My family is Baptist. My husband’s grandpa was a Baptist preacher. Even still, religion wasn’t something I grew up worrying about, nor was it anything that I have ever felt compelled to dedicate myself to.
As an adult, my extended family has become more dogmatic. I am now frequently asked about my religious affiliation. They worry about my lack thereof.
“What do you consider yourself, Atheist? Agnostic?”
When I shrug, their faces wilt. They begin to express their grief for my soul. They start to inform me of the ultimate fate I will realize. They seem so sure.
To them I say: I have been down many paths of belief in my lifetime. There was a time I believed I needed to fight hard for my convictions. But it was only to realize that I was completely mistaken about everything. Over time, I have grown to see that for every right I stood up for, I would uncover a wrong it produced.
For every reasoning that seemed so sure, I could soon reveal a relevant counter question. Every justice would, to my dismay, become someone’s injustice. At first, this was upsetting. I feared that there could be no order in this world—no fairness, no justice, no rightness. I had to ponder this new realization and let it assimilate in my being before it would be a vast awakening for me.
It is true that there is no peace in understanding that the blanket of laws that we currently utilize will never protect us all. They will always serve to exploit some. Law could only be just if it were flexible enough to consider all aspects of every reality. Fairness would have to be weighed in an infinite number of measurements to calculate all the possibilities of every situation. Rigidity and absolute belief in any specific “right way” is the enemy of personal freedom but also of “rightness.” There can never be equality because “equal” is different in every person’s mind. Empathy cannot co-exist with opinion and judgment.
My life has become a paradox of gaining perspective from experiences and realizing that I cannot apply those lessons to other’s circumstances. My current belief is that there is much information to gather, but knowledge improperly used to define those around us is ultimately a loss of any true wisdom. And yet I realize that this too could just be a mirage.
Only by celebrating differing opinions and beliefs do we allow everyone the opportunity of an authentic life. Now and then my lessons can be shared to enlighten others. But there are equally beneficial times for me to hold my understandings with an open mind so that I may observe and learn from the authentic experiences of another. The truth is that we will never know everything and when we can accept that, we can live together peacefully.
Ironically, the most transformational lessons of my life are un-learnings that have led me to new aspirations of being ever better.
My belief system is unorganized and nameless. It is ever evolving and found in everyone. It is freedom, kindness, and changing to fit the moment.
Like any religious person, I am called to live with an open heart and with emphasis placed on learning lessons through a generosity of spirit. I am meant to look for beauty and invite belonging to everyone in this world. I seek to comfort and release hurts where I am able—and never deliberately cause harm. I work to forgive not only those I encounter, but also myself. If I can share any one thing, let it be every way I know to peace and love. Let it be an understanding of empathy and compassion and then the ability to teach it.
So yes, it is true: I am a heathen. I have no religion. But never let that deceive you into believing that I have no morals, integrity, or soul. I too, live by conscience and have personal ethics that guide me.
Be willing to grow and change. Invite new wisdom that sharpens you and continually renews and redirects.
Give. Be generous with your wealth and your heart. There is a never ending amount of space within your heart. Love and do good by as many as you can.
Never worship money. There is infinite room for new thoughts and times within your mind. Outside of getting your basic needs met, experiences and memories are far more valuable than money.
Be humble. Let go of things that hold you back, weigh you down, or compel you to do so to others.
Be brave. Never let the possibility of failure keep you from starting. You can only fail if you stop trying.
Speak your truth—but do so kindly. Sometimes, honesty seems the hardest thing to share with others. Find the audacity to be genuine to yourself. Never hold back because you are afraid of being judged or rejected.
There are infinite experiences in life to look forward to, to reflect upon, to learn from, and to enjoy. Focus on those things that bring you happiness and peace and release those that bring you stress or upset. Have religion if it offers you peace and uplifting guidance, but never be so foolish as to estimate the goodness of a person by their religion or lack of.
The dogma I live by is: Have faith in the magic all around us. By that, I mean to stay inquisitive and curious. Allow yourself to be amazed. See everything through the eyes of a child. Be open minded enough to stand back and observe life like beautiful art. Openly share joys, fears, and enlightenments with those who feel you. Lead people from dark places and follow others who offer to show the way. Share in exploration the many possibilities by tapping into the shared consciousness for unending understandings of many beliefs and emotions.
Finally my heathen prayer for you: May you always have plenty of moonlight to guide your nights and bring you sweet dreams in your sleep. Upon waking, may warm sun shine brightly on your adventures and let the winds blow you pleasantly in only the right directions.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Never worry about my soul or afterlife. I am energy, I am light and, just like you, I am infinite.
Author: Traci Burnam
Image: Flickr/Emilio Garcia
Editor: Travis May