THE BLOG
10/01/2014 05:16 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Islands of Safety: Religion and Ritual, Part 1

To many in my family I'm still an Irish Catholic in the same way that Marines consider themselves Marines, 'once a Marine, always a Marine', even though I've converted to Judaism twice (that's a story for later) and very happy with my choice. While it's true that I still appreciate the rituals and events surrounding my siblings' lives, I have long ceased considering myself a 'recovering Catholic.'

But first, if you haven't been reading the series all along let me bring you up to speed. In my experience as an executive coach I often hear people sharing how the world can be a really hard place to live. In order to navigate this 'Inconsistent Sea' I always suggest setting up 'Islands of Safety' -- safe harbors where you can stop off to rest and recharge or launchpads for what's next. These Islands of safety, when plotted in advance, can support our journey in a way that can minimize the amount of time we spend 'in over our heads.'

So back to my family, friends and the people who often assume that my conversion resulted from some negotiation; a pact I made to win my beautiful and talented Jewish wife. Not true. My decision was based on the 'possibility' it presented in raising kids with a consistent foundation that also would offer me a spiritual home from which to launch the next part of my own 'journey.' It was a mostly selfish decision. What 'turned it' for me?

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.
Buddha

"You're an actor"' the Rabbi said after many weeks of conversation and study, "So let's use your methodology. Take a couple of weeks until our next meeting and try to 'suspend disbelief.' Act 'as if' you had no more doubts about belonging to one particular religion, to returning to a community and a regular practice." I accepted his challenge and at the end of two weeks I came back with a new possibility: "This feels right," I said.

In one decision I hit the 'Islands of Safety' jackpot: getting married and identifying with a religious practice, according to some, increases not only your overall sense of well-being (happiness), it also positively affects longevity and earning potential. I had created 'safe harbors' that have served me well ever since.

If statistics don't work for you then let's try personal testimony: it's been nearly 20 years and I can say, definitively, that I am way happier now than I was then. I earn MANY times what I did then and own my own firm. My health is excellent -- in part due to some rituals that we'll deal with in the next segment -- and I can pretty confidently say that I'm healthier now than I was then. Younger, no; healthier, yes.

Please don't read me wrong here -- I'm not advocating Judaism or leaving the Catholic Church. I'm advocating 'belonging' as one way to survive in this Inconsistent Sea. And it is important to point out that I mean moving 'toward,' not 'from.' I'm not a 'recovering' or 'angry ex-Catholic.' I'm living in a lifestyle choice of my own design because I want to.

In fact, peace of mind about this came to me when I realized that what I wanted could be found in Christianity, Buddhism, Islam or contemplating a blank wall while emitting a low hum if I chose to. That's not to say choice of Judaism was a 'lottery;' I was fascinated by so many aspects of it and remain so today. It works for me, plain and simple.

Our topic, please remember, is 'Islands of Safety' and, while I chose my particular path, I encourage you too, especially if you're stalled, stuck or in a spiritual funk, that you take that step of investigation, of allowing yourself to follow your heart, if not your soul, and explore the many options out there for spiritual practice. I'll never suggest mine is the right way but, as safe havens go, you could do worse.

Religion and ritual practice don't have to be 'opiates', though for some they may be. If considered closely, they can also offer awareness, awakening, and not only Islands of Safety, but Paths to Enlightenment.

See you in Part 2: Rituals.