Everyone comes to spirituality in their own way. Some are born into it, some are brought into it by loved ones, some seek it out with relish. And some, like me, spend half a lifetime trying desperately to run away from it.
I can clearly remember sitting atop the monkey bars at the ripe old age of seven, staring out over the screaming mass of children below, my attention on the scent of autumn in the air and the beautiful grey clouds as they moved across the sky to block the sun. I felt larger than life, expansive, connected to something that was so far beyond my understanding it was breathtaking.
And I remember thinking quite clearly, "I'm a witch."
The generous view of my childhood is that I was different. The more realistic view is that I was a weirdo. (I've since realized these are largely the same thing, and I'm cool with both labels.)
Strangely, this was not my first otherworldly inkling that there might be something beyond what we can see with our human eyes.
From my earliest memory, there was a...thing...that stood over me, next to my bed every single night. It was tall, with a black hood and red eyes. It had a robe, kind of, though that part was more wispy and smoke-like than solid. Never said a word, never made a move. And until I was nine years old, it never appeared anywhere other than my bedside. More on that in a moment.
Now, back to the weirdo thing - you would think, if a tiny child saw this creature by her bed, there would be a few typical options for her to take:
1) Hide under the covers and wait for it to leave, frozen by fear, and hope to god you don't have to pee until the sun comes up
2) Scream like a banshee and hope someone comes to save you
3) Get wicked brave and vault out of the bed, making a beeline for your parents' room
And then there was my actual reaction, which was to decide it was more important that I protect my parents than for them to protect me, and to call down my angels (guides) instead to hold my hands and keep me safe until I fell asleep. This memory/knowledge exists before any other memory of my life, and the first 'normal' memory I have is losing my favorite shoe in the lake at age three. I was super young, is what I'm saying.
Now, I think it's important to point out I did not live in anything approximating an abusive household. I had a beautiful childhood that was full of love, especially before hormones invaded and made me considerably less lovable. So there was nothing keeping me from sprinting to my folks' bedroom other than my intrinsic belief that it was my job to protect them from whatever the hell this thing was. I can even remember thinking that if I told them, they wouldn't be able to handle it, but I could.
So every night this thing would come, every night it would stand over me just staring, and every night I would call my guides to come stay with me. I'd lay my hands out with palms up, and ask them to take my hands so I would know they were there. When my hands started to tingle, a heavy calm would settle over me and I could sleep. The creature was never there when I woke up.
It finally ended when I was nine. It was the first time the thing showed up anywhere other than my bedroom, and it was in a random break room of a random business building my father was cleaning late at night. I was alone, and then I wasn't. It was just there, staring at me. I got really, really scared and then really, really pissed. I told it to get out and leave me alone, that it didn't scare me anymore. It disappeared, and I never saw it again.
Now, could all of this be chalked up to a vivid childhood imagination? You betcha. And that's exactly how I categorized it, even knowing it was real, until I began hearing stories from others as an adult. I had never told a soul other than one youth group minister somewhere in the early 90s, but now people were somehow describing my childhood nightmare.
I started doing research then, and just about dropped my face - this was a thing. This creature was an actual thing that children the world over see all the time, up until they are approaching the preteen years. If you'd like a visual image to look at, here is a great depiction that is closest to what I saw. I also learned that some children see a different version called the 'hat man' (also in the linked pic), and much of the anecdotal evidence points to the idea that kids rarely see both - it's always one or the other.
So yeah, weirdness.
But as a kid, I didn't know any of this, so I chalked it up to an overactive gift for storytelling, just like my recess ruminations. Still, I always gravitated toward the occult, even in its most innocuous forms like "The Worst Witch", a kids movie I tortured my poor mother with for a solid year. Or "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", "Bewitched", "The Amazing Mr. Blunden", the "Topper" movies. I could go on and on.
It's not like I didn't watch or do normal kid stuff too. It's just...in the 1980s super-religious South, this was kind of a weird preferred viewing list for an elementary-age child.
Then there was the really uncomfortable stuff that just got louder as I got older, like knowing when people were angry or irritated with me even when they weren't showing it, being able to feel the energy in the room when I entered and know what had just happened, or calling what the dice would land on or what card would come up with playing a game with others.
When we're young, we don't tend to speak up about things that other people don't already talk about, especially if it's something strange. So I was left wondering, was this normal? Could everyone do this? Did it mean I was special? Cursed? Destined to become the savior of the world and have my own TV special? (I told you - overactive imagination)
The answers, in order, were yes...yes...yes...kind of...and absolutely not. But I didn't have those answers, and so I was afraid.
A moment here, please, to explain what research and personal experience have taught me regarding vibration and energy - there are only two 'base' energies, so to speak. Fear and Love. Everything else springs from these. Anger, resentment, envy, greed...all of these and more drill down to fear. Compassion, joy, nurturing, generosity...these are a few of the many branches of love. Love is high and fast, fear is low and slow, hence the concept of 'raising your vibration'.
Being afraid of my abilities meant I was rooted in fear. This is a very human, very natural, very normal, very dangerous place to be. Remember the "like attracts like" concept from my Spiritual Realism blog? Herein lies the danger. If you exist in fear, you can end up drawing those lower vibrations to you, and all the nasty that comes with them.
Darker thoughts began to creep in...big, scary, twisty questions that I was not equipped to digest. Existentialism is not meant to be explored by someone with a Tiger Beat subscription.
For me, the fear solution was to go hard in the tradition I was raised, which was Southern Baptist. I wanted to be an uber-Christian. Rededicate my life. Do all the right things, make all the right choices, ensure the weird shit in my head (which I momentarily believed was Satan's evil whispers) didn't keep me out of heaven. You can guess by the nature of my career how that played out.
There was a ton of back-and-forth soul searching that took place during my early teenage years, but mostly I was preoccupied with the regular, narcissistic concerns of that age. By 16, I had enough maturity to examine Christianity as a a subjective mythology, and began to research other religions as well. I dabbled in Celtic paganism, Wicca, general pantheism, and esoteric spirituality. That latter one is the best way to describe where I ultimately landed, though not before a few returns to Protestantism, a brief hiatus as a confirmed Catholic, and a lovely part-time career as a paranormal investigator.
This research is an obsession that continues today. I will never not find human mythology interesting.
I was raised on the Protestant bible, but have now read all or parts of the Catholic bible (yes, they're different), the Catholic Catechism, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, apocryphal biblical texts and Gnostic texts, Cunningham's and Buckland's work on Wicca and the Craft, Silver Ravenwolf's witchcraft books, Mysteries of Osiris, books on pagan spirituality, Thich Nhat Hanh's "Living Buddha, Living Christ", the Dharmapada, the Wisdom of Laotse, Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet", Siddhartha, Chesterton's "Orthodoxy", books of saints and angels and demons, The Celestine Prophecy, Conversations with God, the works of Erich von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchin, "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass, "The Archaic Revival" by Terence McKenna, writings on Sumerian culture, Zoroastrianism, Mithras, and countless others on related topics.
Am I listing these out to show off? No. Quite the opposite.
I'm making sure you can't say I didn't warn you - I am an exhausting human being when it comes to the concepts of spirituality. It's something I've had to make peace with on this long road.
I won't be everyone's cup of coffee, and that's totally cool. One of the most important skills I've gained is the ability to let go of being attached to a specific outcome. This is something we all struggle with subconsciously, and I haven't yet mastered it completely. You know these internal mental tapes - do they like me? Is what I'm saying resonating? Even being heard? Am I right, or am I just crazy? What happens if I fail? What if I'm wrong?
Here's the best part - it doesn't matter. You cannot control any of that, and trying is a waste of precious energy. Do your thing from a place of love, and just let the rest be what it will be. It is amazingly empowering.
Everything I have studied and pored over for decades has been distilled into one, ultimate conclusion - it's all about LOVE. The vibration of love, of loving-kindness, as Ram Dass puts it.
This is not the 'I love pizza' variety. It is the love that opens a raw place inside you and allows others access to it. The kind that is unafraid to show its cracks, because that's where the light seeps through. Love that is so big it cannot be contained within you, and must find a home out in the world. This kind of gentle strength, this brave vulnerability is what all the teachers and texts throughout the ages were trying to get us to recognize.
As humans, we do not have a collective language for individual experience. I cannot correctly communicate to you the exact feelings within me, because the concept of 'happy', 'jealous', 'excited', or 'sick at heart' may be interpreted very differently in your body than in mine. Yet there is no current way to know or examine this difference, because I cannot be you and you cannot be me.
We have, at best, an agreed-upon approximation of empathy for somatic, kinesthetic response. This is why no one religion can have all the answers. This is why there have always been wars and arguments and strife between peoples and countries and ideologies - these feelings and experiences we all share...they're all interpreted through a human filter.
No matter how 'ascended' we become, how much knowledge we gather, or how many hours we meditate a day, we're still (biologically) a monkey-mind in a meat-sack. There's no escaping that. And so the beautiful, Universal, guiding knowledge we receive from God or the spirit world or our higher selves or other dimensions/timelines or whatever you believe...it gets terribly muddied in the interpretation.
Think of that story that your friends sit around and tell over and over again, or did at some point. Many of us have these bonding retellings of our glory days being indiscriminate, immortal youths. How closely aligned are the individual versions? Were they more divergent in the beginning, closer to the event? Have the versions come to be assimilated into the One Big Story you now all tell, even if you remember one tiny detail being different? Have you now accepted this as Your Story, warts and all, and It Was Always That Way?
This is religion, in a nutshell. We tell ourselves stories - it's how our brains are wired. We are a narrative species. And so, when we experience something profound, internally, we attempt to tell our story to someone else (because we are also a pack-based species). They interpret our words based on their own profound, internal experience, and so relate it to that. As everyone begins to have experiences, we all tell our stories, and then create the closest approximation of an overview we can to serve as representation of 'our people's experience' as a whole.
Thus, religion. But the basics are all the same, when you break down the parts.
Love. Connection. Compassion.
It's a long, long road for many to find the place we naturally exist in as children - that things are as they are, that we are a part of them, and that all is well. Is life terrible sometimes? Absolutely. Did we choose any of that? Maybe, but that's a whole other blog.
The point is, when you remove the monkey-mind and the meat-sack, we're all made of the same stuff. We're all souls, spirits, lives that exist before and beyond and after and within all that we see around us. The data just flat supports it. So forget what you think you know for a moment and join me in one of my favorite personal mantras:
Close your mouth and open your heart.
Start from love, in every situation, and see where that takes you. Listen to hear, not to respond. Tap into what the other person is feeling. Reach out through your fear and let someone really see you. See someone else differently, divinely.
I know it sounds all hippy-dippy and woo-woo.
It totally is. And it will totally change your life.
Because this is what my extensive journey has taught me (so far). I've done the research. I've done the internal examination. I've done the Dark Night of the Soul bit, and I'm sure I have many more to endure and enjoy. I know now that I am exactly who and where I am supposed to be. After fighting the ability/knowledge/weirdness back for the better part of half my life, I have the luxury and beautiful opportunity now to live out the story the Universe was telling me all along, and I was just to stuck in Fear to see it.
Looking back on my life with grace and compassion, I can acknowledge I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time, and then when I had better tools, I did better work.
That's what I want to bring to every experience in my spiritual practice - the grace and vulnerability to accept who you are, where you are, how you are, right now in this moment. And then to work together to help you find which direction to grow.
Don't bother kicking and screaming like I did. You have a plan. You have a purpose here. Surrender to it, and watch your whole life open wider than you ever thought possible.
All love, fellow travelers. All is love.