Last Wednesday I was pissed and anxious. I was just on vacation and I was antsy to get home. So much emotional pain was coming up and to be stuck in an airport felt suffocating, like it was this unending imprisonment. But the other dilemma, is that I did not even want to be home. In fact, I had no clue where I wanted to be. I wanted to crawl out of my own body and be lightyears away from existing.
But when I got home, shortly after, I knew I needed to go for a drive. Arriving at my usual destination close to the lake, I began to feel the sadness and grief, quietly yelling at the moon as if it was God. However, even that hit a wall and I recognized that it was time to go back home, even though being miles away from home seemed like the best and worst option.
And when I returned, I knew I would not be able to sleep unless I followed and stayed connected to this hellish, unrelenting and all-consuming anxiety. So I stayed up, pacing in the backyard, until the vault opened and this intense anger came bursting out as if it had been shoved down for years, anticipating release. For what may have been an hour, I went into the anger, revealing itself in uncensored presentation.
Eventually there was emotion left, the tiredness kicked in and I went to sleep.
But that Wednesday, I knew that I was going to head to the ocean two days later. I had to. There was no other option or direction. Internally I checked to see, assessing for other routes, but this was the only one that resonated strongly.
And I knew why I was going to the ocean; to encounter and feel the grief coming up within me It was this particular place and the various areas within this space that was purposeful and integral for connecting to my grief. In other words, I was not just going to the ocean to feel, I was going to specific places around this area to encounter and feel through the pain tied to memory.
When I arrived there, I was unaware just how intense the pain would be, oscillating between moments of rage and gutturally weeping. It was awful, ugly, messy, and unbearable (hopefully I am making it quite clear just how agonizing this time was).
However, in the first spot where I ventured into the grief odyssey, I found myself, as I started to leave the area, hesitate. I kept looking back at this particular area, marked by a past experience, and could not walk away. The weeping increased and I realized at that moment, I was not only here to grieve, I was here to say good-bye, for I was holding on. Of course, this only increased the weeping, but at the same time, I felt some relief knowing fully why I came.
The whole day was brutal, but necessary. I had never encountered that level of grief in my life, yet as I look back, I know it was meant to be for me to drive two hours to the coast and spend the entire day going into the pain that would have haunted me until I faced it. It was terrifyingly healing.
You Just Don’t Have Enough Faith
Now, at that first spot, the concept of faith kicked up. Faith has been something I have chewed on for a while, exploring what it really means. It was interesting that I began to think about faith during that day, which happened to be the driving force behind me being at the ocean. It was through faith that I came, which led to me understanding myself and life more deeply.
The understanding of faith, as I see it, has been misconstrued. Maybe it is the way I have filtered it through how people have interpreted this word, but it seems that faith has been drastically distorted.
It appears that we have meshed or entangled faith with belief, when they are very different dimensions of humanity. Belief is the mental construct in which we filter and see the world. It is how we view ourselves, others, life, God, etc. They are ideologies, theologies, and philosophies, all which are shaped by layered experiences.
When you go through an experience you often attempt to make sense of the novel moment with what you believe, shaping that experience into your already established lens.
What we say is faith, is really a conversation about beliefs, which overshadows the beauty of what faith really is.
In our misconstruing of faith, we have watered it down, isolating it to tribal, segregated belief systems and rituals, encapsulating it with “religious” terminology. And again, as I have written before, our understanding of religion also seems to suffer from distortion. Religion is about reconnection, not the way we have constructed it to be, restricting it to repetitious, ritualistic actions that give the illusion that we are in “right” standing with the divine.
Another issue that sadly and unnecessarily adds to our suffering is the idea that our “lack” of faith has prevented healing or blessing or some hopeful phenomenon from happening. We make judgments towards others and ourselves for not having “enough” faith. Or you might have heard someone state that they needed more faith.
If something tragic happens, our relentless prayers that we orient towards the Divine, who we try to exhaust and convince, appear impotent and powerless, resulting in self-blame, subsequently leading to some kind of intensely committed rigorous activity to muscle-up our faith.
But what does needing more faith actually mean? First it seems to imply that I, you, or anyone needs to believe more; that their belief system needs to strengthen in order for good things to happen. It leaves the responsibility in our hands, but we end up tormented that we did not believe enough, that somehow it was weak and we need to have the correct and accurate mental constructs, the right ideology, philosophy and theology. Only on this foundation could my prayers have been answered.
And how do we “increase” or get more faith? Even this interpretation overtly states that we are in charge of making this happen and working hard to upgrade our faith, so that the things hoped for would materialize.
But this is where this understanding falls apart. What happens when what you believe does not match up with your experience? You have what seems to be the “correct” belief system, allowing you to nestle into the security of your ideologies and yet have contrasting experiences that completely rupture and shatter what you believe, leaving you disillusioned and in agonizing crisis.
Now, having faced such contrasting and conflicting situations, the foundation of our belief system has been upturned, violently jack-hammered and brutally shaken.
No matter how much we scramble to understand, our grip is lost, as well as any ability to solidly reconcile the event. We try to fit it into our cognitive parameters, but it just won’t take, and instead we are consumed by an overwhelming fog of pain, disillusionment, discontentment, anger and sadness.
We are now left with the fork-in-the-road moment of going the usual, well-worn path or beginning to allow the experience to teach us something novel, stretching across the boundary lines of what we believed.
Our belief systems can only thrive on openness and malleability, for we are constantly evolving, learning, growing, assimilating and piecing together the fragments of life. Our life is filled with continual unfolding experiences and instead of trying to corral these moments and fit them into our already-developed perspectives, it is best that we approach it from the other angle; to allow our beliefs the space and room to grow from the moments we encounter and engage in.
Faith: The Mysterious Movement in Us All
This all leads back to faith.
What if faith is so much more dynamic and universal than what we have realized? Taking it out of the context of religious traditions, could it be that faith is much more expansive and innately wired within all of us, and that we are collectively headed towards something so mysteriously profound and transformative? What if faith is operating constantly inside every human being, no matter where we are or what we believe or what we commit ourselves to?
I wonder then if faith has sadly been limited to man-made religious parameters, when it is the divine current running through every person, regardless of any “faith” tradition, stirring, moving, drawing us somewhere beyond understanding.
Faith is so much more than believing in something. In fact faith operates beyond the confines of our belief systems. To move in this way of living actually ruptures and breaks the self-constructed parameters and rules of how we see, define and operate in life. Our self-created and maintained lens can neither tether nor domesticate faith. It is wild, moving, vibrant, and free.
Faith, then, by my definition, is innate and dwells within. It is a compelling force, in which we are moved, despite the certainties we have generated and look for. Faith is an invitation to go where we are drawn, a movement towards something, both in the moment and in the meta-narrative of life.
It is experiencing, where understanding and knowing follow once the invitation has been accepted and we participate in the moment or moments we are compelled to engage in. In other words, to make it more practical, we might say, “I have no clue why this resonates with me so strongly or why I am drawn to go and do this or see this or be a part of this, but it is the only thing that makes sense to me.” It is that “I-can’t-get-this-out-of-my-head” or “I-can’t-shake-this” experience.
It is only when we listen to that internal nudge and commit to it that we begin to see the reason we are drawn in the first place.
(Now, as a disclaimer, clearly there are some of those impulses that I would say are violating and destructive (harm to another or to one’s self) and this is not what I am promoting. But nonetheless, those impulses we feel are to be listened to, looked at, shared, and explored in order to understand, heal, and change.)
I am talking about faith and those impulses to face ourselves, to grow and evolve, to risk, to connect deeper, to love and heal others.
Faith, you could say, is intimacy on some level, for intimacy is about experiencing and being experienced, where we open ourselves up to see and know and to be seen and known. It is an in-the-moment unfolding narrative, where we must listen to that nagging signal that won’t turn off no matter how much we distract or try to deafen it.
I believe to avoid it only creates anxiety, restlessness and confusion. We are built to go and seek and the seeking is sparked by this unsettled curiosity and draw to find out.
And faith is actually a growing and developing dimension within us. The more we begin to attune to it, listen and heed that “voice”, the more it strengthens. It is no longer a nuisance, but a guide into greater living, connection, healing, etc.
It is about surrendering control, the need to know, to have it mapped out, or to be certain. Faith is a completely different dimension and gear to travel in, leading us into the depths and riches of life.
When we operate in life this way, listening and attuning to the internal “nudge”, life unfolds very differently, stepping away and out of the confines, the “safety” and the intellectual security. What takes the place is a knowing that is richly formed, continually, by experience. It is the path to actual living and growing. And when you look beyond the idea that faith only happens or works in a specific “religion” or belief system, you might see that this movement is happening in all of us and not some discrete group.
Peter, You Had It and Then Lost It
The story of Jesus walking on water is multi-faceted, but what I want to highlight is Peter, who decided to step out onto the sea to move towards Jesus. Yes, in some ways it highlighted Jesus, but I believe what was really underscored was the faith we all carry within.
So what happened? The disciples were on a boat and Jesus, in order to get to them, decided to take the “everyday” route of walking on water (note the sarcasm). Peter, who saw this mysterious figure that seemed to be Jesus, who reassured them it was him, called out to Jesus, asking him to identity himself by calling Peter to step out onto the waters.
When Peter did, at first he was in his groove. Everything was moving fluidly, until the winds kicked in, It was at that point, that he began to sink, crying out to Jesus to save him. Jesus, immediately caught him and brought him back to the boat, where he said “You of little faith...why did you doubt?”
This is a fascinating story with a lot going on. A few observations. Peter asked Jesus to call him to the waters, in which Peter accepted the invitation. But it was Peter who initiated, who felt compelled, who took the step. The external conversed with the internal; meaning, seeing this mysterious, unknown figure, that appeared to be like Jesus, compelled Peter to seek this out for himself.
Although interacting with the external stimulus, Peter was moved from within to see what was so enticing. He had very little idea who this man was, until he initiated and made the first few moves. Only when he took these steps in uncertainty did the impact and discovery take place.
Now, also something to take note; Peter, began to move unwaveringly in this compelling force or energy stirring inside him, which enabled him to walk on water, against all logic and the natural functions and consequences of life. When he stayed connected to his faith and moved towards the object, he was in the groove. But once he became afraid, which happened as a result of veering into the external circumstances that challenge the impossible, he began to sink. His faith became entangled with fear and it caused him to question and doubt the internal guiding force towards Jesus.
Then Jesus’s response adds more of a fascinating dynamic to the story. After rescuing Peter, he proceeds to address his faith as little, questioning why he doubted. But then there is no other explanation or dialogue to that question. It is left without an answer, which I believe might be open ended for a reason.
Jesus’s response is not one of condemnation, judgment, or chastisement. This would go against his nature, mission, and orientation, which is to draw people out of judgment and shame. Actually his statement and question was an invitation to explore and his comment on the measurement of his faith was communicating that it was young and underdeveloped. It was more of a tender and compassionate response.
For Peter, in connection to his own humanity, he had not experienced enough of this movement by faith, or what I like to call, the inner, compelling voice. This was a whole new way of being and operating in the world, to step out into the unknown with only the guiding force of “I don’t know why, but I need to go and see.”
You Can Only See When You Leap
You see faith is not something that we force to grow or increase in ourselves. Faith is an inner guiding presence that we listen to and follow. It is those moments of “tasting and seeing”. It is only when we begin to engage in our experiences that we learn, grow and become increasingly more attuned to that inner nudge.
Faith requires that we surrender the prerequisites of having to know before we leap. It requires that we live and engage completely in the moment, for all of what we have been given is in full operation now. So often this gets contaminated with anxious, pummeling thoughts about what is to come and the possible scenarios that could unfold, paired with security-driven behaviors that only perpetuate the illusion that we can avoid pain.
But faith is about listening within, knowing that the nudge to go and see is leading us somewhere profound, healing and quite possibly transformative. There is purpose to that nagging force that will not back down, instead looming larger until we listen.
It is why I was led to the ocean, to feel the full range of emotion that travels with loss. I was not escaping, but facing head on the excruciating pain of saying goodbye to someone and uncovering the truth of myself and the other with whom I became attached, shedding the layers of illusion and denial that numbed the pain for a brief time.
Yes, doubt and fear entered in before I left, but I knew beyond those distracting forces that I needed to go to heal. It has taken a while to operate by this inner force, including many moments of backing away. However, once I began to listen and respond, I began to see the purpose of accepting the invite to go and do. Such participation in this way of living has brought about healing and increased a vibrant connection to life.
May you listen to that inner wisdom, that true faith that is guiding and moving you in profound ways towards a deeper, richer way of living and loving in the world.