"MY UNDERSTANDING FAMILY LETS ME BE ME"
Every culture in the world has certain norms that govern everything from personal relationships to religious practices and political views. These norms shift depending on the times and places in which we live; however we are always expected to conform to them. Those who do not often find themselves subject to a painful, even paralyzing, stigma.
There are two of these nonconforming groups who I have found to be particularly stigmatized: those suffering from mental illness and those who consider themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious” (SBNR). I know about both of these by personal experience. I am a person who lives with depression and lives a spiritual life unattached from organized religion. Despite the fact that a growing number, nearly 20%, of Americans are identifying themselves as SBNR, they are consistently branded as heretics and “non-believers”.
How can this be? Religious texts and leaders proclaim that God/Source/the Creator loves us all unconditionally, yet it seems that this message is often followed up with—you guessed it—conditions! We either don’t believe enough or the right way, and that’s why we’re not getting what we want in this life and why we won’t end up in heaven in the next.
The real issue, I contend, is the continued practice of viewing those who differ from us as “other”. It’s an exclusivity game—we belong, you don’t. Christ’s mission on earth was to help us understand that we are all of the same Source energy. We are all loved just as we are, and all entitled to heaven, just as we are. Yet (and I am not pointing the finger at anyone in particular), instead of embracing people across the spectrum of spiritual beliefs, we allow norms to divide us. On the largest scale, this leads to conflicts between the world’s three major religions; on a smaller scale, it leads to the stigmatization of people who do not follow the rules.
We must push back against stigmas—that is a given. In the meantime, however, we also must seek out and cultivate what I call the “understanding family”. This is a group of people who accept, love and support us no matter what. It can be the family we are born into or the one we make for ourselves, but they are critical to our mental, spiritual and even physical wellbeing.
Many of us take this support system for granted, especially when our lives are going well. It consists of our spouses, parents, friends or religious community. However, it is when we suddenly find ourselves on the fringes of society that we must sometimes seek out a new family built on common interests or struggles. They are the people who will let us know that we are not alone. They are often our only refuge from the world at large. Most importantly, they are the ones who will help us combat the most damaging stigma of all—the one we assign to ourselves.
What am I doing here?
Such a strange question, when you think about it. After all, we were born “here”, raised “here” and taught to desire all the things that “here” can offer, whether they be material things, such as a new car, or the intangibles, such as romantic love. So why do we feel this odd sense that we are here for a greater reason, and often clueless as to what that reason is? I believe it is the knowledge, no matter how deeply buried (or ignored), that are true selves are spiritual and that our true home is somewhere other than this three-dimensional plane.
While those who consciously ask the question often feel tortured by their seeming inability to find an answer, those who do not ask the question may suffer even more deeply. They feel a hole inside them but cannot put a name to it; as a result, they often fill it with it unhealthy things like drugs, alcohol or toxic relationships. Of course, these things only leave them feeling emptier, so they up the “dosage”, and so on.
The “why am I here” question weighs on us most when we are feeling lost or facing some sort of adversity. Then the question becomes, “What is the purpose of all this struggling? Why am I even here if x, y, and z is going to happen to me?” But really, we just want to know what we can do to make the struggle meaningful.
The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. Complex, because each of us has different needs, desires, and abilities, as well as our own unique part to play in this human mosaic. Simple, because all of us can find this purpose by connecting to something larger than ourselves, such as God or nature, and / or outside ourselves, such as another person or a humanitarian cause. In The Two Agreements, I discuss how Jesus’ purpose was to share the Good News and bring people together around an understanding of our oneness with God and with each other.
Similarly, it is by finding our connection to Source, and to each other, that we find our own way to serve. In other words, we have to go within to go without. Take a few minutes each day to clear your mind of the “to do” list and any other chatter that plagues you. Then, in the quiet, ask yourself, “What matters to me? What am I passionate about? How can I make ‘here’ a better place?” I am not suggesting that the meaning of your life will come to you in that moment (although it has for some people), but I can tell you that taking these first steps on the path will lead to a sense of connection, and of purpose.
There are many people who seem to be unable to believe in God without, also, believing in a personal enemy. In fact, most of the people I know who believe in a personal God believe there is an opposing force working against them, against their belief. In my reinterpretation of the greatest story ever told, I identify an enemy for anyone having a need of one. The enemy I point out is not an entity roaming heaven and earth. It is civilization, the world, in which we live.
Why see the world as our enemy? The world is a perfect enemy because it is our teacher, giving lessons from the moment of birth in how to speak and how to think and what to say and what to think, etc. In fact, humanity becomes reliant on the world to teach all that one needs to know to survive and thrive. However, the opposite lessons are taught. The world teaches that we are separate from God and one another and there is a lack of the vital things necessary for life and happiness. I call this collection of untruths the Lie. Obviously, believing the Lie works against our surviving and thriving in life. In fact, belief in these teachings sets us up for failure and a life ruled by fear.
Once entangled, how can anyone get free of the enemy? Where do we start?
Sadly, we start so often from the wrong place and easily find ourselves in places we wish not to be. You can begin by deciding to no longer live in fear and let Spirit be your teacher. As often as you can, choose to be alone with your teacher by becoming still and entering the Silence.
Spirit teaches that you matter. Irrespective of age, sex, social status, money, personal accomplishments, ethnic or cultural background-- you matter. So, you can refuse to be controlled by guilt, shame, and fear.
No matter what the world teaches, Life is meant to be the celebration of your individual significance, not an endless and fruitless search for the existence of your significance. It is meant for you to take the talents, interests, and passions that are you and find a way plant the seeds that give birth to the life you deserve and were destined to live. You are a valued and important part of a larger tapestry and life is your contribution to that picture.
Celebrate your unique significance. Nurture your talents and interests. Cherish your values and passions. Know that in caring for others you find your greatest affirmation. Know that caring for yourself and caring for others are not an opposition, but a unity that takes you deeper and deeper towards a life of real meaning and completion.
Don't chase something you already have. The days are numbered for all of us. Celebrate! Celebrate the gift of you, the gift of others and the gift of life you are given. Start at the beginning. Start unlearning your feelings of fear and feelings of lack today.
a basic premise of
nearly every mystical path, regardless of religious
affiliation, is that the experiences of divine
consciousness, enlightenment, and union with
God are available to everyone who is willing to
follow the practices and devote energy to the
pursuit of conscience awareness. When we
connect in this union or oneness, great and
marvelous (dare I say miraculous) things are
bound to occur.
The divine is the sea. All religions are rivers leading to the sea. Some rivers wind a great deal.
Why not go to the sea directly?
~ Mother Meera
One And Only You
Every single blade of grass,
And every flake of snow--
Is just a wee bit different ...
There’s no two alike, you know.
From something small, like grains of sand,
To each gigantic star
All were made with THIS in mind:
To be just what they are!
How foolish then, to imitate--
How useless to pretend!
Since each of us comes from a MIND
Whose ideas never end.
There’ll only be just ONE of ME
To show what I can do--
And you should likewise feel very proud,
There’s only ONE of YOU.
That is where it all starts
With you, a wonderful
unlimited human being.
James T. Moore
You Were Born Rich
S.L. Brannon, B.A., M.Ed., D.Div. You can learn more about me on facebook and linkedin.
A healthy spiritual life is vital to recovery and wellness for those living with a mental health challenge. I share my spiritual faith system, one of my own design. In my book, I encourage everyone to do the same - create a spiritual life that works for you.
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