For someone who claims not to be religious, I pray a whole lot.
But let me back up. Because this topic requires bit of, shall we say, unpacking, to really understand where I’m coming from. SO let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I grew up in a town where the public schools were less than stellar…or so my momma always said. Instead, she busted her butt working multiple jobs to put my brother and I through the slightly better Catholic K-8 school. While a bunch of students left between 5th and 6th grade, and though we looked at the public schools in hopes of finding something that would challenge me a bit more, I stayed. And promptly went to a Catholic high school, completed CCD, and got confirmed. By the time I graduated and went to a Catholic college, I had put a lot of distance between myself and religion in general. To me it had become about following the rules, about restricting individuals from living their lives, and about blind acceptance and ignoring of negative truths. What it wasn’t really about was how you lived your life because unless you lived your life how the religion told you to, you were wrong.
I didn’t like this vey much. Truth be told, I still don’t.
In my first semester I was required to take a religious studies class and it opened my eyes up to Judaism (and Islam although less has stuck with me). I don’t remember a ton of specifics besides the fact that sex is a mitzvah and female birth control is a-okay but I do remember that a large part of the religion is about studying…questioning…searching. Though I didn’t know it until recently, this attracted my interest more than anything (yes, even the mandated weekly sex. ). Because up until then, I was taught to blindly follow and accept, to not question, and to ignore wrongdoings.
But I still rebelled against religion. I couldn’t sync it with my political views or my scientific studies. While I still felt spiritual and often described myself as such, I built up a lot of resentment against religiousness. It became something that I didn’t really talk about because, like a petulant child, I would roll my eyes when people brought it up. Yet years of indoctrination meant I would still feel guilty over little things…like writing the word god without a capital letter, which I couldn’t do until recently and which still, truth be told, isn’t a habit.
Fast forward to June 2011. I’ve been on a journey at this point and am exploring the metaphysical world. I’ve found this group of people who talk about The Universe and I’ve read The Secret and yes you know I never stopped believing in a higher power. And I have a life changing retreat. And then I get sick…and my life falls to pieces and I retret so far into myself that when I finally come too I’ve convinced myself that I never really went way when, in fact, I hadn’t told practically anyone what was going on.
And in the meantime I’ve poured my heart and soul onto my yoga mat. I’ve found the spiritual practice that yogis speak of…after all, I had no choice since my injuries meant I had to put my ego in the corner and modify nearly every posture. I start to tell people that yoga is my religion…my practice is just a part of it. I ask my teachers how I can learn more about this community, this spiritual path that teaches truth and gentleness, the pushing of limits and the respecting of boundaries, the opening of the body and the spirit.
Fast forward to my coaching program with Hillary when she says, “I prefer to use the word God but some people like Universe better. Do whatever feels more authentic to you.” Wait, what? Not only are you telling me that metaphysics and religiousness can go together but I get to choose? It isn’t wrong to question my beliefs? I’m not doomed to hell if I do so? Its ok to believe in a higher power that I don’t call god? What world is this.
And somewhere in all of this I had found Gabby Bernstein, the girl known for making spirituality cool. And so cool with spirtituality I became. But even some of her content seemed too woo-woo for me sometimes because lets be real…GOD? Honestly people? *teenage eye roll*
Fast forward to this fall. Sometime late September/early October I look around at my group of close friends, people I’ve known for practically no time at all and yet who get me on such an intuitive level, and I realize that me…the girl who rolls her eyes when people say they are going to Church and doing mission trips (which are clearly wrong since really who are we to tell anyone what to believe?) and who talk about Bible study or Christian fellowship…has surrounded herself with deeply religious individuals of various faiths. Friends who go to church every week, who actively participate in their church community, who talk openly about a merciful God.
The situation was ludicrous. Yet I knew because it was so different that I was meant to learn from it. So I committed to keeping myself open to whatever lesson I am supposed to learn from these friends.
And slowly but surely I started to see that we do in fact speak the same language. My unwavering faith in a Universe that wants the best for us and helps us manifest all good things is not all that different from my friend’s belief in a merciful, loving God. Yes we use different words, but our prayers, be them of gratitude or for assistance, are the same. Better yet, these differences don’t stop us from being able to talk openly about anything and everything, religion and prayer included. Instead, they broaden our understanding of it. This is religion as I’ve never experienced it before: open, doable, and accepting.
I’m still not completely sure what to do with this newfound concept because it is so far from the religion I know and was taught for 22 years of my life that I’m [insert metaphor re: being lost]. But you know what? This, my friends’, form of religion, Gabby’s form of spirituality? It is pretty cool. And I can do this. In fact I do it…every. single. day. Because I no longer can imagine starting my day without silently speaking the Serenity prayer before getting out of bed and stumbling to my meditation pillow, a practice that I hate to skip, no matter how pressed I am for time, and which, if we’re getting serious, is really a form of prayer.
So that brings us to now (well the time I wrote this)…to me sitting on my couch crying and finding myself reaching out for comfort with the serenity prayer. And realizing that for a girl who still hates religiousness, I really do pray an awful lot. All the time actually…giving thanks for the flow of money and energy in…asking for help to make it through weeks where the energy is only flowing out…and seeking peace when I know the answers I need are all within me and I just need to open myself up to listening for them. For the first time in a long time, I’m ok with this whole religious thing.
So maybe this was the lesson I was supposed to learn. Maybe not. All I know is that I’ve come a long way from that scarred, indoctrinated girl who couldn’t even think about religion without a perfectly mastered eye-roll-and-sigh combo. I still identify with yoga as my religion in part because it is a way of life that is constantly challenging and supporting me. It has opened me up to so many beautiful things, including the relationships I mention here and the lessons I’ve gained. Yoga has allowed me to open up to myself, to learn to listen in, and to understand why when I do something “harmless” that in reality clashes with my values, I feel guilty. But it has also taught me to let go of that guilt.
Breathe in compassion. Breathe out suffering.
It has taught me that its ok to ugly cry…to completely release. But also that sometimes you must push through and carry on.
Breathe in strength. Breathe out doubt.
It has taught me to let others in, to be okay with imperfections, theirs and mine.
Breathe in acceptance. Breathe out judgement.
Yoga, this my religion, has taught me that religion is, in fact, simply okay.
Breathe in joy…love…grace…life…freedom. Breathe out fear…hatred…worry…deception…harm.
What are your thoughts on religion and religiousness?