When the Sky Opens, and the Answers Shimmer

But a new hope is emerging, one planted firmly in the soil of this rock we call earth. A hope that we may create our own reality, a new reality, one where all religions and all people are accepted, celebrated, and shared. One where each individual feels empowered to explore the wisdom of the past to make sense of the present, without the traditional dogma that has separated us for so long.

I gazed into the white plumes of clouds which hung over the distant grey mountains, eager to lose myself where the world cracks and the wind blows and the rain falls and the sun shines. Sometimes all one needs to feel hopeful again is a weekend in the mountains, laughing and letting it all go with a group of loving friends.


RELIGIOUS TEXTS PROVIDE wisdom on how we should live and what’s possible beyond this realm we know as life on earth. That’s an exciting concept. Yet, there’s a disconnect between many people and religion, particularly my generation.

If you asked most people my age what they thought of religion, they’d probably be indifferent. It just doesn’t have the same weight as it used to. My generation isn’t looking for an institution to belong to, as the world is more connected than ever before.

This connection — strengthened by technology, social media, and the ways in which we travel — provides a historic opportunity. It’s time we become a more unified people, where all religions are celebrated. There’s a notion that to be religious, you must be all in.

Traditionally, to be religious is to believe in one god, one appropriate way to conduct one’s life over another. Yet religion is believing in what’s incomprehensible, a facet of our being which may dance with the practical nature of existence.

To me, life becomes a daily adventure when there’s a balance between the logical and the metaphysical. Yet for so many, the magic has faded. Maybe the magic isn’t supposed to die away as we grow older, but inspire us. As kids, our dreams are attainable — what else would we believe in?

How do we get back to that?

Religion and spirituality create a bridge between who we are now and the sheer awe of being a child, where the nature of existence is unknowable. But as we grow older, we discover what the world’s made of. It’s not so much about seeking what we’re doing here, as if things would get easier once we formulate a scientific theory as for the precise reasons for our existence. Religion provides us with our why.

As the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said:

He who’s life has a why, can bear almost any how.

Psychologist Jordan Peterson’s work has changed my thinking profoundly over this last year-and-a-half. Peterson explores the psychology of the Bible’s stories and teachings, and how the text has shaped Western civilization and thought whether or not we’re aware of it. That’s why I started reading the Bible over a year ago; if I want to make sense of the book for myself, I should know what it says. Peterson writes in his book 12 Rules for Life:

Everything you value is a product of unimaginably lengthy developmental processes, personal, cultural, and biological. It is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs — those that are implicit, embedded in your being, underneath your conscious apprehensions and articulable attitudes and surface level self knowledge.
You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe before that. You are too complex to understand yourself. It takes careful observation, and education, and reflection, and communication with others, just to scratch the surface of your beliefs.

The thing is, I agree with many of the teachings of the Bible. There’s so much beauty in the words about what it means to be a person of faith, love, honor, integrity. What it means to be a friend, a neighbor, a family member. These are traits which allow our spirit to fly, no matter what we endure.

But there’s also much in it that’s archaic, outdated beliefs that may have been relevant two thousand years ago, but which are condemnable in our modern world.

When I read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, I couldn’t agree with his statement that one can’t simply accept Jesus as a moral figure to look up to without accepting him as the son of God. Lewis writes:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Narnia’s great and all, but what makes C. S. Lewis the authority on Christianity?

What I and those straying from the religious stronghold of the past are after is a transcendent human experience. We must feel it not simply by accepting an ancient belief system, but by digging deep within ourselves and the mysteries of the world.

I think about what gives me hope — how music gets me through anything. At a concert or on my daily commute, music shifts my reality and brings me so much joy. Music is a gift to this world, something to live for. Nature too, is where I experience transcendence. I stop thinking realistically and marvel at what we’re part of; and maybe that’s a good thing.

A Student of All Religions

Religious principles have guided human beings and provided hope for thousands of years. I can’t help but feel called to explore the practices which make up our world’s religions, instead of only practicing one.

There’s no doubt that religious wisdom can help us lead better lives in our modern day. Why not gather as much breadth of wisdom as we can from all the beauty that’s been written, passed down and cultivated?

We don’t need to subscribe to one religion over another, just because we always have. Author and classicist Brian C. Muraresku writes in his recent book, The Immortality Key:

Over a billion people across the planet are now religiously unaffiliated, including one in five Americans and Europeans, and almost have of the British public. The ‘un-churching’ of America is being driven especially by the 40 percent of millennials who don’t identify with any faith whatsoever. That figure is more than double what it was a generation ago.

Religion is a force that has changed the face of the planet like little else. While religion has brought countless people profound meaning and has produced significant acts of good, it has also caused wars and more unnecessary pain than one can imagine. Muraresku writes:

From the late fourth century AD until about two hundred years ago, the history of Christianity and the history of the West are essentially one and the same. The crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III as the Imperator Romanorum and Father of Europe in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day in 800, kicking off a long line of Holy Roman Emperors that would last until 1806; the East-West Schism of 1054 between the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and the Catholic Church of Rome, forever dividing Europe in half; the Crusades that preceded the Renaissance, when the rediscovery of the Classics would lead to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
In the Age of Discovery from the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries, Christianity left Europe and the Near East behind, becoming the indomitable global brand it is today. Missionaries were dispatched to every corner of the planet to convert local indigenous groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Since there was no real separation between Church and state, the memory of Jesus and the hope for his imminent return were the guiding force behind it all. Especially in America, the ultimate blank slate for Christians.
The colonies were flooded with Protestant denominations of every stripe, seeking the spiritual freedom to worship their version of Jesus. Well into the nineteenth century, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny declared Anglo-Saxons a superior race, chosen by God to bring ‘Christianity to the American continents and to the world.’
What It Means to Be Spiritual but Not Religious

The history of religion is mind-blowing. When we look at history through our modern lens, it’s obvious how religion has destroyed us. But throughout history, religion provided an essential pillar in one’s life which brought meaning, even — perhaps especially — if that meant sacrificing oneself or taking another life for a higher cause.

There’s a reason we continue looking up at the stars through any adversity. A hope that we’re a part of something bigger. Why not believe we are? Why not believe we’re connected, each and every one of us? We’re alive as living beings on planet earth, a rock that breathes and feels just as much as every person who calls it home.

There must be something more, a reason for the perfection of nature, the majesty of the cosmos, the mere fact that we’re conscious and can’t explain why. Each religion of the world offers profound teachings that have helped human beings grapple with the unexplainable. We have the opportunity to study them all, change, adapt, grow, and question as we learn.

Reading about the spiritual-but-not-religious phenomenon opened my eyes to this possibility that’s always been available, but not overtly acceptable. Muraresku writes:

It’s time to cut out the middleman in the private search for transcendence. The result is the 27 percent of all Americans fueling the spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) phenomenon. It has been called ‘the most important religious development of our time’ because the trend is clear and will only surge in the years to come. With unprecedented access to the teachings of the world’s faiths, we are living in an age when the rallying cry of the SBNRs has never been more achievable: ‘to be the student and beneficiary of all traditions, and the slave to none.’
What We Believe Is How We Act

Does it actually matter which religion we say we believe in, if our actions don’t align with these beliefs? What we believe is how we act, not what we say. One might associate with Christianity, but if they then turn around and begin gossiping about a co-worker, what does that mean? It means they’re human. Religion is something to strive towards as a human being, not what you are.

Perhaps this is why more people, especially my generation, are turning away from traditional religion than ever before. I wonder if there were no notion that to be Christian, one must believe in a man with a flowing beard watching over us, more people would be inspired to explore the teachings of the Bible, as it can teach us how to be a more loving person. Maybe it can be that simple — yet the dogma, the history, the faith, the teachings — they’re inextricably linked.

I enjoy reading the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, and what I hope will be other religious and spiritual texts as this journey unfolds. For their teachings, stories and mysteries are deeper than I could ever hope to dig. There is magic in the mystery of not knowing how we’ve come to be.

I believe in humanity, in the goodness of people, in endless possibilities. I believe heaven exists in each and every one of us. And I don’t have to call myself a Christian; it makes sense to me that anybody should be free to celebrate any god they call their own, as long as their beliefs hurt nobody else. It’s not our words, but our actions which make us who we are.

Jordan Peterson says in his Biblical Lecture XII:

It seems to me that the way that you fortify your faith in Being, life, and your own existence isn’t to try to convince yourself of the existence of a transcendent power that you could believe in, in the same way that you believe in a set of empirical facts. It’s more something that needs to be embedded in action, rather than in statable belief. The way that you fortify your faith in life is to assume the best, and then to act courageously in relationship to that.

As a student of life, I hope to be a student of all religions, one who explores all that this world offers with the door of my heart swung wide open. We should feel open to study these ancient texts, so that we may draw from them what we find to be enriching to our human experience.


THE AIR WAS SWEET, dry, and mildly warm as we continued to climb further into the mountains. At this elevation, there were hardly any trees to provide shade from the glistening sun. The flowing water seemed to be the only movement out there, from what I could tell. But as we climbed, I could feel my legs burn from within.

We move atop the planet and gaze upon mountains, cross rivers, and seek shade under a solitary tree. We discover the world as we move through it. Yet, the same nature exists within us — the heart beats like the sea, in constant motion that ebbs and flows.

The muscles work like the wind, blowing when it’s time to blow, resting when it’s time to rest. The senses ignite when our interest is piqued, like a pack of lions that smells fresh blood. The stillness of the wilderness provides the time and space to explore who we are inside. Each deep inhalation refocused my mind; every step made me grateful to be alive.

This sojourn would provide the ideal environment to practice the Taoist principle of wu-wei, which author and philosopher Charles Eisenstein describes in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible:

Sometimes translated as ‘nondoing,’ a better translation might be ‘non contrivance’ or ‘nonforcing.’ It means freedom from reflexive doing: acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things, in service to that which wants to be born.

I dove into Charles Eisenstein’s work over the summer, and am thankful that I did. The More Beautiful World spoke to my soul directly and has profoundly changed my outlook on our current circumstances, and what we’re here to be.

Right now, we are in between stories.

In looking to the future for direction, we’re really looking for something to hold on to — a promise. I’m looking for a sign which tells me I’m on my path, and that things will work out. Yet, it will never be that obvious.

Life becomes an adventure and so much more interesting when we can dance with the unknown. In the spirit of wu-wei, Eisenstein writes:

There is a time to act, and a time to wait, to listen, to observe. Then understanding and clarity can grow. From understanding, action arises that is purposeful, firm, and powerful.

This is the essence of wu-wei. Reconnecting with nature, I believe, is essential to understanding ourselves and what we’re on this earth to do. As we connect to the source of life, we dig deeper into the depths of our soul. Life becomes simple, purposeful; one leaves nature and reenters society with a fresh perspective, more aligned with the natural flow of existence.

In nature, you pitch a tent when the rain begins to fall; you rise with the sun and gaze into the open sky. You build a roaring fire to stave off the cold. You act on intuition.

When the flame surrenders and becomes smoldering embers, you listen to the sound of silence under the pale light of the moon. The silence amplifies the callings of your heart and the natural rhythm of your soul.

That which is meant to arise will, and that which no longer serves shall fall away into the depths of night. It might take weeks, months, or even years to understand the importance of time away from home. But one day we see, as I hope to one day see — that it all happened for a reason.

Taoism and the Mysteries of Existence

I told my friends about the concept of wu-wei, hoping to make it part of our time together. All of us are in our mid-twenties, far from adolescent, prone to try and fail, question and wonder. I’ve been deeply interested in the principles of Taoism, the religion, but perhaps more so, the Chinese philosophy outlined in the Tao Te Ching.

What draws me to Taoism is its practical lessons, as well as its grounding in the mysteries of existence and the importance of the natural world. In nature, all one must do is observe the natural order of things. That, to me, is experiencing the intelligence of the universe rather than just reading about it.

Lao-tzu, the ostensible author of the Tao Te Ching whom we hardly know anything about, admits humility in the first lesson of the book:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

To write about the Tao isn’t to know the real Tao, as writing and language can’t do the Tao justice. That which follows — the entire Tao Te Ching — isn’t the true mystery; it’s simply the best that we can do to try and articulate the nature of the Tao. The Tao Te Ching proposes that nature, the cosmos, and all that comes before the Big Bang derives from the source, the Tao.

Call it whatever you like, but this source is unyielding, life giving energy. The Tao Te Ching calls this source the Tao, literally the Way. The Tao constitutes a harmony between yin and yang, masculine and feminine, light and dark, as both are neither good nor bad, but essential to each of us.

It can take several lifetimes to comprehend one of the eighty-one lessons of the Tao Te Ching. Yet on the surface, they’re so simple. The lessons reconnect us with the source of life, the well of boundless energy which entwines our hearts with the world and one another.

Clearly written by a human being and not claimed to be otherwise, the Tao Te Ching is an ancient text that can greatly enhance the beauty and meaning in one’s life, without being taken as the one great holy scripture.

The words provide a manual on how to detach from what we can’t control, how to flow with life instead of against the current, and how to be a virtuous leader. As poet, translator and scholar Stephen Mitchell writes in his translation:

A classic manual on the art of living, written in a style of gemlike lucidity, radiant with humor and grace and largeheartedness and deep wisdom: one of the wonders of the world.
Riding the Current of Life

Like a ceaseless river which snakes from bank to bank and then rushes towards quickening rapids, our time on earth will never stop moving forward. When we want time to stop, it quickens. When we want it to speed up, it slows.

We have the choice: to ride the current as it moves through each season, or to do everything we can to fight the moving water and scramble for a rock to hold on to.

It feels like we need to hold on to something to anchor us where we are. But holding on only leads to greater struggle, as the water wants to move. All we can do is pick our heads up, admire the passing beauty, and gently continue floating. This moment will never come again.

We may seek a change in ourselves, but we’ll never again be exactly who we are right now. We’ll never be this young, this lost, with a world of possibilities before us. It takes a conscious decision to determine how we will interact with life. We might eagerly seek the next step or let it come naturally, with patience, grace and gratitude for what currently is.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Yet when we immerse ourselves in nature, where the seconds on a clock mean nothing but the advance and fall of the moon and sun, we may find a greater clarity for the season we’re in. That’s what I intended to do.

As we moved over rocks and passed by gentle streams, I continued to softly bring my mind back to the present moment. Naturally, it ran off to think about life back home. I allowed it to. In nature, I could consider life at home with a different perspective.

Do I know what I truly want? I continued to ask. No, I don’t. And that’s okay.

We found a secluded area on a formation of rocks overlooking Shamrock Lake, which to me looked more like human lungs, conjoined by a small lake in which our site overlooked. We set up our tents and prepared for our first night in the wilderness.

With my bag unpacked and nothing to do but exist, I made my way down the stony, irregular path to the edge of the crystal clear lake. I took my first few steps into the muddy outer edge. My feet sunk into the squishy soil as a chill surged through my being.

We don’t need to have the answers. I’ll strive to make the best of wherever this path takes me.

The repeating chirp of a local bird guided me along, one step after the other, until I stood atop solid stone. I dove in. Taking one stroke after the next with my face in the freezing water, I couldn’t think about anything but the moment. I came up for air, unable to stand, and turned to view the surrounding mountains. They held onto the final rays of daylight as if they’d never return.

Cold water is therapy for the mind, body and soul. When immersed in water that takes our breath away, the mind struggles to wander. It doesn’t have that luxury. To stay composed, the mind focuses on the breath: in, out, in, out.

The water moved around me in soft flowing waves as I waded my hands back and forth. I found a rock to stand on in the depths of the lake; at this point my body was numb to the cold. I put my hands together and closed my eyes.

The world is changing; how will I be a part of that change? I ask the question, not needing an immediate answer. Not needing an answer at all.

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The Comfort of a Roaring Flame

Back at camp, I comforted myself in warm clothes as the first embers of the fire provided a reassuring glow to return to. The light of dusk continued to fade as clouds rolled into the pocket of wonder that was now our home. Stones beneath my feet, clouds overhead, a fire to warm the soul, surrounded by friends.

What more could one ask for in any stage of life?

Above was a canvas of color and shapes, a mosaic of light and dark. I gazed into the sky with awe as we sat around the crackling flame. It doesn’t matter what you believe in — we just want to believe we’re a part of something — a community, a group, a common cause.

We are a part of something. All of us.

The clouds moved in concert as darkness fell. I noticed faces in the clouds of marble, like the work of Michelangelo. They disintegrated molecule by molecule, as if I watched the bedrock of society and all we’ve come to know turn to dust.

It must be something about being this high in the sky — the mountain spires acted like magnets, pulling the clouds this way and that. After a while, I looked up and the sky was clear, save the twinkling stars that often go unseen.

I could feel the energy moving through space, and I was a part of it. Colors, soft flowing energy, love, guided by the luminous moon. Our small fire and group of friends existed as a part of the cosmic order.

As the night drew on, the laughter grew louder. The flame grew bigger. We talked for hours, unaware of the time, not caring what it was. I cried. How good it feels to cry; to allow the emotions that bottle up each and every day to flow freely from our eyes.

Often, it’s hard to say what’s stirring in the depths of our hearts. But all we can do is try, and if it doesn’t work, keep trying. That’s what I love about writing; there’s always more to write about, to explore, to whittle away at, to question.

Whereas writing can be precise, the beauty of speech is its vulnerable nature. We have the opportunity in every situation to speak from the heart, and even when it doesn’t come out perfectly, the message can still be deep and true.

It takes courage to tell others what we think; it takes trusting ourselves to say what’s on our mind. Because that inner voice will tell us what it wants to say. It wants to say I love you.

We crawled into our tents under the white light of the moon, but my mind kept running. I tried to assuage the thoughts, but the endless night sky provided ample room for my mind to wander. In the spirit of wu-wei, I let it.

Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
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