“Creeds and schools in abeyance, / Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten, / I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature without check with original energy.” — Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
Musicians are known for mixing genres and influences and describing their sound as indie rock, post-punk revival, dance-rock. Some musicians even coin terms that describe their music in creative ways like psychobilly—a fusion genre of rock that mixes punk rock, rock and roll, and rockabilly. Some amazing bands like Alabama Shakes have a sound classified as blues rock, southern rock, and soul music, yet some of their songs defy classification.
If musicians can genre-mix in order to stretch their identities, why can’t people on a spiritual path do the same? They can, and do, of course. The Pew Research Center details the variety of beliefs and connections American make between religions and practices. Great meditation teachers and spiritual teachers mix beliefs and ideas from various practices and religions.
Over the years, I’ve met people who refer to themselves as a Gnostic Shaman, a Buddhist Jew, a Christo-Pagan or a Hindu who attends services at Unitarian Universalist Church. In Austin, I ran into professors at the Unitarian Universalist church who loved to discuss everything from a poem by Rumi to the story of Hanuman. Many people in new age communities simply say they are spiritual and discuss the various teachers they have followed over the years. Beliefs overlap throughout religions, so it makes sense that people who search for their spiritual identity are often inspired more by beliefs than religions. Teachings that bring people greater inner peace, healing, and contentment are highly valued. Teachings about charity, kindness, and love appeal to spiritual seekers and to most people in general.
My beliefs after the NDE: It is certainly easier to say I am spiritual than to come up with a term that reflects my specific interests and beliefs. If pressed, I would say that I am spiritual with a specialized focus on healing myself and others. Over the years, I have been deeply inspired by beliefs and teachings from Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism, and various New Age/Spiritual teachers. However, the aspects of these beliefs and practices that are healing are the aspects that interest me the most. During my NDE, I clearly heard the words, “Love is all that matters.” Though this statement can be interpreted in many ways, I interpret it as love should be the basis of any belief or spiritual practice. Love should be the guiding force in all areas of life.
Contradictions and Healing Connections
Buddhism: I realize that the beliefs, practices, and religions which interest me the most contradict one another in a few ways. Some Buddhist traditions are not compatible with shamanistic practices while others are more open. Monks in Tibet occasionally perform activities associated with shamanism. What I personally love about Buddhism is meditation. Mediation in any Buddhist tradition is healing for the brain and nervous system. Every person on earth could most likely benefit from twenty minutes a day of meditation. Some of my most memorable meditations occurred in temples at the top of mountains in South Korea. Sometimes, I was the only person in a temple breathing the incense while the rest of the crowded country bustled about in the valleys below the temples. I hope this practice grows not diminishes through time.
Though I admire the idea of putting generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge first in an effort to liberate beings, the Bodhisattva vow never formally called to me. I prefer to stay open. There might be a more direct and better way for me to help all beings than by taking this vow. I like Thich Nhat Hahn’s explanation of Buddhism. He says, “There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion, and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lives in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes him a better Christian.” I agree with Thich Nhat Hahn and take what I like from Buddhism, continuing on my merry way.
Christianity: Many Christians in the Bible belt would probably assert that I should get everything I need from the Bible and a Christian Church, but I don’t and I never have. Since I live in the U.S. and Christianity is a large part of our history and my upbringing, I honor that tradition in many ways and enjoy parts of the Bible. I love certain saints and novenas, even though I was not raised as a Catholic. I’m drawn to sacred sites. The healing cathedral El Santurio de Chimayo’s energy is powerful and has proven miraculous in healing emotional and physical pain for me on the three occasions I have visited.
Shamanism: Native American ancestors have come to me in dreams and meditations, asking me not to forget them or their teachings. I haven’t, and shamans and shamanistic teachings have informed my life since my near death experience. Practiced shamans with the intent to connect with compassionate beings for the good of our lives can bring marvelous healing, especially for those of us who have experienced trauma (from shock, grief, injury, violation, betrayal, abandonment), stress (from relationships, jobs, PTSD), and recovery (from divorce, surgery, trauma, addiction). Beyond healing, I love the experimentation that the study has brought into my life. In dreams and meditations, I’ve practiced out of body experiences, connecting with my power animal, shapeshifting, and lucid dreaming. On occasion, I’ve entered the dreams of others and verified these dream details later.
I’ve considered completing the training to become a shaman, but I prefer to have a wingspan made up of many different colors of feathers from many different parts of the world. It is not out of the question that I will complete the training, but it will only be a part of my journey. I value freedom more than a prescribed path. I could coin a term and say that I am a Budo-Christo-Shaman-Healer, but that term could change in five years or ten years. I’m a spiritual renegade and always free to fly away when these traditions do not seem to fit our current times.
The Light: What never changes is that I have complete faith in the light and angels I met on the other side of this life during my NDE. I know that I am guided by and will be greeted by deeply intelligent, compassionate, graceful beings at the end of my journey. I know that getting a glimpse at the next part of the journey has made me more of a believer in the magic of transformation more than anything else. All paths, beliefs, and religions attempt to lead us to the light. I want to align more with the light in any way that I can while on the earth. I don’t want to be distracted by anything that isn’t a direct link to the light, love, and compassion I encountered during my NDE.
Healing: Being an extra-sensitive soul and experiencing great pain and suffering in my life has allowed me to understand the experiences of many people. The answers to pain are spiritual in nature but usually not evident in the moment. In the moment of trauma or moments afterwards, people are often filled with various emotions. The best thing any of us can do for a person in pain is to deeply listen to them and open our hearts, sometimes offering sound pieces of advice which usually focus on how that person might take better care of themselves through a difficult time.
Wounded healers are good at listening, but they often ignore their own wounds and lose themselves in the beauty and meaning of helping others. There were times in my life when I certainly fit into this category, but that way of life is not enough for me now. My path is a path of greater healing for myself, so that I might show not only compassion for others but a greater light, a greater way of living and being for those who are suffering. Compassion is not enough. Loving ourselves is the first key to healing the planet.
When we give ourselves the love we have been searching for, life brightens and expands. There is no more searching, only being on a bright path that is our own path.
May your path be filled with great mixes of music and beliefs that carry you safely and happily through your life and home.