Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jumping Ship


“What on earth are you doing?” said I to the monkey when I saw him lift a fish from the water and place it on a tree.
“I am saving it from drowning,” was the reply.

The sun that gives sight to the eagle blinds the owl.
(Monkey Salvation for a Fish, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            Belief in God, our particular faith, is not a collective experience. It is a personal experience. It is formed throughout an individual's lifetime, made up from a combination of participation, exposure and choice. Regardless of the make-up of one's faith structure, religious belief evolves throughout a lifespan; it never remains the same. For better or for worse, the search for God is a lengthy and cumulative endeavor, constantly shifting and reforming itself based primarily on experience and the acquisition of subjective information discovered along the way. Even a pattern of non-belief will develop and morph throughout the lifetime of the doubter. It is not a matter of what you believe but a question of when you believed it.
            A specific faith can become less plausible to a person, causing them to leave their birth religion. Simply put, it no longer meets their needs. Faith has never been only about the rituals and teaching within the group. It is based on individual belief, constantly adding one reason after another, all merging to create that subjective position. Instead of a "family value", it becomes an "individual value" that builds itself, a combination which creates a unique and personal self-religion. As we grow and learn, our particular spiritual attitude takes precedence over our denominational and genealogical traditions. We tend to stop believing in what we are told and start to believe in what we have come to know. We come to recognize not only is religion an extension of how we think, but it is an ebb and flow extension of our personality and intelligence.
            Personality type always influences the direction of spiritual growth, or any lack thereof.  Self-discovery does not always lead to enlightenment. There are many individuals who, based on their inability to think for themselves, throw themselves deeper into the authority more conservative forms of religion tend to offer. Rather than exploring the primordial soup of self-awareness, they cling to guarantees and fallacies, trading freedom for safety in assurances. By believing they have found the only truth, they invalidate any other way of thinking. Fundamentalist thought, regardless of the faith type, always demonizes free thinking and any resulting behaviour or choices. When the truth is limited, the person following that truth will most often be limited. Of course, there are exemptions to every rule.
            People give up their faith, or change it, because they experience a "gradual spiritual drift," rather than mere disillusionment over dogma or theology. This gradual drifting away occurs over a period of time, and encompasses “the teachings, scandals and internal disputes within the denomination” or sect. Rarely is one or the other the sole reason a person decides to move past where they once stood spiritually. Most people jump around from faith to faith, looking for what will suit them best. People simply put their religiosity on pause, until they find the right fit for them. More and more, the majority of faith institutions seem able to attract followers, but they are unable to keep them. The manner of faith presented has nothing to offer.

"Nasruddin was taking a load of salt to the market.
His donkey waded through the river and the salt dissolved.
When it reached the opposite bank the animal ran around in circles, overjoyed that its load had been lightened. Nasruddin was annoyed.
On the next market day he packed the panniers with cotton.
The ass nearly drowned with the increased weight of the cotton soaked in the river water.
“There” said Nasruddin gleefully, “that will teach you to think that each time you go through water you stand to gain."

Two persons walked into religion. One came alive, the other drowned.
(Salt and Cotton in the River, Anthony De Mello 1984)

             You set sail out on the water, following other ships believing they know the way. You have been instructed that the destination they strive to find is the most certain way to go. You chart your course and conform to their specifications, always following behind them. Along the way other boats go by, riding the same waves but in a different direction. You want to travel with them when you realize just how blind the way you have been travelling made your mind. Suddenly, the way you have always believed you should journey is no longer the way it must be. There are other options on the waterway, other ports you wish to visit and other things you wish to see.
            As you leave the security of your companions, you set out on the sea alone. The fleet you once faithfully followed evanesces on the horizon, never again to meet you in the same way. Port after port reveals wondrous things, new ideas, new places you would have never seen had you followed the path you were told to. Each new adventure is a lesson in being; you are not just another vessel serving some King or country or idea. As you follow the wind and the rain and the stars in the night sky, you start to yearn for the safety and security travelling with familiarity once brought. You don't want to go back to following, but you cannot help to miss the comfort of the other vessels you once knew. You want to go home, but it has quietly faded away. There really is no home. The fellow travellers you left behind you are themselves still searching on their course.
            As you sail into the sunset, as you ride the waves, you have only yourself to journey with. You must trust the way you have chosen to travel. It is the right way for you and you alone. No two ships that pass each other on the sea travel on the exact same course. There are variables within each navigation and factors which will determine each destination, each place you go. In the end, it's not where you started your voyage. It is not even how you got to where you are. The only thing that matters is your arrival and where you ended up in the long run. 

"A neighbour found Nasruddin on hands and knees.
“What are you searching for Mullah?”
“My key.”
Both men got on their knees to search.
After a while the neighbour says, “Where did you lose it?”
“At home.”
“Good Lord! Then why are you searching here?”
“Because it’s brighter here.”

Search for God where you lost Him.
(Searching in the Wrong Place, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            One day I realized that there were no answers to all of the questions racing inside my mind. So I stopped asking them. Instead of hunting and searching for the truth about God, I recognized I could never find it. I stopped all the expectations and started dealing with contemplation. Rather than relying on something else for revelation, I started looking within for confirmation. All I ever needed I had with me all along.
            When I was a child, my parents did their very best to lay a strong foundation regarding God. I was brought up Christian, but I could have easily been a Buddhist or Muslim. The label has always been rather irrelevant. As I grew and discovered differing spiritual paths, I left behind the confines of an organized faith structure and began to develop my own ideas on Jesus, God and religion in general. My quest introduced me to other ways of thinking. Instead of playing it safe, I took to chance and started looking for answers in other, less Christian places. I have yet to discover even one iota of relevant fact. Although the foundation of my ideas on God have remained intact, I am free now to recognize the limitations and confines of any man-made institution that claims to know all there is to know about God. I think for myself.
            I have peace in not knowing. God is greater to me now than He has ever been. I took the long way to get to where I am now, but my state of mind regarding religion has changed little from when I was a small boy. I see things clearly, unaffected by any conditioning I may have experienced from within my life. I am no longer laden with ideas that simply hold no place in my relationship with the Divine. I have never been freer or closer to God. Every person on this planet is capable of a relationship with something Holy, but not one relationship is ever the same. Instead of standing on deck, watching ships pass you by, start jumping ship and give thinking for yourself a try.

"Said the monk,
“All these mountains and rivers and earth and stars - where do they come from?”
Said the Master,
“Where does your question come from?”

Search within!
(The Question, Anthony De Mello 1984)