CRAFTING MY OWN SPIRITUALITY

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Forcing religion

My education was received through Church of England Christian schools. Throughout my formative years I regularly attended church, we sung hymns and prayed and Religious Studies was an important subject taught. There were definitely times of atheism, probably linked to a deep feeling within myself of incomprehensible rebellion. There were also times where I tried really hard to believe and to have faith but the shoe just didn’t seem to fit.

My sister has a glorious Christian faith. I remember when I was 14 years old calling her in floods of tears, inconsolable. Of course, she did console me, my sister always can. Before we got off the phone from one another she asked me to read a few verses in particular from the Bible. I began reading them and they had an instantaneous calming effect. I fell asleep, serenely, before finishing the passage.

I’ve seen my sister’s faith carry her through hard times and provide her with the love and support we all often need and yet struggle to find. I tried to replicate the way that she lives a Christian life for myself. However, it wasn’t for me. I continued to go to church when staying with my sister, and I have always appreciated and loved the messages from the Bible, but I didn’t identify as a Christian.

Discovering alternative options

The summer after I graduated from university I read ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne and ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. Before I’d even finished Byrne’s scripture I’d tattooed ‘The Secret’ on my body. Everything I read made perfect sense to me; vibrations, the law of attraction and the necessity of living in the present. I tried to discuss these concepts with my family but it fell on deaf ears. I didn’t know anyone else who enjoyed these teachings and from whom I could learn. I tried to apply what I had read to my life but it was difficult to do alone. Making changes in your mentality and your habitual thought takes time and dedication. I was impatient and wanted immediate relief.

A little later I remembered what I had learned at school about Buddhism, in particular, ‘The Middle Way’. This resonated deeply within me. I had been raised in a world of material abundance but the affluence hadn’t made anyone any happier. We were intensely affected by the financial crisis of 2007. With the status, members of my family seemed to miss what we’d once had to a point that it consumed them. My little brother and I, the youngest two of the clan, simply didn’t care – we just wanted everyone to be content and together. Hence ‘The Middle Way’, a rejection of extremes, felt so relevant in my heart.

I began attending Buddhist temple. We chanted with the monks and meditated. Some weeks we’d stay after and drink tea with the monks in their home. This experience was exceptionally calming, just like my earlier interactions with religion had been. At the time I had a job, which required an extortionate amount of overtime – nonnegotiable. I began missing classes and fell out of sync with my attendance. Upon reflection, my life was solely operating in extremes. I was merely trying to force a solution onto a problem without addressing the root cause.

Spiritual rock-bottom

Not long after I moved overseas from London to Sydney. Any attempt at spirituality was long forgotten. Aristotle’s idea of the ‘Golden mean’ understands that ‘every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice’. That being said, I was firmly seated within the depths of my vices. There was no virtue to be seen.

As time went on, existing in this abyss took its toll. Years prior a friend had said to me “your moral compass is so strong, I’m scared to tell you things I’ve done because you’ll tell me what I don’t want to hear”. Well, he needn’t have worried anymore. Any moral code that previously existed I had hidden from myself. Things I had sworn I’d never do, I did regularly. Behaviours that had hurt me so savagely from other people, I repeated myself. I was spiritually bankrupt.

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Experiencing an epiphany

Depression was imminent; it had begun to wrap its ugly claws around my heart once again. One night, that I’ll never forget, I had acted out again, almost against my will. I was devastated at my own actions and cried myself to sleep, sobbing, messaging my poor worried mother back in England. I was at a crossroad. I could both jump in the deep end and accept that this was the way things were now, or, I could make a change.

The next morning was morose. However I finally had the wake up call I needed, I now knew that I wasn’t going to continue on this road anymore. So I reached out for help. I didn’t know who God was, but I was desperate. In the coming weeks I met people with spiritual beliefs, unique to them. I began to understand that I didn’t need to confirm to traditional religion if it didn’t feel right for me. I could have a unique spiritual connection with a higher power, as I understood it. From there this unique spiritual connection began to blossom.

I use the term God as shorthand for a power greater than myself. My God is neither male nor female and is both male and female, so you’ll see I interchangeably use the terms God and Goddess. I don’t try to break it down and understand it because I don’t need to. All I need to do is have faith. A power greater than myself can be the collective strength of a group of loving people. It can be nature; the tempestuous and ever present ocean, the resilient forest full of trust-worthy trees or the breathtaking colours of the sunset that are unfathomable for my humble mind.

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Embracing my own spiritual practice

At first I only remembered to turn to my higher power when I was feeling grateful; “Thank you, God”. I realised that there is no such thing as a coincidence. However I would forget to hand things over when times were tough. Over time I have strengthened my connection and today I am the most content I’ve ever been; there is no doubt in my heart and mind that these are exclusively connected.

What does spirituality mean to me? I speak with my higher power through out the day, every day. I trust that there’s a plan for me even if I can’t see it and this gives me huge relief. It’s exhausting and daunting thinking that you have to figure everything out. Handing it over to something much more powerful than little old me is far more preferable for this indecisive person. That being said I don’t sit back and expect great things to unfold magically. I pray for guidance, for an open heart and an open mind and for the ability to carry out my Goddess’s will. Every single time the right answer comes and I take action. I often laugh because my Goddess can be so unsubtle with their guidance that the answer is glaringly obvious. Other times it takes until after-the-fact for me to realize where my God’s plan was taking me.

When someone is unkind or snappy towards me, I now know that nine times out of ten it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what’s going on personally in their own lives. So now I pray for them. This takes the sting out of their cutting comments immediately.

I pray for those I love that are in difficult times and I want to help but it seems to require something bigger than what I can provide. I pray that they have an open heart and an open mind to see the next right thing and to be able to hear that there is a solution. As a result I am continuously shown what can only be described as miracles.

I am also well aware that I need support in my spiritual practice. I have many people in my life today that have a similar spiritual take on the world, although each is unique to them, they help remind me when I have forgotten. Sometimes when I’m really struggling they’ll even write the perfect prayer for me because I can’t find the words.

The spirituality that I have in my life today has taken an enormous weight of my shoulders. I am a far cry from depression and I feel constant love. My higher power is a loving God / Goddess that will never condemn me or punish me, so why should I inflict such attitudes on myself either? I’ve had people comment on how open and light my aura feels and that is purely down to my faith. It is mine, it is unique, it is deeply personal but it is simply the most rewarding connection I could ever have hoped for.

The only way that I can say thank you for all the relief, joy and beauty that has come from my spiritual connection is to be of service to others. I try as hard as I can to be a helpful person, to be kind and to be patient. This does not come easily all of the time, but when it feels like a stretch to be gentle and understanding, I pray for help to be! I feel so blessed today and right now I have everything I could ask for.

Photographs by Wes Nel

2 Comments

  1. Hannah, what an incredible piece of writing. Apart from being excellent English (!) it is moving, thought-provoking and has a wonderful tempo to it, like being pulled on the waves through your own personal story to rest upon the sand and look back on all you are and have achieved. I admire and adore you always. X

    Like

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