Excuse me, Sir, do you have a spare moment to discuss the meaning of the Universe? It may sound funny, but I’d rather talk about that, than about politics, TV shows, or sports. For the most of my life I was seriously involved in religious communities, and a big part of who I am now was largely shaped by that.
One of the things I miss most about religious communities was talking about the Big Scary Stuff that’s rarely discussed at parties. The meaning of life, your hopes, fears and regrets. What do you do to become a better person. What do you do to raise up when you fall. How you can contribute your skills to make the world a better place.
Still, as much as I loved the sense of belonging, community and Scary Stuff talk, religion has grown difficult on me. I’ve become too much of a curious skeptic, as science taught me that the only way to arrive at better conclusions is to challenge the ones you already have. It turned out that doubt and challenge is too much of a taboo for most religions to bear.
It’s not like I don’t believe things without proof, everyone does. I believe it makes sense to do even the tiniest little thing despite the whole sea of suffering around. I believe everyone is worthy of love and respect, even if they’re a total mess. I believe every experience and person have a lesson to teach me.
I don’t have a problem with believing in things. I have a problem with believing in them without question. If at some point in life I realise my beliefs no longer serve me, I want to be able to reconsider them, discuss other options, and try what actually works best. I want to be able to admit that no one actually has any freaking clue what they’re doing, and we’re all making it all up as we go along. Even authorities or gurus are not free from doubt and despair, and I’d love to see them admit when they don’t know the right answers, or to apologise when they make a mistake.
These parts – open discussion, seeing own flaws, and acceptance of doubt – is what I lacked in my religious settings. It felt like they were trying to fit a whole vast sky inside of their church. I couldn’t help but turn to the open sky instead.
Still, that wasn’t an easy choice to make. There’s many benefits of belonging to a community, and I missed them a lot while trying to make sense of the puzzle by myself. I missed the possibility to discuss my spiritual journey with other people sharing the same ideals and goals. At times I thought I’m alone with such goals and values in the whole Universe.
I thought I could find people like me in rationalist or science communities. In the books of Sagan, Feynman, or Einstein I found the purest awe and wonder of Cosmos, and fell in love with how they looked at the world. Somehow, the communities online were not full of Sagans, Feynmans, or Einsteins. “Science, bitch!”, we’ve got it all figured, and whoever doesn’t agree is brainwashed or simply an idiot. Just as if admitting that science doesn’t have all the answers, and may never have, would automatically imply that some particular religion is right.
The various flavours of New Age shamanism were not able to help me either. Many of them had genuine and valuable insights into human spirituality, but served them mixed up with the weirdest kinds of superstition and anti-science denial. Just as if the failure to explain consciousness in purely scientific terms would mean that science as a whole is wrong and confused, and the only thing that matters is subjective experience. If evidence piles up against it, there’s something wrong with the evidence. A natural consequence of such thinking is turning away from science-based medicine.
With time I understood that accepting doubt is extremely difficult and feels unnatural. We all want to make sense of the world, and we want to be certain that our sense is the right one. How else can we make any decision without being paralysed?
This is probably why certain spiritual experiences can feel as the only true thing in life. They are, until you realise that other people had equally truest experiences, totally incompatible with yours. The feeling of awe, own insignificance, and dissolving in the Cosmos is so overwhelming and intense that everyone dresses it up with their own cultural narrative and calls it the thing. It takes a great courage to admit that what you found true for yourself may not be for everyone else, or even for yourself a couple years later.
This is also why the articles on High Existence got me so intrigued and surprised. For the first time I saw that it’s possible to be serious about spirituality and still approach the subject with scepticism and zero bullshit. They seemed very serious about spiritual growth, but they were also serious to perceive the world as it is, rather than as someone might wish it to be.
After a few months of subscribing to everything they publish, I decided to buy their flagship course. Not just because there’s challenges in it, you can find similar ideas in the Tim Ferris Show or other books. What I really hoped was to see what kind of people would create or pay for a self-development course about enlightenment. Since I joined, I’m wondering what took me so long.
It turns out, the kind of people interested in a course about enlightenment also happen to be the people willing to discuss the meaning of life, the nature of consciousness, and whether there’s such a thing as free will. But that’s just for the start. The most important thing I found there, is a community to keep me accountable when I start a challenge, to share their feedback and advice when things get difficult, and to help me get back on track when I fail. It’s one of the most friendly crowds I’ve been a part of, and their support and shared insights have become invaluable to me.
It seems that more and more chunks of my life are slowly moving online, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Leaving the corporate world and working for a fully distributed team felt quite weird at first, until it turned out to be the most efficient and fulfilling way to work for me. If I can have my whole company online, why shouldn’t it work for a soul community too? Virtual or not, I feel like I’ve finally found my own tribe.