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First Steps on the Path, Part Two

Posted September 24, 2017

stairs to heaven

We've been talking about how we got started on our current spiritual paths. Sometimes it started very early.

“My ‘path' began when I was 7 years old,” Dale told me in an email. “Our family had just moved to a new neighborhood. I was standing in a neighbor's yard, and I looked towards the sky and the immenseness of planet earth and my connection with it.

‘I went home and told my mother, ‘I've been here before, Mom.' I remember it like it just happened—the sounds, the smells, the light, the energy, the moment. She turned to me and said, “You haven't been over here yet, Dale, this is all new.”

“I said, “No Mom, I've been on Earth before.”

“She looked at me and simply said, ‘Well, maybe you have, Daley, maybe you have.'

“What a beautiful thing for a mother to say to a 7-year-old.”

Isn't it? I so appreciate parents who let children talk openly about knowing God or living past lives or seeing angels or other ways they have experienced the Presence.

In reading through the stories you sent me about how your spiritual paths began, I was struck, as I so often am, by human beings' unwavering belief that there's more.

There is more to life than these human bodies. There is some power and presence that is immense, as Dale knew, yet very personal.

But it's not necessarily what we were taught.

HEEDING THE INEXPLICABLE

This is Part Two of my follow-up about how you started on your current spiritual paths. Last week in Part One, I let you know the four basic categories of experiences that were shared with me:

Childhood questions. So many of us couldn't believe what we heard at church and held onto our own ideas about God.

Media. Books, movies and radio broadcasts were hugely beneficial in letting us know there were more ways to understand God and human existence than we might have thought.

I also discovered a subset of the media category, which I'll tell you about in a minute.

The other two categories were life events and mystical experiences, like Dale's.

One woman wrote, “I had one of those ‘happenings' about 30 years ago. My highly educated daughter says it was a psychotic experience. If it was, I'd rather live there.”

She didn't give details of her experience, but so many people have gone through periods when they suddenly knew the love and oneness of the universe, or felt a presence, or communicated with beings who have no bodies.

This woman continued, “I have had enough miraculous things happen in the later half of my life to leave me absolutely no doubt that there is more to life than this dimension.”

GROWTH THROUGH PAIN

Sometimes, of course, life's most difficult events bring—or demand—a new level of spiritual understanding.

One woman said she was hit with “the cosmic 2x4 of breast cancer” and is now a long-term survivor. “I learned about prayer, compassion and forgiveness. This deepened my connection to God/Spirit.”

Grief also can be a catalyst for growth.

“In my early 30s, a son of mine died suddenly at age 1½ ,” another woman wrote. “I was shocked when someone said to me, ‘How can you believe there is a loving God who would do this?' Her thoughts were foreign to me as I knew from early childhood that GOD IS LOVE.

“This became my jumping off place on my path. I determined that I would know three things: #1. What is death? #2. What is life? #3. What is man doing here and what is this whole ball of life about? I am now 86 years young and still open to discover more.”

Another woman said divorce set her free from church teachings that had not been serving her.

“The one thing that finally took me out of the church of my youth was my divorce from a man who had no regard for me or my happiness, and who certainly was not any kind of partner to me,” she emailed.

“To make that decision, I had to question everything I had ever believed, and finally came to this big conclusion: My God does not want me to be unhappy for the rest of my life. That principle has served me well many times since then, as over the years I have made difficult life decisions.”

BOOKS, MOVIES AND THE BIBLE

I promised to tell you about this subset of media—books, movies, etc.—that I discovered. Turns out some people were led onto a new spiritual path by reading the Bible and talking to religious people, which I found a bit amusing.

One college girl said it happened when she was traveling with a church choir years ago.

“One of my fellow choir members held a Bible study where he pointed out the passage: The kingdom of God is within you. That passage totally changed my view of religion. Toward the end of college, I dropped out of church.”

Later, she was excited by the movie Oh, God—remember that?—with George Burns and John Denver.

“I loved the statement that George Burns made about being everyone's God, not just Christians'. He was the One,” she said. “Wow, that was a revelation!”

A friend who, like me, graduated from what was then the world's largest Southern Baptist university discovered a broader path by paying attention in religion class.

“In my senior year at Baylor, I was taking a class on world religions taught by Dr. James Woods, then head of Baylor's Theology Department. In one of our classes, after summarizing all the religious paths, Dr. Woods said, ‘What these all have in common is that each path leads to God as they know God.'

“Whoa! If all of these paths eventually lead to God, then why not try out some of the other paths?”

Don't you love that feeling of permission to explore whatever you want, to take what you like and leave the rest? Some of us struggled mightily to find that freedom, and, like one of the women I quoted last week, we were expecting any minute to be hit by a thunderbolt from God.

For someone else, permission to question and explore came from a priest.

“[This] happened in Lake Charles (my hometown). A Jesuit priest held a Buddhist meditation at the McNeese (State University) Catholic student center. He gave a brief explanation of Buddhism and meditation.

“I was shocked when he performed a mass and everyone, Catholic or not, got to take the Eucharist. I'd lived in south Louisiana all my life among a lot of Catholic friends and knew this was a no-no.

“WOW! A rule breaking priest! I wanted to know more! This felt like someone handed me a glass of honey water.”

THE PATH IS ALL YOURS

I suppose if there's a conclusion to draw from these stories of spiritual awareness and adjustment, it's that everyone needs—and deserves—a personal, individualized spiritual path.

You have to customize your own path, of course. Anyone who tries to tell you what to believe or how to view existence won't get it quite right. Not for you.

Too, the freedom we take for our own exploration has to be offered to others as well.

A minister in Tennessee summed it up:

“As an interfaith minister, whenever people tell me they don't believe in God or go to church, I reply ‘That's okay.'

“You should see the looks on their faces! Everything we think, know, or believe is just that—a belief. And once we understand that, it helps us not to judge anyone for whatever it is they believe.”

   

First Steps on the Path, Part One

Posted September 24, 2017

Zeus

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you to tell me how you got started on your spiritual path.

Wow, what a response!

Your stories are so great, and I want to share so many of them, that I'm breaking this blog into two parts, this week and next.

For most of you who emailed me, your current spiritual understanding is the result of a lifelong journey, and you're definitely not at the end of it. But the triggering events fell into just a few categories:

• Questions that started in childhood
• Something you read, heard or saw
• Life experiences
• Mystical experiences

A typical life path sounded a lot like this one from a woman who grew up in Catholic church and school:

“From the time I was quite young, I always thought there was some other way. I used to cut quotes and little sayings out of my mother's magazines and keep them on my dresser to read over and over.

“I was 22 years old when I watched an Oprah show featuring Marianne Williamson. I was blown away! I had no idea what she was talking about, but I knew I loved it. The first book I read was A Return to Love . . . A love affair with all things spiritual was born.

“I have spent 30 years exploring it all—A Course in Miracles, Wayne Dyer, Cheryl Richardson, Ernest Holmes, Science of Mind, yoga, meditation, David Ji, affirmations, Buddhism, Unity, mantras, Deepak Chopra, crystals, prayer, tai chi, singing bowls. You name it, I've explored it! I admire people who are passionate about one way, but I just love it all!”

She's currently enthralled with Tarot cards. And still goes to Catholic mass.

Isn't wonderful to know there are many paths to the same destination?

KIDS WITH QUESTIONS

So many of us had doubts about what we were told as children, and rightfully so.

One woman said she was taught she had to be saved by Jesus Christ or she would go to hell. But she also was taught that God is pure love.

“Therefore, much of what they said didn't make rational sense to me. Things like: John Kennedy shouldn't be president because he was Catholic (not the one true religion!); and it was okay for whites to close the doors of their churches to blacks in the South; and Mormons, who were my friends in large numbers in Arizona, were totally wacko and off base (again, not the one true religion).

“I couldn't believe that a limitless, loving God would condemn anyone to a place that burned them for eternity, just because they believed something different than I did. And especially those people who had never even heard of Jesus. That just couldn't be.”

Did anyone else have those concerns as a child? Show of hands?

Not all of our early questions were met with understanding.

“As a fundamentalist child in an independent Presbyterian church in Virginia, I had a few doubts about the inerrancy of scripture,” wrote another woman. “I was due to be accepted as an adult member of the church, so I was about 12 years old. In my interview with the pastor, I expressed my doubts. He said (and it impressed me so that I can quote), ‘If you doubt this, you cannot be one of us.'

“I was a kid! He was telling me that I would be excluded from all my buddies, from my main community. So I went underground, never asked a ‘telling' question again. In my heart, I saw myself as a fake. But I tried to believe.”

Childhood spirituality wasn't all bad, however.

Another writer said her ninth-grade Sunday school teacher took the kids every Sunday to experience a different religion—Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish.

“That was probably the biggest eye opener, that we all were not the same in beliefs, but all had the same goal,” she said.

THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

For many of us, what happened next was media. A book, magazine, movie, even shortwave radio.

The Secret, of course.
Louise Hay's movie, You Can Heal Your Life
Daily Word
Meet It with Faith by Martha Smock, found on a dollar table

And it seems Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch launched a thousand spiritual paths.

One woman said she read it at her son's soccer practice, unable to put it down.

“It wasn't motivated by some event or drama in my life that needed reconciliation,” she said in an email. “Just another ordinary night as a mother raising two kids and spending a lot of time in the car.”

But even picking up a spiritual book was a huge step for some.

One woman, who thought she had abandoned her fundamentalist ideas about God and religion, was walking through a bookstore in the mid-80s and felt herself drawn to the New Age section. Those old fearful teachings kicked in immediately.

“I knew if I even went near it, God would literally strike me dead,” she wrote, not really kidding. “But I ventured toward it anyway, quickly glanced at some books, and walked on by, looking behind me for God's lightning bolt.

“I had noticed some books by Shirley MacLaine, and since I had returned from a stint of pursuing an acting career in L.A. a few years earlier, they piqued my interest. I quickly picked up a book, read the back, and put it down as if my life depended on it. Walked around some more, but kept going back.

“I finally purchased one of her books and ran out the door looking over my shoulder for the bolt of lightning. I've since read everything she has written.”

Shirley MacLaine's message turned out to be: Keep an open mind in all things.

More cool stories next week.

   




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