A couple of weeks into the New Year, I still haven't completely broken a half-hearted resolution: be more understanding and less in-your-face toward people I disagree with.
Such as on matters of religion or politics. Which are the main areas in life where I can get frothy at the mouth with indignation at how incredibly stupid some people can be who aren't like wise me.
I've been trying to remember that over my 64 years of living, my own religious and political views have changed a lot. I've believed and done things in the past that my present self would consider absurdly ridiculous, yet at the time they made complete sense to me.
(Along this line, here's a dating tip for Americans of a more than middle-age: if you're on a second date with an attractive blonde woman of decidedly liberal political inclinations who you like a lot, and somehow the topic of Ronald Reagan comes up in conversation, whereupon she asks you "You didn't ever vote for Reagan, did you?", do not, repeat do not, take unduly long to reply "Well, I might have..." Rather, immediately say "I'm pretty sure I didn't." I have personal experience in this area which taught me the value of a nuanced shading of truth when it comes to discussing certain sensitive subjects early in a relationship.)
So here's an incomplete list of some of the weird religious stuff I've believed or done pre-2004'ish, when my churchlessness really started to blossom. I share this to show that when I now criticize people for embracing strange beliefs, believe me, I've been there and done that.
As noted above, this exercise in recollection will help remind me not to throw accusatory stones too enthusiastically or holier-than-thou'ly at people who live in glass belief houses similar to where I once happily resided.
-- While in college, I got deep into a crazed Greek Orthodox yogi's "Christananda" teachings. In my apartment I meditated facing an image of Jesus that I'd bought at a Christian supply store. I liked how Jesus sort of looked like me as I was at the time (see photo here), forgetting that no one knows what Jesus looked like. Regardless, Jesus was my buddy for a few months.
-- Yogiraj, as the yoga teacher liked to be called, would give talks on campus to attract more students. More accurately, cult members. Once, in the midst of a talk, I walked up to him, bowed with my hands folded in the Indian way, and placed flowers at Yogiraj's feet. He beamed. I was pleased at the time. I'm cringing now at the memory.
-- Moving on after a Yogiraj disillusion, I was initiated by an Indian guru who I thought was more reputable, Maharaj Charan Singh Ji, as devoted disciples called him. I went to India in 1977 to spend two weeks with Maharaj Ji. He blessed a shawl and photo which I kept in my meditation area for more than twenty-five years. Never dry-cleaned the shawl. Was worried the blessing would wash off.
-- I also brought back "prasad," food blessed by the guru. After that, other disciples would occasionally share little bags of parshad they'd gotten in India. Some was sugar. I'd eat a few grains of sugar a day before I meditated, believing this had some spiritual benefit. If any sugar spilled on the floor, I'd wet my finger, pick the sugar up, and eat it anyway. You don't waste blessed holy food! (Reminds me of my brief childhood Catholicism, when my first communion didn't go very well.)
-- For many years I meditated as Maharaj Ji, the guru, prescribed: two and a half hours a day. I'd always wear a watch with a countdown timer, setting it for 2:30. If it got to be late at night, and I knew there was 17 minutes and 23 seconds left on the timer, I'd go into my meditation area, put the blessed shawl around me, and sit there meditating until the timer beeped. Often I'd be asleep when that happened, but hey, I had obeyed the guru!
-- When my mother had a serious stroke (which ended up taking her life), I went outside and sat on a stump before flying to California to be with her. I asked the guru to help her, and to give me any bad karmas that might be responsible for her poor health. Even now, when I meditate sometimes I imagine that with every breath of mine the soul of my mother comes closer to the Light, and my soul retreats more into darkness. Difference is, now I don't believe in life after death or the soul; I just like to imagine that it could be true.
-- The guru taught that at initiation, his "radiant" (astral) form became part of the disciple's consciousness. After that, whenever the physical guru wanted he could tune into whatever that radiant form was aware of. So basically I believed that God (because the guru was considered to be God in human form) was watching everything I did. Even more than Santa Claus. It's an effective control tool, shared of course by mainstream theistic religions.
-- Related to the above, for many years I was the secretary (leader) of our local group associated with the guru's organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas. During the time we met in an elementary school classroom, I'd get there early on Sunday, usually by myself, to set up chairs. I'd obsessively line the chairs up and straighten out tiny wrinkles in a cloth that covered the speaker's table. Yet I'm a messy guy! (You should see my t-shirt and sock drawers.) The guru was watching me all the time... whereas mostly my wife isn't. So far as I know.
Well, I could continue describing more weird religious stuff that I've believed and done. Barely scratched the surface, really. But what I've shared is plenty to remind me that what I now look upon as super-strange used to strike me as nicely-normal.
Change happens. I'm glad that I've evolved into churchlessness from my previous heartfelt religiosity. I just need to keep in mind that many people still sincerely believe things similar, if not the same as, what I once did.
Remembering this helps make me more understanding of both my former self, and those who think and act now as I once thought and acted.
We're all struggling souls. Not that I believe in souls. Just the struggling part.