Religion, for the longest time, was something so foreign to me that I preferred to avoid having anything to do with it. It had always been there – churches, religious holidays, icons, undertones in art and film – and had nothing to do with me. But, of course, that was far from the truth.
My first exposure to the prevalence of religion was a situation I didn’t even understand until many years later. Raised as a member of a Protestant church, I unknowingly was living in a primarily Catholic region of my country. In high school, completely oblivious to it, I attended a Catholic school. This situation arose as a result of my parents sending me to a school quite far from home – two public buses made for anywhere from a 45-90 minute commute each way.
Nothing about the school announced that it was Catholic (well, nothing that resonated with me…I had no idea what a bishop was, other than a chess piece) – it was a public school – but the day the whole student population was called into the library, one group at a time, and I suddenly stood in front of a priest, with NO idea what to do with the wafer I was given, I should have figured it out. I didn’t even know how to draw the symbol of the cross over my chest. Looking back, I realize now that perhaps everyone at the school thought I was Catholic.
There were many other hints that I was too oblivious to catch. One day, the religion teacher came into class fuming. She was screaming as she explained that she’d overheard a student (who she agreed could remain anonymous) say that purgatory didn’t exist. She spent a good amount of that class clarifying to us that, of course, purgatory existed, reminding us that we should not question aspects of our faith. As you might imagine, this was just as confusing as the wafer from the priest (I only knew of bread and grape juice). I had NO idea what the word purgatory meant. They never taught that word in religion class, likely since everyone already knew what it was.
Once I began making friends, things got even more confusing. A common discussion, when amongst just boys, was the manner by which their father beat them. Usually it was a belt, or back of the hand, but occasionally there was a story about an interesting prop that their father decided to use the night before. Once again, I couldn’t join in on this conversation, since I was never beaten. Not to say that this is the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, but at least for many of the kids at this school (a small student population of a few hundred) there was a pattern of behaviour at home that they could all relate to – except for me. Walking home with friends, often the last thing they would speak about was what their father’s mood would be when he got home. I felt lucky that I didn’t need to worry like this.
It’s the end of the world as you know it, and I feel fine.
Once high school was over, I never looked back. I didn’t keep one single friend from that 5-year period, and didn’t give it a second thought. Neither did I think about the religious undertones behind the ongoing language debates in my home city. These debates started before I was born, and go on to this day. When I worked for a newspaper, and the new owner told the disgruntled editorial staff that it’s the “end of the world as you know it, and I feel fine” (implying a shift in the political bias of the editorial content), all I thought was “Weird….he just quoted the band R.E.M.”. For all I knew, newspapers weren’t allowed to have bias, and his comment flew right over my head. Perhaps my political science teacher threatening to come to the back of class and smack me was poignant enough to make me forget every single thing I was taught about politics.
A slow evolution…
From there on, life was somewhat like a canvas with a limited amount of dull colours next to it. Sure, I could paint, but nothing stuck out – there was very little contrast between events and occurrences. Naturally, in that state a soul suffers, and such things as drugs, alcohol, arguments (blaming others for the suffering I was causing myself), debt, exhaustion, codependent relationships, and so on became part of my routine.
There’s no way to pinpoint the exact moment – perhaps it was the day I met my future wife – that I started to wake up. Before I knew it, I was asking my girlfriend, soon to be my wife, to leave with me. I researched the places in my country which offered the highest chance of making both of us happy, narrowed it down to three, and made my proposal. She picked what was, luckily, my top pick as well. In no time, we had plane tickets and I had a job. We moved there as soon as we possibly could.
The next several years were what I thought was my awakening – my transformation was complete. What more could I want? A great relationship, a wonderful community, any job I wanted, living next to the ocean, a beautiful dog, three fulfilling volunteer jobs. But on the flip side of attraction is aversion, and both are equally capable of becoming traps. Running away from things does not mean that you’ve resolved your karma with them. A tree that wants to grow to heaven needs to root into hell. I was in my version of “heaven”, and my unconscious thoughts and behaviours that represented my “hell” came as stowaways on my flight there.
Without respecting the complexities of human communication, over time everything I had tucked away nicely into my unconscious self vented itself out of me in various, unproductive ways. I wasn’t able to communicate in a healthy way with my wife, and I wasn’t able to understand or control my anger (whether or not it was even rational or justified), and paradise wasn’t paradise any longer.
A call to action…
I knew I had a big problem, and I possessed no tools to deal with it. That is, until Ayahuasca called on me. I had barely even heard of it before, didn’t know anyone who’d done it, and didn’t even know how someone could get a hold of it. But it called on me, and wasn’t a matter of me making a decision to do it, but rather a sequence of events that culminated in me sitting on a mat at the jungle edge waiting for my turn to take it.
That was when I experienced (or at least what I wrote down immediately afterwards) the fabric of the universe. A true, tangible spiritual experience. A far cry from a priest, a wafer, and confusion over my denominational devotion. I wrote down a few more things: Everything is vibration. Express love in everything you do.
This is the point in the article where, depending on your interpretation, the airy-fairy, hippie-dippie nonsense kicks in. Feel free to stop here if you felt your ego intervene and begin to apply stronger judgements.
After these immense spiritual revelations came my way, I was, before I knew it, right back at home and back to the reality of my life. Although I was processing my Ayahuasca experience, my external behaviour remained similar to what it had always been, perhaps as an attempt to keep people who knew me as the person I thought I was from feeling like I had changed. Common behaviour yields common results, and my marriage lasted exactly as long as the average first marriage does, ending quite amicably, but ending nonetheless.
The way I see it, Ayahuasca didn’t call on me to magically heal me overnight – it called on me to show me my work. My work that must be done if I’m to be made whole. Until then, I’m simply an amalgamation of unconscious projections (resenting the world’s impact on me instead of my impact on the world) and choiceless choices (if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there).
You can’t cheat the game by getting high. If there’s karma to burn out, it will reveal itself.Ram Dass
Under the impression that it would be something of a 15-minute “highlights reel” of an Ayahuasca ceremony, I did a private Bufo Alvarius (bufotenin / 5-MeO-DMT) ceremony. My expectations were false. Not only can the effect of the medicine persist (in a milder form, yet powerful for spiritual growth) for days/weeks, but the immediate experience is also very different. There are little to no visuals; the purging, if any, is more emotional than physical; and true surrender unlocks the true experience. The experience of death, bliss, unconditional love, oneness, and detachment from time and space. And then, of course, rebirth.
No gate to keep…
Spirituality has no gatekeeper (other than, perhaps, your own ego). That makes it religion’s biggest threat. Religion can’t compete against religiousness. Priest, rabbi, nun, imam, pastor, and so on – gatekeepers. Understanding that there’s no boundary between you and universal consciousness sure makes it hard to put up gates.
At a glance, Eastern religions can appear to be quite spiritual. For example, someone who rejects Christianity might welcome Buddhism into their life as a spiritual gateway. Poetic Sanskrit sutras, meditation, chanting, nonviolence, etc often appeal to a spiritual seeker. But every coin has two sides: Buddhism and Hinduism have their own version of hell; the Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Shinto have all had bloody battles since their inception; each religion has multiple denominations which don’t necessarily agree with each other; the caste system limited spiritual education to select individuals; religious leaders are often assassinated by their own followers if their decisions collide with politics or economics.
In recent times, Western religion can be played off as a subtle undertone of an otherwise secular society, and certainly not as a means of attaining individual enlightenment. For those who aren’t closely tied to their faith, a Western religious space is often seen as the glue that brings the society together. The place of worship is more like a community center; a place where the community is worshipped, and volunteer work, community groups, rehabilitation centers, etc are the practical output of the faith. But the output goes much further than this.
A religious denomination, at its core, is a manifestation of polarity. It exists as a contrast against whatever other denomination it split from. Polarity creates separation. Before denominations came about, conflicts happened between entire religions. As an example, ironically, the first thing the Romans did when they heard of a small group called the Christians was set out to kill them all. This new religion challenged their polytheistic power structure – with only one God, how could Roman emperors themselves become Gods? It took hundreds of years of resisting monotheism before the Roman empire needed to redefine itself to survive, and Christianity was ceremonially inaugurated at Constantinople (Istanbul). Aspects of Christianity that did not serve the purpose of empire building, such as the concept of reincarnation, were removed. A massive debate ensued about whether Jesus was the son of God, or had a god-like nature all to himself – likely the surviving remnants of a cultural myth that a leader is not only appointed by the Gods, but eventually becomes a God.
Despite being filtered out to serve nation building, the mystical aspects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are still there, but only through interpretation. There are those who have interpreted the holy scriptures of these Western religions in a manner just as spiritual and individually focused as the Eastern religions, and one can find interpretations of the Western scriptures that paint a very different picture than that of conventional myth.
The key paradigm shift that seems to have distorted the message of all the major religions was to take the focus away from the individual. The ability for one to find enlightenment all by themselves doesn’t lend well to nation building. Who needs a nation when everyone is worthy of taking part – both us and them. Without them there is no line to draw in the sand; no flag to display at war; no heathen, barbarian, uncivilized horde lurking in the dark. Personal growth leads to taking responsibility for one’s impact on themselves and others – their instantaneous manifestation of heaven and hell right here and right now, without anyone else to blame or attack.
Here are things I might have told myself 20 years ago…
Simply setting your intention on your dream is not going to spare you from doing the real work. Some hints that you are doing the real work and not playing mental games with yourself are:
You don’t compare yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others means it’s more likely that you are following someone else’s dream than your own. The universe is a novelty generator, and creativity and uniqueness are always welcome.
You fail multiple times, if not most times. We fail at almost everything the first time. This has absolutely no impact on whether or not it is attainable.
You broaden your scope of experience
You see how it feels to dig deep into something new – something you might have ignored over and over again. If you experience value in something your ego normally would have filtered out, it opens you up to see learning opportunities all over the place, and cultivates empathy.
You look out for your helpers, and don’t abuse them
We will all at some point encounter someone who offers us the ability to grow and expand our consciousness. They don’t advertise themselves this way, but they consciously choose to offer you a gift, and are not attached to whether or not you’ll accept it. That’s why these helpers often go unnoticed – they have little to no attachment to the outcome. Those who come to you as helpers and announce themselves as such are feeding something inside themselves, and in an unconscious way are using you to fill a void inside of them. If you spot a true helper in your life, don’t abuse them, because they’ll be gone before you know it.
You don’t seek external validation
Looking for external validation of your own spiritual growth is a trap. It’s just another way of putting yourself into a box, where your connection to others depends on your spiritual identity. It allows no room for growth, and often results in stagnation and reinforcement of one’s limited scope of perception.
You tune in to subtleties
Once you’ve experienced the spiritual nature of any one thing, you begin to see the spiritual nature of all things. And once you’ve turned down the volume of your mind’s constant reaffirmation of who you are and who you are not, you can tune into the subtler energies that exist all around us. At that point the mysteries and the magic of the universe begin to reveal themselves to you.
Your forces are balanced
You are self-aware, and know when you are at risk of being out of balance. You don’t burn out, overdoing one thing while overlooking another. You not only do the things you like to do, but also the things you need to do, and nobody needs to be looking.
You cultivate the landscape that helps you live your dream
You are as aware as possible of your impact on the external world. To your ego, you are God, so if you say to yourself “I can’t do that”, you have manifested a reality in which, regardless of what that thing is, you absolutely can’t do it. Not to say that telling yourself “I can do that” instantly makes it possible, but when we combine our intention (I will do that) with the real work (shifting your life direction and heading towards your dream), the universe now has an opportunity to support you along the way.
If you’ve made it this far you are either already on the path, or are looking for it.
If it’s the latter, then begin by speaking softer, listening deeper, and acting kinder.