I'm not religious now. But I used to be.
What turned me off about religions was how divisive they often are. Each religion has its own theology, its own rituals, its own moral codes.
I got tired of feeling special. I got tired of feeling different. My spiritual quest now is to find common ground, to come to grips with whatever universal human yearning leads people to seek solace in religions.
Today I started reading a book about how psychedelic entheogens -- psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, LSD, and I'd add marijuana in a sense -- can produce a sense of divinity that is common to other varieties of mystical experiences.
The second chapter of Entheogens and the Future of Religion featured a transcript of an extemporaneous talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast that he gave at a 1984 gathering of scientists and religious thinkers at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
I liked how Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, spoke of belonging as being what we all long for. Sure, as you can read in the passages below, he gives the term "God" to that to which we absolutely belong.
Since I'm an atheist, I prefer "cosmos," "universe," or "world." But what's important isn't the word used to describe what we long to belong to, because there's no end to those words.
Family. Neighborhood. Friends. Nation. Lover. Humanity. Planet. Ecosystem. Life.
So many words, all pointing to a sense of belonging, of connectivity, of interrelationship. There aren't any bounds to belonging, because we can feel that we belong to all kinds of entities, with "God" being a traditional way of expressing the grandest sense of belonging (though again, cosmos or existence is equally grand).
Here's what Steindl-Rast says about belonging in his talk.
I thought I would briefly sketch how I see the relationship between spirituality and religion and theology -- all terms that have been tossed around here. In my understanding of it, and from the particular perspective from which I come to it, it all starts with our mystical experience.
This is one point where I would question how John Perry meant his statement. I wrote it down and tried to capture it verbatim: "It is impossible to convince the general public that there is such a reality as a mystical experience."
Now I question that.
I have had the opportunity to address all kinds of "general public." Some of them were most unlikely to be convinced offhand that there is such a thing as a mystical experience, let alone that they themselves had one. But I have never come across a group in which the majority could not be led to realize that they had had a mystical experience.
In fact, I am convinced that our typical awareness as humans, our human consciousness, is based on the mystical experience, i.e., the experience that we unconditionally belong. This is my way of expressing the essence of a mystical experience: an overwhelming sense of unconditional belonging.
I would be very interested in hearing how some of you express the same thing from different perspectives.
I always try to speak about it in common human language, in terms that anybody can understand. First, I get people settled and willing to listen, willing to look at themselves.
Then I ask them, "Does it make sense to you that before you are aware of anything else, you have a sense of belonging? Not necessarily before in time, but ontologically. Is that sense of belonging not the basis of your awareness that you are and who you are?
Almost everyone says "Yes." That is enough for me.
...In some respects it is easier to speak about these things without using the term "God." It lends itself to too many misunderstandings. But if we want to use it as a kind of shortcut, it is in the context of our mystical awareness that "God" comes in.
For anyone who uses that term "God" will agree: God is the one to whom we absolutely belong. We are back at that sense of belonging.
Before you fill this notion of God with anything else, you can say, those who use the term "God" correctly mean by it the reference point of our sense of belonging. But with this sense of belonging goes a sense of longing. Check that out against your own experience.
Here this whole thing comes in motion. This is something I cannot explain further. It is an experiential fact. We long for that to which we most deeply belong. Poets have expressed this very beautifully. T.S. Eliot says:
We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and knew the place for the first time.
That is Home. Home is where one starts from. This tension of belonging and longing constitutes the dynamism of our inner quest.