Thursday, February 09, 2006

Faith

Originally written on
August 23, 2005


If I only knew then what I know now… How many times have I lamented? I have often felt as though I have wasted the best years of my life. In my search for self, it seems as if most of my life I have been hopelessly lost. Although looking back I can see that the directions were relatively clear, somehow I missed these signs. Indeed, hindsight is always 20/20. I was blinded by ignorance and arrogance. A sense of entitlement persuaded me to believe that life would somehow present itself to me. It didn’t. In short, I felt like I had been ripped off. Life had dealt me a bad hand and no matter what I did or didn’t do, sooner or later everything always fell apart. I just didn’t get it.

In the past many years, I have felt like I was just going through the motions. Coasting through them actually. Oh sure, I had amassed much of what many people value in life. I even had varying, albeit limited degrees of professional success. I had a family and was “looking” good. Externally it appeared that I had the American Dream nailed down and boxed up. Nonetheless, I still had a void in my life that I could not identify and did not even recognize until after it was filled. Therefore, every time my life took an unexpected twist, I could not accurately assess and appraise it. I would instinctively react rather than proactively respond. In my narrow view, I was not to be held responsible in any way. I convinced myself that I was in fact blameless… and someone should be making it right.

Disconnected, discontented, dissatisfied, never grateful and always wanting – no, needing more. It was always there as far back as I can remember. I never felt as though I was getting life. I felt no sense of purpose. I was on the outside looking in. Despite doing (sort of) what I thought was expected of me, I always seemed to be left out. It was like some one just handed me this life but the directions were not included. I would like to say that I was searching for something, but in reality, I did not know that anything was missing. Yet at some level, I knew. I knew I never really had it all together. Many of these “feelings” could only be articulated after I had stumbled onto what I had been searching for. Only then was I was able to identify what I could not before explain. Therefore, in the same moment I figured out how I felt, I also determined the prime suspect (me) and that I was involved in the cover-up! I had screwed myself and then denied any involvement.

After a series of progressively more acute disruptions in my life (each followed with even greater denial), I came to a point where I had little choice but to take a new look at the world and my role in it. It was also during this period that I had ample time to do some serious soul-searching. A number of factors made this possible but suffice it to say that the uniquely personal set of circumstances necessary for me to look outside myself were present. I was humbled, if not downright humiliated, immobilized and incapacitated. I also had plenty of time and no choice but to wait. I was as low as I could go – lower; I didn’t want to go on. After I had endured more than I thought humanly possible, some basic truths began to become clear to me. Among the more poignant were that I am master of my fate and that there was more to life. Furthermore, I could not do it by myself yet no one could do it for me.

At first, this left me with an overwhelming sense of loss. Lost time. But was it, really? I mean, even though I had gained and lost a great many “things,” had I not still acquired them? My short-lived marriage notwithstanding, did I not still have a family? Although I could not claim to be the best father, did I not provide and care for my boys? Did I not have their love, unconditionally? Indeed, it was not in that moment of acceptance that my feeling of loss disappeared. I needed to recognize these truths, but that was not enough. It took some work… and some more time. Valuable time, more precious than I ever knew and none of it was wasted.

Although experience facilitates wisdom, it does not guarantee it. The potential wisdom gained from my experience is limited only by my perception. That wisdom, today, allows me to identify many of the signs I have missed in the past. And it allows me to apply those lessons missed in the here and now. That time I “wasted?” It was an investment. One that has been paying off like I struck gold. Nothing, absolutely nothing happened by chance. There were no accidents and way too many “coincidents” for it to be coincidental. Luck, bad or otherwise, had nothing to do with it. As the creator of my own destiny, my reality was chaos.

So how did I get from there to here (here defined as alive and very well)? That is the sixty four thousand dollar question. For me, I guess it took getting myself into such a pickle that I had to let go of my pride and set my ego aside. They had done me a disservice. I had become self-centered, self-seeking and selfish. It was high time to make some changes, for I was rapidly becoming everything that I loathed about people and, to some degree, humanity in general. I guess I had come to a point where I could no longer effectively deceive myself. I could not reconcile my intentions with my actions. My defense mechanism – denial – had completely failed me. I was left raw, vulnerable and lost.

Like many others (perhaps all others), I had always wondered whether there was “something else” out there. Whether it is some kind of spiritual power, cosmic force, God – something. I still don’t know for sure. No one can. Many, if not most, however, do believe there is. This is called faith. Faith is extremely powerful in it’s own right. Although science cannot prove (or disprove) the existence of some extra-dimensional power or being, it has documented how the belief can change everything. One needs only to look to the not-so-distant past to see how faith has dictated the course of history – for better and worse. The effects of faith are well documented in psychology, politics, diplomacy, war and peace, even science - everywhere. Our money is based on faith. Think about it. In all aspects of society, the moral matrix of human history has been influenced in no small way by faith.

Sincerity seems to be the key. I know how to deceive myself. I could proclaim a faith in say, karma (for example), and want to believe it. In fact, I could believe that I believed. But it turned out to be a convenient excuse to rebel when things did not go my way. It also provided a dandy justification to exact whatever justice I saw fit when “karma,” (or some other cosmic “equalizer”) by my assessment, fell short. And it was never my fault. Acceptance was not part of my vocabulary. Life was unfair.

Perhaps faith is a form of self-hypnosis. I will grant that my faith in a “higher power” may be misguided. That is to say that, although I believe it exists, I may be wrong. I don’t believe that, for if I did it would be impossible to have faith. I do, however, concede that the mechanics of the process could indeed be just that. Being of an analytical mindset, it is easy for me to point to science and say there is no proof. I just can’t believe it. The point is that the feeling of a void in my life had no logical explanation either. Perhaps there was some psychological condition or a neurological chemical imbalance… I don’t know. I do know that until I came to believe that there is some other wholly (if not holly) good force at my disposal, I could find no peace. The belief in an external “power” has to be sincere – so allowing this concession to others does not mean I accept it for myself. It only means I don’t have to defend my faith.

Some exceedingly strange things have happened in my life. Some were easily written off as coincidence, others were just too weird. Be that as it may, I now have a perspective that allows for another explanation. I have opened my mind to other possibilities and views that combine what I know of the scientific realm with a belief that, for all science is, it cannot satisfactorily explain many of my experiences. Yet, it falls neatly into a greater reality that is founded in a hauntingly familiar but unknown force. It is a concept that I fought against for a very long time.

What my faith is based on is not only impossible to relate here, it is also not important. It is constantly evolving. Suffice it to say that I believe there is “something else” and that science will never be able to verify its existence. I guess that makes me agnostic. Lack of “hard” evidence does not, however, influence my faith or lack thereof. The path my life has taken is proof enough… for me. What I can say without a doubt is that it is this belief that has turned my life around. It has given me the insight and retrospection that allowed me to convert my experience into wisdom. It has opened my mind. My serenity is real.

The proof in my life is abundant. It is obvious in the here and now but it is also apparent in the re-assessment of my life – my past. And this only serves to bolster my belief. It allows me to feel an incredible level of peace. All the time. I used to feel anywhere from “ is this all there is?” to “ I deserve more!” Now I am always grateful. I used to be in it for what I could get, now I’m all about what I can do to help. I used to hear, now I listen. Semantics? Perhaps, but these simple philosophical about faces have made a huge difference in my life, all of it. Sincerely.

The past is just that. It is gone, done with, over. As far as I know, I cannot go back and do it again. I can, however, relive it. How I choose to do this is everything. Time is a funny thing. In some respects, I do know then what I know now. That is, I can view the past in the light of what I have gained from it, or I can sum it up as a colossal waste of time. My choice determines my past – right now. The quality of my future is also determined right now, in this moment. There is only now, once it’s past it is gone.

Today I make the most of it. I do the work necessary to stay in the moment, no matter what that moment brings. It is all there is. It is easy for me to get lost in the past. The “if only’s” and “I should have’s” are only useful as they apply to what’s coming up, in the next moment ... in how I respond. I have faith that all will be OK in the end. It always is. No matter how much I felt the world was against me, no matter how many times I felt my life was worthless, no matter how many times I just wanted it to be over, I made it through. And it was OK. Sincere belief in a higher power – a power that is at my side, one that I can tap into for guidance and strength – is the piece of the puzzle that was missing. I don’t have to feel that despair anymore.

It was not until I was able to gain the perspective, the peace, the acceptance… the faith that I was missing that I was able to put forth the effort to get to where I wanted to be. In a huge way, it is that very effort that got me there. “There” isn’t a place but a process. I could not “beam” myself there. Money wasn’t the answer either - there are no shortcuts. As hard as I tried to circumvent the journey for the destination, it was not until I embraced the journey that I found it was the destination. There is no “there.” Furthermore, I have found that I can only plan the action, never the results. It is the means – not the ends - that counts.

What about all this “insight?” Well first of all, I should say that it is hardly original. It’s all been said in a thousand different ways in a thousand different times throughout history. I am saying it again, now, because this is how I finally “got” it. It’s how I understand it today. Now I can see how it all makes some sense. Perhaps my words will help another fill in some blanks just as the writings of others have contributed to my own understanding. Ultimately, I have found that life is not only not fair; it’s not supposed to be. I can accept that and more importantly, I can work with it. I am now content with the very same world that was just recently making my life miserable.

So I should be perfect then. After all I’ve learned – all the mistakes I’ve made, my enlightenment, I should be a veritable saint. Sorry to burst that bubble, but no. True, I have attained a great deal of wisdom (at least compared to the recent past) and my intentions have always been good, but I still fall short. I am human. There are major differences between this recent “awakening,” if you will, and before. One is that my intentions now include the action of following it through. Then I try to do it to the best of my ability. And I stay positive. I don’t always succeed, but my efforts are sincere. Additionally, I am far more aware of when I fall short. Self-honesty, therefore, is far more prominent in my daily life. Perhaps most importantly, I am constantly grateful for this moment. And I believe that there is a powerful force “out there.” It is there for us all if we believe it is. This is a precious time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

9 comments:

Sadie Lou said...

I don't really feel it would be appropriate to have a "comment" to this essay but I did want to let you know that I read it.
Powerful insight and reflection. Thanks for the link.

Saur♥Kraut said...

What? Denial doesn't work? I deny that! ;o)

Perhaps faith is a form of self-hypnosis. I will grant that my faith in a “higher power” may be misguided. That is to say that, although I believe it exists, I may be wrong. I don’t believe that, for if I did it would be impossible to have faith. I do, however, concede that the mechanics of the process could indeed be just that. Being of an analytical mindset, it is easy for me to point to science and say there is no proof. I just can’t believe it.

This sums up my own skewed belief system, very nicely. Thank you.

You and I see things in much the same way. Thanks for this!

Ellen said...

Brilliant post, as always!

You've described my journey in so many of the same ways. The most difficult part has always been trying to stay positive and on track, but the will and determination I possess acted like a cattle prod at those times. It was never a lot of fun, but it was part of the journey that was necessary to bring me to this point in my life. Mistakes were good learning processes.

Hopefully, I still have a way to go, but ultimetly, I am no longer afraid. I have become my own cause, and remembered that all entitlement began and ended with me.

Isn't it funny when you reach that plateau, you finally remember what it's like to breathe, and really enjoy life and what's put before you? The challenges will always be great, but the solutions are more inner-faith driven and easier to endure. It's always so easy to beat oneself up over discretions; the challenge was to overcome them and still retain your soul.

Your post shows how far you've traveled up the mountain, and learned to take the blinders off in order to enjoy the journey. Bravo! That's never an easy endeavor, but a necessary element on the road to self-enlightenment.

There will be many stumbling blocks along the way still, but you will be surprised at how easier they are to handle.

UltimateWriter said...

Good essay. Gotta have faith in something.

OutInLeftField said...

Phew! That took a while to read! I can imagine how long it took to write...by the looks of it, a lifetime :)

I can sympathize with the whole "I deserve it" mentality. Up until a few months ago, that's how I thought regarding work. I worked hard, long hours, was always there when they needed me and produced quality stuff (I'm not cocky, I was told so by the higher-ups), but yet could never make full-time. Someone with 10 yrs experience came in after me and was offered a full-time position and I became "I deserve it " woman. It was the anger and disapointment talking, and in hindsight I did a few things I shouldn't have done. Now, I realise that no one desrves anything, and it's not hard work or quality that seems to determine anything, it's more if the boss wants you or someone else. I'm in a unique position now of not caring too much about a promotion at this place, which let's me look at the situation and laugh. It could seriously be made into a spoof movie.

As for faith, that's a tough one, and one that is too long of a reflection to post in a comment. I just think people need something to believe in as opposed to something actually being there. Although, who am I to say if there actually is something or not.

That's all :)

neal said...

That was one of the best pieces I have ever read! You have the good fortune of finding that 'missing' part of your life. I myself am still looking for it.

I have learned to try not to stress out over things as much as I 'used' to.

I love your comment, ...experience facilitates wisdom, it does not guarantee it.. I would love to put that as a sticker in the window of my truck.

Once again, well written and good luck on your continuing journey.

Bar Bar A said...

For me to respond to this would take up way too much space! Lets just say I gained a lot from reading it because I relate to much of what you wrote and your writing always captivates me because of you honesty and how you are able to express your thoughts. Thanks.

Lee Ann said...

I feel so much of what you have expressed. We are the creators of our own destiny. Our past is the past, and we all must learn from it and progress from there. Exactly....convert our experiences into wisdom.
I too have been on a journey through life very similar to yours, feeling some of the exact feelings you have felt.
Now, I am settling in. I think I finally get it. It took all of this time to realize it but you are right...we must embrace the journey. I live life in the moment. I realize at my age (close to your age) that life is short, and it is what we make of it. I have learned to not sweat the small things, and save the sweating for the big stuff. It sure makes life easier and puts the important stuff into perspective. I like how you have expressed this, I am there with you. Age does seem to bring wisdom.

Mr. Althouse said...

Thank you all for your feedback - it's good to know that I'm not alone in this journey and that others can relate. This piece took a very long time for me to be ok with. In fact, it started out as nothing more than an attempt to come to grips yet again with this sometimes confusing experience we call life. Although it served that purpose in that moment, it became so much more. Thanks again for all you've said and taking the time to read it (it comes in at just under 2500 words!).

;-'}

~Mike