Tag Archives: Faith

Reaching for god, Healing in the Mountains

I want to describe a moment of insight, but to get there, I’ll have to take you on a little odyssey with me.  The Enchantments are a chain of lakes carved out by glaciers in Washington’s Central Cascades – a series of cirques in pale granite amid jagged peaks so lovely you need a very elusive permit to visit in summer.  But this year, with the snow level so low, I decided to seize the chance to see them before permit season began.

I invited along a friend who recently completed the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, walking 500 miles from St. John, France, to the cathedral of Santiago, Spain – with virtually no money.  I chose Kacie not only because she’s sober and a skilled through-hiker, but because her connection to God is knowledge rather than faith. Though she’s Christian and I’m non-religious, our spiritual convictions align perfectly.  At 33, she’s an absolutely beautiful soul.  Here we are, starting out our trip at Colchuck Lake.

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Aasgard Pass is behind us, where the trail gains 2,000 feet in 3/4 of a mile

I wanted Kacie with me not just to help me tackle this trail, but because I knew she could help me along a second, inner trek.  Maybe I’m trying to tell too much in one post, but for me, this trip was more about healing than hiking. I recently posted about having discovered that for two and a half years my alcoholic boyfriend concealed an ongoing affair with an alcoholic girl half my age – named KC, ironically enough.  Though I’m glad to have escaped with my sobriety, there’s much grief to process in losing someone you thought you loved for nine years.

Early on, I asked my Kacie for her take on my “happy” memories from those deceit-filled years with Grayson – our teasing as we played ping-pong, comparing cloud pictures as we lay in the sunlit grass, decorating our tiny Christmas tree.  She answered straight up: “You need to let go the lie before you can embrace the truth.  That was manipulation, it was false, it was poison – every minute of it.”  I knew she was right.  Her words solidified the ones hovering in my thoughts for weeks: emotional robbery, abuse, even molestation.  Because, yes, to con someone into prolonged intimacy, fully aware the truth would both horrify and repulse them, is that bad.

We hiked on.  I’d heard a lot about the dangers of climbing Aasgard Pass, with its 2,000 foot near-vertical gain.  We didn’t reach the base of the chute until 4:15.  There’s no trail per se; you scramble amid sliding talus and scree; you search above you for cairns – stacks of rock people have left to mark a course – praying nothing falls on you.  Chest-high boulders with divot toe-holds demand you heave yourself up them despite the 35 pounds on your back and hundreds of feet below you to fall.

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Kacie picking her way up the rubble

We climbed for an hour.  Two hours.  The wind picked up, and we began to encounter pockets of ice and snow.  There were times I thought I’d lost the way completely, boxed in among boulders, until I’d sight a cairn someplace seemingly impossible to reach.  Then I’d pray, find handholds, pretend I wasn’t exhausted, and heft Louisa + pack one more time.  Ten minutes later, repeat.  Finally, three and a half hours into it, a moment arrived when I rounded a rock face and recognized from the outlines of slabs against the sky that we were nearly there.  To Kacie, over the whipping wind and cataract tumbling to our right, I shouted, “We’re almost there!  We’re gonna fuckin’ do it!”

That’s when the tears came. Thank you, god.  Not just for getting me here, but for showing me I have what it takes to do this.  In the past, on all our toughest climbs, Grayson led.  But no one led me this time, not even a frickin’ trail: just god and the bright life it kindles in me.

While the sun set amid 20 mph winds and the temps dropped below freezing, Kacie and I made camp at about 7,ooo feet.  Kacie was so chilled she began dropping things, getting confused.  Our stove wouldn’t light at this altitude and the winds snapped at the tent as we pitched it.  But we were never scared – not really. I gave Kacie all my extra clothes and released enough gas from the canister to blow up a small dog before my lighter finally ignited it. Once the water boiled I told Kacie to go eat inside the tent while I made her some hot water bottles and picked up for the night.

Neither of us slept much because the elevation throws you off, but in the morning we encountered this, along with the delicate music of snowmelt everywhere running down to Aasgard Lake:

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and this:

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and lots of these guys:

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After breakfast, we packed up and set off again, like this:

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We covered about 10 miles that day, talking on and on about god, about how god has built right into us our capacity to see, feel, and appreciate beauty as a spiritual language to connect with Him/it.  Here’s are some glimpses of what we saw, did, and loved:

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Kacie took

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Among the many things Kacie said that struck me deeply was this: “The only thing God asks is that we participate in the relationship.  It’s like if I were going on this hike saying, ‘Hmm… Louisa might be with me on this hike. That might be her I see ahead of me, that could be her voice…’ but I ignored you the whole way because I wasn’t sure you were real.  I mean, what’s more hurtful than just ignoring someone who loves you?!  We do that to God all the time, and yet He just keeps loving us.  He keeps saying, I’m here when you’re ready.”

Eventually we began our descent to Snow Lake, where we’d spend our second night.  That’s when I felt something welling up in me, stronger with each step I advanced between the huge rock escarpments toward the meandering valley below.  Thoughts churned.  Why did it still hurt that Grayson had ignored my love? Why was it so hard to love myself ?

Here came the revelation: I understood, as I started bawling silently, that to love god in these mountains was to love god in me as well.  So I began saying silently to each beauty, however tiny or vast: “I love you, god.  I love you in this flower.  I love you in the tops of those trees.  I love you in that tremendous and intricate stone wall above me older than I can conceive.”  Each time I sent out this energy, whatever came back seemed to redirect my inner periscope just a tiny notch or two – away from Grayson’s insult and toward my own wealth of spirit, away from the story of what happened and toward the openness of whatever might.

I crossed some threshold.  I saw my journey was on course, that god had sent me a precious gift through every person I’ve ever loved – including Grayson. In the thousand-plus miles we covered together, he taught me most of the skills that embolden me today, skills that let me dare to venture out and meet my god in the rough and dangerous beauty of the wilderness.

What a gift!  Not just for me, but now through me to Kacie. “Churches are like big, fancy worship bathrooms,” says Kacie.  “I want to be here.  God’s Cathedral is here.”

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The next day we were met at the trailhead by kind, sober friends who drove us back to my car. The minute I got home, I showered, threw on a dress and heels, and drove to a downtown restaurant to celebrate another sober friend’s 50th birthday. We sang to him as he blushed.  Love – that same echo of god’s goodness – rang in our voices.

“God is such a show-off!” I remember Kacie saying as we hiked. “He is!  Because He has infinite beauty to show off!  Fucking infinite!  He pours it into the mountains, into this stream, into us!  He wants it  a-l-l  to be felt!”  We joked about the fears that make us check our inner share of god’s beauty, like a bird halting in mid-song for fear of fucking up.  This blog is part of my song.  I’ll show off, I’ll sing, I’ll fuck up, and I won’t apologize.  Because god put inside me what it wants me to share.

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Beyond Religion’s Painted Window

 

Long before Eckhart Tolle, there was Alan W. Watts:

…[Y]ou can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window.  You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint.  But “religious” people… resist the scraping of the paint from the glass.

[O]ur beliefs… block the unreserved opening of mind and heart to reality.

Alan W. Watts
The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951)

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Hi guys.  So, like, what’re you using to read this right now?  What’re you thinking stuff with?  Is it this?

Cadaver Brain

Fresh out of a cadaver. Click for more photos – or better yet, don’t!

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“Gross, Louisa!” you say.  “No way!  Not me!  I think with… uh… the space of knowingness.”

The brain is an organ the size of a small cantaloupe weighing about 3 pounds, 60% of which is fat.  It processes sensory impressions, records them selectively as memory, and works out relationships among them based on principles of causality and classification – relationships we abstract as “truth.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’m going to use mine (a little rounder than the one above) to determine the nature of the universe as a whole, and whether or not it contains a spiritual entity such as we call “God.”

Hmm.  Okay.  Sorry – still thinking…  Meanwhile, here’s a random shot from the Hubble Telescope for ya.

Butterfly emerges from stellar demise in planetary nebula NGC 63

This dying star, once about five times the mass of the Sun, has ejected its envelope of gases, now traveling at 950, 000 kilometers per hour, and is unleashing a stream of ultraviolet radiation that causes the cast-off material to glow.

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Back already?  I’m still thinking about it.  Here’s a representation our solar system’s planets – see me thinking on earth, there?  I’m at my laptop.

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Louisa on Earth, weighing god’s existence

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Okay – ahem! – I’m ready.  Religion?  Atheism?  Aren’t you just dying to know what I’ve decided is TRUE?  Because it’s going to have so much bearing on reality, isn’t it?  I mean, I’m so fully equipped with exhaustive knowledge on this topic, what’s left to guesswork?

Okay, maybe I’m being a tad sarcastic.  Yet the hubris of people both religious and atheistic strikes me as ridiculous to the same extreme.  Both purport to rule on something far beyond the limitations of human thinking.  Sure, written language has enabled humans to compile the collective knowledge of successive generations and arrive at highly technical creations like the Hubble Telescope.  But when we attempt to compile our thinking about spiritual matters, we’re trying to use words and symbols oriented toward material reality to represent that which can  be experienced only inwardly and via immediate consciousness.  And it doesn’t work.

Self-consciousness is a condition thrust on human beings.  If our lives are to have meaning, we must construct that meaning, and contemplating who and what we are is essential to the process. However, contemplating or “opening the mind and heart to reality” does not entail nailing down a pronouncement or definition that we can believe in as “truth” and convey to others.

In fact, to stop short of closure, to embrace faith as NOT knowing, can be highly uncomfortable.  We dislike the insecurity of trusting in something ineffable, of having no solid descriptions.

Religion stepped in long ago to flesh out those descriptions ByzJesusand abolish insecurity.  Human brains do just fine with stories, characters, and rules, so religion provided them in order to harness a unity of belief among followers – and in some cases, wealth and power.  By Watts’ metaphor, religious texts and dogma present us with a blue painted window intended to represent the open sky of god.

But religion, unfortunately, got distracted in specifying the exact shade of holy blue paint, debated oil versus latex and what holy brush had been used.  Each sect developed “right,” easy to grasp answers – the “idols” of which Watts writes.  If I am certain about the validity of my beliefs, I can say, “Fuck you and your wrong beliefs!”  I can do this with terrific confidence, whether I’m a right wing Christian or a jihadist Muslim.

Atheists, on the other hand, point out, “Hello, folks?!  That’s just some fuckin’ paint, dude!  There’s nothing holy about it, any more than what’s on the walls and ceiling – can’t you see that?  We should just close the goddamn shade and forget about it!”  And they do. They stay in the brain-made world, never venturing outside its constructs to gaze up in open-mouthed wonder.

Whenever I talk of god, people tend to assume I’m talking about some kind of blue paint God.  This is frustrating.

In my AA homegroup, for instance, there are a number of “praytheists” – people who pray because they get results, yet purport not to believe in God.  As alcoholics in AA, we’ve all encountered the inexplicable fact that when we pray for help, something relieves us of a compulsion that has proven far beyond our control.  One of these praytheists – a man sober 24 years – shared last night, “I met with my sponsee today.  We didn’t mention god once.  We talked about our kids, about our jobs – about real things we care about.  God’s not one of those things.”

So much I wanted to ask him, “Why do you think you meet with your sponsee?  Why don’t you tell him to fuck off and get a life?  Why do either of you give a shit about your parasitic kids or your waste-of-life jobs?   Could it be… LOVE?  Might you share a faith in basic GOODNESS?  Look into the depths of those feelings, of how it really feels to ‘care about,’ and you’ll see that you guys talked about nothing but god the whole time!  You just didn’t abstract it and name it directly!”

But he would hear only blue paint.  😦  And I would be saying, “Fuck you and your wrong beliefs!”

blueskyIn my experience, love is the clear window in our hearts – not our brains – through which we glimpse our own blue sky of god – the energy that powers our spirits.  If you don’t sit with love, if you don’t pursue the meaning of its non-logical warmth as it is actually happening to you, you’ll take for granted love’s fragments here and there and never see it as the fabric of meaning that unifies your entire existence.  As Watts says, “[L]ove that expresses itself in creative action is something much more than an emotion. Love is the organizing and unifying principle which makes the world a universe…” If you can make a commitment to actively love love, you’ll be jettisoned through Step 3 and toward Step 11.  You’ll begin to feel god – not comprehend it.

Our brains, by the way, are not all we are.  Among my own crowd of Near Death Survivors, all of us have experienced consciousness that continued while our brains were shut down and dying.  We would argue that the “YOU” at the helm of your fat-bag brain is, in fact, your spirit.  This is why people sometimes “know” things before they happen, or hear voices, or, in some cases, see spirits.  People who have crossed over and come back with memories – whether brain experts like Eben Alexander or just ordinary schmucks like me – will tell you they felt more “themselves” and more highly conscious outside their bodies than within them.

Here too, though, the experience is impossible to convey in words.  Even those people who want to believe us misconstrue what we describe, assuming the “other side” to be exactly like this material one.  It isn’t.  For instance, loving mothers like Mary Neal will tell you they didn’t particularly care about leaving their children behind, that they knew their children would be fine without them.  Why?  I think because on this side we parcel up love and dole it out selectively, as things we “care about,” so that we’re dependent on “loved ones” for meaning and spiritual sustenance in life.  On the other side, love is all there is.

How does that work?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.

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