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Religion - a distraction from religious experience?

I can't help wondering if religion too often gets in the way of religious experience.

Sitting in the garden today, feet touching the earth, sun touching skin, a soft breeze, and the rustle of leaves in my ears, I felt at one with life. I also felt my 'self' dissolve into life. The sense of freedom that came with that was quite remarkable. And with that freedom from ego came a deep sense of communion with what religious people might call God (a name which, simply for convenience, I will continue to use in this article, but I do so reluctantly and with no religious bias).

But this was no God from a book, no jealous, demanding, judgmental deity issuing commandments and threatening damnation, distant and remote from creation.

This 'God' was immanent in creation and, therefore, immanent in me, and you, and everyone and everything, because we are all part of creation and, therefore, all part of 'God' - every one of us, every cell of us, every atom, every thought or tear, every smile, burp or fart; also every pebble and plant, leafy rustle, and wave of light. It's all part of creation and alive with creative life-force. Nothing is other. And in that sense, there is no God because everything is 'God' - whatever name, or names, you choose for that essence which permeates all things. Or, for that matter, whatever names the society in which you were brought up chooses to call it for you: God, Goddess, Allah, Krishna, Brahma, Awen or simply Emptiness. The last two are perhaps the closest to what I am trying to describe, but every name is, ultimately, a poor attempt at describing something that is beyond words. Every name misses the point and is incomplete and imperfect.

Religion is too often a distraction. Its rules, churches, mosques, temples, hierarchies, threats, prejudices, etc - rather than take people towards 'God', it takes people away into fear and hatred. Religions encourage a distinction between different faiths, they cut God up into pieces then mistake their piece for the whole, they cause division over minor interpretations of words in books written many years ago by people as fallible, biased and mistaken as any of us now, and when society was very different.

I'm not here arguing the case for materialist atheism, which can also be divisive and intolerant, and too dry to live by. But I am suggesting a spirituality based on direct experience rather than belief, supported by scientific understanding rather than blind faith, always evolving and developing as our personal and collective understanding grows; religion not carved in stone but as a creative act, a process, always open to new insights and discoveries. A kind of spiritual atheism.

Religious experience is so much more than religion. 'God' is not stuffed between the covers of a book, nor crammed into a building. God is everywhere... and nowhere; everything... and the spaces between. S/he is creation and the act of creation, arising and falling away, arising... etc. The closest we can get to this essence is directly: by perhaps sitting in a garden or park, and watching and listening as 'God' goes about his/her 'work'; by remembering that we too are part of that 'work', that unfolding, both passively and as active participants; and by allowing our 'selves' to dissolve that we may find freedom by being in touch with all that is, and letting moments arise and fall away, arise and fall away, until we slip quietly into the soft space between moments. It is a beautiful, magical, humbling experience.

Of course, we would find it difficult to operate in day-to-day life in a permanent state of religious reverie, but we need never lose connection. Everything we do, say and think can be done, said and thought in awareness of our connection with all things. And even when daily cares dominate our attention, which they have a habit of doing, we can still take moments out - even if it is just the space between breaths - to re-connect, re-charge and remember that we are far less important than we think and far more valuable than we could ever imagine. Because we are 'God', and s/he is us, living in, through and around us. To hear, we need only listen because that connection is everywhere we go, whenever we choose to remember.

Don't let religion distract you from a direct and meaningful relationship with 'God'. If you want to get in touch with the essence of all things, just sit, breathe, let go and listen. You're there already - right here, right now, and forever.

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