The expression, “You can’t change your past,” is true in that the things that happened cannot be altered, but what we can change is our interpretation and our reaction to the past. By choosing to see the past through a different light and from a higher perspective, we can release negative feelings that affect our present and our future.
The call to follow our heart and intuition is being heard in more than just religious circles. The call is universal and makes sense to great thinkers in science and industry, too. Find your path, follow your own way — these are words of wisdom we’ve heard over and over. Why? Because it’s good advice.
When we claim our path to be the only way, we create exclusivity and division. When we state that our path seems to be as good as any other path, we open to tolerance. When we say that perhaps another path might have insights and wisdom that might benefit our path, we open to acceptance. Only then can we embrace and love all beings and all roads Home.
If we want to grow something in a garden it is important to first tend the soil. Nothing grows well if the soil is not rich and ready to breed life. Similarly, if we would grow spiritually then we must first tend the soil of our spirit. Worrying about outside forces matters little if we don’t first prepare the soil of the soul.
The more we examine the practice of forgiveness, the more we realize how powerful it is. Forgiveness can transform our personal world for the highest and best, and it also has the power to transform and heal the planet. As more and more people comprehend and apply the power of forgiveness, our world will lay aside hatred, prejudice, and strife.
In the 1999 film, The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, is given a choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill will allow Neo to “wake” from the world of illusions and see the real world, while the blue pill will allow Neo to remain within the world he thinks is real. He chooses the red pill, and the story takes us on a remarkable adventure.
When hearing the stories of people who have been seduced into destructive cults such as Heaven’s Gate, The People’s Temple, and the Manson Family, we wonder how their leaders could have gained such a powerful control over their followers. More importantly, how can we convince people who have been caught up in these unusual and destructive systems that they are living in a destructive world?
We need a red pill. A pill much like what was offered Neo to help him see beyond the matrix of illusion to the real world. The problem is, however, even if such a pill existed, the members of the cults would refuse to take it, explaining with deep conviction that we are the ones in need of waking up.
The pill does exist. The pill is our intuition and common sense. When a religious belief system goes against common sense and our gut instincts, when it demands self-sacrifice in the name of their god, then it is time for us to wake up. Promises of happiness, heaven, and better lives in the afterlife are made, but most, if not all, religions make similar promises. What makes Jim Jones or Warren Jeff’s promises any better than someone else’s? We always keep in mind the advice from Stone One that states, “I assert that I am responsible for my own spiritual path.”
Forgiveness can almost be a selfish act. In applying the law of give and take, we forgive in order to be forgiven. As we forgive others we also find within us the ability to forgive ourselves. But if we truly forgive from the heart, the result is not selfish but selfless. We are creating a more beautiful world, one act of forgiveness at a time.
As the world becomes smaller through technology it’s important to let go of political, social, geographic, and religious boundaries. As we take in the bigger picture it behooves us to see ourselves as members of one world. Let us cooperate, love, and treat one another as we want to be treated.
If we want to be a happy, healthy, spiritual person, then hatred is another emotion we want to release. Some hatred can also be traced back to religious beliefs, and one of the most toxic is the belief that our way — however the individual defines it — is the only way. Hatred doesn’t solve problems; it creates and magnifies them.
One emotion that we might want to release is fear. After acknowledging the emotion of fear, we can go beyond it and examine the source. Quite often the source is a belief, and sometimes that belief is a religious belief. Is the belief true and universal or only held by a minority?
Kindness and gratitude go together in the spiritual life. When we are grateful for who we are and for what we have, we find it much easier to show kindness to ourselves and to others. Ungrateful people find it difficult to be kind to others and even to themselves.
To forgive is to perform magic. When you forgive you can make things disappear. Things like resentment, turmoil, strife, and hatred. Even some forms of physical illnesses can disappear. Forgiveness removes these negative emotions and replaces them with peace, joy, and love. Forgiveness equates to magic and miracles.
I love the sport of golf, but when I get caught up in the competition and rules, it spoils the game for me. My efforts at perfection — to find the perfect swing, to play the perfect round — can take away the joy of being on the course. When I don’t keep score, I enjoy the spiritual aspect of the game. If we are not careful, religious rules and regulations can spoil our spiritual course.
When we encounter wolves dressed in religious attire, our response should be to get away from them. Had Little Red Riding Hood acted on her intuition before it was too late, she could have escaped death. Many people have been hurt by religious leaders, and for some, the encounter cost them their faith. I’m not saying they were eternally doomed, but the religious path they had been traveling was abruptly halted, and for some, that cessation lasted for years.
Step Nine talks about forgiving ourselves for any harm we may have caused even if our intentions were good. The same grace is extended to those who harmed us in the name of religion even if their intentions were also good. What about those who harmed us without concern to our well-being?
The same forgiveness and grace must also be extended to the wolves cloaked in religious attire. Those who would devour us without a hint of remorse. Why must we extend love, grace, and forgiveness? Not for their sake, but for ours. We are the ones who stand to lose. If we are to survive the abuses of self-centered and evil religious individuals, we will one day have to let go of our grievances and replace them with loving acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. The only way to escape the wolf is to not allow the wolf to consume and overtake us. We do this by not giving in to hatred, bitterness, and the deceit that is the wolf.
Suppressing our feelings often comes out in negative ways. Think of someone who has to be upbeat and happy because it is a requirement of their employment. What happens to their feelings of stress and discouragement? Too often it shows its ugly face when away from work and with their family. To own our feelings doesn’t mean we can’t ignore or suppress them for a time, but eventually we must find healthy ways to allow ourselves to feel them, own them, and then release them in nondestructive ways.
Stones Seven and Eight encourage us to feel our emotions and then to release any we deem harmful. A quote from Pema Chödrön sheds light on these two Stones: “The more we witness our emotional reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain.”[i] But we cannot witness these reactions unless we feel them. After that, we examine them to discover how they work, and this discovery sheds light on how to release them.
Many people underestimate the power of forgiveness to set them free. Some suppose that forgiveness is meant to set free those whom we forgive, and there can be a measure of that depending on the openness of the other person to receive. The person who is released is ultimately the one who forgives.
Challenge one religious belief today. Stop to consider one religious belief that you’ve held as truth. Is it possible you have been mistaken — or those who taught you this truth were mistaken? Your answer might be yes, no, or you might be unsure. Holding truth lightly allows for change when needed, but dogmatic beliefs can be dangerous and destructive.
The bottom line is not what we believe but how we behave. If we believe in love but don’t behave in loving ways, then our beliefs and our behavior oppose one another. Religion can give behavior guidelines, but sometimes the most loving act in a situation can’t be determined by guidelines but by the heart. Listen to the Voice within.
Awakening to the fact that religious abuse may have occurred in our lives is actually healthy because without the awakening no healing can occur. Once our eyes are opened we can search for and find the solution the Universe has to offer. For some, it may be through the Religious Recovery program, but we are certainly not the only means of healing — and perhaps not even the best. We are simply one path among many.
You are not alone! Religious Recovery wants to get out the message that you are not alone. Overcoming religious abuse takes time — sometimes years and even decades. Quite often it is because individuals seem to think no one else has experienced what they are going through. Not true. You are not alone, and if you will let us, we will help you acknowledge your pain and help you heal. We see the hurt in other lives, because it resonates with our own journey.
The story of Little Red Riding Hood is a tragic tale. We can forgive Little Red for mistaking the wolf for her grandmother because the wolf was disguised to look like granny. The disguise was weak at best, and it seemed Little Red was just about to see through the ruse, but unfortunately she was too late.
This tale of deceit and treachery is at times played out in real life with wolfish individuals who dress in the garbs of religious leaders to deceive unsuspecting and trusting men and women. How do we recognize these deceitful individuals? It isn’t always easy. The wolf’s disguise was a last-minute makeshift costume, but religious leaders have had time to prepare their disguise and train their voice. They look like, sound like, and even act like the genuine thing. So, how do we know?
We take our cues from Little Red who discerned by noticing the little details. The voice was off and the physical appearance was off, but before she could explore deeper, her fate was sealed. Going beyond the physical aspects, we notice other details. How do they treat their employees? How do they react under pressure? Do their egos rule their actions? Are they full of pride?
Checking for the positive signs is just as important as checking for the negative signs. Are they kind, gracious, giving, and loving? Do they take time to listen — really listen — or are they too busy with their own agenda? The warning signs are there, if we will take time to question and look for them.
Sometimes when I sit down to write, the words seem to have a life of their own, and they lead me down a path I had never intended. Spirituality is often a lot like that, too. I’ve learned to follow the words, the prompting of the heart, and the Spirit.
The truth we cling to can barricade the door to any other truth. By holding our truths lightly and understanding there is always more to learn, we open ourselves to new ideas, new worlds, and deeper ways of loving and accepting.
We enjoy food from a variety of cultures. How silly would it be to claim that American food is the only right food to sustain us and save us from starvation? Yet many people make that claim about their religion.
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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.