Today I got an email from someone who reminds me of me, just a lot younger.
He speaks of losing confidence that the religious organization I was a member of for over thirty years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, is what he once considered it to be. But this loss of a belief hasn't yet been balanced by a gain of...what?
I've come to the conclusion that the RSSB movement in general doesn't have what it takes to be called a 'Science' (as they call it.) It does not stand up to rigorous questioning, and is not wiling to share experiences, nor listen to others who might have gone wrong somewhere during their experiment.
It seems people are just satisfied with that association with RSSB, and they belive that this association gives them a certification of being an honest and morally upright individual, all of which I feel is total bullshit.
I don't know why, maybe its my upbringing, I feel scared that I'm losing something here... maybe my beliefs...and moving towards the agnostic category...which eventually leads to being an atheist.
Now I'm just a student, and I do not have extensive reading in these areas, so I do not have anything else to fall back to apart from science and technology. Sometimes I feel I should just take a plunge into this philosophy, maybe it will work. Maybe I'm one of a tiny bit of those on the end of the bell curve.
Please help me out. I need something to hold on to.
Absolutely. Agreed. We all need something to hold on to.
What that something is will be different for everybody. All I can do is share some thoughts about how I've handled the initially disorienting feeling of letting go of a long-cherished belief system that used to root me in some seemingly solid meaning-of-life ground.
These ideas rambled around my psyche while I was riding my Burgman 650 maxi-scooter to a blogging-friendly coffee house in downtown Salem, where I am now. So I'll go with the two-wheeled flow and use that as a jumping-off point for my response to the email message.
Aloneness. There's a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I never feel lonely on my scooter, even though I always ride by myself. That's what life is, really: a one-person ride. We share our living with others, but they aren't living our life, nor are we living theirs.
On a scooter or motorcycle it's evident that there aren't many others like you on the road. Most people ride around in cars, enclosed in what biker types call "cages." This is akin to religiosity, since the vast majority of humans cling to some sort of organized religious belief.
So it's important to feel comfortable being yourself, of not conforming with the crowd, of doing what seems right to you even if it means being part of a distinct churchless minority. Motorcycle and scooter riders in the U.S. often exchange a "biker wave" when passing to show solidarity.
In effect that's what we're doing now on this blog -- sharing thoughts about how to move through life outside of a religious cage. We're alone, yet not lonely.
Connection. I don't feel lonely on my scooter because I'm so closely connected to reality. When I'm not hemmed in by the sides, floor, and roof of a car, the world is much more with me. I feel the actual temperature of the air, not what a heater or air conditioner has made it to be. I feel the bumps in the road, and put my feet on the ground when I come to a stop.
Similarly, discarding a dogmatic belief system allows the world to be experienced much more directly. We aren't continually filtering events through a conceptual structure. "This is God's will." "That must have been my karma." "How sinful!" "Ah, a miracle!" Things and events are what they are (albeit as interpreted by our mind/brain, which is unavoidable), not as what a certain theology proclaims them to be.
I find that what I lose by not feeling connected to an unseen imaginary divinity is vastly more made up by the increased connection I now feel to the natural world and other people. Not feeling special any more, no longer part of a group with a supposedly favored relationship to God, I can go anywhere and do anything simply as a human being living a simple human life.
Risk. When I drive my car, I feel safer than when I ride my scooter. Because I am. Air bags, seat belt, four wheel stability, a bunch of metal between me and a collision. Out in the open on two wheels, I'm constantly aware that what stands between me and a serious accident, or even death, is... nothing.
And that, of course, is exactly the case when I'm driving my car. Or sitting in a coffeehouse. Or lying in bed. Or doing anything. No one gets out of life alive. Death happens -- that's a 100% guarantee. So I enjoy the reminder of mortality that reaches me every time I put on my helmet, turn the key, and start my scooter up.
In monetary investing, usually risk and return are considered to be complementary. Meaning, the more risk you're willing to take on, the greater a return you can potentially receive. People typically don't get rich by putting all of their money in a savings account and watching the (currently) pitiful interest accrue.
Ditto with enjoying a rich life, full of meaning. Religions offer safety in the form of a guarantee -- yes, a fraudulent guarantee, but most people in the world fall for it. They claim that if someone accepts certain beliefs and carries out certain actions, he or she will enjoy eternal bliss in the company of God or some other form of divinity.
That promise makes this life seem like a passing shadow, compared to the Sun of Ultimate Reality. Only problem is, there's no sign of that Sun. It's existence has to be taken on faith.
However, true believers mistake an idea of reality for the really real thing. They're so eager to obtain a risk-free return on their meaning-of-life investment, they forget that a guaranteed deal is almost always going to be either: (1) not what it seems to be, or (2) paltry in comparison to what can be gained by taking on more risk.
I get hugely more pleasure out of riding my scooter than in driving my car. Risk and reward typically go hand in hand. Surfing a twenty foot wave is going to have more fun-value than coasting in a one-foot breaker. Also, more risk.
It takes courage to forsake religion. In the beginning it will feel risky to head out on the road of life without all the safety equipment promised by theological dogma. "You're saved from hellfire (or bad karma) if you only do such and such, and believe in this and that." Questioning the sales pitch leaves you to your own devices.
Having fun. Exploring new roads. Seeing unexplored territory. Being willing to take on some existential risk in exchange for living life a lot more fully.
Uncertainty. I'll end on a related note, because uncertainty is a close relative of risk. Life is risky, and life is uncertain. So is any afterlife, if such exists. We just don't know. We don't know what will happen in the next moment, much less what will occur up until the end of our life and, potentially, beyond.
People who are comfortable with uncertainty are in accord with a basic premise of the scientific method: nothing is 100% certain. Even the best-proven theory or law of nature always can be disproved. Knowledge continually marches on. It doesn't come to a stop at a brick wall of certainty. Only religions claim, "Thus saith the Lord. End of story."
I wrote about this recently in "Keep open a crack in your belief system."
So living in touch with reality requires that we remain open to the possibility that whatever we fervently believe to be true, isn't. Otherwise truth could smack us in the face and we'd pretend that we didn't feel a thing.
If you're absolutely sure that God exists, erase the absolutely in your mind. Ditto if you're absolutely sure that God doesn't exist. Double ditto for any other belief that you don't see yourself ever letting go of, or modifying.
Loosen your hold. Lighten your dogmatism. Lessen your certainty.
Riding a motorcycle or scooter requires an unfocused sort of focus. Meaning, you don't know where or when something unexpected (and unwanted) could come from. Ahead of you. Behind you. From a side street. Bushes along the road. Even from the sky (I've had some pretty big birds swoop down as I was riding along, which definitely produced a startle response).
When I was driving our Toyota Prius a few years ago, a deer ran out of a field along Liberty Road, not far from our home, and banged head on into the right side of the car. There's still a small dent in the door panel. Now, when I ride my scooter along Liberty I tend to focus on the right side of the road when I get to that field.
But it's equally likely that a deer could jump out from the field on the left side. My prior experience has conditioned me to believe in a falsity, that what happened once is likely to happen again. Knowing this, I make a conscious effort to remain open to what is actually there, not what I believe might be there.
This is the best way to move along a highway, whether on two or four wheels. And it also is the best way to move through life: remaining uncertain about what will pop up next, while being confident that whatever it is, you can deal with it appropriately.
We're alone, yet also connected. Life is risky and uncertain, yet this is what makes life so fulfilling, interesting, and meaningful.