A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Question Of Faith

My parents and uncle are atheists. What faith they had in a higher power as children soon faded under the auspices of the Catholic church in New York City in the 1930’s and 40’s. By the time they were 18 they had decided that God did not exist. There was no heaven or hell. Death was final. The Bible was written by men who were all too fallible. They didn’t believe in faith, instead they believed in good works and personal morality. You do good things because it is the right thing to do and not because you will burn in hell if you don’t. They were more political (Democrats) than spiritual and invested their time in that rather than in church. Technically they were Unitarians but only because Unitarians embraced all religions and perspectives including atheists. Some of their friends in the neighborhood were Unitarians, but when they moved to another neighborhood they stopped going to any kind of church.

My brother’s favorite saint is doubting Thomas, the patron saint of skeptics. He admits that he does not know if a higher power exists or not; if the higher power did exist, he would need some proof of it. In the meanwhile and in the absence of proof he loosely follows a belief in the law of karma. So do good because it is the right thing to do but also because it will come back to you. If you help others, others will help you and you will become stronger. Good will generates good will. Still, like our parents, he is very critical of organized religion. Sees it as more often a force of destruction and hypocrisy than of healing and integrity.

Then there’s me, the only one in my family who believes in a higher power. I think I came to believe out of necessity. The trauma of living with an abusive alcoholic led me to Al-Anon and Al-Anon led me to consider the possibility of the existence of a benevolent power in my life and in everyone’s lives. I needed to believe, to have faith, and to hope. The alternative was despair. This need to believe became much stronger once I became psychotic. The voices, as usual, mingled the real with the false and led me to Christianity. I felt shocked and confused by this because my background was more agnostic/Buddhist. But in some ways this protected me from believing the delusions the voices tried to convince me of. I was not a holy woman or God’s wife or Jesus reincarnated as an abused woman and conversely I was not the Devil. I was Kate, neither very good nor very bad. But it wasn’t that easy and I went in and out of torment swinging from one extreme to another. The voices led me back to Al-Anon and to the daily readers which I read faithfully each day. During the months of severe depression that followed the delusions having a faith in a higher power probably saved my life.

But my faith is not fixed to any particular holy book. I don’t build upon a history of a chosen people. I don’t believe in Messiahs. I am freer than some because of this but also adrift. Lately I’ve been questioning my belief in God. The voices, these beings, are very much alive to me and more engaged in my spiritual struggle it seems than some God being. What is “God”? Don’t we all create our own particular versions of God. The aliens in Whitley Strieber’s books have referred their version of God as “The Source”. That makes sense, that God is the original source of everything. But beyond that they are vague and so am I. All I know is that God is much greater than me and much greater than the voices/beings. And God is in absolutely everything be it natural or man-made. But God does not talk to me like a friend or parent. God doesn’t talk. Instead I talk and the voices talk and other people talk. God listens, to me and all life it seems. How is that possible? I really don’t know. It flies in the face of human logic but I don’t believe humans have the last word in logic and reason.

I worked hard these past years cultivating the practice of gratitude. In order for gratitude to work you have to believe that something greater than yourself is receiving the gratitude, a higher power, God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, whatever. To me God and gratitude are all mixed up together and that’s why I’m beginning to think that I may always believe in God in one way or another. I just hope I can deepen my understanding.

I read an article about Mother Teresa. The article was written in response to a book that recently came out containing “correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years”. The letters reveal that for years and years until she died she felt somehow outside the presence of God. She accomplished so much but struggled daily with her own faith. I found this to be so sad and wondered if she had her own cross to bear in the form of mental illness. In the article a psychologist suggests that Mother Teresa’s despair might have been a form of self-punishment for becoming so successful, a kind of antidote to pride. She may not have heard voices but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been affected by them in her spirit. It is possible that the more dedicated to the higher power you are and the more successful you are, the more vulnerable you are to attack. But I don’t know.

I’m speculating and making assumptions. I don’t know, I believe. I can’t prove anything scientifically. I can’t make a doubting Thomas believe what I believe. I’m not sure that I’d want to if I could. Much of my beliefs are also surrounded by open ended questions. Questions like what happens to us when we die? I can guess all I want but I won’t know while I’m alive. I have to live with lots of uncertainties, we all do don’t we? But faith feels better and works better than fear for me (which I forget when I get fearful). John Lennon wrote in a song, “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right, it’s all right.” I’d have to add, whatever gets you through the night and doesn’t hurt yourself or others, it’s all right, but that wouldn’t have been a very good song lyric...

I think everyone has some kind of faith they just call it by different names. When I think of my family I don’t worry that they don’t have faith in a higher power. They have their own orientation. Logic and reason comfort them the way my belief in the positive side of the Unknown (God for lack of a better word) comforts me.

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