I have written much on spirituality and religion as a whole thus far, but haven’t given my readers too much information on my own spiritual journey. My writings have always been infused with a degree of my own beliefs, but certainly over the past year (or so) a great awakening has taken place, of which I cannot but help but express through all my writings (regardless of what topic it is on).
Certainly much of my writing on religion and spirituality thus far has been about the comparison of different perspectives. I have always stated what I believe to be true, both on the basis of personal experience and what evidence and reason I have deemed to be relevant. However, now my own personal experience has blossomed in an extraordinary way, it is only natural that I would include more of that in my writings. I cannot help but speak of the deep peace (even bliss and ecstasy) I am living through my spiritual path, and as I write on religion and spirituality (amongst other subjects) this is certainly relevant. Hence, I thought perhaps it was time to write a little of my own journey thus far.
I was raised in an evangelical Christian family. I would certainly consider it to have been quite conservative, in the sense that we believed in eternal damnation for all unsaved beings (non-Christians and false Christians). We were frequently warned of demons lurking in wait, attempting to ensnare us, and other religions (and/or spiritual or philosophical paths) were seen as a primary tool in Satan’s arsenal. We read the Bible after dinner most nights, and we often went to church at least twice a week. However, evangelical Christianity was also quite modern in the sense that it kept up somewhat with modern architecture, music, sound and lighting etc. Many of the preachers were just as much motivational speakers, and there was certainly a sense in which people were encouraged to balance spiritual and worldly pursuits.
With the gift of retrospect I can appreciate both positive and negative aspects of my religious upbringing. Certainly there were many negative features of it; for example the incredibly harsh view of those outside our faith, the awful threats of eternal torment for those we considered “unsaved”, the limitations that were given on what media (television, music, writings) we were to expose ourselves to etc. It is true that there were elements of our religious upbringing that were repressive. Certainly I went through many years of pain as a young adult, feeling anger and frustration with Christianity as a result. Fortunately I feel that I have made peace with this now, and would like to make it clear that I also see much good in Christianity, and am grateful to have been exposed to religion in my youth.
It was this dual exposure to religion that eventually drove me to want to really study and experience spirituality for myself. Having seen both positive and negative expressions of religion I wanted to ask questions, read, listen, converse, debate, meditate, pray, worship and so forth. I am now in a place where I enter intensely blissful meditative states on a daily basis, and deep peace (even ecstasy) generally remains with me throughout the day. I am also in a place whereby I hope I can offer something to the world in attempting to move forward in our understanding of comparative religion. So, my own childhood created desires within me to see if there is a way in which we can be spiritual and/or religious without also expressing it’s negative side. Hence, why I write.
It is hard to be objective about my actual spiritual experiences as a child, because I often cannot remember enough details to determine what I actually experienced from how I interpreted my experiences through the lens of my worldview at the time. Certainly I did have a few significant experiences in church, in one case someone laid their hands over my head and I went into a deep void, where I recall having a voice speak to me and assure me of my worth. I cannot however be certain of this experience; my memory simply isn’t clear enough. I never really felt anything significant during praise and worship, though I saw others around me experiencing deep love and peace through it. It always felt a bit artificial to me; it never quite felt natural and sincere (though I don’t believe I projected this conclusion onto the experiences of others).
I prayed everyday and I think I did experience a sense of lightness and peace from this, but I cannot claim any clear, dramatic supernatural experiences from this. Certainly I am open to the possibility that there may have been some genuine cases of divine intervention in my life, but due to the sands of time I cannot be sure about individual cases. What I did experience from a very young age however was an intensely interesting experience of dreaming, to the point that I recall being unable to differentiate the two at some points, given how clear my memory of my dreams was (and is again).
I noticed at a reasonably young age that there was an element of precognition in some of my dreams. If this phenomena hadn’t continued into adult life I would probably be cautious about accepting my youthful memories on the subject, as self-delusion is a difficult weed to remove in spirituality. However, I have continued to have some precognitive dreams throughout my adult life, and given that it is a common phenomena, I can accept that this has always been with me. Furthermore, I have experienced lucid dreaming since quite young, and hence my interest in religion naturally developed into an interest in psychology.
I enjoyed psychology at school and actually intended to go through university and becoming qualified, hoping to get into research into the subconscious mind. I did actually start my degree, but basically I stopped really functioning properly at around this time due to a number of issues (largely heavy cannabis use and family breakdown), and quickly dropped out of university. At around the same time I stopped going to church as frequently (and eventually stopped altogether). I most certainly did not undergo a systematic deconversion from Christianity at the time. Rather, I fell away with lots of unresolved questions.
Probably the most significant early seed of doubt to my faith occurred after the suicide of a classmate at high school. I laid awake in bed for several nights afterwards, conflicted at the idea (which I had always been told) that someone who took their own life would naturally be excluded from heaven, and would suffer for eternity. Shortly afterwards I asked a youth leader at my church about this, and was simply told, “Sorry, they will go to hell”. I never accepted this response; in my heart I felt it couldn’t possibly be true. I still continued on in faith though, but this seed eventually grew and developed into a rejection of one of the core doctrines of my childhood faith.
I have been asked on a number of occasions about my faith in my youth, whether I was really a Christian, whether I really had accepted Christ as my saviour etc. The answer I give is yes, but I was quite immature in many ways. Certainly I did indeed try. For a while I believe I even used to take a pocketbook copy of the New Testament in my pocket with me to school when I was in primary school, and this wasn’t just at the prompting of my parents. I certainly tried to do the right things. However, nevertheless, I certainly ended up in a bit of a mess in my late teens and early twenties, largely as a result of heavily cannabis use, which spiralled quickly out of control and devastated my life.
Around the age of 24 I started to develop a strong desire to learn. I wanted to learn about history, science, religion, spirituality, philosophy and the paranormal (amongst other topics). Fortunately, my interest in spirituality soon resulted in giving up weed, and seeking to begin to heal my body, mind and soul. I had some wonderful early experiences with energy healing (Reiki) which absolutely convinced me of the reality of the subtle life force (Prana, Chi, Ki etc.). Likewise, I had some astonishing experiences with a number of mediums, whose knowledge of my inner workings far superseded what any family or friends could have revealed about me (let alone anybody employing “cold-reading”). I soon tried yoga and meditation, where I immediately felt I had come home, having extraordinary experiences from the beginning, and throughout my journey.
After my first yoga class I felt amazing, and it occurred to me that I naturally wanted to learn to feel like that all the time. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed at the time to sustain that feeling, but the urge emerged within me, pushing me forward to learn, heal and evolve. Simultaneously I became reasonably serious about wanting to understand comparative religion. I had been brought up to believe that the things I was now trying were the Devil’s work. I wanted to test this idea, and properly consider multiple perspectives in order to sort through the maze of conflicting ideas.
Certainly it is true that at the time I had a great deal of anger towards Christianity, and one may accuse me of bias in my pursuits of answers. However, I do believe that I have given honest consideration to the case of orthodox Christianity, and as I see it, it just cannot stand. The hurt that I once felt on the subject has since healed, and I can debate religion without becoming emotional (as so many do, and as I once did).
As I searched for answers I found that a large number of things that I had been told by my religious family (and wider community) in my youth simply were gross misrepresentations of the truth. That is, they commonly involved selective representation of the facts, various erroneous arguments and attempts to reason, as well as many outright false claims. This is true not only about things claimed in favour of orthodox Christianity, but also things claimed against other religions and spiritual and/or philosophical paths, and the paranormal in general.
By contrast, I found tremendous depth and reason in Eastern philosophical works, as well as many modern spiritual texts and teachers. I found great peace and healing through practices which orthodox Christianity condemns, to which it claims that the Devil gives practitioners false imitations of divine peace as a means to ensnare them. From my own experience and understanding, I have concluded that there is simply no way that this view could possibly be true (I’ll link to a few previous articles at the end of this piece for anyone that is interested in some of my explanations why).
So, I came to develop a great love for the various practices of Yoga, and the accompanying philosophy of Yoga, Tantra and Vedanta (which many – if not most – modern practitioners (including myself) consider to be three sides of the same coin). I have also been a member of my local Spiritualist organisation[i] for some time. I will write on Spiritualism at some point in the near future, as I feel there is comparatively little positive information on it around, in light of all the negative press it gets from skeptics and conservative followers of various religions (and even some members of the New Age community).
I have been sincerely seeking God for some time now, sincerely attempting to grow as a human being and work for the benefit of all beings. I have succeeded in many ways, and yet have had many failures along the way. In the time of my serious spiritual pursuit I have had many wonderful experiences and have conquered many old habits, whilst cultivating new positive traits. And yet, I have also struggled deeply in many ways, fighting some habits that have been difficult to break, and making many new mistakes along the way. Despite a keen awareness of mistakes made earlier in my life, I have not yet become the man I wish to be.
I got married in 2007 and fathered two beautiful girls, born in 2010 and 2013, bringing me the great gift of parenthood. Despite this, my marriage failed (I left) and I have not fully found my feet since. I have struggled with mental and physical health throughout my spiritual pursuits, and have experienced many deep highs and lows throughout this. And yet, I have not felt like life was harsh beyond my control. Rather, I can see how much power I have had throughout to bring about change and growth, even when I have not succeeded. Sometimes this understanding can only be seen in retrospect, as at the time it really does feel like you are trying everything.
Anyways, I wish to make it clear that I am not making any grand claims about myself. I am not claiming to be perfect, but rather I am acknowledging that I am and have always been far from it. As is typical of humanity, I have many strengths and weaknesses, and it is usually easier to see other people’s weaknesses than those of yourself. There have been areas of my own life I have tried unsuccessfully for much time to resolve; certainly it is much easier to see how much of other peoples problems are self-created, and how obvious the solutions are.
Anyways, I am not claiming to be enlightened, to be a perfect being, to have lived a perfect life, to have all the answers, to have miraculous abilities, to be from another planet or dimension or anything like that. I also wish to make it quite clear that I am largely self-educated (I believe the term is autodidact), and I am quite happy to acknowledge the challenges and limitations of this approach, given the large difference in the quality of information available in this day and age. And yet I do believe I have much to offer humanity in the way of understanding the topics of religions, spirituality, philosophy and the paranormal (and more). Furthermore, whilst I am not enlightened, I have most certainly tasted it.
Whilst I have been having powerful spiritual experiences throughout my spiritual search, nothing I had experienced compares to what has happened since mid-2017. For quite a while I had been a fan of Mooji, a Jamaican born spiritual teacher in the Vedanta tradition. I believe I first encountered a video of his around 2008-2009 (I can’t be sure exactly when), and immediately felt that he was speaking with the authority of personal experience. Nobody had to tell me that he was enlightened; it seemed obvious to me.
Nevertheless, I went about my search in many different places, and a bit later (around 2015) started listening to his videos more regularly. I had been reading (and re-reading) Eckhart Tolle for a while at this point (and I strongly recommend “A New Earth” to everyone), and Tolle’s wisdom naturally led me back to Mooji, and the Vedanta of which I had read much earlier upon my pursuit of the Yogic path.
Around June-July 2017 I noticed one of Mooji’s videos on YouTube titled “This exercise is all the help you need”[ii]. This sounded interesting so I gave it a go. I figured it was a meditation, so I closed my eyes and listened intently. Then something happened; instant bliss. Overwhelming joy, deep effortless silence and clarity. This was different to what I had experienced before. Not different as in from another universe, but just of a depth I had always sought, but had previously never experienced. This was what I had read about, but had only glimpsed previously.
I had come into the experience of presence (awareness without thought) before, though it had mostly come through intense effort, which could never be sustained. Mooji’s guidance however was different. I was not being present; I was (and am) Presence itself. This is not something that requires effort; it is not created or sustained. It just Is, hence Mooji generally refers to the experience of pure awareness as “The Is-ness”, both to simplify it for those who are put-off by esoteric and/or foreign words (like Brahman), and also to avoid projecting pre-existing ideas about what God or Source is.
This experience of the Self is truly satisfying in the most extraordinary way. There is absolute contentment, complete perfection and purity, a deep peace that blossoms into bliss and then ecstasy, and an effortless silence and clarity. This is not necessarily a trance state where one leaves the body and is unable to function whilst swimming in the cosmic sea. Certainly my meditation has deepened enormously since this awakening, and there was a period when I was going so deep that I found it hard to ground afterwards. By and large though, this experience brings completely clarity and effortless concentration, which remains after the exercise is over. In fact, it never goes away, unless and until one has the experience of masking it with the psychological processes that are considered normal by our race.
The Self is ever present, it is not an experience. It doesn’t require effort, nor is it attained by merit. Certainly a degree of self-effort is required to find It and remain as It, but having come to this experience I now properly understand the meaning of Grace. I have long acknowledged that people of many different faiths have legitimate spiritual experiences (albeit often coloured and limited by their accompanying beliefs). I had previously experienced a degree of Bhakti Yoga through group bhajans (and/or kirtans), but in retrospect I didn’t really know what divine devotion was truly like prior to this awakening.
Previously I was quite happy to accept that some Christians had real encounters with God through praise and worship, despite my criticisms of various aspects of orthodox Christianity. Now I feel indescribable love through the worship from various faiths, including Christianity. That is, whilst I never really felt anything in praise and worship as a Christian (despite an immature sincerity), there are many Christian songs that set my heart ablaze with overwhelming love. The ecstasy is just unspeakable. And yet, I am not about to become a born-again Christian. I feel the same love from Hindu Bhajans and from Sikh Kirtans amongst others, as I do in prayer, in meditation and even in just seeing a photo of Mooji.
So now, I finally get this devotion and faith thing. And yet, I think we need to retain an intuitive critical thinking, as spirituality and religion are awash with the madness that is so common in humanity. It’s an interesting path to walk, being very aware of the legitimate criticisms that have been made towards virtually all religions and spiritual paths by outsiders. In relatively recent times, atheists (or naturalists as I prefer to call them) have exposed a great deal of insanity within the field of religion and spirituality. I feel we all owe them a great debt for this, even though I disagree with many of their more general views about spirituality and the supernatural.
This is an interesting but wonderful place to be in, given that I can see so much madness in spirituality and religion. And yet, divine Grace is beyond the logic of this world. I was long ago convinced of the reality of the supernatural. Likewise, I was long ago convinced of the validity of the Yogic path, the universality of true spirituality and the existence of a Supreme Being we can call God (but which I accept as being in truth greatly different from most human conceptions and projections). And now, I feel I have been personally introduced to God, living within me as the true Self.
I have still fluctuated since discovering this, and not a great deal has changed (yet) in my external world. I have gone through significant periods of immersion in the wonderful state of Presence without deviation, and then somehow returned to a degree of psychological conditioning. However, these fluctuations have become far less frequent (and severe), and I have seen that it is indeed possible to live permanently in absolute clarity and ecstasy. Since discovering Presence I have felt happier with my own behaviour, in that I do not regret as much of what I have said and done since. I am now putting my attention to creating change in my external world, having now discovered the most solid foundation one could ever hope for.
So, whilst I myself am far from perfect, there is perfection within me. It is within everyone, the saint and the sinner, the wise man (or woman) and the fool, the king and the beggar. It is the very ground of being, the substratum on which all existence rests. It is the womb of Creation. What Grace to know this.
This exercise of Mooji has since been named “The Invitation to Freedom”, and there are numerous versions of it available online[iii]. It has brought true realisation to thousands of Mooji’s students, and I feel incredibly blessed to be amongst his flock. I wasn’t looking for a Guru, being very aware of the problems that often occur within such relationships. But Mooji has touched me in such a profound way; I feel the most inexpressible devotion towards him now.
So, life goes on. I have not reached a final destination; I am still a work in progress. But I live with a knowledge and direct experience of the unchanging reality. In a world full of suffering (which I have certainly been part of for most of my life), what an extraordinary thing to live in bliss. I desire for all beings to find this, in whatever way they can open themselves to it. Hence, I leave you with a traditional Hindu blessing:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
Please note – I have briefly mentioned here a few subjects, of which I have dealt with in some detail before, that perhaps a few readers might find relevant. If you are interested, please see the following endnotes[iv].
[iv] For a detailed examination of comparative religion which focuses on religious scripture, please see the following lengthy article: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/on-interpretations-of-scripture-why-many-religious-conservatives-and-progressives-misread-ancient-texts-and-misunderstand-religion-in-general/.
For a quick summary of why I believe orthodox Christianity is clearly wrong, see the following: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/four-reasons-why-orthodox-christianity-cannot-possibly-be-true/.
I also recently wrote on the balance of faith and reason: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/faith-and-reason-devotion-and-skepticism-in-spiritual-life/.