We are all teachers — we are all students. Step Thirteen reminds us that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. At one time or another we all play the role of student and teacher, sometimes simultaneously. While our lives are teaching students (sometimes formally but often informally) we are also being taught by others (again, sometimes formally but often informally).
There is a spiritual principle we adhere to in Religious Recovery that the more we love and forgive, the less we are prone to judge or condemn. What would happen if we applied that spiritual principle to the religion we practice? Would we be able to say our religion follows the path of peace and love, or does it follow the path of fear, judgment, and condemnation of self and others?
June 28: Forgiveness is crucial for our lives. A person who can’t forgive in even the smallest measure has the greatest potential for destruction — in their own lives and also in the lives of those around them.
Sometimes the questions need to go deeper. Instead of asking, “Is this the right church for me?” or “Is this the right denomination for me?” try asking instead, “Is this the right religion for me?” or “Is it time to take a break from religion?” Stepping back is often the only way to move forward. If we’ve taken a detour on our journey, sometimes it’s easier to retrace our steps until we find the crossroads that led us astray, and then we can choose a different path.
I think of my previous religious beliefs as the caterpillar phase of my spiritual journey. Sure, they got me around from one place to another, but it wasn’t until the darkness came and I turned within that I was reborn. I won’t return to my caterpillar phase. I won’t look back with nostalgic longing or guilt-ridden regret. Why should I, now that I can fly?
I’ve always enjoyed amusement rides. The amusement park nearest my home has a ride called The Beast. When it was built in 1979 it was the tallest, longest, and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. I have ridden in the front seat and in the back seat, and I’ve found both experiences carry a different set of exhilarations.
Upon reaching the first hill, the front seat glides slowly over the top almost as if hanging in midair until the rest of the cars are pushed past the tipping point, and then it feels as if the cars behind you are pushing you down the tracks. When seated in the rear car and approaching the top, you discover you are being whipped over the summit by the force of the cars falling down the hill in front of you.
Before deciding to ride The Beast, I realized I would be experiencing an amusement ride — one that had been tested for safety, and safely ridden by millions of people. For four minutes and ten seconds I gave myself over to the ride. I settled my body into the car and lowered the safety bar. In less than five minutes the ride ended and I returned to my everyday life.
We sometimes forget that life is like an amusement ride. We are spiritual beings having a roller-coaster ride called life. Our souls are inserted into a human body and we take off up the hill to experience the exhilarating — and often frightening — experiences of our spiritual existence. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It will end much too soon, and we might wish we had the chance to ride again.
We are all on different paths, but our destination is essentially the same. We may call it by different names, but we are heading towards the unknown life that lies beyond this existence. When we set aside our differences and recognize our fellow travelers, we can relax and enjoy the ride.
Acceptance is easier talked about than achieved. Religious Recovery is all about accepting other religions and other roads to reach Home, but before we can accept other paths, we might need to learn to accept ourselves for who we are, where we are, and what we are. One simple way to begin is to accept the present moment without judging it as either good or bad.
We have the power to change, and if it’s our choice, change can be enjoyable. One of the simplest yet most helpful ways to change is to determine to see the world positively and not negatively.
Sometimes we think we know what is best for us, but when what we think should happen doesn’t happen, then we lose our peace and sometimes our tempers. Stone Six of Religious Recovery suggests we live in the present moment and simply “be.” No anticipation or expectation — just live in the moment and be amazed by what comes our way.
June 21: There may be times when we don’t always trust our intuition. Part of the problem is that our ego and our intuition often contradict one another, and it is difficult to silence the ego long enough to listen to our hearts. When we get beyond the voice of the ego, we often find wisdom that comes from the heart and not the head. Ideally, the heart and head work together, but when they seem to oppose one another, we might want to ignore the head and the ego and listen to our hearts.
June 20: One element Religious Recovery adheres to is that our religious/spiritual path should be full of love, light, joy, peace, and acceptance of everyone. If you ever wonder if you are in a healthy religious/spiritual environment, ask yourself if it provides you with these positive qualities or if you’re in an environment prone to judgment, criticism, guilt, shame, or the we’re-better-than-they-are frame of mind.
Religion is not the enemy. It’s merely a tool to help us connect to The Divine, but when that tool is used in the wrong hands, it can hurt, disappoint, or abuse people. Instead of limiting our source of spirituality to one specific brand of religion, wouldn’t it make more sense to partake of a variety? It would be like deciding only American food, Chinese food, or Indian food is the only food that is right, and saying those who consume any type of food other than what we approve will be eternally damned. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be so much a matter of which one is right, but what is our personal preference? There is no need to attack someone simply because they prefer one type of food or religion over another.
Dumbo, the Disney character known as the flying elephant, was given a “magic” feather by his friend, Timothy Q. Mouse. While holding the feather with his trunk, Dumbo believed he could fly — and so he did. Without the feather, however, he was certain any attempt would be met with disaster. Dumbo learns at the end of the movie that the feather was merely a prop to give him the confidence he needed. His ability to soar was always inherent in who he was.
Let us give credit to the feathers of belief. Without them, some people would never realize that the power to soar lies within them and nowhere else. For some people, religion has become like Dumbo’s feather. Without the religious institution and buildings, without the structure and stricture of the religion they adhere to, they fear they would never make it on their own. Religions provide a Dumbo feather which enables its members to soar. It also provides a place of love and safety, and so we honor and support its efforts.
But, in time, people also recognize the weaknesses of religious faith. They realize they can fly with or without the feather of religion. The beauty is we don’t have to choose one or the other. We can have both. The feather gave us our launching point. The feather can provide the courage to take the first leap of faith, and our lives can be enhanced by a balance of religion and spirituality.
What if they are wrong? What if you are not deprived, evil, and unworthy? What if your essence is good? After all, aren’t we created in the image of The Divine? That one sentence, “What if they’re wrong?” can be the small hole in the dam that opens a flood of new insights, new knowledge, and a new way of living.
Religious Recovery offers healing for the religiously wounded. When our spirits are broken, we need something, someone, or some Power higher than we are to lead us out of religious darkness and into the Light.
Forgiveness is a key element in Religious Recovery and in recovery in general. Forgiveness works best when it starts with “me” and ends with “we.” Often we find it easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves, but we are only human. We make mistakes and must extend the same amount of grace to our lives as we would to another’s.
Religious freedom gives each individual the right to choose the religion they want to believe, but it does not give them the right to force their decision upon someone else. As George Carlin said, “Religion is like a pair of shoes…find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”
When we concentrate on the negative and overlook the positive, we do ourselves a disservice. When we look back over our past and see our mistakes — or “sins” as some religions call it — and not the positive, loving, Divine-like things we have accomplished, we hold ourselves in a prison of our own making. As a father, I tend to forgive and forget the mistakes my children make and only hold onto the happy memories. I hope they can see themselves the way I see them. Yes, they made mistakes, but it doesn’t make them less lovable or any less my child.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Part of the problem is we don’t always know what the right thing is. When we come to a place where there is uncertainty concerning the right path, the voice we listen to the most, often determines our course of action. If that voice is in sync with our hearts and with Love, then it is trustworthy. But if the voice that speaks the loudest comes from fear, shame, judgment or even hatred, we must have the courage to say no to that voice and choose Love.
Spirituality is an inner connection. It can — and often is — enhanced by religious experiences. But, ultimately it is the sole responsibility of each individual to make that connection and find that spiritual/religious path that leads them Home.
Every once in a while it’s healthy and fun to set aside a dream day. A day specifically set aside to dream. Some dreams that immediately come to my mind are of winning the lottery, buying a new car, relaxing on a beach, or climbing a mountain. Our daily lives often seem so unremarkable that by simply taking time to relax and daydream about what could be, we can be revitalized, strengthened, and given something different to anticipate.
The first dreams that come to my mind are often shallow. After all, we know that many of the things I listed will not bring lasting happiness. So, during the course of our dream day, we pause to consider different types of dreams. We dream of a world without war, hatred, and bigotry. We dream of a world where everyone respects one another — and also our planet.
We might dream of a world without boundaries because we no longer fear those who seem to be different from us. We dream of a world where we champion the cause for love, and where Light blocks out all spiritual darkness. We might even dream of a world where religions no longer feud with one another, and where faith has become personal freedom and not fear of punishment. Let’s make time for dreams. Who knows, we might see them come true.
One way to overcome guilt is to change it from a fear-based emotion into a mental-based decision. We might feel guilty because of our decisions, but if those decisions are based on our doubts and questions — if it is as much a mental decision as it was an emotional one — then we can set guilt aside more easily and enjoy our new freedom.
Guilt raises its ugly head quite often when we decide to remove ourselves from a religious environment that no longer works for us. This fact should not surprise us, especially if the religion we were associated with used guilt as a tool to shame, blame, and coerce its followers into obedience and submission. The tentacles of guilt can cling tenaciously to us for years.
Sometimes a simple thought, allowed to grow and develop in our hearts, has the power to change the universe. May that thought be this: We are all created equal in the eyes of The Divine, and all paths lead back to our Creator.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.