I sometimes wonder if there are so many spiritual traditions because people naturally have different spiritual instincts from one another. Not learned, but in-born.
I was raised Christian, and though I clung to those beliefs until the end of high school, I always found myself uncertain about many of the basic metaphysical assumptions of the faith and had no emotional connection to its primary metaphors. Thus, when I was in college and given many an intellectual reason to stop clinging, I did.
After that, I settled into a semi-comfortable nothinghood for a while. But a need in me to find some sort of framework for certain needs I had which I can only call “spiritual” kept reappearing. No traditional religion was going to do–they all had the same sort of metaphysical baggage that made me move away from Christianity.
I explored Buddhism a little, but the non-metaphysical part of its philosophy didn’t resonate with me. I explored Wiccan forms of paganism and that turned out the same. My problems with Christianity had nothing to do with any need for a “sacred feminine.” And the polytheistic forms of paganism, even if they are only metaphor-gods, left me cold.
Since I was a kid, I have often felt a sort of “spiritual” connection at church camp. Not because of the church part, necessarily, but because of the pine trees. Because of the rocks. Because of the dusty ground, and the birds. Staring up through the tall, towering pines into an infinite sky, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and belonged at the same time.
That’s a kind of paganism, I suppose, but an impersonal one.
When I am out in untamed nature, I feel part of this grand scheme of birth and life and death, of evolution and time and procreation and ancestors and humans and family that ties me to this species, this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe. I belong here because of that scheme; I deserve to be here.
That makes me happy–that is what I need, spiritually.
And so every once in a while, I venture somewhere where nature overwhelms, where the sounds of civilization are drowned out by the deep silence of nature you can literally “hear” under the rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds, and the beating of your heart in your ears.
My spiritual ritual is to hike to the point of exhaustion. I ramble until I get lost or until I have simply gone too far–until I have a genuine physical challenge. My efforts to return then put me in a sort of altered state where I become one with the desert or the forest or wherever I am*.
The closest spiritual tradition I ever found that actually made sense to me was pantheism–the idea of a primordial, irrepressible, creative force that pervades all of nature, all of the universe, and yet isn’t a “person.” There is no “I am” or awareness there, there is only a creative drive of sorts.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a people-person that I never felt the need for a personal god. My mother feels very connected to the God-the-Father metaphor because she had such a nurturing, close relationship to her father.
Of course, I realize that part of what makes all this work for me is the human connection. That I have friends and family that love me, that include me as one of their own.
And despite my interest in pantheism, I’m not much of a pantheist–that commitment to improvable metaphysics again.
*Of course, true oneness with nature is a little difficult when there’s a predator around. A mountain lion was spotted in the woods above this campground recently, and there are placards posted near the hiking trails with a warning and instructions in case you encounter her. I hiked several times anyway, comforting myself with the though that the last thing she wants is to stray into the territory of humans; however, I also know if she does, she will do what I do when lost in the forest–face the challenge until she gets through it alive.