This is how I define God: a felt sense of the interconnectedness of everything to everything else, and the subtle harmony that runs through it all. And the “felt” part is what I want to talk about here.
Things are interconnected whether you feel it or not. And that field of interconnectivity is there whether you sense it or not, whether you want it to be or not, just like gravity is there whether you pay attention to it or not.
So why does it matter to cultivate that inner sense of connection with that web of harmony and flow? What difference does it make?
It matters because there is subtle information that makes life much smoother, that is only accessible through your internal connection to that Interconnectedness.
It’s like playing Guitar Hero – it’s a lot easier to hit the notes if you can feel the rhythm and melody of the song.
I started playing Guitar Hero a year ago, but I stopped after getting through the easy songs. I just couldn’t progress very much after that and I got frustrated.
I started up again recently, and after playing for a few days, I had a breakthrough. Instead of just watching the notes pass the line that tells you to play them, I started to actually listen to the song. I started tapping the beat with my toe, and feeling the rhythm and melody in my body.
My notes-hit percentage went up dramatically.
My hands weren’t any more dexterous. My brain didn’t have any new pathways. I was just listening. And I was letting what I heard influence my playing. The subtle information about timing and the “probable next note” that was contained in the music made my playing much better.
(This is probably obvious to actual musicians, but it was a revelation to me).
God is the same way. In essence you want to listen to the “music” of what is around you, and what is within you, and you can begin to feel what is next – what is harmonious – what “works” – what is needed. You can learn to work with the Universe, and yourself, rather than fight and struggle.
In American culture, we often seek to dominate the world around us. We want to make more money, we want to set up our house just so, we want to have X things done by the time we are 30, we want to wake up at a certain time every day and accomplish a certain amount by Friday.
I don’t think God/the Universe really works like that.
We have internal rhythms, and the world also has rhythms of its own. The people around us have rhythms, the seasons are one huge rhythm…it’s endless and fractal.
Navigating all these rhythms harmoniously takes a lot of listening. And it takes a willingness to let go of the way we want the river to go, and be willing to go with the river. It means cooperating with the Universe.
Which is where faith comes in. Faith, in essence, is trusting that the river is good. Or, put another way, that wherever the river takes you is in your best interest (even if it doesn’t appear to be at the time).
It requires letting go of your ideas of what you think is best for you, and letting that sense of harmony be in charge.
This is why so many religions emphasize surrender. Surrendering is a choice to relax rather than control, and see what happens. It’s a willingness to submit to a Universe you are not in charge of.
Surrendering to something you can’t sense, however, is not something that is going to feel great or probably even be doable. This is why I think cultivating this sense of listening is so important.
I sometimes hear people talk about taking a “leap of faith” that really just sounds like wishful thinking to me. I think sometimes people (maybe who have read too many “Think and Grow Rich” books) will “leap” but it will be out of harmony, and they’ll just fall.
“Leap and the net will appear” is not always true.
I think there are times when the “song of the Universe” is just right, and leaping is what is in harmony, and people do it, and it works. But if you leaping blind and deaf – that’s not a great idea.
But if you can hear the melody, you’ll know when leaping is what is needed, and you’ll be able to sense the net. You won’t need to take it on blind faith – you’ll be able to take it on felt faith. Which, to my mind, is much smarter and far less stressful.
And you’ll also be able to hear when it’s not time yet. And that’s some very valuable information. It’s not always time to leap. Sometimes it’s time to gather our resources. Sometimes it’s time to cultivate a skill. Sometimes it’s time to be realistic, or just focus on what is in front of you.
Why is it so hard to hear?
There are a lot of reasons we don’t listen to that internal rhythm, or are unaware of the song of Cosmic harmony. Many of them are cultural – some of them are family-of-origin stuff.
Our culture doesn’t train us to be sensitive to and listen to our own bodies and to the subtle flows of the world around us. Even deeply “religious” people often have a cardboard cut-out understanding of God, rather than a personal felt sense of inner and outer harmony. Sunday schools often teach rules and stories, not listening and internal awareness. Being able to recite John 3:16 really has nothing to do with faith or God, IMHO.
Added to this general lack of sensitivity, or lack of an “ear” for hearing God, we are also often deeply wounded by a fear of being inadequate or flawed. To make up for this, we are taught (often by people who are also not able to hear God) to pursue outside ideals, or compare ourselves with others. So we spend our lives watching, not listening. We watch how others act, how others look, what others have accomplished, what others might be thinking about us. All of this gets in the way of listening.
To put it in Taoist terms, our culture emphasizes Yang – doing, accomplishment, external focus – and doesn’t often honor or recognize the necessity of Yin – being, stillness, internal focus. Both are expressions of the Tao, but our culture doesn’t teach balance and wholeness, but rather single-minded pursuit of one, rather than being in harmony with the ebb and flow of both.
How do you listen?
Each person has their own way of listening. A lot of people meditate. I don’t, really, not formally anyway. But I do have a habit of occasionally being still and letting my awareness sort of “spread out”. It’s about not listening to anything in particular, but rather sensing everything within and around you with your body, with no particular aim, and letting yourself feel like you are a part of it.
Freeform movement practices like ecstatic dance or authentic movement have been helpful in retraining myself to listen. Artmaking, if you pursue it intuitively, also feels like a similar skill.
There’s a way I have of asking myself something like “where is my aliveness at”? And then giving myself a lot of permission to pursue whatever that is. For instance, I don’t blog consistently. I’ll go through phases where I just don’t have anything to say. And I let myself have that silence.
Another important competent for me is to not think of life as such a finite and super-important thing. I often think about how spiritual systems that involve reincarnation will say we live a great many lifetimes. If that’s true (and I have that felt sense that it is), then I can relax about this one. I will be what I will be in this lifetime, and there will be more. I don’t need to finish everything or learn everything or do everything right now. I just need to do what’s next, and then watch things unfold as I go.
The other place this shows up is in goal-setting. I try to make goals with enough space around them that the Universe can wash over me and move me in an even better direction than I could have thought of on my own. That’s another kind of faith – that the Universe has cool things in store for me if I just let it do its thing (and do what is in front of me to do).
A final word about healing from spiritual abuse
Lastly, which might be the first step for some, rethinking inherited beliefs about the nature of God is often essential. If you grew up in a church, perhaps you can’t even use the word God and get anywhere near what I’m talking about. Religious abuse runs deep in this country, and recovering from that can take time, patience, and a lot of compassion for yourself. You may need to reject things you were taught at an early age by people you love.
I define religious or spiritual abuse to include anything that uses religious or spiritual ideas to encourage you to go against your own nature, or defines that nature as bad, or seeks to replace your own natural connection with the Universe with a set of rules or beliefs or intermediaries. I think this perverts something precious and elemental, and I don’t use that word lightly. I think people’s connection with the Universe is a sacred birthright and a primary human need, and when people use that to gain power or to shame people, it’s a deep violation. If this is part of your history, I encourage you to follow whatever feels right, true, and good, to find your own way back to the sense of connectedness you felt as a child. And whatever you want to call it is fine.