I am not a current believer in God. I was raised as a Humanistic Jew, which can sometimes be synonymous with being an atheist, and sometimes not. When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, I found myself believing in God because I found it helpful and natural. I just started talking to Him (aka the ceiling) and I felt better. I found faith in a supernatural being helped fill the gap in my life when I was struggling to emotionally survive. At first, a belief in God made me feel calmer and less alone, as if there was someone always rational and calm, and in my court to talk to. Then, a belief in God seemed to connect me to the irrational side of myself, which was the romantic, the artistic, and the creative. Life started to become more beautiful because I was waking up and appreciating it instead of sleepwalking.
The waking-up process came about simultaneously with my belief in God. To be awake is a huge subject and difficult to explain here. A short explanation can help open the door on the subject. To be awake means that we are able to see and hear what is happening around us, and that we are conscious of existing in a larger world than just in our own heads. It also means that we are able to sense how we are feeling in the present moment, thus being aware of our current experience of life. This is a difficult step to take, because often one of the motivators that pushes us into sleep walking through life is when we do not like how it feels in the present moment, and we find that experience so distasteful that we want to escape it. If we can stand being awake, it is possible to get much more out of the life we live, thus having a richer experience during our short time on Earth.
I started having a lot of beautiful experiences that I couldn’t explain. There would be moments of extreme coincidences, where several events would happen at once and the combined effect would be simultaneously beautiful, deeply poignant and touching, sometimes coming with an incredible feeling of loss and mourning, and release. I walked away from these occurrences with new insight and understanding. I started calling these experiences transcendent experiences. In those moments, I would feel deeply connected and at one with the world and the people in it, and my perspective would completely shift. Also contributing to these experiences were the large amounts of movement therapy that I began practicing. Physical/emotional conflicts that had been buried in my nervous system for years were being released, creating new flow and energy that helped me seek out particular types of experiences.
I assumed at the time that these experiences were due to my new belief in God and that He was making these feelings of transcendence possible. For example, I have had several meaningful experiences on bridges, where I came to new understandings about relationships and what it meant to feel emotionally met by another person. I had a particularly memorable experience on a trip to Grand Rapids, MI. I had to use the restroom, and pulled off an exit where I followed signs to a nature center. After using the facilities, the woman who worked at the information desk suggested that I go for a short walk on the boardwalk outside that went through the woods. It was a beautiful day and very quiet and peaceful as I walked through the woods. I had been upset about a particular relationship in my life and this walk was making me feel better. Surprisingly, the boardwalk continued to become higher and higher off the ground because the ground was falling away to become a ravine. Normally, I would have expected a bridge in these cases so that I could cross the ravine. But this time, the boardwalk ended in a square platform that was high up in the middle of the ravine, surrounded by the tops of trees.
I stood on that platform with the sun coming down, and I had one of the most powerful moments of my life. I let go of a very intimate love relationship that was not going anywhere. It was incredibly painful and I didn’t know if I was going to survive the pain at that moment. But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but see how incredibly beautiful the world was around me, with the trees, sun, leaves, ravine, fresh air, and a beautiful wood platform that held me suspended amongst all of it. On the platform that was not a bridge, I also felt for the first time that I was emotionally meeting myself. This was all there was, and it was beautiful. I felt incredibly supported by nature and I assumed at the time that God had led me to that spot so that I would have the opportunity to let go. It was a transcendent experience for me because I had been able to experience a major shift in perspective, simultaneously experiencing great beauty as well as deep grief, and an ability to let go and trust that I was going to be okay while feeling incredibly held and supported. There are many possible conclusions that can be drawn from experiences like these. It all depends on one’s frame of reference.
As I started to have experiences like this more often, although not usually to the same intensity as that particular time, I then started to realize that the same feelings of transcendence and deep satisfaction had been happening to me in a muted way whenever I ice skated. From there, I started thinking about how our passions allow us to deeply connect to ourselves, and I guessed that ice skating was God’s gift to me. When I ice skate, there is clarity, breath, relaxation, and satisfaction. I transcend any difficulties that I am currently suffering in my life by relaxing into the present moment and the physical sensation of the glide on the ice. The difficulties do not go away, but they are transformed by my experience of the present moment and I am able to see them with new perspective. Somehow, I started to see this experience of skating as separate from God. I felt secure and there was no gap or emptiness that craved to be filled. It became about the movement and how I felt in my body. I felt that I was starting to be there for myself in a new capacity and that this was important.
My relationship with God took a backseat as I became more interested in the relationship that I had with myself, and what it meant to be there for myself. I found that cultivating a relationship with myself also added a lot to my quality of life. There have been many times when I wanted to give up because I would try to comfort myself and there was no answer. When I would ask God for support, I would always get a response. Then one time, I reached out to God for advice and He said, “Eve, you don’t need me, you can do it without me.” This was very interesting because it was almost as if God himself was telling me that I didn’t need him as a crutch and that I really could do it on my own. I had the sneaking suspicion (which had been there all along) that the voice of God in my head was really a subconscious part of me that could never abandon me and was always responsive to my questions.
I started playing with striking out on my own, occasionally resorting back to God when I felt that I needed the additional support. This is similar to what children go through when they are developing independence and move away and back towards their caretaker. Psychologists call this period rapprochement. The children decide in the moment how much support they need and they continue to develop the ability to do things on their own as they are ready. The more I was there for myself, the less I felt as if I needed belief in a God to be there for me. This seemed to be a natural progression in my self-development path. However, each person needs to do what works best for him or her. Even now, I sometimes feel the gap where my abilities to cope have not quite caught up to the situation I am currently in. I am glad that I know how to find the extra support when I need it.
“Every individual, every plant, every animal has only one inborn goal – to actualize itself as it is. A rose is a rose is a rose. A rose is not inten[ded] to actualize itself as a kangaroo” (Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, 1969, p 31). There has always been a part of me that knew how important it was to I give myself the chance to become a rose. Practically speaking, in order for me to have a relationship with myself, it is first necessary to be myself. Even if I don’t like myself, that is the only way that I can get to know who I am. If I don’t know who I am, it detracts from my ability to see who someone else is. I can’t have deep relationships with people if I don’t know who they are. I can try, but I won’t get very far, because eventually I will find out who they are. Then I will end up either being able to have a relationship with them because I decide I like them enough, or I can’t. It is completely to our benefit to find out who we are, not who we want to be. Once we get to know ourselves better, there is the beginning of a comfort zone and we are able to start letting our defenses down. Under the defenses, everyone is beautiful and sometimes, we have very appropriate defenses and we are still beautiful with them. When we are invested in truly becoming ourselves, then we are building the basis for a beautiful friendship.
So I was first exposed to this transcendent experience of being because of my belief in God. Then my transcendent experiences continued even as my beliefs shifted away from God and towards a bigger idea of how the universe works scientifically speaking. I also felt more firmly my place in this universe when I felt that I was being more myself. I also continued to have closer relationships with members of my family and was able to appreciate them more. I had less need for an external supernatural being because the experience of being fully emotionally present within myself felt supernatural inside. Somehow, I had gone from cultivating a relationship with myself to actually wanting to be myself. Once I wanted to be myself, I found that my feelings of transcendence and deep satisfaction were happening more often as a continuous state of being. I forgot to think about God. Some new connections were being made inside, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and I just felt more peaceful. What the belief in Him made possible was a letting go of control and a trust in the process. Surviving through a number of difficult experiences while being “awake” and getting to know myself in all aspects, I gained a new confidence in myself and my ability to cope. Unconsciously, I had replaced a belief in God with a new belief in myself that I never had before. I am continuously engaged in this process. Faith and trust in myself and in my abilities to navigate life are important necessities in order for me to move forward without fear.