I’ve been reading recently about Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame) and his interest in Spiritualism (ectoplasm, fairies, and psychic phenomena). In the later part of his life Conan Doyle explored Spiritualism as a way of trying to resolve his religious upbringing and Jesuit education with his scientific training as a doctor:
“Victorian science would have left the world hard and lean and bare, like a landscape on the moon, but this science is in truth but a little light in the darkness, and outside that limited circle of definite knowledge we see the loom and shadow of gigantic and fantastic possibilities around us, throwing themselves continually across our consciousness in such ways that it is difficult to ignore them.” (Strand Magazine, 1921)
I feel something of this conflict in my own life at the moment, though experienced on a very different trajectory. I was brought up in a spiritual vacuum: God just did not exist in my house. I very clearly remember being very excited and relieved when I eventually around age 12 learned the words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ because finally I had a category and way of describing myself — and if these words existed, the logical inference was that there must be others like me out there. Wow!
I’m shockingly ignorant of the bible and of theology. I guess nonetheless I am influenced by Judaeo-Christian ideas, since that’s the culture I exist in, even if I’m not all that aware of it. My yoga practice is making me confront this aspect of my upbringing and my world view. It’s making me very uncomfortable. And — if I care to admit it — kind of excited. I’m not about to profess a sudden belief in god/God. But I’m starting to wonder just a little if my notions of divinity are too bound by my naive stereotypes of Christianity. A wise Christian friend told me that for her God is Love. Now that almost makes sense to me!
I talked with a yoga teacher about this recently. About how to be a serious yogi whilst being an atheist, and whether it really mattered. She kept her personal cards close to her chest as yoga teachers do. Her advice to me was simply to cultivate gratitude and let the rest take care of itself as it might.
I think this is fantastic advice. Only marred by the irony that I had in the past few months been actively trying to feel less grateful! I went through a phase where I could barely step onto the mat without dissolving into tears, feeling overwhelmed by my feelings of deep, humbling gratitude. The fact that I had the unexpected gift of this practice at all just seemed like a miracle. On top of that spending more time in my physical body (rather than in my head-thoughts where I naturally hang out) made me feel very vulnerable and I used to practice with the mindset that each time might be the last. Paradoxically the more truly alive I felt, the more I feared losing what I was just starting to gain. Grateful, but fearful.
I’ve calmed down a lot now. So now gratitude is something I need to commit to practice, rather than it being an overwhelming powerful, almost unwelcome, feeling.
The ultimate irony — I now kind of miss that depth of feeling. Gahh… Never content!