of my three year study I had gone into a state of serious doubt.
That doubt was exacerbated when I entered college for my Bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University. Now two more streams entered the major stream of my spiritual quest. One stream was that of science. We were required at university to take a series of core classes regardless of our main curriculum. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was slowly being indoctrinated into atheistic beliefs. Though I could appreciate certain things from my studies on Darwin, geological eras and so forth, one book particularly made me feel put off. It is the book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I still have my copy of the book and I have it in my hands while writing this. I kept it because in the margins I wrote copious notes as to the various flaws I felt were with his theories on how we were all driven by selfishness. It is interesting even now to read the remarks I wrote back then at only 19 years old.
The next stream that entered in happened when I decided I wanted to avoid trudging around in the snow to take classes. For those of you not familiar with the campus of Michigan State, it is one of the largest campuses in the world. To get to some of the classes you might have to walk a mile. Add a snowstorm on top of this, and taking classes far away, especially if they are electives, is not real appealing. Because of this I enrolled in some classes on Eastern religion.
By the time I got through my deeper study of the Bible and my Christian faith, got exposed to the mostly atheistic beliefs underlying science, and had exposed myself to the tenants of other religious beliefs, I didn’t know what to believe anymore. In short, I had become agnostic. I also no longer knew what to make of my many psychic and mystical experiences. Had I made them all up? Were they simply a brain blip? Were religious ideas simply just a way to help humans cope with the difficulties of the world? Were they designed just to control people and help them manage their fears? At age 21 this had become a deep crisis for me, one that would finally resolve in a place far away from Michigan State University.
How This All May Relate to You
Certainty in ones view of the world is both comforting and protective. The world is a vast place with many different belief systems from hundreds (maybe thousands) of cultures. Especially as we start any spiritual path we want to be right. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is important to know the best actions to take to help ensure our success in life. Being right can also be a problem. Certainty blocks us from the wisdom of uncertainty, the value of not knowing that helps us keep an open heart and a flexible mind.
The further we go on a spiritual path the more uncertain we become. That does not mean we don’t have wisdom in our understanding. We may in fact have a reasonable certainty of why it is important to believe as we do. The problem is when we become too attached to our certitude. Then arrogance and pride step in. We lead from our brains and not our hearts. As we all know, most of the cruelty and suffering inflicted upon others comes from a need to protect our beliefs and our egos to prove that we alone are right. At the same time confusion about what to believe is also not helpful. Then we are like ships at sea without a compass helping us know where to go.
The antidotes to the difficulties of uncertainty are the open heart. When we become rigid with what we know usually fear is involved. We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of rejection. We are afraid of being embarrassed. We are afraid of being human. We are afraid of being harmed some how. These fears are usually rooted in the experiences we had when we were young when not being certain, or right, cost us and led us to many of the fears I just listed here. To counter this we have to become particularly skillful at both acknowledging our fears and having compassion for ourselves. Once we can embrace being human and therefore subject to misperceptions and mistakes we can open our hearts and learn to be more present and loving with each other. Even if we believe our view is right, we can make space to allow others their point of view regardless. Like the famous story of the blind men each touching the elephant. The one touching the trunk describes the elephant as being long and moving around a lot. The one touching the ear describes the elephant as being thin and wide. The one touching a leg describes the elephant as being sturdy and stable like a tree. Given the larger perspective all are right, all have a piece of the larger puzzle.
As for the antidotes to confusion these are many. One is simply allow your confusion to be there. Like fog given enough time it will lift and things will become clear again. Another is to keep strengthening the power of your mind to comprehend and understand the bigger picture. Working with confusion is sometimes like trying to put together a big puzzle. The more pieces (insights) fall into place the more you start to see the big picture. I call this process the wisdom of synthesis, which is allowing yourself to be inspired, instead of confused, by the information that is coming your way. Eventually a synthesis will emerge. In fact, when I first started to lift out of my own confusion I even got the word SYNTHSIS (for synthesis) put on my car as a license plate.