I recognize the feeling now when it hits. Been trying to sit with it and hold it and analyze it rather than run away from it. It’s really hard to just sit with it – our whole society is arranged to avoid it if at all possible. How to describe it?
Existential emptiness – a hollow center, craving, wanting, an overwhelming need for a thing unnamed. I’ve thought of it with various labels over the years. It is the root cause of the thing I think of as The Restlessness. It sends me running manically in all directions trying to quench it, fill it, drown it out. When I was but a child I was deceived into thinking that this hollow was the God Space. I was told that God created this space inside every human being such that only He could fill it. This sounded reasonable when I was eight.
After six years of introspection, trying to untangle the Gordian knot of Evangelical thought forms in my head, I realize with startling clarity that it was the attempt to fill this hole with God Stuff that ultimately led me to the bizarre manic-depressive lifestyle I was living the last few years of my involvement in the church. Manically reeling from the high of the awesome worship service, back home to reality and caring for my children, then off again seeking another manic high from another worship service, or a meeting with like-minded Christian friends, or a new stage design planning session, or a Bible study, or, or…..
And the crash. Usually on Sunday night, trying to prepare my family for the beginning of the school week. Hiding the pain, soldiering on, to wake up Monday morning in a self-induced post worship delusional fog. Never knowing the whole time that I was artificially inducing this state of mind within myself. Like a junkie looking for his next fix, I craved anything I could find that could recreate the “worship high”.
Somewhere around the three year mark of my exodus (events blur together after a while), it finally occurred to me that the “symptoms” I was feeling sounded familiar – like a faded dream vaguely remembered. A dear friend was undergoing an actual detox from a drug and alcohol addiction around this time, was writing about the experience, and as I read his writings – something resonated within me. I couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t let it go either. My brain mulled it over in spare moments. One day I sat down and randomly Googled “spiritual addiction”. The final puzzle piece slipped into place. All the symptoms fit. The high, the low, the craving.
And I noticed, the farther away I got from the self-induced craziness of Evangelical Christianity, how I felt calmer, more centered, more present. If indeed the “hole” inside me was a God-shaped hole, wasn’t it strange that God-stuff couldn’t ever fill it? Perhaps I was looking for the wrong God stuff? It hardly seemed likely. With almost 40 years of Christian living, experience, and culture in my psyche, I was pretty sure that if some sort of God stuff could fill this emptiness that I should have run across it by this point.
I still haven’t figured out if the Emptiness is a universal human thing, though I begin to think it might be. I do think that very few people in our modern age stand still long enough to even think about it. Activity is prized, contemplation is not. Now that I have some idea of what was causing my spiritual experience seeking behavior, I am fighting for ways to handle it when the feeling bubbles up inside me.
The contemplation and the clutter-sorting brought me to the realization that I have long used two things as coping mechanisms to quench the discomfort. One, of course, was the seeking out of spiritual experiences – worship, summer camp, prayer group. And the other, apparently, was material stuff. Not necessarily in the classic sense of “retail therapy”, though there was some of that too. More of an adjunct to the spiritual addiction. Books and study guides and spiritual tools. Comfort objects and memorabilia. And lots and lots of just “stuff” that never got sorted in a timely fashion while I was way too busy seeking the next spiritual high.
This spiritual detox has left me reluctant to throw myself back into the church-fray. I’ve tried. I’ve sampled plenty of non-Evangelical options that might be perfectly fine places to find community and support for me and my family. But I know myself better now, and I know how easily I can fall down that rabbit hole again. How easily I can be convinced to help out with this project, head up that committee, volunteer with that group, support that cause. A person could happily fill themselves up with this useful and compassionate busy-ness. Many do. I just know that I can no longer count myself as one of them.
So I’ve been sitting with my Emptiness. Oh, how hard that is. So much easier to run off and try something, anything, rather that sit with and feel it. It’s almost physically painful. An anguished existential scream from deep inside me. A deep well of un-cried tears. It’s pretty much impossible to share with people caught up in the shiny happy modern world of many distractions. I’ve had a lot of comfort from older writings – Buddhists, mystics, shamans, poets. They knew about the Emptiness. They taught themselves to sit with it, and hold it – cradle it tenderly like a newborn child.
Into the middle of my self-imposed tarot Hermit period came several events I couldn’t ignore. The sudden deaths of two close Christian friends, and the moving far away (to different countries) of family friends and actual family. Facing all these losses piled one on top of the other, without the distracting comfort of my former level of faith, brought out a lot of existential angst, and eventual clarity.
I finally figured out what the Emptiness was, for me at least. People call it different things – their Mission, Calling, Purpose, or Reason for being born. Somewhere along the way, I lost mine. Caught up in constantly seeking out “God’s will” through church and Bible study and other people’s opinions of it, I left my essential Self by the wayside.
How does one go about finding one’s lost Self and Life Purpose?