Awake at Night: the journey into mystery begins


A magical installment in the Heterodox and Fine, I Guess series

So far in the Heterodox and Fine, I Guess series, I’ve been laying the groundwork to explain the journey I’ve been on as we cross the six-month mark in my “year of mysticism.” I’ve tried to paint a picture of the season I was coming out of: rigorously ethical but spiritually dry, seeing the limits of where reason could take me, confused about the difference between healing and wound-management. I wanted to transcend myself, but I didn’t have a strong enough sense of Self to know how to do that.

Confession: I’m aware of the compulsion to explain to you reader, that these blog posts are all about the personal side of this journey, largely because I worry about it all sounding like whiny navel gazing. There is an outward facing part of the journey—implications for living in the world, service to others, and the Golden Rule. Most of those writings have become books or reported pieces. Those are, what might be called “first fruits.” They are my most well-developed and hopefully most valuable findings, derived from work and spiritual quest. These blog posts are about the inner journey, and I share them for those who might be needing someone to skip some stones across the water so that they may use them as stepping stones as well.

I think this is where a lot of exvangelicals are. Whatever spiritual connection we had has been damaged. If we felt transcendent connection in worship, that memory might be tarnished by the toxic culture created by the worship leader or pastor. If we felt held by God in prayer, we might no longer know how to find the language, because the people who used that language with us turned out to be hypocrites. No one separated a relationship with God from right belief about God, and so we feel that to doubt one is to doubt the other.

Convinced by the work of Dr. Lisa Miller that spirituality was an innate and beneficial component of humanity, I decided to explore mysticism and spirituality in whatever way people are exploring it these days. People seem to be really into astrology. What was that about? Meditation has proven to have huge benefits for the brain. Could that restore a felt connection to God? More and more studies were coming out about the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of psychedelics—could that be a way to break out of the robot that had me so trapped?

So I started lighting more candles, paying more attention to the signals I was sending and receiving, and opened myself up to the guidance of Spirit. I’m going to try to write about what’s happened so far, but a linear telling might lead to less clarity. So I am going to go theme by theme, rather than month by month.

The first theme came in the form of a Christmas present from Asa. Our kids are in charge of their own Christmas shopping, and he got me a journal with prompts all about night magic. It was about opening up our senses to night time, noticing its unique power and energy.

“I think he just liked the cover,” Lewis said, looking at the celestial art on the cover of the journal.

But I don’t know. The more I’ve come to understand Asa, the more I see him as a guide on this journey. Not always a knowing, or even a particularly cooperative guide, but his innate spirituality has come into play more than once since then.

As I started to notice the night, what first grabbed my attention was the way boundaries are hard to discern at night. It is light that allows us to tell where one thing begins and another ends. In the dark, the edges are blurry.

I’ve always loved the moon. In college when I was overwhelmed I would find some scenic California road and go look at the moon. I like how the moon draws us to look up. You can’t (or shouldn’t ) look up at the sun, but you can look up at the moon. I love stars and constellations. I love the night sky in the way I love dark empty cathedrals, and caves filled with fresh water. It’s an inviting mystery that asks us to notice, to look up from our busy lives and to think about the hidden things, the revealed things, the sacred things.

Typically, night and the moon as associated with femininity, while day and sunlight are more masculine. I thought about the need for feminine energy in our competitive, advantage-obsessed world. The need we have to be held and nurtured not by people with uteruses necessarily, but by the feminine side of all life. Fathers who hold us in comfort, institutions that recognize humanity, work that feeds our souls. That’s feminine energy, and I feel it when the day-toil ceases and we are invited to blend with one another, to blur our edges into each other in support, connection, and communion.

I’ve been afraid of the dark most of my life, because I rely heavily on sight as my primary scanning sense, like most people. I’m learning not to assume that what I cannot see, explain, or define doesn’t have to be bad. Sometimes the hidden things are the things that are too wonderful to be seen, explained, and defined. To trust that this might be possible requires other ways of knowing, it requires us to activate other perceptive mechanisms that we all innately have, but we have pushed aside or underdeveloped in favor of what we think of as “certain” and “objective.” Of course, the more we learn about the brain and how the physics of perception work, the more we are invited to doubt that objectivity and certainty were never as reliable as we thought. In fact, they privileged certain ways of knowing and people who could build hierarchies on those ways of knowing, creating gates and boundaries around who is allowed to “know” a thing. One of the things I am most grateful for in the social justice upheavals of the last decade is the exposure of the myth of objectivity. Myth as in not absolutely true. Myth as in a concept used to explain the unexplainable, in this case the answer to “but how do we know?” and “who put you in charge?” Certainty, based in something that is supposedly objective, has allowed us to build things that have to come down now, but we can only do that if we find something more beneficial to replace them.

Opening up to the night time was not just about appreciating the hours where our back was to the sun, but more about thinking of night as a way of being, and femininity as a way of knowing and connecting to things. About letting the borders soften, and considering mysteries as invitations to explore and wonder, not problem-solve. Lisa Miller’s work introduced me to the different brain circuitry associated with achievement awareness and awakened awareness. I can’t repeat all the brain biology, but we have one pattern of thinking that puts us in the mode to get shit done, plow ahead, troubleshoot, and get what we want. We have another one that helps us see the connections between things, move with compassion and find meaning in our one-ness with the universe. It’s where spirituality lives in the brain, and it doesn’t trick us into being spiritual, the way materialist brain science has suggested for so long, it allows us to perceive a real that *is.* Our perception and the existence of spirit are mutually creative, we co-create spiritual meaning, connection, and reality. We send and receive.

And that my friends, is where the journey becomes the quest. With openness.

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