Growing up, I always felt a deep connection to my Catholic faith and aspired to become a priest. I was enamored with the pageantry, ritual, and sense of community that Catholicism provided. However, as I delved deeper into my faith, I encountered some fundamental questions that weren’t adequately addressed. I sought answers from books on Catholic apologetics and leaders in my church community, the more I read and explored the stronger my doubts grew.
So, angry and embarrassed that I had believed a lie, I turned to the “New Atheist” movement. I embraced a materialist view of the world, where the only things that existed were the things we could observe. However, deeply spiritual events, such as feeling the presence of Mary and God during moments of meditative prayer, nagged in the back of my head.
I felt like something was missing. And, while in therapy for my depression, I managed to let go of a lot of my anger towards religion. Maybe those experiences with the divine didn’t need to be restricted to Roman Catholicism. Rejecting the rigid dogmatism of the church did not mean I had to reject spirituality as a pursuit.
I searched for something to fulfill my desire for a spiritual practice and came across the book "Why Buddhism is True." While I would eventually reject the materialist lens through which the author proposed a Buddhist practice, it opened up a new world of possibilities. I could pursue a religious practice without needing to accept premises I now considered absurd.
Reading "Why Buddhism is True" sparked a five-year journey of practicing Buddhism, first meditating alone in my room and then two years of daily practice at the Rochester Zen Center. I devoted myself to Zazen, the Zen practice of meditation, and became convinced that there was more to the world that which could be directly observed. More importantly, I discovered that the rituals and mindfulness practices of Buddhism brought me the sense of contentment and comfort that I was missing.
While Buddhism provided a new perspective and brought me a sense of peace, I eventually struggled with feeling like an interloper in an Eastern religion. Catholicism had played such a deep role in my childhood and young adulthood that Buddhism couldn’t provide the familiarity in my practice that I desired.
I never stopped my spiritual exploration and eventually I ended up in a Discord server of spiritual seekers called The Hermetic House of Life. Members there led me down the path of Western spiritual thought, starting with Plato and following that thread to the modern day. Studying the beliefs of Hermeticism (a series of philosophical texts from classical antiquity attributed to Hermes Trismegistus) and Stoicism (a Hellenistic philosophy from the 3rd century BCE), Neoplatonism (a strand of Platonic philosophy that emerged in the 3rd century AD), combined with the more mystical traditions of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) helped me to open my eyes to the possibilities available to me in spiritual thought. I also appreciated that I could incorporate the beliefs of Buddhism, like non-dualism and no-self, that I believed were true. Since then, I have been on a journey to build a spiritual practice and belief system that could replace the void left by the Catholic church.
At the moment, here is where my beliefs stand:
I hold a monistic view that all of existence is a manifestation of a singular, collective consciousness, which, for convenience, I will call “The One.” The One strives to understand itself through emanations of itself in the forms of conscious beings that include humans, animals, spirits (angels, gods, etc), and even the spark of consciousness contained in plants, bacteria, fungi, and (possibly) inanimate(1) objects. Each emanation acts as an observer of the Universe, bringing reality into existence through their observation.
The One exists as a universal consciousness and its understanding of itself is manifested through the collective beliefs and perceptions of all beings. These beliefs and perceptions give rise to supernatural beings(2), who manifest and exert real power in the material realm, and act as guides for individuals on their spiritual journeys. How this might work(3):
- The One, trying to understand itself, and as part of its own cognition, stimulated the elements of its own existence to generate the first organic compounds.
- Each step from there, along the evolutionary path, is a further attempt for The One to attempt to grasp its own existence.
- Beings who become self-aware likewise attempt to understand their own existence within The One, and when attempting communion, recognize the non-material forces The One is using to probe itself.
- When a communion takes place, this non-material or incorporeal being becomes a more permanent emanation of The One.
- Therefore, the Spirits exist as a bridge between us and The One. Birthed from us trying to understand our place within The One, and The One trying to understand itself.
The ultimate goal of a spiritual practice is to directly experience The One. Merging fully with the divine fulfills both our goal to understand our place in The One and The One’s goal to understand itself. Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, self-reflection, and religious and magical rituals help cultivate awareness of the self, The One, and provide a means to commune with emanations of The One; preparing the soul for union with the divine.
I also believe that living a virtuous life is a necessary part of any spiritual practice. The causal direction of virtue, whether pursuing a spiritual practice leads to virtuous life or leading a virtuous life is a necessary precursor to a meaningful spiritual practice is difficult for me to say. I expect that it is the latter. It is difficult to have an experience of the divine if you aren’t living in harmony with The One. So, my spiritual practice is accompanied by good-faith efforts at humility, compassion, ethical behavior, emotional resilience, and wisdom. And, while I fail daily, I do get better every day and the attempt to live a more virtuous life. I believe this helps to deepen my spiritual practice. It is with this practice that I strive for a direct experience of The One.
- I only call them inanimate for convenience, if they do have a spark of consciousness than they are, in fact, animate.
- Gods, Angels, Demons, etc.
- I am not claiming that this is definitely how it works, this is just an explanation that helps me wrap my head around experiences with non-material beings.