Questioning constructions of reality and the interconnection of my spirituality
Religion is what binds one to a way of acting, a way of thinking, and a way of living. It is heavily dependent on an individual's perceptions of reality.
This is what a two year course in Studies of Religion taught me. So what does this mean to me?
I was raised with no specific religion. One could maybe say I was raised in a mostly Christian home; the belief of God or at least the presence of a greater driving force has never been alien to me. This was not forced, but rather utilized to aid in the integration of morality, ethics and self-awareness in my young self. I attended Sunday School, prayed when I felt the need but at the same time was exposed to the ideas of souls or spiritual force in everything.
Coming from a farming background, the concept of animals having complex feelings and yes, even souls, was never strange. This did not bother how I viewed cattle for the table. If anything this inlaid in me a sense of reverence for all life; I have never not consumed meat without thinking back to the life the animal had sacrificed so that I could further mine and given a small thanks. It is just instinctual for me to do so. Likewise, my Polynesian heritage brings to life a semi-totemic belief of 'natural spirits' or manifestations of the forces of the natural world.
In addition to this strange kind of monolatrous religious upbringing, I was instilled with the respect of others as equals. On the religious front this permitted a certain kind of open-mindedness about spirituality. I have tried not to judge others on the basis of their religion just as much as I try not to bias my opinions based on physical appearances, age or gender. Instead I place great importance on the respect another shows to the world around them, including myself and their own self, and their actions.
Throughout my almost 19 years of conscious existence I have lived a mainly monotheistic religious life, I was deeply Christian for most of my early High School years, but with a belief that God manifested not only through liturgy or transcendent experiences, but through the natural world. God, to me, was literally in everything. Later on I had lessened my devotion in that particular faith and was an unannounced agnostic, as I still consider myself to be [or, at least for the time being.]
Things have always been complicated, I guess, by my therianthropy. The dysmorphia of this condition has never really bothered me, but I have always noticed a rather large gap between my instinctual perceptions, reactions and thought patterns when compared to those of others that my upbringing alone could not have generated. I was always aware of a difference in perception, but it never truly bothered me. As a child I was just regarded as 'eccentric' or even 'very mature for her age', to myself I couldn't see that much purpose in worrying myself endlessly over it [a self-confidence a fairly stable, loving and open upbringing instilled, of which I am forever grateful]. Of course, there was the occasional moment where I caught myself thinking "Mouse looks tasty" or confused by a 'human' concept, like materialistic purchases, that even the most practical of 'normal' people can comprehend. My pragmatism is a key definitive feature of my therianthropy; like any animal I only take to survive. I equip myself with the ability to do so. I do not deny indulging in any luxuries; certainly I exploit those such as music and art, even the internet- fuel for my curious, creative mind.
This pragmatism carried on to my spiritual life. I understood the Christian liturgy and teachings, but disagreed with the perception of myself as 'ruling over' the natural world. This created a lot of conflict once I became wholly aware that my soul, whatever it was made of, whatever part of my psychology it constituted, was not the same as a 'normal' person: I'm a damn bird. This has never gone to my head- I don't think I'm superior or substandard to anybody. I'm not 'special' or 'gifted' in the egotistical sense any more then every person is. Rather I'm 'gifted' with a very unique 'special' perception of the world as a bird living a human life.
What problems this has caused for my religious beliefs. There is nothing in the Bible about anything even remotely like therianthropy unless I was ready to announce I was possessed, of which I was sure I was not. In my Biblical experience, 'possessed' people seemed driven to do a whole lot of damage- or in Bruce Wayne's wise butler, Alfred's, famous words they "... just want to watch the world burn.". I, on the other hand, just wanted to live life as integrated into the natural world as I could.
As my studies progressed and I was able to experience and investigate a wide range of different spiritualties from a wholly Socratic viewpoint. From the various religions I explored, I encountered certain bits and pieces that intrigued and 'resonated' with me, as my teacher so put it. Islam, even from my Post 9-11 viewpoint and unintentional, almost subconscious bias bought about by media misinformation and lack of true understanding, struck me with its gentleness and utter devotion and its lack of a quest of proselytizing that generated an interreligious understanding. The Sufi concept of the two faces of Allah, and His representation through Divinity, Humanity and the Natural world rang a chord. The interconnectedness of Buddhism and it's gentle pursuit of a delicate, fluid balance seemed to me such a fantastically simple concept evident in nature and the upbringing I had experienced- as did the equality so central to the Buddhist practice. Upon revisiting Christianity from this viewpoint I gained a new appreciation for its core of selfless love for the Other. This seemed, to me, to be the 'true' Christianity. Indigenous Australian spiritualty, it's concentric arrangements and animistic [to give it a fairly loose categorization] beliefs and non-linear expanse of time likewise reflected the importance a connection to natural rhythms and the land itself I had been bought up with.
Outside of school, I joined my sister part of the way into an exploration of Wicca [she went on to decide to investigate further, I went as far as curiosity took me- nothing past general investigation]. I looked into totemic and shamanic lifestyles [I have always lived life with knowledge of a family "totem", "Otherworld", ancestors and 'spiritual guides' thanks to my Polynesian heritage and early lifestyle]. For some reason, complete Atheism has never occurred to me- sure, I acknowledge and understand and even investigate scientific explanations for life and consciousness [I freaking love dinosaurs!] but there are some things that I think rationality can't comprehend. Love for example [but I digress, that is not the point of this soliloquy.] I am even, as I type, looking into Kemetic Orthodoxy. Heck I'm not afraid to admit I've even held a crystal, sat and meditated on my 'chakras' and tried to feel the 'energies' in a exploration into this New Age craze [I learned a bit here about false prophets/religious figures and discovered an affinity for amber].
Despite this, I still do not really know where I fit in. I'll attempt to explain 'what binds me' in as a simplistic manner as possible [as can be hoped at 0336hrs].
Above all reigns interconnection: Whatever drives the universe and the life within it connects and is present in everything. Whatever I do effects everything else, no matter how small an action. Everything around me has a purpose, myself included, and nothing is a mistake. Destiny, whatever it may be, is through our own making as well as that of the actions of others. Time doesn't necessarily travel in a straight line- it loops and spins back on itself. Anything alive and aware has a soul, no matter how minute [yes, this does include plants]. And in my personal belief, there are more 'realities' then this one that sometimes we just might touch and call 'supernatural'. Imagination has the power to create because you can kill a man with your thoughts and likewise create an entirely new world of perceptions. Each breath, moment, experience is sacred in its own right. Your awareness must rest in the 'now' otherwise your perception gets skewed. This is not to say dismiss the past, or ignore the prospective consequences of your actions; it means acknowledgment of both in order to act now.
And as a bird? There is nothing more sacred then the life of the prey- hunt with respect and awareness. Flight does not make you superior- it simply makes you as much as hopping makes a wallaby and swimming makes a shark. The sky- oh the sky!- and the sun that warms your feathers, the air that lifts you, the earth that provides and the water that nourishes, all are one and yet the other, and all are celebrated by living right. What greater power is there then the power to live?
So here is my dilemma: at the moment, I live a life in between. I acknowledge a driving, unifying force without giving it a particular name. I live practically, and as simply as possible. My religious practices are a compilation of many different aspects, collected like a Bowerbird's treasure. I partake in habitual meditation [in the sense that I take time out to come as fully into awareness of the moment by breathing as I can], I keep myself as mentally and physically clean as possible, I monitor my morality and ethics and act accordingly.
What I guess concerns me the most is that no religion has ever really 'called' to me. No God, or god, or gods have ever 'claimed' me or 'spoken' to me. Even in the depths of my Christian years, God only ever whispered to me when I was out and about in nature. In a hall full of praise and worshippers I felt too caught up in it all. The Christian God came to me in the breeze, through the love of my dog or the embrace of a friend more then a voice or vision from on high. At best I fear I'm very Buddhist at heart but likewise, shamanistic. Like anybody I guess I long for a place to rest my head- in the religious sense. I want a place to belong to. The online therian community was a godsend- just because I'm self-sufficient does not mean I don't long for contact. I yearn for the ability to hold open dialogue with others of similar mentality, to share, contrast and expand my opinions.
I am, after all, an inquisitive bird.