The Spiritual Skeptic

My path to consciousness and spirituality did not happen overnight. It evolved slowly, and with skepticism.

Based on my history, I had trouble accepting that there was a benevolent force directing me to my highest good. I had trouble understanding how others seemed to simply accept this without skepticism, without questioning, without research—God bless them.

My path to consciousness and spiritual awakening was accompanied by my skeptical part.

I am grateful to this part of me.

This part keeps me from being taken advantage of.
This part keeps me from being sold things I don’t need.
This part keeps both my feet on the ground, especially when it comes to spirituality.

But I know it wasn’t just skepticism that kept me from accepting the spiritual principles and practices that now shape the way I frame my experiences—it was because of the word God.

For me, I associated God with religion and it didn’t matter if I replaced it with the words Universe, Source, or Gaia—truthfully that language didn’t resonate. For me, I wanted to be able to accept the word God, which meant I had to sit with myself and all the parts of me that were triggered by my experience with religion.

*****

I learned many valuable things from my large, Portuguese extended family. I learned hard work, resiliency, tenacity and an appreciation for culture, music and food. I also learned that God is punishing, that Jesus died for my sins so I should be forever indebted to Him, and I learned that church people are mean and sometimes crazy.

When I was young, much of my religious experience was outsourced to relatives. This meant long masses in Portuguese with a lot of standing and kneeling and wearing lacy dresses that the tomboy in me hated. It meant being ordered around by my cruel Aunt who mistreated me while simultaneously clutching her rosary beads. It meant that sometimes this Aunt would drive 12-year-old me to strange buildings with people dancing erratically and writhing on floors, pledging their allegiance and money to a man who had the power to make them faint. When it was my turn, I would obediently let him smack me in the forehead and fall over, letting the people behind catch me.

As I got older, what was once irritating to me about God and religion became maddening. My mother, overwhelmed by her trauma and ineffective coping strategies, turned her life over to the Lord. Her rages stopped, but so did her sanity. It was infuriating when she looked up and said things like, “I could never handle this life in the flesh.” At that time, I was sixteen years old and desperately needed her to acknowledge that she was my flesh-and-bone mother. My father ignored much of this, spending most of my childhood asleep or in the garage, his safety strategy.

So when my own therapy evolved into the realm of spirituality, I had great skepticism. I had been working in IFS, EMDR and somatic psychotherapy for some time and was called to expand beyond what I understood of the psyche and get curious towards the Self—the energy that permeates throughout neuroscience modalities. My clients were having deeper experiences in our clinical work and I wanted further learning and understanding to ground what was happening.

I was fortunate to have mentors who were leaders in the field of psychology and also bridged the clinical and spiritual spheres, serving their clients from ancient traditions and modern science. I also did a hell of a lot of reading—something my skeptical part insisted on.

After some time, my skeptical part allowed me more and more access to incorporating spiritual practices in my daily living. I started slow with yoga and simple meditations. Over time, my practices evolved as did my learning. My skeptical parts eventually softened back and allowed me to work with the right teachers and mentors to further develop my clinical skills and spiritual gifts.

I also came to understand that religion and spirituality are not one in the same and that my experience of an external, punishing God was different than others who experienced God and religion as a source of hope, peace and a loving community.

For me, it took time to understand the deeper meaning behind books like Michael Alan Singer’s The Untethered Soul and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. It took time for deeper experiences of meditation and alignment with my inner knowing, my internal guidance system, what some call the Higher Self. It took time to accept that there is a benevolent life force leading me to my highest good if I choose to partner with it.

*****

Today I lead less with skepticism and more with wisdom and discernment. Today I have clarity about my mother’s relationship with religion and am no longer triggered when she tells me that Jesus loves me—I understand that she is on her own path. Today I am grateful that she has connected to a good church with good people who are doing good work in their community.
Today I am glad to be connected to an internal experience of God that resonates for me.

As always, take what works, leave the rest.

Natasha Senra-Pereira

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