“Losing My Religion” 5.7

I’ve relocated. Not just to a new apartment complex, or to a new neighborhood. It’s not even that I moved from one city to another. I’ve switched states altogether. I was craving something a bit different.

I wanted somewhere with a good outdoor recreation scene—I love the outdoors. Now, it’s not like there isn’t a lot of fantastic recreation in Eastern Washington … but there’s not a lot of job opportunities for a someone with zero experience already three years out of college. I know … I looked.

After my winter spent working 65 hours in my 4 day work week—and still barely scraping by—I wanted a higher wage. It was time to put that degree to use.

That is how I ended up in Utah. Salt Lake City offered me the job I was hoping for in the setting I dreamed of. And I’m actively trying to be a part of that setting.

That action is what took me to a rock climber’s social and impromptu instruction session this past week. It was when talking about anchors that our instructor let slip his AMGA status (American Mountain Guides Association) … and the fact that he had written the climbing guide books to two of the valleys most prominent recreational canyons.

We battered him with questions.

“What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?”

“Do you have any first ascents?”

“Which route name that you’ve given is your favorite?”

When a rock climber is the first to ascend a route he gets to name it. It turns out, our instructors favorite name he had given was “losing my religion.” He then told us the story of the first ascent, how on the second pitch his partner was climbing up a crack when he ran into a bush. There was no way around it—no good rock features outside of the crack. So his partner had to fight through, clawing and cussing and snapping off dead branches trying to drag him down. Of course, with the path clear, it was easier for our guide who breezed right through that section.

“So, do you guys know what that means?”

I had always assumed I did. However, when he asked, I knew I couldn’t explain it.

He offered a simple explanation, saying when someone was irritated, or about to be pushed over the edge, they might say of themselves they are losing their religion … as in, their next immediate action might contradict their moral understanding of themselves.

“But really, there’s a second meaning.”

By this time I had figured out how to explain my interpretation of this concept: I just thought of it as someone losing trust in their own belief, and perhaps even feeling they should let it go.

He went on: “To say you’ve lost your religion, well that’s like saying you’ve experienced something so profound, you don’t need it anymore. The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line, right? Well imagine your religion is over here,” motioning to his right, “and imagine God is right in front of you.” He looked out in front of us, eyes focusing on nothing in particular. “Once you figure out how to draw that straight line, you don’t need this,” he said, gesturing back to his notion of religion hanging in the air to his right. “You don’t need that structure. So you lose it, because it no longer helps your experience with God.”

I was a bit dumbfounded … and suddenly aware of my adolescence. I’m not that young—but to hear the stark contrast in our interpretations was a bit disturbing to my ego.

Of course! Losing your religion isn’t about losing faith, but understanding it on a deeper level. It’s not about letting go of a belief, but letting go of the structures that contain it … the structures that imprison it.

I’ve been thinking about the most religious experiences of my own life, and I understood our guide’s definition to be true. Reflecting back, I see no structure there. Some instances were very chaotic actually—completely lacking structure. But in those moments I found a new depth of reality, a new depth of life.

“So which definition is the name based on?”

He smirked and looked to the sun as it fell to the western horizon. We were in a back yard perched above the city, at the foot of the mountain (as is most the city) looking out toward downtown Salt Lake City. The moment was serene.

Or SRENE (Strong, Redundant, Equalized, Not Extending), a rock climber’s acronym if ever I’ve seen one—one that is meant to guide the construction of anchors. But that’s just like a philosophizing rock climber isn’t it, to cram so much meaning into so little?

Imagined Action

Lately, I’ve been revisiting an idea I wrote about some time ago: that there is only one moment. Visiting this is how I’m overcoming my … writer’s block?

No—it’s not as much writer’s block as it is writer’s atrophy.

I’ve been very busy these past few months. I left myself very little time for writing, and even less motivation.

Now that I’ve finally made the time and sat back down, I find it incredibly difficult. Once upon a time, I could sit down for a few hours and a hammer out a few thousand words. Now … a few hours of writing means only a few words on the page; it means a lot of staring at a computer monitor; it means more frustration than progress.

There’s a common distinction made in the writing world: there are those who enjoy writing, and those who enjoy having written.

I fear that my atrophied hands have swindled my brain into making me the latter. I can look back at all the content on this blog, or at my book and think “Yes, I am a writer, for I have written.”

Now though, staring at my laptop makes me feel like less and less of a writer.

This is where The Only Moment comes into play.

My atrophied hands are causing me to imagine action. I can imagine myself writing. I’m there, at the keyboard, hammering out word after word, limited only by the speed of my hands. Blog post after blog post; short story after short story; chapter after chapter my hands hammer on.

I can feel the satisfaction that comes with another finished project. I can feel the deep and profound thoughts that I’ve infused into my writing. I can feel the imagery and themes leaping off the page with such creative beauty.

Meanwhile, my atrophied hands say, “See how wonderful it is?! We’ve created a masterpiece!”

That’s when I have to crack my knuckles. That’s when I have to take my hands through the painful bending motions that break the rust from their surface, to free their joints from the deposits of laziness and non-creativity.

I … my hands … we! only have this one moment. All of the writing I can see in the future, all of those completed works, all of that satisfaction—it’s all in the future.

The future doesn’t exist though. By default, neither does anything that I find there.

The future is my imagined action. It’s my projection. Therefore, I may not attribute to myself anything which I have not already done.

And with this realization, I can feel fluids moving in my joints—I can feel my fingers free up. My thoughts begin to show something reminiscent of fluidity. My words begin to look like writing.

This has become a daily struggle. I am a creature of habit, as we all are. So every night, I press the reset, falling back to the habits of atrophied hands. And every morning, I must see a bright and promising future dissolve beneath the harshness of reality and the illusion of time.

I will continue this daily meditation though until my hands have formed a new habit. I will continue every day until my action is no longer imagined, but realized.

Cosmic Beings

It was there for just an instant—a bright speck of light on the horizon.

I had been sitting, crossed-leg, my notebook on my knee, pen in hand. I looked up from my page–just for a momentto take in the view. I was perched atop a great granite outcrop, high on a ridge.

My eyes swept over the landscape, from the mountains growing on the eastern horizon, and westward across the patchwork of farmland broken by green pine covering the ridges and ravines. And there it was. To the southwest, a flash of light.

There’s a highway there—a four lane artery that stretches to the south. The light came from where the road bends, just before dropping into a valley and disappearing into the shade.

I watched the area for a few minutes and the flash of light did not repeat itself.

It was likely just the sun being reflected off a windshield.

Just …

I wondered at the odds of that happening: for me to see light reflected off a windshield more than 10 miles away.

First, what are the odds that 70 million years ago a plume of intrusive magma—destined to be granite—would force its way into a thick layer of basalt? And what are the odds that between 12 and 15 thousand years ago glacial floods would eat away that basalt, exposing the several granite monoliths? And what are the odds that I would be sitting on top of one of those monolithic outcrops at that exact moment? Astronomical. That’s not to mention the fact that the sun was in the perfect position in the sky, given the angle of the car windshield. And let’s not forget I looked up just in time to see it.

This bright flash was something miraculous.

But even more miraculous … you. What are the odds of you existing? It took billions of years for stars to create the elements that you are made of. The earth only existed for a billion years before recognizable cells came into existence. Another 3.5 billion years and this planet saw mammals. Modern anatomical humans have only been around for a quarter million years, and in that history you can find the genetic material that you are harboring inside all of your cells.

Imagine a single change to this sequence of events, a sequence that spans billions of years—an inconceivable amount of time. A single change could have changed everything.

If the chances of me seeing that light were astronomical, that makes the probability of your existence … cosmic.

Excerpt — Sex at Dawn

We mustn’t forget that the familiar fingers of culture reach deep into our minds. We can’t feel them adjusting our dials and flicking our switches, but every culture leads its members to believe some things are naturally right and others naturally wrong. These beliefs may feel right, but it’s a feeling we trust at our own peril. — Christopher Ryan, PhD & Cacilda Jethá, MD, Sex at Dawn

Learning to Walk (that’s a metaphor)

I recently listened to a man talk about a specific self-help type book—which? It’s irrelevant. He was not a fan of the book. He claimed that it provided no new and original ideas… it was all the same stuff he had been reading for years, from several different writers.

What this man did not expect though was the author to acknowledge this fact.

The author wrote that the ideas he was presenting were nothing new. But the reason he was recycling them was because he knows they don’t stick the first, or even the second time people are exposed to them.

You have to be constantly assaulted by an idea before it actually takes hold of you and you integrate it into your perception. A single exposure is not enough. A second is not enough. The idea must be consistent if you are going to accept it.

What a brilliant thought.

For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about chasing your dreams and what it takes to start down that path.

Similar to what that self-help author said about constant exposure, I think a required element is to continually try to move toward your goals.

It’s like learning to walk. You eventually find the courage and motivation to attempt to reach that goal, so you stand up. But then you meet your first obstacle—gravity—and you fall back down. It was a serious blow, one that a lot of people don’t want to get back up from.

But you aren’t dissuaded. After a recovery period, you stand back up.

Eventually, you take that first step… and it’s awkward. You fall down yet again. But you keep with it, and after several tries you begin to walk… you begin to move towards your goal.

I’ve self-published one book (The Divide). It was the sixth book I started writing. I still have the beginnings of the other 5. One is non-fiction, with a whole lot of research behind it. Two more fiction books have full scene outlines. One even has a first chapter written. But I kept falling. I kept running into obstacles with these books. It wasn’t until my sixth attempt that I finally found my rhythm and managed to walk across the room and meet my end goal. A completed book.

Now that I’m a bit better at walking, I’ve started working on another book. But I don’t refer to it as my seventh book… it’s my second book. Why? Because I know how to walk. I know I can finish this book. So what I’m really saying is that I’m writing my second book that will be published (even if that means self-publishing).

Keep standing up. Keep taking that first step. Be consistent in your efforts… and you will learn how to walk.