Why I Had To Give Up Atheism To Love Myself

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“I am not a cosmic orphan. I have no reason to be timid.”
-The Actor’s Vow, Elia Kazaan

My personal journey to spirituality is a topic I’ve been hesitant to write about until now. Not because I wanted to hide it, but because I didn’t have the right words to explain it. I’m painfully aware of how typical “woo-woo spirituality” language can turn people off, because I’ve been there.

It’s difficult to use specific and vivid language to explain how how life has been changed by a shift in existential perspective, but I’m sure as fuck gonna try. I promise to do so while only minimally dragging you through the woo-woo mud.

Religion is stupid

I grew up atheist, in an atheist family. Most of my friends went to church and believed in God, but when I asked what happens to us when we die, my mom responded with “our bodies decompose under the ground and feed the worms and plants and continue the cycle of life.”

Given the awesome and self-evident concreteness of that answer, the religious stuff my friends believed in seemed really fucking stupid. It felt like they were being willfully naive, or were just too mentally weak and scared to think for themselves. I concluded at a young age that believing in God was a sign of weakness, stupidity, and cowardice. As such, I wore my atheism with pride.

That having been said, I was always a little jealous of anyone who believed in something. It seemed really nice to be able to believe that an old man in the sky listens to your prayers, and we all go to heaven when we die. It was like believing in Santa, which was another fantasy my parents (who really over-valued honesty, IMO) didn’t allow us.

I was a pretty happy kid growing up, don’t get me wrong. But underneath it there was a feeling of… what can I call it; randomness? A sense that I had seen behind the wizard’s curtain, this beautiful Santa-and-God curtain, and that behind the curtain was just a cacophony of parents buying you presents and people turning into worm food, and random good and bad shit happening to random good and bad people.

It was the senselessly uneven distribution of good and bad luck that bothered me most. I felt guilty about how good my life had been, because I knew I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. The universe’s cold and uncaring randomness was truly overwhelming to me sometimes. I still vividly remember the depth of pain I felt the first time I learned that in other parts of the world female genital mutilation still happens, and children get sold into sex trafficking. How could things like that happen? How could those people get so very, very unlucky?

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Confronted with my own hardship

When I was eighteen, I fell into an emotionally abusive relationship while I was studying abroad. I was extremely isolated, and far away from all the people who had once provided me with a sense of safety and rightness in the world. That experience fucked with my head in a huge way, because it made me question some deep stuff, like “what’s the point of being alive?” and “would the world miss me if I wasn’t here?

If I had been home, surrounded by my friends and my family, I probably never would have asked myself questions like that. But being far way from them took me to a darkly existential place. I realized that, since the universe is a cold and random place where DNA just kind of matches up and people are born and people die and accidents happen and it’s all meaningless… well then, I’m meaningless too.

The hardest years of my life followed that realization and experience.

I was so angry. Angry at myself, angry at that guy (and all men everywhere), and angry at the world. The world seemed dark and mean, and I became dark and mean too.

If I’m meaningless after all, what the fuck is the point of following my dreams? Is it just to entertain myself until I die? What’s the point of taking the time and energy to treat people kindly? It all goes nowhere, they’re meaningless too, so I may as well save my energy and just focus on myself. Why help anyone? Why put forth any effort to anything? Why get out of bed in the morning?

As you can see, being this kind of atheist was extraordinarily painful for me. I felt deeply, fundamentally alone, and I isolated myself further by not reaching out to others, because it just seemed pointless. I had no motivation to do anything, and since I spent most of my time squandering my potential, I decided I must be fundamentally lazy and weak.

I developed debilitating social anxiety, although conveniently around that time in NYC, it had just become trendy to be an introvert. (Therefore I was able to hide my mounting anxiety behind the label of “proud introvert” for several more years.) I felt exhausted, lost, and ashamed that I hadn’t done anything with my life.  I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what.

I felt destructive and dangerous; I was viciously talented at hurting people, and afraid of how easily I could manipulate them. I felt like I could get anything I wanted, but I didn’t have enough kindness or compassion in my heart to ensure I didn’t become a supervillian in the process. I didn’t trust myself, so to protect everyone else, I forbade myself from wanting anything at all.

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The awakening

Then everything changed. My entire way of being came to a sudden screeching halt with the end of a big relationship, and closely linked to the first time I experienced the healing power of MDMA. Everything seemed to crack wide open, all these walls and labels and stories I had been telling myself for so long fell away. The only term I can think of to describe this period of my life is “a spiritual awakening.” Truthfully though, “awakening’ isn’t even quite strong enough of a word.

It felt more like my consciousness stepped outside my tiny human body until I was suddenly the size of the whole universe, and I just fucking UNDERSTOOD all this stuff I hadn’t understood before. I wish I could create a twelve step program to have your own awakening (trust me I’m working on it!) because that shit was magical. But alas, the best I can do is share the fundamental shift that happened for me, and the seemingly irreversible affect it’s had on my life.

The biggest change that happened was that I stopped feeling a need to be “right” about my beliefs. I realized that there really might be divine order to the universe, but that the order of the universe would never be any more clear to me than calculus is to an ant. So I stopped trying to understand or prove it, and chose instead to follow my heart and believe  in whatever I wanted. With that, the painful sense of randomness that had been haunting me my whole life disappeared forever.

After I gave myself full permission to be wrong and sound crazy, new bliss-inducing realizations came rolling in. One of the most mind-blowing examples was the realization that energy cannot be created or destroyed, and everything in the universe is made of energy. Which means that we are all made up of this same ancient, recycled energy. Which means there’s an energy source from which we come, and an energy source to which we will return. (That’s not even woo-woo, that’s just basic science.)

Combined with my new delicious feeling that the universe is following some divine order, this fact suddenly held incredible meaning because I saw how this life force I’m using right now is merely a rental. I’m just borrowing energy from the universe for this little human life journey I’m on, and I’ll have to return that energy when my life is over.

I started to feel responsible for my borrowed life force in a way I never had before, as though someone important had lent it to me, and it was my job to take good care of it. Like a child who has been given some imaginary-but-essential task, I suddenly felt… important. It was the first time in my life I felt like I truly mattered; the first time I felt authentically “empowered.” I pictured the universe like an omniscient and loving parental force, giving me my life force and expecting extraordinary things from me, but fully prepared to love me unconditionally, no matter what.

This is when I decided to live my life for real. I felt supported, loved, and important enough to counteract the years of fear and anger and pain I had been living underneath.

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But is it real?

Here’s where you could totally call me out on my “awakening” being nothing more than me deciding to believe in magical nonsense. And you wouldn’t be totally wrong. But honestly… who cares? If an ant guessed that calculus was a magical ant-playground in an alternate universe, and he had a happier and more productive ant-life because of it, does it really matter that he’s wrong?

As I gave myself permission to take on these new beliefs, I felt twenty seven years of feeling isolated, unimportant, and alone melt away. In it’s place was a deep sense of purpose, gratitude, and connection.

This is truly when I first fell in love with myself. This is what made me realize I am worth treating well, following my dreams, being myself, and being happy. This is what allowed me to forgive people who had hurt me, see the best in everyone, and fall madly in love with human nature. This gave me the self-trust to see that the quality I had always considered  “manipulative” was actually just an ability to read people; a strong intuition.

Finally unafraid to use my intuitive gifts, I stripped off the heavy layers of armor I’d been wearing to protect people from me. Removing that armor allowed me to show up as my true authentic self, for the first time in my life. People responded to my new energy with startlingly positivity; it became clear that somehow by being my true self I was inspiring others to do the same.

My previously crippling social anxiety (and my self-proclaimed label as an introvert) disappeared practically overnight, as did every trace of judging others.

Over the course of several months, I exploded with productivity, peace, joy, gratitude, clarity and desire. I launched Remodel Fitness, had spontaneous euphoria attacks, treated my body like a temple, and spread love everywhere I went. All my various nagging physical pains and discomforts disappeared, I slept deeply and woke up full of energy, I felt high all the time, and for the first time in my life I felt deeply safe, peaceful, and complete.

self image | Remodel Fitness | empowerment | spiritual journeyAfter the rush

Eventually that euphoric phase passed, and I did a lot of work around letting it go and not clinging to it. The truth is, if I walked around like that all time I wouldn’t be able to get anything done or relate to anyone. My friends can tell you, at the time in my life, no matter what happened, it just seemed “perfect” to me. Seriously. I was living with this awful untrained pitbull who bit me several times, and regularly cornered me in my bedroom threatening to attack. How did I respond? By sending her love and light, so that she would feel safe to be her best self with me! Ha. Literally. I would’ve been a terrible coach if I had stayed in that state.

In the two and a half years since this massive shift took place, I’ve done a lot of researching and learning to better understand and explain my experience. I didn’t want to fall back on cliche terms like “we are all one,” but I knew it was important to be able to talk about what happened, because the truth is, you can’t discuss body image without talking about how you fundamentally see the world.

Your body image is directly tied to your self-worth, and the big question is: where does  worthiness come from? Is it something you’re born with, or something you have to earn? If you feel like your worth is on the table, then you will spend the rest of your life negotiating for it. If you feel like it’s something you need to earn, you will spend the rest of your life attempting to earn it. Thats the action that follows that belief.

I could be wrong, but in my experience with clients, it’s very difficult to go around this particular hurdle to self-love. It seems to me that if you want the action of “loving and accepting yourself,” then you absolutely must believe that worthiness is something you are born with, not something you earn. 

Many of my clients know they “deserve” a good life, a healthy body, a loving partner, etc. But they think they deserve those things for the same reasons kids think they deserve present at Christmas- because they’ve been good. They believe their actions and behaviors and sacrifices are what cause them to deserve good things, and since our actions and behaviors and sacrifices are constantly shifting and up for re-evaluation, they are constantly worried that they will lose, are losing, or have lost their worthiness, and trying to secure their worthiness.

Your worthiness is not something you can fight for, and I believe if you’re still fighting for it, you don’t even have a shot at deep, peaceful self-love. Which means, if your goal is that deep and peaceful self-love, you’re going to need to examine your beliefs.

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So now what?

Listen, I’m not here to convince you that the universe has order, or that you’re here for a purpose, or anything like that. I have my beliefs, but they’re just mine. I’m brutally aware that nothing and nobody could have changed my mind until I was ready.

All I’m suggesting here is that you actively consider your beliefs about the nature of the universe, human life, and worthiness. Consider them and then examine how those beliefs have affected you, and how they affect your ability to love and accept your body and yourself.

A lot of my beliefs can be considered magical thinking. But our beliefs both affect and create our experience and behaviors. 

As an atheist I was miserable, lazy, selfish, angry, and unkind. My life was a stew of anxiety and fear, but I was able to console myself that at least I was better than everyone else, because at least I was fucking right. My new “spiritual” beliefs empower me to be motivated, confident, loving, generous, and kind. I live with joy and gratitude, I pursue my dreams, I love and accept my body, and I make the world a better place.

What affect are you beliefs having on you?

The post Why I Had To Give Up Atheism To Love Myself appeared first on Jessi Kneeland.

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