Every Man His Own Priest
I was taught to pray when I was four.
The formula was simple.
1. Thank God for everything.
2. Ask for the provision of an essential need.
3. Thank God again.
It was the shit-sandwich of prayer; a humble request hidden between two slices
of gratitude and reverence.
By the age of seven, confession was added into the mix. My parents told me God didn't grant requests if there was sin in your heart. You needed forgiveness first. So confession became my main offering. The meat between the lettuce and cheese.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
God seemed to judge people for simply being human, so I asked forgiveness in a generic way, hoping to cover my bases.
Forgive me for all my sin.
Then, I'd share my longings. A bike. New shoes. Pixie-sticks. Licorice.
Worldly desires were a no-no, but I secretly hoped God would bend the rules just for me.
Maybe if I was adorable enough? If I became one of his special darlings?
It hurts now, looking back, to see my connection to the Beloved slip into a psychological game of false modesty and coy behaviour.
I began to approach God as if he was a wealthy uncle who would dole out dollar bills if I was pleasing enough. Prayer became an act of manipulation, an attempt to wheedle something sweet out of the pockets of the Divine.
This is where the separation from myself began.
It wasn't long before my talks with God were filled with blatant bargaining.
"I'll do this, if you give me this."
Of course, I could never make good on my promises to be a better person, and this produced an enormous amount of shame and guilt.
It became clear that, despite all my words of remorse, my heart would keep on wanting what it wasn't permitted to want.
I began to hate the whole, awful system.
By the time I was a teenager, suicide felt like a viable option.
In one impulsive moment of self-preservation, my 16 year-old self stepped in and put an end to the misery.
See ya later God.
I packed my clothes and left my family and religion behind. For several years after, I ran wild. It was the eighties, but I partied like it was 1999.
Instead of pleading for things, I took them. Instead of clasping my hands together in prayer, I clenched them into fists of defiance.
Rebellion freed me, but it also left a huge hole in my heart.
By shutting out the concept of God, I had closed the door to an infinite field of possibilities—cutting myself off from the truth of my own perfection.
It wasn't until my late twenties, after a series of painful good-byes, that I was ready for Divine intervention.
That moment arrived at a low point of heartbreak. I was watching the Tina Turner story, What's Love Got To Do With It, and saw the scene where she learns a Buddhist chant from a friend.
I jumped up and scribbled the words onto whatever piece of paper I could find.
When I turned my attention back to the movie, the timeline had changed. Tina was meditating on her own, her chanting becoming more powerful than the chaotic violence of her life.
I was transfixed. If meditation could give Tina Turner the strength to leave her abusive marriage, then I was willing to give it a try.
Every day afterward, for almost a year, I imitated what I'd seen in the movie, reading the mantra from a torn piece of paper.
I never researched the words. I didn't pronounce them properly. And I never became a Buddhist.
But something inside me changed.
I know now, the chanting interrupted the constant, negative dialogue in my head.
The words didn't possess any supernatural powers, (although it often seemed this way) they just shifted my attention away from my painful thoughts.
I could leave hell by simply unplugging from it.
Free from the noise, I could hear the silence beneath it.
It's true what they say:
Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening.
I never received an instruction manual for my life, but those small moments of stillness added up.
I began to connect to a spaciousness within my body—an inner awareness, directing me back to something I'd lost in childhood.
Some people call it intuition, or heart-centred wisdom.
I felt it as guidance flowing from a source of unconditional love.
For the first time, without the pressure of parental or religious forces, I began to explore the idea that God was bigger than religion and more complex than anything the human brain could comprehend.
I gave myself permission to carve out my own spiritual path and began signing up with different meditation groups around my city.
Each was devoted to a particular master or yogi, tied to one teaching.
I'd stay with them for a couple of weeks, sometimes months, until the structure became too confining. Then I'd drop out and go back to my own private method.
I researched religions other than the one I'd been raised in, but none were for me.
I began to wonder if I'd ever find a place where I actually belonged.
Then I came across a quote by Walt Whitman.
There will soon be no more priests. They may wait awhile, perhaps a generation or two, dropping off by degrees. A superior breed shall take their place. A new order shall arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest.
I felt an immediate rush of recognition.
Of course! I was part of the new order! I wasn't interested in a middle man or a hierarchal system that kept me from a direct experience of God.
I want to know the source I originated from, and I wanted to be known by it.
This inner acknowledgment seemed to set something into motion.
Within a week, two people I barely knew each gave me a spiritual book.
One was by Deepak Chopra, the other by Wayne Dyer.
I'll admit there are many dark and swampy regions in the land of New Age Thought, but these two books held a truth that resonated with me.
I began to practice their teachings and by my late thirties, I felt truly connected to the goodness and perfection of life.
Even when turbulence hit, (as turbulence always does) I trusted the Universe, certain it would unveil a solution.
And it always did.
Then, in my forties, my feet were kicked out from under me.
The term "mid-life crisis" doesn't come close to describing it.
Instead of getting everything I wanted, almost everything I had was taken away.
Fear replaced my sense of connection.
Where was my friendly Universe now?
Where was my reward for all my dedication, all my inner work?
I had followed my guidance and it had led me right into the pit of personal ruin and despair.
I felt like I was being punished for straying too far from the fold.
And there it was—the old belief system from childhood I never dismantled.
I spoke to my coach about this.
"Do you believe in a punitive Universe?" she asked. "Do you LIVE in one?"
I sat with the question. I knew I was being invited to find where the concept of punishment lived inside of ME.
Where was I punishing myself? Where was I punishing others?
I thought back to my religious upbringing and realized a part of me was still on my knees—still acting like a subservient child approaching a penny-pinching parent.
I was projecting my childhood ideas of God onto the present moment.
The circumstances of my life, as unwanted as they were, had nothing to do with sin or castigation.
The wrecking ball had arrived, not as punishment, but as part of the clearing process.
I'd been treating the Universe like a Fairy GodMother, acting as if the Intelligence of Life existed only to grant all my wishes.
Somehow, without realizing it, I had slipped back into an old habit of placing God outside myself, then asking for help from a position of unworthiness, separation and need.
I was still stuck in a parent/child relationship, dependant on favours from some superior being.
Life was now inviting me back into a relationship with wholeness.
No more kneeling and bowing from a place of inferiority.
No more victim identification. No more hoping and wishing.
It was time to stand up as a creative partner with Life.
If I wanted something, I'd need to be equal to it. If there was a problem, I'd need to focus on the solution.
I was being called to take the next evolutionary step required for higher consciousness.
Would I accept?
Doing so would mean releasing my fear of scarcity and separation.
It would mean unplugging from the poverty mindset and connecting, instead, to the source of infinite supply.
It would mean turning toward the place inside myself where prayer is already answered.
I thought for a moment, then started laughing.
Because, what other response could there be?
The obvious answer is yes.
Sending you so much love,
P.S. I want to acknowledge that Walt Whitman, like most white people of his time, was racist. He may have been progressive, but he also said blacks were stupid and I have no desire to whitewash this fact. I used his quote in this article because it's a part of my history and truth, (his words really did spark an inner revolution). This furthers my belief that a higher intelligence flows through all of us, despite our blindspots and ignorance.
P.P.S. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means devotion to the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect. You can learn more about it HERE.
P.P.P.S. If you want an easy, enjoyable meditation starter-kit, then check out HEADSPACE. It's one of my all-time favourite apps.
P.P.P.P.S. Read Do You Live in A Punitive Universe? by Jaya the Trust Coach.