Voyaging Into the Brush - What It Felt Like to Find Myself

Voyaging Into the Brush  - What It Felt Like to Find Myself - student project

 

There are pivotal moments in your life in which you feel a switch so immediate, it’s almost as if it never happened. Where a domino half the size of the others fall, and the rest come tumbling down before you have the chance to stop them. Every silky, smooth, and perfectly shaped piece of acrylic you’ve spent years and years putting up, like an army succumbing to defeat, begin to collapse, colliding with the next, and you wonder in a panic when it’ll end. If it’ll ever end.

 

Where did that domino come from? Wait, I never put one up there! How did I create a line so long that I can no longer see the end?

 

And then you know it’s the end — because there is nothing but silence.

 

Silence; a pleasure and a curse, a joy and a sorrow. Although right now it just feels neutral. It’s currently 4:35am in the city of Fresno, California, my home. I’m wide awake, which is not a regular occurrence by any means at this hour. In fact, I’ve been up since midnight, my eyes and body unwilling to adhere to its internal command of sleep. My mind won’t rest, and all I can think about it writing this. I take these highly unusual plights as a universal sign.

 

I’m being gently pushed to write this when the world is quiet — only the birds can hear my typing. My thoughts are loud, maybe they can hear those too. It almost feels like the world has stopped, time allowing me — urging me — to tell my story. The ambience of a universe that is at a stand-still for me. Not even the sun is allowed to rise yet. All ears are open, eager to hear.

 

When my worldview shattered at my very feet, there came a demand for an understanding. I must know that there is nowhere else to go but forward. I can’t run, I can’t go around it, between it, above it or under it. I must go through it. I must go forward.

 

It was earlier this year that I learned there are two forwards to choose from. The narrow path forward, which will look the same as it did a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, a moment ago, but will secure me a destination. Or, I can go straight into the brush, where I choose to allow the unknown to lead me on a journey, to which completion is subjective.

 

On a winter’s day of this year, sitting outside my back porch in the late afternoon, I was faced with these two choices. As I contemplated my choices, my mind began to take notice of the details that formed the entrances of these two life paths. I analyzed the narrow path first, it’s opening looking so thin I could hardly picture myself entering with ease. I know for sure I’d have to squeeze and force my way inside.

 

I’ve walked the narrow path before, and although it’s a bit discomforting, it’s familiar. I know that on the other side of the entrance I’d be greeted with others, people I’ve known my whole life. I know my trusted guide would be there, with an instruction manual that had my name on it. I’d workout how to feel at home again, despite the path’s constricting walls. I’d be able to give my guide the job of fixing the pieces of myself that would cause me to experience pain on the path. I’d let my guide bandage my bullet wounds. I’d be greeted with sympathy, safety, and security.

 

There is a standout problem about the narrow path though, and that is the fog that hangs over it. It makes it difficult to breathe, and in various occasions before, I’ve found myself being nearly suffocated. I don’t like how it obscures my vision, and also don’t care for how it always keeps the sun hidden. I don’t wish to continue to walk under the sun but never see it.

I also know that the walls along this path are rock hard, its barricades hard to break. The groups of people who walk the narrow path almost always stick together, making it extremely difficult to step off the path if I wished to do so.

 

I let my eyes travel to the brush, noticing how its thriving vegetation moves in sync with the wind. It’s hard to see past the front layer, but as I continue to look, I get glimpses of a beautiful, open landscape. I see calm, serene rivers I’ve never been down before. I see brief images of flowers blooming, and hear the faint sound of a people who are singing.

 

I’ve never traveled into the brush before, would it really be a wise idea to enter? It’s a place full of unknowns, with no instructional manual. The handsome flowers I glimpsed moments ago could very well be beds of poison ivy. Do I dare go traipsing in? I’ve been warned of the brush. The brush isn’t safe, the brush isn’t secure, the brush is surely to lead to disappointment.

I let these thoughts consume my mind, and remind myself of the warnings I’ve been so routinely taught. But as I continue to gaze at the entrance to the brush, I notice the people. Each individual is so uniquely pretty, a glow that seems to radiate from within, and they’re walking under a freely shining sun.

   

There comes a moment where your life demands direction. You must choose. I must choose. I know what I must do as I place one foot in front of the other. The brush radiates a color so unique I swear I’ve never ever seen it before, and I must explore it.

 

******

 

The choice of exploring the brush is symbolic of my spiritual awakening. As a committed young Christian woman, to think this would now be my life was altogether unimaginable. To betray and divorce Jesus as Savior of my life is surely to be considered the ultimate offense of existence.

 

It is crucial that I tell you that I mean no disrespect, and am in no way trying to invalidate anybody’s personal experience within the prospective religions in which they identify. I have no desire to convince or coax any individual into agreeing with my beliefs. I am simply aiming to deliver my most honest self to the page and to bring my own viewpoint and encouragement of individual thought and intuition into what is most typically a closed-off conversation within the Christian community. I am also not saying that all Christians and communities think and act the same. I am referencing a greater overall theme and the underlying fundamental belief system of the Christian faith, regardless of specific biblical interpretation or the way in which Sunday services are conducted.

 

Growing up, I couldn’t understand or comprehend having doubts about my faith and my beliefs. They were as solid as a rock, and nothing would ever change that. My Christian faith was my identity, it was what I lived and breathed for, my passion and purpose. It consumed every last detail of my life, from the way I behaved and was expected to behave, to the way in which I directed my thoughts.

 

My spiritual life was calculated, concise, consistent. As I began my young adult life, my mind began to expand. The more I meditated on the promise that a life with Jesus was going to bring me freedom, the more diminutive that freedom seemed to get. Every single part of my being became more deeply rooted in control, yet I was taught that this meant Jesus was protecting and guiding me. I was taught that when your heart was guarded and your focus on Jesus was steady, it would lead you to a better life. If not when you’re alive, then when you’re dead.

A life with Jesus would guarantee you safety from the pain of a life lived for worldly desires, in which the hope of fulfillment was futile. I was promised that when I allowed Jesus to gain control of my life in every way possible, I would experience the one spiritual path to which true vibrance and true expression were free to thrive.

I had spent months and months mulling over my beliefs in my mind. I had spent lots of time talking with the people in my life whom I trusted, and hours searching the internet for whatever resources I could get my hands on. There were four central ideas among many others that I could not properly view through the eyes of the Christian faith anymore: sexuality, love, and purity. 

 

As I watched the sun begin to set in flushes of orange and pink this one winter’s day earlier this year, I stood at a crossroads. The pressure within me was too strong to ignore. I could it feel piercing the very core of my being.

 

I had prayed, and I had wept. I was afraid of being burned in a fire that awaited those who did not know God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was afraid of judgment, of losing my community, of being made a prayer project.

 

I didn’t want the love I knew would be given to me by those around me if I chose to forsake the narrow path. Love with which its hope and intent would be to promote change rather than understanding and acceptance. I didn’t want to participate in conversations in which both answers and questions were met with dismissal. I didn’t want to be misunderstood and misrepresented. I didn’t want important people in my life mistaking my growth and spiritual awakening as a fabricated excuse for me to rid myself of the faith they’ll assume I never really believed in.

 

I didn’t want those labels. I didn’t want to be the object of ridicule and backhanded sympathy in someone’s mind. I didn’t want the same things that I too, had so many times before, projected onto and held in association with those whose beliefs were different from mine.

 

 

The sunset is breathtaking, it calls for my attention, my gaze. It’s getting lower on the westside, the crows soaring in its path beg for similar recognition, but nothing can compete. The star is a true representation of unyielding influence. I watch as it begins to say it’s last goodbye’s, the air feeling even colder on my skin in the absence of its presence.

I can hear the sound of cars as their passengers head to their next destinations, and the homely sound of the neighborhood children as they play loudly before bedtime. This is dusk, another day of hustle comes to an end as the lively virtue of the night prepares to welcome its guests.

I knew within my soul that the Christian idea of God was not the God I wanted to continue to call a friend. The God I now knew lived outside of the box in which she had been placed. In this moment, for the first time in my spiritual life, I began to direct questions and confusion that I had been experiencing not only just to external sources, but to the most important source of all, myself.

Only I knew the feelings and emotion that filled my heart. Only I knew what ideas and conclusions felt right and wrong as I reflected on my life. Only I knew the reasons behind the choices I made. Ultimately, I was responsible for making my own decisions. I was in charge of living a life in which I felt most myself, and a life in which I would be able to serve humanity in a way that reflects my most authentic intentions.

 

I closed my eyes. The point of connection had been made, and the internal switch had been flipped.

 

I have chosen to take the path into the brush, away from what I’ve known my whole life, and into all of the curiosity and mystery this world has to offer. The feeling of being reborn is like no other feeling I’ve ever known. It’s as if my truest and highest self has been suppressed, but through pain, courage, and a devout love for myself, has finally been birthed. With each passing day comes a new awareness of personal power and mindfulness.

 

I am like a baby just beginning crawl in this spiritual revelation of mine, knowing that the opportunities of wondrous and humbling experiences like walking and running await me patiently. The God that I am just starting to come into relationship with is already both within me and around me. The God that I know views love, sexuality, and purity in a new light.

 

My conscious holds love and self-expression as it’s highest attributes, and there are thought patterns that I’ve chosen to shed now that I can see them without the lens of confirmation bias. Although I fit the heterosexual mold in which both love and sexuality are placed within the Christian community, I no longer accept that same heterosexual hierarchy that I once used to when it comes to others. Whether it be romantic or not, I believe expressing and practicing what you feel is your most honest form of sexuality and love is part of God’s design. There should be no requirements or limits. Love has no exception clause apart from the one’s you choose to make, not the one’s that someone else makes for you.

Both love and sexual attraction between two people should not be morally judged or restricted based solely on interpretation.

 

I also no longer subscribe to the “pure” or “impure” narrative that I once proudly did. The idea that we have been born into the world unclean does not connect with me. When I get the occasional opportunity to hold a healthy newborn child in my arms, there is not one speck of imperfection nor one flaw that I can find. In fact, I can never remember the thought of even looking for either of those things when a baby is in my arms. I don’t look at any child and think to myself that they are broken people at their heart and core, and that they will never be good enough.

This is essentially how we are told to think of ourselves when it comes to the Christian faith. God is labeled as a man who fixes and mends our impure, flawed, broken beings. We will never be enough unless we accept him. We are by nature, impure beings, and the temptations, thoughts, and actions that promote impurity must be rid of in order to grow.

This pure and impure thought process informs sexuality within the church as well. It presents sexuality as an ethical issue. As human beings, our sexuality is apart of us. It is determined as we are formed in the womb, and developed as we grow. Your sexuality, by definition, is not an ethical issue. Acting on your sexual desires, if they are unwelcome and hurt other people, would present an ethical issue. Acting on your sexual desires, if there is enthusiastic consent between the parties involved (even if the party is a party of one — you), and if it’s not causing harm to anyone else, would not be considered an ethical issue.

 

This idea of purity is prevalent not only when it comes to sexuality as a whole, but is heavily projected onto women within the faith, and is something that I felt has always left a heavy impression on my heart. Women are held at an even higher standard than men are when it comes to maintaining purity, dressing modestly, and not expressing their sexuality outside of marriage. Women as a whole have come so far in the last fifty years, and I’m convinced that these teachings and belief systems will do nothing other than encourage the false narrative of inequality women have worked so hard to overcome.

 

Male and female alike, your sexuality is empowering, and it is only when you start to embrace it, in whatever way that makes you feel most confident and most yourself, that you will start to unravel true intrepidity and poise.

 

******

 

It’s not quite quiet in the world yet, it’s 6:56pm the following day of my non-sleep night, and I’m sitting on my backyard patio, the trees blocking the sun as it begins to move further and further west, once again. The same unchanging cycle everyday. The wind is strong this evening, causing the leaves to cast moving shadows across the concrete so fast it’s as if nature decided to make its own film reel.

 

I reside in the same physical place I did months ago, when I made the decision to explore my spirituality. To learn what it would look like and how it would feel to express myself outside of the bounds that had been created for me. Or as I like to put it, how my life would change if I stepped into the brush.

 

I no longer reside in the same place spiritually. I am no longer held captive by fear, but wake-up and fall asleep with more peace than ever before. I no longer cry when I consider the judgment that may be placed on me by those who may read this, but am full of gratitude for the wonderful and arduous experiences and encounters that have helped guide me into the place that I rest today.

 

Growing away from Christianity and into spiritual openness and curiosity has allowed me to see that I have an intense desire to learn. I have a strong ambition to continue to develop as a person. I don’t know everything, in fact, I’m so much more aware and humbled now of how little I know, that is, if I know anything at all.

I went from maintaining a standard of eternal certainty, to now no longer having a clue about where I will go when I die.

 

Last year, this would’ve caused me so much stress and worry. Yet today, I find myself, more often than not, completely undisturbed and untroubled by this concept. No living person can answer questions about the afterlife. Nobody will ever be able to tell you what happens to your soul when you pass.

 

At this point, I have no interest in dwelling on what will happen when I die. I am far more concerned and interested in what happens while I’m still alive.

 

I have an appetite for learning, but hardly ever catch find myself looking for black and white statements to live my life by anymore. I would rather look at almost everything in shades of grey. I find joy and satisfaction in knowing that I have personal responsibility for my life. I control my life, who I am today, and where I’m headed tomorrow.

 

There are various lessons that I have learned from my past that I find useful and beneficial, and that I will carry forward with me. There are also many pieces of advice and information that I have chosen and will continue to choose to do without.

There are streams I will choose to bathe in, and streams were the water doesn’t appeal to me. There are flowers I will choose to pick, and flowers that look prettier left in the distance.

 

As I sit on my patio and watch the sun say it’s goodbye’s once again, another dusk commencing, I am realizing that if I do know only one thing in this life, it is this: I will choose to walk under the sun, wherever I feel it’s shining the brightest, because that is the influence under which I feel most myself.