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This Is Hard

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 19, 2010

My twitter friend Anne complimented me recently saying “It takes guts to blog about personal spirituality”. I took a great deal of comfort from that, because she’s right. It’s hard.

The post-Enlightenment West is unusual among many world cultures because we regard talking about religion as a private matter. I read of somewhere – was it Bali? – where a typical meeting of strangers includes “How are you? “, “How is your family?” , “Are you married?”, and “What religion are you?”. I assume not all in the same sentence!

I firmly believe that not talking about the inner life diminishes us, yet fighting your own culture ain’t easy. In the words of the song, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Many people simply do not want to engage with this stuff. I’d probably be a millionaire by now if I switched to blogging Oprah-esque personal development.

Writing about what I do is difficult because it’s personal. It affects me. I don’t talk about spirituality, agnosticism, atheism out of mere academic interest. It’s apatheism, a portmanteau of apathy and theism/atheism which says, “I don’t know and I don’t care that I don‘t know.” I care that I don’t know. The question of whether or not there is some higher reality to be found affects my life, my emotions, my fears and my frustrations.

Not having a firm position feels rather like rowing a solitary boat through a rolling sea. Up, down, no safe haven in which to anchor, and no fellow passengers to share the oars.

“Doing” spirituality is hard and I’ve never been fond of spiritual “work”. If one is going to include spiritual practices as part of one’s search, such as meditation or even just listening openly to a friend of a different faith, that takes time and effort. I can’t honestly say I’ve spent a lot of energy on this yet. It’s ambitious to think I could experience enough in one lifetime anyway. Books are safer.

The search is also hard in an intellectual sense. I’ve spent time reading very obtuse philosophy debates in online forums. “Before we debate God,” says one, “let’s decide if ‘god’ is a coherent concept.” Phew. At the end of this, often my head hurts and I feel stupid. I do value good reasoning, after all, half my undergrad degree was in philosophy. But at the end of the day, there will always be a better argument around the corner and I simply don’t have time to understand them all.

I’m also bruised by the times when someone who likes to be seen to be intellectual wades in and wins the battle, while simultaneously killing her friends. I’ve been one of those people, and I’d rather lose the ego. It’s a weakness of intellectuals; some of us learned to feel self-worth because we knew more big words than someone else. When others do have better arguments, it’s humbling.

Writing about a spiritual search also exposes me on a whole different level. See, there’s a funny thing: When it comes to religion people not only judge what you think, they also judge your character. Online friend Kimh asked if my writing will be abstract study, or more of a memoir. I think it has to be at least partly personal because otherwise it‘ll be dull as iron. But I don’t want it to be about me. I want to hide behind argument and erudition. I don’t want to have my life up for scrutiny as well. Frankly, sometimes I’m not a nice person at all. Apparently we all have secrets, and it’s OK to keep some of them hidden– at least that was the theme of Dexter season three. But he’s an imaginary serial killer.

Writer Matthew Paul Turner recently wrote of the difficulty of being truly honest in a Christian context where you’re not supposed to talk about some things. I think it’s hard being honest full stop, regardless of one’s persuasion. What if I’m making some obvious mistake and people laugh at me? What if my friends disown me? What if I offend people who don‘t share my (non)beliefs? It would be much easier to merely present ideas. Ideas are external to me, I‘m safe. However, in the case of spirituality, ideas are carried within a life.

Right now, the sun is shining through my window, and warms my chest. With support from friends, much of the time I’m happy. I remind myself this is a path I’ve chosen and I can step off it any time. The adventure remains, and also a hell of a challenge.



PS: Go check out Anne’s very cool blog if you’re interested in innovative small business.
How do you feel talking about your personal beliefs with other people?

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19 Responses to “This Is Hard”

  1. SugarPop said

    It IS hard being honest – and here’s the rub – how do you be honest AND compassionate – to both others and yourself?

    With others – How do you speak honestly and openly while keeping others safe and whole? It is a delicate balance. You can be *brutally* honest (which tends to *hurt* others – the truth shall set you free, but it might piss you off and hurt you first). Or you can be too *diplomatic*, and the honesty in the message is not apparent.

    With yourself – How do you be honest with yourself and not perpetually run yourrself down, or conversely glorify yourself beyond all recognition? What are the roles of both self-esteem and humility?

    It is also possible to be honest with others whilst not being entirely honest with yourself – questioning your own motives, stories and agendas is not always easy.

    Being honest is risky. We risk rejection, alienation and judegment every time we put ourselves on the line in the name of our values, our beliefs, our preferences, our behaviours. I’m sure we can all list a compendium of names of people who have died as a result of just being honest about who they are and what they believe.

    In my humble opinion, being honest and compassionately so is worth the risk – even if it means I go through shit because of it.

    I have to live with myself and knowing that I’m living as honestly as I can is extremely liberating.

    • Thanks, this is a beautifully written reply, and I think really adds to what I’ve said. I like your idea about being compassionate on both others and myself.

      Thanks 🙂

  2. Even though I don’t write about religion, ‘gender’ is a touchy subject and I often wonder if I have a thick enough skin for my reviews – I was way too over-sensitive re: my Predator one.
    We’re both commenting on ideology and we’re bound to come up against opposition. It’s worth any hardship.

  3. Rather than blog this separately, here’s a recent post that talks about the issue of offending people when discussing spirituality

    Beliefs Are Personal – A Consequence of Attacking Beliefs

  4. The Agnostic Pentecostal said

    This is lovely…maybe not the right word…but very apt. This all IS very personal, and for many people like us, the spiritual/religious/non-religious decisions we make have significant interpersonal consequences. Because while it’s personal, when we are intentional about living out our faith (or lack of it) our lives affect others.

    I don’t want to be, with the perfect word you used, an apatheist. I want my live to affect myself and others positively. I’m glad I have fellow travelers like you to work on what that means/looks like together.

  5. gardenbuddha said

    Talking about non-beliefs can not only be hard, but at times it can be dangerous. Once when discussing my agnosticism with a young man, he was upset by what he perceived as my “desolation” because I did not “re-present” anything. I saw he was becoming disturbed and I managed to manoevre him outside before locking my door. He then smashed my louvres and threw a teapot at me. I suspect I touched on his own desolation and he couldn’t handle it.

    • Wow, great – and disturbing story. I guess if I was in many countries in the world, I wouldn’t be free to publicly express my beliefs. Sobering.

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  6. gardenbuddha said

    Just like to say how powerful are the things you said above, Spritz. If only we had learnt this wisdom in school along with the big words: “… some of us learned to feel self-worth because we knew more big words than someone else.”

  7. leesis said

    What a spot on post. I am beginning to write of the spiritual journey I’ve been on. See http://leesis.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/are-you-there-god/.

    I am presenting this work as an ongoing letter to my god-son. This highlights my emphasis that it is a personal journey and not about dogma or definites.

    Many years ago when I was about eighteen I chose silence regarding my own spiritual search.

    Depending on which group of folk I was with, if I approached the subject I’d be told what was truth, or that seeking was naive and unscientific, or that I was showing psychological neurosis! So I shut up.

    But twenty-nine years later I have a son and two beautiful god-children who are my hearts joy.

    My god-children’s questions along with the absence of spiritual conversation in their lives have finally ‘forced’ me to put finger to keyboard.

    And I am terrified! Not for what others think of my thoughts, or whether they will judge me but rather of misinterpretation. Does the bold indicate its horror for me?

    The baggage of each word related to this topic; god, soul, spirit, sometimes freezes me for days to weeks as I try to express thoughts in a clear way and minimize misinterpretation.

    So if anyone wants to read along (yes this is also a blatant request for readers and feedback) and comment I would consider it a blessing.

    Love this site! Cheers Leesa

    • Thanks Leesa. I’ll certainly check your site out. Terrified of misinterpretation? Yes, I suppose that’s part of it for me too. I use certain words in certain ways. I’ve been thinking of making a short glossary or disclaimer for words like God, atheism and agnostic.

      Right now, the fear of being judged thing is big for me, partly because of unrelated goings-on in my life.

  8. Giraffegirl said

    Wanted to tell you something I have been doing that might be spiritual maybe.

    I call it ssssshhhing. After the line in the U2 song “Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak. Ssssshhhhh now.”

    I kind of figured I make way too much noise all the time and fill all space with stuff and that if I was going to discover anything about myself or the world or whatever I needed to shut up first. To start I only could do about 10 minutes where I literally just sat in a chair and drank a cup of tea in silence.

    But it kind of grew and the space grew and lots of things and thoughts unraveled.
    I also started to draw – I never ever draw since someone told me at school I couldn’t but I started to do stick people drawings and over the last year it’s become a series of pictures and words that recount my journey for want of a better word.

    Anyway – don’t know why I decided to just tell you that – maybe so you don’t feel so much like you are in a boat on your own rowing – know there are other boats out there rowing too and that I might on occasion bump into your boat or shout something across so you know you are not alone on your quest for truth, reality, sense of life…….
    I’m not so brave at sharing thoughts publically – and I massively admire you for having the courage to do your thinking out loud where people can see

    • Thankyou Linda. It does take courage to talk about this stuff in public, especially when it’s so easy for someone else to say “Oh, that’s not spiritual, you’re just imagining it.”

      Gradually over time I’m bumping into people on the net and in person who are also searching and thinking. It encourages me to be reminded that there’s a kind of community out there. I hope they’ll be as supportive if I decide that I’ve actually found something 😉

  9. […] This Is Hard […]

  10. […] horse”. I’d always thought I came across as fairly humble? I wrote earlier about how hard this is for […]

  11. FatCatOnTheHill (Karen) said

    Quote: I’m also bruised by the times when someone who likes to be seen to be intellectual wades in and wins the battle, while simultaneously killing her friends. I’ve been one of those people, and I’d rather lose the ego. It’s a weakness of intellectuals; some of us learned to feel self-worth because we knew more big words than someone else. When others do have better arguments, it’s humbling. nquote

    This happens so often on forums ! Sometimes the posters’ arrogance shines through so strongly. I am not a philosopher and not an intellectual. It is discouraging to read a post from a philosopher and realize that I don’t know at least one word in any sentence. Often I will take the time to look up the meaning of the word or phrase and feel good about learning something new. It remains difficult for me to post on forums because I fear someone will barge in with a sledgehammer and killm me, lol

    I like your blog and the way you write, Jonathan. You are a philosopher and an intellectual but have remained humble and kind 🙂

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