Ending with the Beginning in Mind
A little over a year ago, I started personal quest to discover and write down my personal religious beliefs. I've certainly written about this publicly, but I've also filled three entire journals and even more text files on the computer with intense self-reflection and private thoughts. I have spent the wee hours of most mornings writing, meditating, visualizing, and generally capturing my thoughts as completely and accurately as I could. I've read stacks of books from Richard Dawkins to Starhawk — some for the first time and others with new eyes. In the words of one of my favorite professors, I made an effort to "read with a pencil in my hand," taking notes and journaling as I went. As you might imagine, when you're putting in this level of work on something, you generate a lot of material. I could fill several very stream-of-consciousness books with my writing from the last year.
I said in a journal early on, "I am a lover of science and rational thought, but I am equally a child of poetry and symbolism. To feel like a complete person, I personally need a bit of both approaches," and that encapsulated the goal of the project succinctly and accurately. I started the project without any religion or spiritual path, and while that works for a lot of people, it definitely wasn't working for me. Religion has always been a major part of my life, and I left it behind for rationalism and the writings of the "New Atheists," which left me feeling empty and incomplete.
It feels impossible to summarize the results of the Religion Project in any meaningful way to people outside the process. How can I ever hope to encapsulate a year's worth of study, epiphany, and quiet reflection? I've tried in a multitude of drafts, and none of them really feel adequate. I could write an article about any specific part of the process — why I'm not Buddhist, how Carl Sagan inspired and guided this process, what I found inspiring in Starhawk's The Spiral Dance — but those just feel like a single frame of a movie. Focusing on any one element gives it undue importance. Every word on every page of my journals is important. Every book I read was important. Every lunar ritual I held is important. Every candle I lit and incense I burned was important. Every visualization that I did was important. Each of those experiences was integral to the project and where I've arrived in my personal religious identity. The aggregate of those experiences is the closest thing I have to a religious text. A Christian would feel very uncomfortable tearing pages out of their Bible and throwing away the rest, and that's what writing about the Religion Project sometimes feels like for me.
David Allen writes in Getting Things Done that the most important aspect of a project is visualizing a clear outcome in as much detail as you can. When you really understand your desired outcome, your mind will naturally fill in the next step you need to take to work toward it. At the start of the Religion Project, I knew that my goal was to be confident and secure in my beliefs. I knew that I wanted some kind of regular religious practice that was meaningful to me. I wanted to feel connected to something much larger than myself. Every day, I got up and moved that project forward in incremental ways. I didn't expect to end my study with a label for myself, but I've been gifted with several options that feel completely correct. I didn't expect to create and execute my own personal initiation ritual, but I did. I just kept taking the next step in front of me on my religious pilgrimage, writing about my experiences every step of the way. I understand today that the Religion Project is complete as I originally envisioned it, but the experiences and thoughts that I'm left with would take several lifetimes to truly sort through. The Religion Project is dead. Long live the Religion Project.