There’s something about travel that opens you not only to meet a wide range of interesting people but how much more we can discover because we are passing strangers for a few hours..
The psychologist in me wakes up and is curious to know why everyone else is on the flight.
Exploring God and Life
I start to talk to a young man, sat next to me, who is flying to Nice on a business trip. I ask him what he does, and he proceeds to tell me that he works for a pharmaceutical company. During the conversation I ask if he had always wanted to do this line of work and he said no. He had done his BA in music but realised that along with being a classical musician came the round-the-world trips and lack of contact with friends and family, so he changed his course and did an MA in health management. He clearly knew what was important to him, but he had also gone on an inner journey.
He proceeded to share he was raised a Christian but while growing up felt he hadn’t been able to “play along” and join in with the activities. However, when he came to London he sought out a different church and found the welcome he received and the kindness of the other members of the church something that motivated him to keep going.
However, underneath he wrangled with many of the fundamental beliefs contained in Christianity. He was still questioning if in fact there was a god. He asked himself, what if God did exist? Why are so many people dying? How is it that he has a privileged life when there was so much suffering in the world? Did Jesus die on the cross for him? If so, shouldn’t he at least be grateful and pursue a life dedicated to pleasing God?
Managing other people’s conflicts, beliefs and dilemmas
Initially I thought wow, there are a few complex concepts this young man is wrangling with. My understanding of Christianity beyond the rituals my family and I deploy at Easter and Christmas is fairly limited so having a shared dialogue to unpick this at any time is something of a challenge.
So, I donned the best hat I have, which is ,just to listen. I could see this man was really searching to find a way to resolve the issues posed by his scientific mind, fuelled by his current job, and issues of faith and trust. It seemed that if he didn’t come to trust and love God that he would somehow mess his life up and regret not having that relationship with God.
It was tough to see someone so caught up in this inner turmoil that in one sense seemed to give him freedom and feel good yet, he couldn’t fall softly into that space. His mind or his ego wanted to keep him trapped.
There is no advice I can give to any situation like this as It’s not like I’ve ever come to any resolution about the same questions either, but like others I now encounter, that feels ok. Sometimes it just helps to express your thoughts, knowing clarity can come later.
I’m very comfortable with my spiritual beliefs and my capacity to keep exploring and hearing the many ways that people view the world, their purpose here and what keeps them sane, but it wasn’t an easy road either.
Since I was young I was intrigued by religion and have since read about many different ones–Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism, etc. When I got married my husband’s family were Hindu’s so I integrated into that lifestyle while we were together. I love to learn and discover but unless you are about to fully take on the key beliefs and framework, like anything else there is only so deep you can go.
During my counselling training I pursued exploring the major world religions. I was also introduced to psychological theories, philosophy and alternative practices. If anything is going to send your head in a whirl, then it’s going to be immersing yourself into those two areas. It takes a brave soul to be open and receptive to discovering new information, as some of what you discover can seriously impact what you thought you already believed.
Research, discovery and a questioning mind means that we can easily fall into each fresh discovery and become easily influenced by what we find without giving it the proper time to really understand what we are learning, allow it to unfold and deploy our discernment. Searching and exploring can also challenge us at a deeper level. Anything that does challenge us can feel very scary, threatening and unsafe. It’s why as humans we have developed in the way we have and why some keep up some form of religious practice.
The mind needs security and safety and a lot of the time we need our days and nights to be predictable. Too much uncertainty can send people into a spin. Some people thrive on it and others will get very anxious and deploy several techniques to cope, and not all of them will be healthy.
Coping with change and transition can be both exciting and scary. Once you follow your intrigue you may never be the same again, whether that means exploring a new religion, going off to a retreat, or moving to a new town.
On the up side, outside of meeting our needs, humans are meant to grow, change and evolve. We are meant to experience and discover but of course this all depends on the culture you have grown up in and how narrow or wide its definitions are, what’s socially acceptable and how it manages its flock when they veer off track towards something else.
Many of us can have well-formed beliefs and values, but many are also unaware of them until the time comes when we are forced to face ourselves. Often this can happen during change and transition, such as loss or divorce or a new job. \At these times people can benefit from a counsellor, life coach or pastor in their church to explore any challenges that emerge. Some seek advice within the context of their culture and others want to feel free to examine their ideas about life, challenges and get some clarity by stepping outside for a while.
In my 20 or so odd years of working with people, much of the work was helping people explore and manage their troubles, unpack their struggles and find some ways to come to some resolution with them. For others, they sought clarity so they could make better decisions and the odd few sought to explore what else they could be or the space to pursue new inklings of ideas stirring within them. Different issues require different responses and tools. Sometimes it covers spirituality and religion but often it doesn’t.
It really is an individual process but by opening ourselves up we also open to possible growth and change and some of what we discover on the way can be disconcerting, challenging or even life enhancing but I’m not sure there is an easy path for any of us.
Our minds are powerful tools. They can filter information to keep us safe, they will block what doesn’t fit our current reality, and they will ignore new information that comes to light if it threatens our status quo–but our mind also protects us from harm. However, knowing what’s getting in the way, which can be our perception of the situation, the change or the decision coming up can mar and block out the potential for a fresh injection of life force, happiness and success.
Often, after I have had a conversation with someone I think about what was shared, what I learned and the feelings it evokes in me. I felt for this young man and what seemed to be a struggle between his head and his heart. I couldn’t help this anymore than listening to what he shared, and it seemed his church and friendship group provided him with the things needs in his life,–connection and sharing. He was also very confident in his job and seemed to like the lifestyle it afforded him. His deeper guilt seemed to be causing him the most angst, “at having not been a nice person” and being imperfect but then how many of us haven’t either? Don’t all humans struggle at least and are any of us perfect?