It started innocently enough. I read somewhere that words have power, and was admonished to watch what I say so that I didn’t accidentally create anything that I didn’t want. I stopped saying careless phrases like, “it’s killing me” or “I can’t afford that” and started doing mental gymnastics to phrase things in a way that didn’t promote new dangers and threats to my life, happiness, wealth, and well-being.
One superstition led to another. I avoided saying anything “negative” and started saying affirmations like mantras, concerned that if I didn’t offer enough affirmations to the powers that be, that my luck would fade and I would be cursed (never mind the fact that I was already living a very blessed life and had never previously uttered any affirmations at all!). I affirmed everything I wanted to be, do, and have – both in writing and verbally. I started keeping a gratitude journal, believing the trope that the more grateful we are, the more good we attract. Even when I’d rather have been doing other things, I made myself slog through writing a whole page of things I was grateful for each day. When life got busy, I would fall away from the practice, but then I’d remember and start doing it religiously again.
I grabbed onto “spiritual insights” like someone in the desert rushing toward mirages. Not just spiritual insights, but also beliefs about love (which may or may not be spiritual). I became immersed in this philosophy of “see only love” – like, to look beyond the annoying and horrible things (of varying degrees) that people do and see their “true essence” – which, of course, is love. I tried to believe in the “we are all one” concept – and while I can see that from a standpoint of that we are all connected and that what we do affects the whole, I need to emphatically state that while we may all be connected and part of the human family, we are most definitely not all the same – and we are not impacted the same by various events and systems. I also don’t believe that the core essence of all of us is love. I’m in deep questioning in this moment if some people actually have any love or humanity in them at all – or are simply pure evil. I’m definitely not willing to “see only love” in these people who cause so much harm and destruction.
I’ve embraced the “love conquers all” philosophy. I’ve wanted it to be true. I’ve wanted to be a “good, loving person” who practiced unconditional love and peace. If others held that same intention, it might work – but when so many others do not, it just makes one an easy victim. It’s easy to gaslight, manipulate, and even abuse people who are determined to keep loving and seeing only the good in everyone. I’ve written before about how I’ve gaslighted myself and used spiritual bypassing as a way to not deal with acknowledging the real harm and abuse that I was accepting in my relationships in the name of “love” – and doing something to protect myself, like ending those relationships. Choosing to “see only good/love” in other people is a dangerous, misguided concept that puts everyone and everything that matters at risk – at least at the level I was attempting to practice that concept.
I went from the religion that I grew up in (Baptist) where everything made sense because “God willed it” – to rejecting that religion and searching for another way for everything to make sense. Unfortunately, I think that some of the ideas/concepts that I grabbed onto were just as misguided and man-made, born of fear and enmeshed with demands of compliance, as those of the religion that I’d left behind. I think it’s natural and human to seek answers that give us comfort and some understanding of our place in the Universe. I’m not trying to take that away from anyone – whatever works to get us through the day/night is beneficial. For me, though, I’m finding these fear-based spiritual superstitions and mandates of love/understanding/peace to be almost as limiting and damaging and false as the abusive religion that I grew up with.
Here’s what I’m noting: my dad came to this country from Scotland with nothing. He built a business, became successful, had a beautiful home and a succession of yachts, each increasing in size over time. I’m quite certain that he never wrote or said an affirmation. He wrote a business plan. He didn’t write a gratitude journal. Ever. His life was blessed, but he was tormented and drank/smoked himself to death by the age of 61. After my dad got my mom to leave the Baptist church, she became under the spell of the same sort of spiritual principles as I did. She kept a gratitude journal, said and wrote her affirmations, meditated, ate healthy, saw a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, took endless supplements – in other words, “did everything right” – and in spite of it all, coupled with lots of prayers and healing energies sent her way, still died at the age of 72 of the breast cancer that she’d suffered with for 4 years. At what point do we question if all (any?) of this stuff really works?
Speaking for myself, I can say that I had a blessed and fortunate life in my younger years, in spite of nearly debilitating low self-esteem that was primarily due to abuses of the church and church school I attended until I was 14. My life improved immensely when my dad finally put his foot down and got us out of that church and parochial school. Some of the damage ran deep and impacted me for decades. I will say that affirmations helped me to heal in some ways. But the affirmations themselves became their own problem in other ways – a false crutch, perhaps? My commitment to unconditional love and to seeing the best in others led me into unhealthy, imbalanced, and at times, abusive relationships. I’ve willingly allowed myself to be used and manipulated. I failed to have self-protective boundaries because I thought it more important to put “love” and the relationship first. I tried so hard to be the “good” person that I thought my spirituality demanded of me – and all that landed me was broke and alone. I do have good friends and dear family, but that’s not because of affirmations or gratitude journals. In fact, I’m pretty sure that nothing good that has happened in my life has had anything to do with affirmations or gratitude journals.
Maybe life is just life – and we have the experiences we are meant to have regardless of whether we ask, pray, affirm, or otherwise request what we want. I’ve had too many synchronicities and signs to believe that I’m not guided or that there aren’t angelic messengers or some kind of Spirit Guides or organizing force/s at work in my life. I’m just questioning my ability to have much influence on what happens. I’ve had many good times and many bad times in my life – and generally very little to no control over how it was going. I’d like to say I’ve had control over my attitude – but even that is barely true. I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude as much as possible, believing that was the “right” thing to do – but I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t another toxic belief that prohibits us from a full range of necessary and appropriate emotions. Maybe we all need to spend a little more time with our anger. Maybe we need to not let things slide, not look on the bright side … but rather fix the shit that is going wrong and is unacceptable. Maybe we need less civility and more social justice, less programming (religious, spiritual, social, cultural) and more authentic passion and expression.
I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure there even are answers. I just have questions … and I’m trying to create some breathing room between myself and some of the belief systems that I’ve embraced. I still like looking at, for example, inspirational memes – but now I take everything in with a more critical eye. Do I believe that? Is it true? Is it always true or just sometimes true – or maybe rarely true? I’m not writing in my gratitude journal these days. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful. I am. I always have been. Even as a young child, I remember looking out at the lake and the trees where I lived and feeling filled with a sense of connection and gratitude. I’ve spent many days during this pandemic looking out at the tree I’ve connected with and the blue sky and clouds and feeling grateful – not out of a sense of duty to be grateful, but out of a natural connection that I feel with life. That gratitude is not performative, as is potentially the gratitude in my journals. It just exists in me of its own accord.
Can I tell you something? Years ago, my good friend who also works in energy healing suggested that I write a “hate” journal – that every day I write down ten things I hated. At the time, I had tremendous pain in my feet – so much so that I could barely walk across a room, much less around the block. When I woke up in the mornings, I hobbled to the bathroom in nearly excruciating pain. I wrote down the things I hated for a few months. The pain went away. I haven’t had trouble with foot pain or walking in years. I can walk for an hour now without suffering – for years that possibility had been inconceivable. Maybe all of this spiritual bypassing and trying to be a “good, positive, loving person” is actually driving pain and negativity into our bodies? Maybe pushing down or sublimating our anger, hatred, rage, and other so-called “negative” emotions is detrimental to our well-being? Maybe our affirmations, insistence on avoiding negative emotions, forgiving transgressions instantly (or worse, saying that they never existed, that there is nothing to forgive – looking at you, Course In Miracles), and clinging to our positivity and determination to “be love” in all instances, is not actually beneficial for our lives at all.
When I left my religion, I remember spending some time semi-waiting for God to strike me dead. I thought blasphemous thoughts. I did “sinful” things … and waited. Nothing. Eventually, I stopped living in fear of a vengeful God. I’m experiencing a similar feeling right now – a sense of blasphemy – and waiting for the “Universe” to strike me down. But I’m not really that afraid – because I have this knowing inside of me that I’ve been believing lies (or, more generously, misinformation) and I’ve been afraid of illusions. Just like the Holy Bible was written by men, so too have all of the spiritual principles I’ve ever been exposed to, been written by human beings, perhaps inspired by a Higher Power, but nonetheless, filtered through a human’s limited awareness and experience. I’m not blindly accepting any of it as my truth.
Whatever Truths are out there – they aren’t malevolent and they don’t demand my submission or obsequiousness, of this I am sure. They don’t demand my affirmations, my positivity, or even my gratitude. I’m fairly certain they are unmoved by any of my thoughts or emotions. The only impact my thoughts and emotions have is on me – and perhaps the people around me, just by virtue of my energy, mood, and actions. I’m learning to be okay in the not-knowing. I’m loosening my grip on the illusions I’ve been clinging to in order to try to give myself a sense of safety and control in my own universe. I’m realizing how truly illusory that has always been. I don’t know what comes next. I’m not drawing it on a freaking menu, giving God His part and doing my part. I’m not “manifesting” in detail what I want. I’m sick of playing those games. I’m proud of myself for leaving the phrase “I’m sick of” in here – because for decades I would have feared that invited illness and would have changed it to something else so as not to get sick. I’m not living in the fear of “doing it wrong” anymore.
You know what? In spite of how careful I was, I still got cancer. I still suffered through many illnesses over the years. I still fell and broke both arms. My affirmations and prayers and relentless positivity and unconditional love did not deliver me from life. Nope. Life went on and did its thing. If I get sick now or in the future, it won’t be because I said I was sick of something! It will be because sometimes people get sick. Life happens. I’m taking my Vitamin D and wellness herbs and staying home/in as much as possible and doing everything in my power to stay well. I’m sick of being afraid that if I don’t think and feel all of the “right” thoughts and emotions, that some great tragedy will befall me. That kind of “spirituality” feels as abusive to me as my former religion. I’m not going to allow or accept any fear-based concepts to run my life or manipulate my belief systems, to the extent that I can help it. I recognize that some of these beliefs are so ingrained in me at this point that I’m not always aware of them. I’m doing my best – and that’s enough.
I still have faith and hope and compassion and values and ethics. I remain a multi-faceted spiritual being. I value love above all things, but self-love and boundaries are a top priority. I also value anger and even rage and hatred. They have their place. I don’t believe that you can truly love if you aren’t willing to fiercely defend and protect when necessary. You don’t allow someone or something you love to be harmed without taking action to keep them safe. I’ve often quoted Carl Jung’s “I’d rather be whole than good.” My spirituality includes it all. My spirituality allows me to feel safe in my wholeness, unrebuked for my mistakes and flaws, and unpunished for my lacks, limitations, and non-compliance. My spirituality refuses to be contained by words, concepts, emotions, feelings, or beliefs. My spirituality does not expect or demand my fear. There are no forces waiting for me to say or think or feel the wrong thing, then swoop in with a punishment. On the contrary, my spirituality allows me to rest in the knowledge that I am limitless, powerful, free, connected, and unconditionally loved. Even so, life remains a mystery and much is completely out of my control. My attempts to pretend otherwise have been futile. Now what?