I grew up in Midwest City, Oklahoma. From my yard, I could see three churches. Within a mile radius, we had 11 churches. Ironically, my parents did not attend church at all. I would later understand why. Between the churches who sought to save "lost sheep" like myself and my friends who required to go to church weekly, there were many opportunities to attend a variety of churches.
I can remember the largest of those churches, a Southern Baptist church, where every Sunday they held space in the service for the sinners to "get right with the Lord" (thereby committing to pledge a weekly tithe as a good Christian). Every week after the hell, fire, and brimstone sermon, I'd watch people walk to the front of the church and be embraced by a waiting team of volunteers. Though in my heart something didn't quite feel right, I wanted to play along; I want to be accepted.
I took that walk one day. As I was asked to recite some words after the volunteer about being a sinner and repenting my sin and then being told what the commitment I was making as a Christian, it struck me that, a. as I repeated those words I was lying because they made no sense and were misaligned with that was truly in my heart, and b. this whole thing was a sham; it was building the business of church. Honestly, I was too scared to back down, so I kept playing along in order to fit in.
I read the Bible several times and attended a variety of churches. Questions always gnawed at my heart. Somewhere around junior high, I realized something was different about my father. It was what kept him away from church and what made the good people of the church call him a sinner who was going to hell. I wondered if God was a loving God and Jesus died for our sins, why were some people unacceptable, why did bad things happen, and why did we even need church at all?
These eventually drove me away from church, as I realized my dad's homosexuality is what shunned him from the church. There was such a fundamental underpinning of religion in my world, I kept dabbling and trying to return in order to find the God I felt I knew in my heart but wasn't showing up through the doctrine of the church. The same old questions got me in trouble, earned me the label of heretic.
Yoga took me on a different journey. In yoga teacher training, I was introduced to the Yoga Sutras, or "classical" yoga. While it holds some very profound insight (like many sacred texts), there was a suffering aspect about it that reminded me of those days in the church. Where was the Love and acceptance? If we're created in the image of the maker, then isn't the maker flawed, too? Didn't God create all of it and if so, why do I have to give any of it up to get closer to the Divine?
Eventually, I found Tantra. Swami Shankarananda defines it in Consciousness is Everything: The Yoga of Kasmir Shaivism as, "nothing has to be done, nothing has to be attained. Everything is already perfect." I remember thinking, "What? So God is in everything: me, the trees, you, everything I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? Everything?" The answer was simply, yes.
The lightbulb went on and the adventure began. If I were to subscribe to this belief, there were things I would have to resolve in my life, first and foremost being how to see the Divinity in me and how to love the parts of me that seems unworthy of being Divine.
In the New International Version of the Bible, Mark 28-31 says, "One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."
In Kasmir Shaivism, Tantra is all about seeing the Divine within all and being at One with that Divinity. Yoga means "union," though union of what is never defined. I believe partially it is the union from separation. Swami Shankarananda also writes in Consciousness is Everything: The Yoga of Kasmir Shaivism, "That which separates us from God is ignorance. Far from thinking of a human being as a fallen creature, Shaivism holds that in our innermost being, each of us is Divine."
Our own creations of thoughts, words, and beliefs are what bind us in separation. Therefore, it is in the willingness to shift our thoughts and language to align with our own Divinity. If I am Divine, if I am creating my own separation and suffering, am I willing to simply stop and just for one solitary moment see my own Truth of the God within me? Am I willing to shift and play in the field of infinite possibilities? Am I willing to see the Divine in others, even when their actions are out of a place of separation? And if I am willing, then what?
That final question is the every day unfolding for me in this journey of life. There are moments when I am very much in union and there are moments when I play in the illusions and choose separation.
Swami Shankarananda shares of Lord Shiva's drama, "He begins in ecstasy and freedom, undergoes initiation and suffering of His own free will, and then years searches for and achieves the recognition and attainment of His true nature, His former status as Shiva Himself. He takes the form of the guru and teaches Himself in the form of the seeker the path to Consciousness." A Hero's Journey is what Joseph Campbell labeled this as and I believe it is what many who seek a deeper understanding of Self as Divine go through.
How this journey concludes for me is yet to be revealed. What I know for now is awareness of how I show up to play in both the shadows and the light as a part of the initiation in order to return to my own true nature. I play my own guru as I self correct my separate ways of thinking into my willingness to my Divinity. In those moments, for me, suffering eases and I can just be in the beauty, splendor, and totality of the Divinity in all people, places, and things.