Even though experiencing a faith crisis is devastating, there is hope, it does get better. After struggling with a breaking shelf and feelings of groundlessness, we can reconstruct and find wonder again. There is still magic to be found in the world! Even when deconstructing a church worldview or faith paradigm, we must dig deep to find our own reason to be. Once you see the man behind the curtain, no amount of reading or praying will bring back the wizard.
This existential struggle is core to Buddhist thinking and a core concept. Here is Noah Rasheta discussing this very issue on his Secular Buddism podcast about enlightenment.
I was attending a presentation on the concept of emptiness and I had my notebook and I was taking notes and I was like, “I’m going to figure this out. This concept of emptiness. Things are inherently empty of meaning. I’m the one that assigns meaning.” Well what does that mean? And I’m taking notes and I felt like that person who is looking for his glasses. I’m like, “I know I left them here somewhere. They’re here.” Somewhere in the middle of that presentation it clicked for me. It clicked and I realized that I was trying to get it and there was nothing to get. It’s this incredible feeling and I remember I started to laugh. I remember putting down my notebook and putting down the pen and sitting back in the chair and it was just this incredible feeling of liberation like there’s nothing to figure out, there’s nothing to get. At that point, like, oh, I just get to live that’s it? I just get to experience this incredible phenomenon of being alive? That’s it? That was the point?
It was so liberating to arrive at that and that’s the irony of awakening. It’s like the moment you let it go is the moment that it arises naturally. It’s like now you’re awakened to the reality of things, which is that all things are impermanent, always changing, and all things are interdependent. I cannot say that enough, that’s what it is, over and over and over.https://secularbuddhism.com/2017/04/24/what-is-enlightenment/
Later on in the episode, Noah mentions a poem by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Anam Thubten in his book The Magic of Awareness. The poem is able to point the way to understanding this.
The Magic of Awareness
Who has the magic to make the sun appear every morning?
Who makes the bird on the elegant tree chirp?
Breath, pulse, music, dew, sunset, the burning ambers of the fall.
There is unfathomable joy in all that.
Life is a stream.
It flows on its own.
No one knows why we are here.
Stop trying to figure out the great mystery.
The tea in front of you is getting cold.The Magic of Awareness
Enjoy every drop of it and dance.
Dance until there is no more dancer.
It is the dance without dancer,
this is how great mystics dance.
While we can fret our life away worrying about the reasons we are here, we would end up missing being here in some way. “No one knows why we are here. Stop trying to figure out the great mystery.” If we stress the mystery too much, we don’t enjoy life, we forget to dance. Life is a stream flowing on its own, we can be aware of this and become aware of our awareness. We can dance the dance until there is no dancer and we become one with this life we have. Enjoy it!
Pearl Jam’s I’m Open
Though they aren’t Mormon, a song from grunge rock band Pearl Jam hits very close to describing this deconstruction experience as well:
A man lies in his bed in a room with no door
He waits hoping for a presence, something, anything to enter
After spending half his life searching, he still felt as blank
As the ceiling at which he stared
He is alive but feels absolutely nothing
So is he?
When he was six he believed that the moon overhead followed him
By nine he had deciphered the illusion trading magic for fact
So this is what it’s like to be an adult
If he only knew now what he knew then.
Lying sideways atop crumpled sheets and no coversI’m Open
He decides to dream…
Dream up a new self… for himself
Rather than dissect the song lyrics here, I found someone who did it better:
If mankind represents a cynical dead end (why bother caring), I’m Open is a reprise of the deep, raw longing that lies beneath most of the songs on this record, closer to the surface some places, hidden others, but always present. No answers here, but we do have a palpable need for them, and a willingness to make yourself open to them, to strip yourself of your past regrets, the surrounding bullshit, the past you carry, and actually seek them out.
…They address a deep disenchantment with the world, the replacement of magic for fact, a world where everything is what it is, and we are bound to what it’s in front of us. You can’t dream in a world like that, let alone move beyond it. The singer feels trapped, innocence long abandoned…
However, through nothing more than force of will, a willingness to open up and let go, the singer prepares himself to reenchant his world, to look for places to let the magic back in…stip http://forums.theskyiscrape.com/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1421
Once we’ve traded magic for fact, we get no trade backs. We can’t return to a time of belief once it is deconstructed, at least not to the same belief. If we’ve seen the forest, we must account for it, as well as the trees, and reconstruct something. We may need to find something to believe in that is different though. If we can’t believe in things we don’t see, we can at least believe in ourselves. There is a certain journey of discovery involved, but in the journey, we find much beauty and perhaps even magic again.
The Wisdom of Insecurity
“The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts is a philosophical book that explores the human struggle with the concept of security and the pursuit of happiness. The central theme of the book is that our constant desire for security and certainty in life actually leads to anxiety, dissatisfaction, and a sense of insecurity. Watts invites readers to question their deeply ingrained beliefs and perceptions about security, happiness, and the nature of existence. It encourages a shift in perspective towards a more accepting and present-oriented approach to life, ultimately offering insights into finding meaning and fulfillment in the midst of uncertainty. Here’s an excerpt:
But the undivided mind is free from this tension of trying always to stand outside oneself and to be elsewhere than here and now. Each moment is lived completely, and there is thus a sense of fulfilment and completeness. The divided mind comes to the dinner table and pecks at one dish after another, rushing on without digesting anything to find one better than the last. It finds nothing good, because there is nothing which it really tastes.
When, on the other hand, you realize that you live in, that indeed you are this moment now, and no other, that apart from this there is no past and no future, you must relax and taste to the full, weather it be pleasure or pain. At once it becomes obvious why this universe exists, why conscious beings have been produced, why sensitive organs, why space, time, and change. The whole problem of justifying nature, of trying to make life mean something in terms of its future, disappears utterly. Obviously, it all exists for this moment. It is a dance, and when dancing you are not intent on getting somewhere. You go round and round, but not under the illusion that you are pursuing something, or fleeing from the jaws of hell.
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive ? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it come faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?
The meaning and purpose of dancing the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of its course. To the undivided mind, death is another moment, complete like every moment, and cannot yield its secret unless lived to the full.
Death is the epitome of the truth that in each moment we are thrust into the unknown. Here all clinging to security is compelled to cease, and wherever the past is dropped away and safety abandoned, life is renewed. Death is the unknown in which all of us lived before birth.
Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that “I” cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting it go he finds it.The Wisdom of Insecurity
Have you questioned your belief system? Have you been successful in reconstructing something meaningful? Please share your thoughts in the comments or share your whole faith transition story.
- The Magic of Awareness by Anam Thubten
- The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts
- Dumbo’s Feather
- Does Faith Survive Seeing the Forest for the Trees?
- Experiencing Groundlessness in a Faith Transition
- Church and its Inoculation Approach to Addressing Historical Details