beginning again

I’ve just taken a month off from writing. I had internal work to do – physical and emotional and spiritual healing, and I needed the freedom and the space to devote my full attention to this. I had thought that, upon beginning again, I would take my record here in a feminist direction – elucidating the female experience for the sake of everyone who doesn’t know what it’s like, to lend my voice to whatever the feminist movement is now, to share my story.

But then – well, I told my mother on the phone this morning that I had my equivalent of St. Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus. For all intents and purposes, I saw the face of God. I’ll relate the full story in another post, but trust me when I say I was and even still am a bit reluctant. Because this all happened in a way that made the reality of God undeniable for me. And I’m not entirely comfortable with that.

 With this revelation, I’m motivated to revisit the Bible, to study Christian texts, to understand what exactly it means for me to believe in God. Now. Because my faith was everything to me until I was about 16, but now, truly, I’m starting anew.

What I know is this – for the last six and half years or so, I’ve been trying on Darkness. I threw my purity ring to the wind, engaged in all the debauchery the world has to offer, and had some truly sensational experiences [I’m literally writing novels]. All my lights were out in the summer of 2014, when I found myself unbearably depressed, isolated, and numb, spending 72 hours in a mental facility so I wouldn’t kill myself. This was the low point. I see it as my rock bottom – the moment when I realized if I spiraled any further I would extinguish my flame entirely and that I had no choice but to go up from there. Since then, I’ve been building, exploring, studying – practicing. Gradually awakening parts of my self I’d dulled or forgotten, gradually remembering who I was as a child, as a teenager – before all the pain, before all the darkness. I started practicing yoga daily, consciously eating healthy food, treating my body with respect – I started being kind to my self. And I started exploring spirituality.

I’ve made incredible friends who explore this as well, had myriad conversations about Buddhism, faith, meditation, religion, politics, the principles of right and wrong, the way the world works, what it is to be “cool,” – etc. And I found solace, comfort, solidarity with all these people who seem as lost as me. Who are curious, intelligent, awake to reality on some level, but left without viable options when it comes to spirituality. We each seem to form a syncretic cocktail of ideas and, comparing stories and philosophies with so many, I find that we’re all headed in a similar direction. We all want love and kindness and unity and acceptance – the very ideals Christianity supposedly purports. But I’ll be honest, not many people want to be associated with Christians. I certainly didn’t – the people who claimed to espouse my devout beliefs in high school were the very ones who ridiculed me. Even now, I’m reluctant. And I know I’m not the only one.

So, as I embark on this journey of figuring out what the hell it means to believe in God, to read the Bible, to potentially classify my self, once again, as a Christian – I figured I might as well publicly document it. I’ve had enough conversations with enough of my peers to know that other people are asking the same questions I am. This is for you. For me. For anyone who wonders what it means, now, in this century, in our present culture, to live. This is for the sake of love. Unity. Understanding. Hope. For Light.

 sunflower

Love –

 signature

 

 

Soul Care

As humans, we are inherently triune beings – mind, body, and soul. Growing up in charismatic Christian circles, I saw people moved by what they called the holy spirit. Now I see that these people use[d] religion as a means to give their souls life. They spoke in tongues and danced around rooms, “moved with the spirit.” But I feel the same spirit when I listen to jazz or absorb great paintings; I pulse with that life when I dance in a club or write a story. I may not ascribe to any religion, but my soul is as alive as ever.

We are raised to go to school, to seek education – to read books and solve math problems in care of our minds. We’re taught to eat healthy foods and exercise to care for our bodies. But what about our souls? The spirituality of religion can get stuck in legalism and dogma, leaving the greater part of the population lost and, in many ways, dead.

“A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.” – Epictetus.

 

Our souls are what bring us to life – they’re the animating factors that shine light behind our eyes and make our skin glow. Think of humans as double layer cakes – mind and body are the layers of cake, but without frosting, who wants to eat it? Dry and crumbly, maybe it tastes good for a few bites, but something’s missing. The glue, the moisture, the decadence – the icing on the cake – the soul.

All animals have bodies and minds. But what make us human, what have the potential to make us great and transcendent beings, are our souls. Our healthy souls can unite us, make us free, give us power, and lead us in paths of love and light. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets physiological and safety as the lowest two – the only needs that are purely physical or mental. The top three are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – the needs of the soul. So, if you don’t believe me, believe an esteemed psychologist – 3/5 of our most basic human needs are those of the soul.

But in a society, a culture, a world that neglects the soul – how do we care for it? How can we bring it to life? This takes work, consciousness, dedicated practice; Rome was not built in a day. Maybe you follow religious teachings, maybe you let music and art spark your internal fire, maybe you practice meditation and yoga. Start by clearing out the cobwebs, dusting the corners, and opening the windows – the beginning is the hardest part. Just as muscles atrophy in the absence of strain and brain cells wither away with disuse, our neglected souls wilt like thirsty flowers in the shade. We need sunlight, we need water, and we need these things regularly. People use drugs to feel alive in this way – to skip the daily practice and enjoy the light of the soul for an evening. But this feeling of ecstasy is possible on a daily basis. With practice, with care, the soul becomes stronger and brighter, and your power becomes increasingly accessible.

pen and ink drawing let the light in

So, as Voltaire wrote, let us cultivate our gardens. Let us seek out beauty and love, surrounding ourselves with objects and images and sounds and foods that bring us joy, with people who radiate light – let us make our souls happy. When we do this, all other desires are met – a body and mind connected to a healthy soul with be beautiful and intelligent and strong. So yes, have your workout and your salad, and read your books and work your sudokus, but begin with the soul. Stoke your internal fire and all parts of you will burn as brightly. 

Let the light in.

 

Love, calm, & care –

signature

Breaking Up with Jesus

I recently realized that my first breakup was with Jesus Christ. Having foregone dating in high school because it didn’t seem important yet, my first real relationship was a religious one. Maybe that sounds weird, and a little incestuous in an impossible way, but it’s true. Christians will tell you it’s not a religion – it’s a relationship, and many would say they are in love with Jesus. Looking at this now, some seven years post-breakup, it sounds a little crazy.

So – what is a relationship with Jesus like? Really. I spent time with him every day, whether it was reading his word [The Bible], praying, singing worship songs, or just talking to him like he was my best friend, because, for a while there, I think he was. I know, I know, but take it easy, I was practically raised in a cult and didn’t have many friends because I was a prudish, shy, and intelligent teenage girl – a triple threat in all the wrong ways.

As I got older and gradually got exposed to the world around me, I started to think. Objectively. I started to wonder. Reading apologetics books that were supposed to help me defend my own faith, I wondered why defending it would be necessary at all, why people who believed in Jesus could be the only ones to go to this place called heaven. I started to think that heaven didn’t sound all that fun, that maybe I didn’t want to wear white and worship God forever and ever and ever. Among other things.

So, as is my habit, I researched. I secretly checked out atheist literature and read it like a pre-teen boy who just stumbled on his dad’s porn collection. Maybe God wasn’t as great as I thought. Maybe other people could be right, too. Maybe religion was something I’d held onto too tightly, and maybe I’d built my entire world around myths. Maybe I’d been in a strange, codependent relationship with Jesus Christ.

Maybe this is where it gets familiar – you realize you’re in a bad relationship, then what? After much deliberation, and probably a few tears, you end it. And then the void appears. That empty place where this thing had taken on a life of its own and formed your entire identity. What then?

Then you get to start building. First I became okay with not knowing – with having no idea of whether or not god exists or if heaven or hell are real, and I felt free. Then I started living in new ways – doing the things my “ex” hadn’t allowed me to do, trying things because – for the first time in my seventeen or so years – I could. Because no one could really tell me what to do anymore. And of course I wrestled with my still-Christian parents until I moved out a year later. And then maybe I did a lot of crazy shit. But I didn’t lose my grip entirely – I just slipped a few times.

Then I started to find balance. I realized I didn’t want my entire life to be a festival of debauchery, and that morals were good things, even if they’d been imposed on me for strange, guilt-inducing reasons. I realized that I didn’t need a specific set of rules to be good to people, but that – simply for my own sake – I would be good to people. Because that’s better for everyone. I discovered love in real-life relationships, and with time and effort and practice, I healed. And I moved on from Jesus. I found myself, which was something I’d been taught to deny for most of my existence. And I found out that I wasn’t the vile sinner I’d been taught that I was. I learned that I mess up, but so does every one, and that doesn’t define me and, I think most importantly – I learned to love myself. And I learned that I could be enough. And if you can learn that and be a Christian, more power to you, but for me – this journey of self-discovery, which is fundamental to existence, couldn’t, didn’t happen, until I broke up with Jesus.

Do you have a story of leaving a religion? What was it like for you?

signature

Identity Issues

A lot of people have identity issues. They let their identity be defined by something outside themselves. I did this for a long time. As a child I found my identity in my family. The identity we shared in Austin dissolved with the adoption of Russian kids and a move to Colorado. In youth I was taught to find my identity in Christ. So I studied the Bible, attempted to learn fully who God and Jesus were, and what that made me. I thought I had it, and then I would attempt to join Christian communities, and I didn’t fit. These people weren’t searching the same way I was, weren’t implementing the lessons I learned from the Bible – living life kindly, generously, intelligently as it seemed to instruct. They weren’t any different from the secular youth who had mocked my prudish intellect in middle school. So I became disillusioned with religion, unsure of how I could find my identity in an environment that seemed so lacking.

I continued to search for my identity in various places. I’d always been taught to find it outside myself, and the importance of finding it had been utmost. I went to an HBCU straight out of high school, drawn to black culture by the confidence of the women and the strong identity they all seemed to possess. I learned how they carried themselves and why from extensive conversations, pledging a co-ed business fraternity, and a year and a half of coursework. But I couldn’t change my skin color, and on some level I still felt confused about who I was.

1375635_10200721157191093_1872273670_n

Shoutout to Iota Rho, Vengeance Spring 2013. These are my line brothers. I love them like family.

 

A year later I backpacked around Europe, drawn to the height of the culture, the intelligence and good taste that seemed to permeate every European’s being. Maybe I’d find myself there. I found beautiful architecture, live history lessons, fleeting friendships with fellow wanderers, and, in all this, pieces of myself. People guessed I was Spanish or German, but, while much of my ancestry is Irish and Ashkenazi/Sephardic Jewish, I am not European.

The most pivotal discovery I made in Europe was that I am a writer. Finding this piece of my identity, journaling in city squares and sprawling parks, gave me the means to explore myself more fully. Through journaling, I’ve made infinite personal breakthroughs, writing my way to self-actualization. I took my newfound talents to Colorado State University, where I decided that earning a college degree in English would be the most beneficial next step.

While reading novels and writing essays as academic work, for an extracurricular activity I fell in love. It was cinematic in all the ways I’d imagined, but the most important lesson I learned from the connection and subsequent dissolution was to see myself as a cohesive person. He was the first person to know absolutely everything about me, to see me completely and wholly and, with all that, to love me. In our codependent relationship, I came to see myself through his eyes. While this was damaging, and took some work to undo, it was insanely helpful to be able to see myself as a whole being, and it took using someone else’s view to accomplish this.

Coming out of the relationship, I used this idea of myself as a whole, separated from him, and have come to a new place of completeness. I’ve taken off his lenses and spent the last several months figuring out my own vision. Now that’s established – I can see myself clearly, honestly, and beautifully – I am able to be. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how I feel than to how I look – something only I can do. And now, even in making fresh connections, I’m able to maintain my identity – with conscious effort, of course. And, I’m also noticing that since I have this new sense of self, other people are able to see me more accurately than ever before. I heard a line in a movie once – I don’t remember which – “People like people who like themselves.” I could talk about self-love all day, but this line stuck. And finding this sense of cohesion, this sense of knowing myself has made self-love more possible than ever before. And, in practice, I’m finding that line to be wonderfully true.

042615_0013_HeartlessCh1.jpg