In these times, probably more than any other, it is important to have a spiritual foundation. Personally, I do not prescribe to any religious dogma, however, I am capable of saying this based on my upbringing in the church. I have always been a very spiritual person and having a faith to ground me in helped me to grow as a person. As I was always curious about religion, I continued to explore and be curious. Then one day I began to realize what I needed was already there.
If you are raising a child then it is important that you think about their spiritual growth. A child is too young to make the most important decisions about their spiritual intellect as a young person. They need a foundation to get them started. A foundation based on free-thinking is more confusing to a child than one based on religious dogma. Children need values. Just because you think a child should be given free rein to think as they please – this is your own psychological issue, left from your childhood. Children want to be taught, so they know how to make choices.
My step-father was angry with me at 18 when I began to venture out and explore religion. He said I had been confirmed in the church at 14 and it was my obligation to stay in that belief since I had sworn an oath. My argument was that a young girl was not capable of making such an intelligent decision and that I had done what I was told, not what I had earnestly understood. This is no different from raising a child with NO religion, and then expecting them to have some basis for forming an opinion as an adult. You have to start somewhere but you cannot expect a committment to be solid when it was formed as a child. I am not saying that a child will not stay in their family religion, or that they should venture out. It really depends on the person.
My path began in political science my last year of high school. My teacher brought up ideas for writing a term paper and one of them was religious cults. At the time, this was the year after the Jim Jones massacre which had been my first time to hear the word cult. I was curious about how people could do such a thing, as to follow a crazy man to another country. In researching information about my paper I learned to my amazement that there were other religions besides Christianity and Judaism. This was interesting to me. I wondered who these other people were and what they were like. Growing up in my isolated world in Ohio kept me on a limited worldview, there was my state and my stepfather’s family in Hungary. The rest of the world did not exist outside of my box.
The main objective of my thesis, which I kept returning to was the fact that all these cult worshippers generally came from a vacant shell in childhood. People who went to cults were desperate for spiritual acknowledgement. Most had no real religious background to begin with. This was odd to me because I couldn’t imagine someone not going to church. It didn’t make sense to me. Of course now when you see what happened to kids like River Phoenix – the eldest child raised in a cult by his parents, it goes several generations. As most psychological problems do. Spiritual confusion is one of those diagnoses. It is not in a major category as it is something one can work through and does not require medications. Thankfully!
The other folks who went to cults were people who just came from really bad places in their life. Jim Jones preyed on the weak and vulnerable on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco. A place I later ended up working as a social worker, encountering pimps who did the same thing to little girls. People who have no one in their life will turn to anyone who helps them; when you are desperate to eat, sleep or just to be loved a smile can often keep you from looking in their eyes. It will also stop you from trusting your instincts.
Religious cults begin with leaders who are wanting to be accepted as well, though they tend to be good sales people who realize they have a knack for con. Once they’ve gotten a good group together, people who do what they want, their ego just gets the worse of them. This is a trait we also see in celebrities – we should never allow anyone to think they are too good. Ego’s destroy people. Everyone needs a grounding network. Something to make them realize they are just an ordinary human being and it could all be gone tomorrow.
I used to see the Reverend Terry Cole-Whittaker every week in San Diego, in my early 20’s. She was a very inspirational woman. Her sermons were optimistic and without dogma. She had been ordained in the Religious Church of Science of the Mind (Not Scientology and not Christian Science). Even still, she felt a need to break away from this belief as she too wanted more than the limits placed on her at the time. On her own she became an international sensation. She was on television, radio, newspapers (there were no computers back then). She wrote several books as well. Her religious teachings helped me on my path to metaphysics, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many other forms of thought. It wasn’t what she said necessarily but a minister giving me the right to search and have an opinion. I believe that had I not had my Christian based background, I would have been led to some cult rather than to Terry Cole-Whittaker. The people at the church came from various religious backgrounds as well.
The last service performed by Terry Cole-Whittaker was in the mid-80’s prior to any of the major disasters we have seen since then. She left because people were looking at her as some sort of guru, rather than a human being. Since I had done my paper on religious cults back in high school, I understood what she meant. She did not want to chase her shadow and end up like one of those nut cakes, like we would later see in David Koresh or the Nike guy. She saw that she was becoming too much of a celebrity and she did not like the way it made her feel. People saw her as their savior rather than as a teacher – she told them she was not responsible for their actions – if their life had become greater based on her teachings it was based on their actions, not hers. Unfortunately, not all great leaders see these things. Perhaps there would have been a way to do what she did and not let it get that far but she needed a break. She continues now to teach workshops, write, and lives on an organic farm in Oregon. A far cry from the upscale snooty neighborhood of La Jolla that she left. I have always admired her for this and for everything she gave me. Everyone needs a good spiritual leader to look back on. Though I have had more than one.
When you have learned what you need to learn from a teacher, you move on. Either they go away or you keep moving forward. A good teacher knows this and respects this.
So how does one find a good spiritual master to follow when you are seeking answers? 1. It is helpful to have something to start with when you branch out – so first make sure you raise your children in some type of legitimate religion. 2. You should not start branching out until you are an adult and have begun to move forward in your life. 3. Don’t follow a flashy person. Stay away from people who need an entourage. 4. Follow the person who you feel called to. What are your first thoughts when you meet them? Trust this. 5. Take the information that is relevant to you and let go of the other bs. All teachers are great gifts to us but the more established ones do dish out some bs from time to time. 6. When you are ready, it is time to move on.
A person who is on the path toward spirituality is on a journey with themself and no other. Therefore, it does not matter which club you belong to; your higher power is with you no matter where you go. The best places I find to be in nature. When you are out in the world, experiencing the sun, the trees, the moon, the grass, the river/ocean/creek/lake, you are with your God then. No beautiful piece of architecture can ever give you anything as pure and logical as the great Earth. Inside the sanctuary you have the energy of the masses and all of their opinions. Outside you and your God are there together, alone.