I’ve been alone a lot in my life. I remember once as a child I told my grandmother that I wished I’d had a little brother. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something to the effect of
“Would you really want to subject another person to this?” This being our lives.
We’re not social people, my family. We don’t have parties, we don’t celebrate. Because why would you? Why, how, could anyone celebrate this?
I like to think that I didn’t come to the conclusion so easily. That in my valiant child’s heart, I thought if I had a brother, I’d protect him. But I also like to think that I was smart enough, even then, to know how wrong that valiance was.
When I was born, I know my parents wanted different for me. I have no reason to doubt their assertions that this is true. That is maybe why, in the long run, I did have different. But in the beginning, it was very much the same. Neglect, physical abuse, emotional terror, and general sexual impropriety were a part of my reality, as those things were a part of theirs.
You can’t have a baby in a mud pit and not expect to get mud on it.
But intentions must count for something, because here I am. Years ago, I found myself a citizen of two countries: Function and dysfunction. Both were extremely lonely. The former because I was no longer comfortable with the life I’d been given. The latter because I wanted it so bad, but I didn’t even know the language of function.
For this kind of lonely person, with too much perspective to be cowed and too little experience to be bold, God sounds like a wonderful idea. Here would be the all-knowing father I wanted, but never had. Here would be the all-loving mother I craved. Finally, I could be alone and not lonely. An eternal friend. I could take a God with me into the pockets of void-darkness inside of me. I could fill those holes with Holy light. I could have a spiritual awakening, I could have a life that truly was beyond my wildest dreams.
So I prayed and I meditated, and I asked a God I only believed in enough to resent for the knowledge of His will for me. And eventually, I did have my first spiritual awakening.
As with most spiritual experiences, I was some degree of exhausted and desperate. I was really depressed, and worried about whether my suffering had meaning when I started to pray. I repeated the same prayer over and over until it occurred to me that suffering leads to growth, growth to joy, joy to new levels of experience, which in turn leads back to suffering again. Over and over, the cycle of success through failure, of beginnings and endings everywhere all the time. I was merely at one of many points in this cycle, one small gear in a cosmic machine I had absolutely no hope to understand.
Rather than making me feel helpless, it gave me a sense of peace. My suffering was mine, but it wasn’t just mine. That’s when it started to become a thing that happened, rather than the thing that happened to me.
The second time I had a spiritual awakening, I was feeling really horrible about all the selfish bullshit I'd perpetrated on others as a result of my own pain, when suddenly I felt the light in the room grow brighter. At the same time, I realized that all the people I had so many issues with, people I blamed for how my life turned out, they were all just as lost and ignorant as I was.
I felt very strongly that I saw, for the briefest second, humanity the way a benevolent creator would see us. All so caught up in reacting to stimuli, all so afraid and confused. I felt like, if I could keep that feeling in my heart, maybe I could avoid being such a bastard all the time.
I turned out to be mostly right. Now my problem is I keep forgetting to remember what that felt like.
Most recently, I was really stressed out and overwhelmed after starting my own business, so I sat down to meditate. After a couple of minutes, I saw very clearly a creek I visited with my grandma as a kid, and in my mind’s eye, I sat beside it with a stack of origami paper.
I started building boats and floating them into the creek. I took my time, trying to get each fold right, but not always managing it, then I would set the completed boat in the water and let it float away. I tried to set it in the right place, I tried to build a good boat, but whether or not they sank or floated, I never even saw. I was already working on the next boat.
When I got up. I realized that's what I should be doing. I should be giving each task my complete attention, I should do everything I am able to in order to ensure success, and then I should let it go to sink or float on its own in the current of life. There's no judgment if the boat floats or sinks, only that this is the result that boat experienced. I made the best boat I could, and dropped it in the best spot I could, and the rest was the river.
Like my other experiences, a sense of peace settled on me, along with a sense of awe. I get so caught up in the trivialities of life while the infinite wonder of the universe quietly tessellates out all around me in every direction, both measurable and immeasurable. I am such a small part of this magnificent world that we still know so little about.
Even though they’ve all given me a perspective on my own place in the universe, none of these spiritual awakenings has made me feel particularly strongly about the existence or nature of a God. Despite the fact that I went into each of them searching for such a deity, they’ve only taught me that life itself is a vast, complicated, wonderful mystery. To assume more than that would be arrogant, and wholly beside the point.