The G-word wasn’t part of my vocabulary for a long time.
That is, except for “Oh my God” and “goddammit.”
Now, the latter doesn’t quite feel right. As much as I’ve been interested in spirituality throughout my life, I’ve had a complicated relationship with that three-letter entity.
It’s not that I ever had anything against God. It’s just that when Kanye dropped his Grammy-winning song and belted, “God show me the way / because the Devil’s tryna break me down”, I wasn’t vibing with that particular bar. It felt like in order to authentically speak to God like that, I would have to believe in a myth. A fairy tale. It felt… childish.
Looking back, I can see how the meanings I attached to the G-word created a barrier to embracing the experience of the word. It was a relationship I needed to walk away from to understand what it meant to me.
Picking up baggage
Despite going through Confirmation in the Lutheran church, my interest in religion at that time was shaped more by reading the “Left Behind” kids series. The books told the story of a group of teenagers left on Earth during the Rapture, while all those who had sought forgiveness in Jesus Christ had ascended to Heaven. I prayed to God and asked for forgiveness countless times to ensure my status as a follower, as well as a teleportation pass, should the story of Revelations prove true.
Once I got a high-speed internet connection in my early teens and went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, my views radically changed. I found out that multiple religions had been founded on similar stories to the ones in Christianity. These religions had been formed thousands of years, and thousands of miles apart. I realized there were other saints besides Jesus Christ.
As my questions started to outnumber the answers prescribed by my church, I determined I was agnostic. I still wanted to be a good person, but I wasn’t going to believe something because I was afraid of going to hell.
The G-word became associated with a rigid, narrow-minded group of people I knew. How could they look past all those contradictions, and where did these rules come from? It seemed that this word was exalted by people who couldn’t think for themselves. In short, it picked up a lot of baggage that it would carry for some time.
Widening the lens
After a few interesting college courses on religion and then diving into the world of personal development, my perspective of spirituality expanded. I learned the power of thoughts and feelings from Tony Robbins. I learned that over 90% of the successful people interviewed on the Tim Ferris podcast had a meditation practice. And I learned that yoga was a science of mind and body that had been around for thousands of years.
After accumulating pieces of the spiritual puzzle for several years, I found one that brought a significant portion of the picture into focus. It was the first book my coach recommended to me: “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. All the ideas I’d been hearing about in yoga classes, self-development books, psychology, Buddhist teachings, etc were described with eloquent simplicity.
Singer states, “There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing you are not the voice of the mind – you are the one who hears it.”
He goes on to explain why this “inner roommate” is so bothered by everything: it’s simply trying to control every aspect of the external world. And when it can’t, it distracts us from living.
“You will eventually catch on that you have to distance yourself from your psyche. You do this by setting the direction of your life when you’re clear and not letting the wavering mind deter you.”
Through the words of Michael Singer, I realized spirituality was practical, and it was developed through a process of observing the mind. But, I still wasn’t convinced I needed something to pray to.
Trust, surrender, and trying new words
As my internal awareness grew, so did my ability to trust myself. In a year and a half, I quit my job and went to Costa Rica, left a significant relationship, and pursued the slim odds of becoming a life coach. It all worked out. As I realized I could rely on my inner voice for guidance, ‘intuition’ seemed like a solid replacement for the G-word.
The funny thing about learning to trust ourselves is that we must simultaneously learn to let go of control. Events happening in our lives today were thousands of years in the making. Our planet and the universe are governed by laws we don’t get to veto. The more we trust ourselves, the more we realize our intuition is connected to something outside ourselves.
“A man who bows down to nothing can never bear the burden of himself.”— Dostoyevsky, The Possessed.
At one point, I started trying on new words that could capture this unknowable force. During my yoga teacher training, I decided that ‘Ishvara’ (the Indian word for God) could work because the novelty prevented it from sounding like a man sitting on a throne in the sky. It didn’t stick.
I continued to try out various words: Spirit, Consciousness, Life Force Energy, Prana, Source, etc. Over time, I found myself naturally incorporating “the Universe” into my vernacular. It felt easy and natural to say I was trusting the Universe. It was sort of scientific, yet expansive beyond comprehension.
New experiences, new meanings
After being exposed to so many different names for God, everything started to blend together. I recognized that terms like awareness, presence, authenticity, and creativity are often the Westerner’s neutral replacement for the “Cosmic Spirit” that Eastern yogis spoke of.
While words can shape our experience of the world, our experiences can also begin to shape our language. As my experiences varied, so did my resonance with certain words. It started to make sense why Paramahansa Yogananda used so many different descriptors in “Autobiography of a Yogi,” such as “Divine Mother” or “Supreme Spirit.”. He was describing different aspects of his experience and his relationship to the energetic force (otherwise known as God) at that moment.
It’s both apart from language, and within it, that we develop a relationship with the world around us. But words require experiences to mean something; experiences don’t require words. I eventually realized that when I was told what God meant before my experiences could help me formulate my own definition, I was stuck trying to close the loop.
Only recently have I spoken specifically to the 3-letter word. When I feel extremely blessed or have a deep sense of trust in my path, God has come to represent the other end of a very visceral connection. It’s a continuous process of contemplative onion peeling.
I no longer cringe when I hear people talk about God with enthusiasm and conviction. Instead of assuming what God means to them, I listen for their experience of the world.
And when Kanye says, “I know God breathed on this…”
I know it, too.