I would just love to find a spiritual home, but nothing ever fits me. The groups that offer the assurances I crave with issues like immortality of soul and underlying spiritual goodness have been closed-minded and dogmatic… and sometimes hokey. I’m open to the idea that a holy book might contain all truth, but the holy books in question never seem embracing to me, as someone who feels far beyond standard gender roles and identity, and who has no interest in partnering up. I feel on a gut level that they can’t come anywhere close to infallibility when they leave me out so starkly.
New Age groups that focus on individual spiritual experiences don’t rely on holy books, but they can be just as doctrinaire, with people lashing out when I question their assumptions. And they often place leader types at the helm and idolize every word of certain shamans, mediums, and the like… when, somehow (and maybe it’s a problem with me), these guru-like souls often strike me as unbearably arrogant, lapping up the attention they’ve learned to command.
Of course, there are tons of liberal, open-minded spiritual groups: Reform Judaism, Quakerism, and Unitarianism come to mind. But they don’t tend to do much for me either. These groups tend to focus on this world — life as we know it — plunging into community work and hosting social gatherings. Reform Jewish congregations often seem to celebrate holidays for the sake of fun and cultural continuity: the beauty of observing a holiday that was also a part of your great-great-grandparents’ lives. And that’s all fabulous as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough for me.
I’m looking for… not necessarily God, but something or somewhere that’s mystical and beyond the scope of this world. It doesn’t have to be the omnipotent, omniscient God of monotheistic religion — though it certainly could be, and in many ways, that possibility is quite comforting. There could be some kind of underlying but unconscious mystical backbone to our lives: more powerful than the sun but just as unaware. Maybe there are different points of mystical power, working on their own but also, perhaps unconsciously, cooperating to create the world we experience.
Whether or not there’s some sort of overarching God, this idea of different points of mystical power draws me. I’ve long had a notion that each conscious soul creates its own reality — and somehow combines efforts with other souls to craft the shared reality we sense all around us. It’s hard to pin down exactly what I mean here; I have a sense that it’s all much more complex than I could imagine or understand at my current level of comprehension. But this hypothesis seems to fit the fact that so many competing visions of truth float around our world. One bright, lively soul is absolutely certain that the Bible is absolute reality; another equally discerning mind concludes that organized religion is bunk, but that spiritual experiences can happen when we enter the right mindset; a third is convinced that nothing spiritual exists: we live and die according to natural law.
And maybe they’re all correct. A logician would conclude that these visions of truth are mutually exclusive, but I have a hunch that, on some level, each mind is its own universe, carrying its own truths. Our minds and lives intertwine with other lives, often in intimate ways, but, at least in our current state, we can never fully penetrate another point of view. My universe stops at the outlying limits of my consciousness, while your universe stops at your own mind’s outermost boundaries.
I could stop there and just be at peace with the idea that I have my ideas and you have yours. But, for some reason, I just love the idea of spiritual community: of bringing people together around the deepest questions despite their differences and disagreements. I’ve never found a spiritual group that spoke to me and made me feel truly and unequivocally welcome, and I’ve been searching a long time.
So I’ve decided… if I can’t find it, maybe I should found it. Feel free to join me. I’ve long had fantasies of sitting with a bunch of mystically oriented, open-minded, and open-hearted souls, discussing the biggest questions with warmth, compassion, love, and a desire to understand. When I consider this fantasy from just the right angle, it seems very possible, and maybe even necessary….
Tenets of my new religion: Soaring Souls United!
1) You are the God of You.
This does not mean that there is no larger God, the kind of God that shines within and beyond the beings it creates, looks after, and empowers. There may be; we just don’t know. You do know that you exist. The galaxy that is your own consciousness makes that wondrously clear. Even if there is some kind of larger God with overarching powers, you have a stunning amount of control over your own internal — and perhaps external — reality. Celebrate yourself. Enjoy the You behind your miraculous mind and soul.
2) Every mind is its own glorious universe.
Splendid as you are, you must never forget that other minds and souls are also splendid. Learn and grow from them, and be open to insights and perceptions you never would have grasped on your own. They may differ radically from yours, and you can feel very free to disagree, but never conclude that another mind is unworthy of respect, unless it seems to create severe, bone-chilling evil that affects other souls. How do we define this sort of evil? It’s tricky, but that’s one reason we need a religion and not just humans who go forth in isolation. If you think someone deserves your scorn, talk it out with others, deeply and thoroughly, before deciding. Writing off a human soul is a profound decision that requires collaboration before plunging in. You can also decide, at some future point, to reconsider that soul’s potential to teach you something. Souls do grow, mature, and change over time, and the more souls you can learn from, the more complex and nuanced your own soul can become.
3) Be kind if at all possible.
Because seriously… if you’re unkind, why are you here? You are so much better than meanness and nastiness. Your inherent light sobs when you mock or attack another soul. Kindness is often easy. Genuine, heartfelt praise can be spoken in thirty seconds. A thumbs-up gesture takes very little energy. Spending time with a friend who needs you can be loads of fun.
4) Do not encourage conformity in others, unless basic safety is at stake.
The deep, inherent holiness of each soul shines best when allowed to roam free. Teach, share, debate, and party with other souls, but don’t try to remake them in your image, or fit them into some predetermined notion of what a human being should like, strive for, think, or be. You are the God of You, but never try to be the God of Them. Do keep in mind that “basic safety” includes emotional safety. If someone is dishing out psychological abuse, it’s your right and moral calling to step in and try to change things.
5) Be whatever gender you want —- or no gender at all.
If one gender speaks to your essence, feel free to run with that and have fun. If neither gender feels like home, just do your thing, wear what you like… and don’t even think about it. Sport a men’s suit and tie and paint your toenails if that combination suits your mood and your fancy. Your bodily equipment has nothing to do with this… unless you feel it does, in which case, run with that and enjoy. And if the whole notion of gender feels antiquated or useless to you… just ignore it and do what feels comfortable and right. I have a hunch you’d be moving towards some kind of larger, more fluid reality… but that’s my own soul talking. Your very different mental universe might disagree.
6) Be open. Anything is possible.
Eschew black and white thinking and approach every idea you encounter with an open spirit. This doesn’t mean you can’t reject a possibility after very serious, heartfelt consideration. But be fair to the whole wide world; don’t just assume something is wrong because it doesn’t accord with your upbringing or education. Play with ideas and consider them with zest.
7) Do not exclude anyone. No one is too weird.
Snobbishness and elitism are the dark antithesis of the vital, breathing, world-embracing soul. Get to know people. Don’t make assumptions based on external cues like appearance, social class, cultural background, or seemingly inappropriate behavior. Get past all that and meet people mind to mind, heart to heart, consciousness to consciousness. You do not have to befriend everyone: we are busy creatures who must make choices. But be open to the kindred soul who might reside within a seemingly alien veneer.
8) Question everything.
Whether it’s the pat answers of fundamentalist religion or the political liberalism of Cambridge, MA, do not assume that the prevailing ideas that surround you are correct, or the whole truth. Dig deeper. Look beyond. And if you find a new belief system that seems more reasonable to you, question that. You might want to stick with it, but you should never stop examining, asking, and growing. Of course, you might want to question the very premise of questioning and sink nonchalantly into your current beliefs. I simply ask that you respect my soul enough to engage with my suggestion to stay open. In the end, you are your own God.
9) Conform to nothing that shuns or squelches your own unique glory.
Remember that the word “glory” implies a certain positivity. You should conform to expectations for nonviolence, kindness, and respect for other souls, because they link to the kind of energy and spirit you pour into the world, even through small actions. Beyond that, do what feels right to you and look past your society’s mores. Be an artist even if everyone around you has a secure, lucrative job; just be sure you can handle the limited financial rewards. Wear a T-shirt and shorts to the elegant restaurant if that will help you enjoy and savor the food. Dance outside in a crowded place for no reason, if the fancy strikes you. Tell people how you really are when they ask, whenever that feels good and right. Climb a tree and make weird noises; ask everyone at a party filled with corporate lawyers how they feel about witchcraft; just, you know, act on your desires. Make life fun, not a vast exercise in trying to fit in.
10) We are all immortal, and will grow, learn, and explore in ways we can’t begin to imagine in our current state. (Don’t worry —- you won’t get sick of yourself.)
I mean, what’s the point of a new religion if it doesn’t offer something concrete and comforting? Without that, I might as well just stick with Quakerism or Reform Judaism or some such. My whole quest was spurred by my fear of death: my horror at the possibility that our selves die with our brains. I’ve been seeking answers to quell my horror. If I’m creating my own religion, I cannot ignore my deep-seated need: especially since I know others share my feelings. Besides… sometimes, when I’m communing with my best, deepest self, I have a sense that we really are immortal. So let me run with that, and sanctify it, and make it a soothing joy for all of my co-religionists.
11) Get together. Discuss relevant issues. Eat, laugh, drink, party, read, study theoretical physics… whatever sounds fun… with other soaring souls.
Religions are meant to be shared and enjoyed. There’s no need to conform to each other, but there is a need to support each other, create happy times for each other, and help each other in difficult times. Without that backbone, we’d have a philosophy, not a religion.
12) Do not kill your fellow humans.
I shouldn’t even have to say it. But… you know as well as I what can happen in this world. There may be extenuating circumstances, but they’re extraordinarily rare. Yes, we’re immortal, but we’re meant to live out our time in this phase of existence, free from the kind of dark, sinking soul that would end it prematurely.
13) If you can, donate, so your hardworking founder can buy a condo in the holy borough of Manhattan.
Don’t get nervous: there are no showy plaques in this religion, no money-oriented power dynamics. But I, your founder, would truly soar as a soul if I could live in Manhattan. The restaurants! The street life! The streets on a grid that make sense to my visually compromised brain! The comprehensive public transportation system that eliminates any need for the cars I never learned to drive! With a home in Manhattan, I would feel free, light, capable, and radiant. I would be in just the right place to guide this new venture. Be a mensch and give what you can. My soaring soul thanks yours in advance.
***From one soaring soul to another, be good, be well, be free, and always, always be yourself.
Stephanie Wellen Levine is the author of Mystics, Mavericks, And Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls: winner of Moment Magazine’s 2004 Emerging Writer Book Award. Currently, Stephanie is on a spiritual quest as she completes a second book and teaches at Tufts University.