“Many Tibetan Buddhist teachers have noted that as a culture, we Westerners don’t have a lot of faith in our innate wisdom and goodness. We tend to loathe ourselves to a certain extent, and not trust in simple things like the fact that we deserve to be loved and respected.”
– The Buddha Walks into a Bar, Lodro Rinzler
When you don’t follow any religion, you have to find your Gods elsewhere to avoid not going insane. What I mean is, we all need something (or things) to believe in, to help us make sense of what’s happening, or at least to come to terms with what’s unknown. I consider these to be the routes we take outside of ourselves, those thought processes that our egos are bold enough to choose as worthy of our time.
I place my faith in a few different spheres—some very lofty, others decidedly more realistic in their viewpoint. A recent sampling includes Buddhist proverbs, astrology, and a collection of sentences from my favorite books. Though none of these ideas are based on capital-T truths, there’s a power to be found in what I make of them. And while I struggle to comprehend how a person could believe in a guy in the sky, many probably think I’m loony for allowing the stars to be insightful. But their probably-placebo effect is one I’m fully willing to play into—as the result is soothing, even if it’s tenuous.
It would be nearly impossible to forge a pure path in this department anyway, claiming to be unattached to any belief systems. You simply can’t be alive without, on some level, bowing down to strains of thought that have come before you. Each of our lives is a unique arrangement of these different parameters, established by whatever it is that we’ve deemed virtuous—which, all together, forms a vibrant landscape that includes everyone from Jesus to Cher to Alice Waters.
We need these idols and the practices they preach to help us in constructing our own special blends of “a life well-lived.” To avoid them, or even scarier, to assume we alone have all the answers needed to win this game, would be to indulge in the ultimate narcissism: closing yourself off to the possibility of something bigger or more knowledgeable than yourself.
I’m not knocking the need to be realistic—in fact, a marriage of both perspectives would be ideal. It’s just that too much realism can wear you down, slowly turning into something more like cynicism over time. The result is a bunch of hopes and dreams locked up in your proverbial basement, not allowed out since you refused to believe they could possibly shine. And what’s the fun in that? Well, there isn’t any.
Your best bet, instead, is to serve yourself a healthy dose of wishful thinking every once and a while, in whatever form that takes. A belief in herbal remedies, perhaps, or (if you must) Paltrow-penned Goopism. These philosophies of living, found creeping around every decision we make that isn’t biologically required (read: shitting), help us fashion our little worlds, and in doing so contribute to that which we want to give back to the world before we go. They inspire us, they set us off, pushing and pulling at our brainwaves and requiring us to think beyond what’s been outlined for us in vivid color. Most importantly, they give us a good kick in the ass when we really need it, allowing us to believe in ourselves when all signs pulled from reality (a streak of bad luck or procrastination?) might have us throwing in the towel.
So, I continue to collect these random quotes, to mark the pages of books I like, and to troll the Internet for those perspectives on my life as a supposed Capricorn. Similarly, I treat running like a religion, giving it the ability to empower me in precisely the way Nike’s ads would want it to. These are just a few of my designated higher powers. Yours are probably different, and your specific devotion to them perhaps difficult for me to relate to. But, I do understand the simple fact of your having them—I understand their ability to fill the gaps in your life and, in doing so, render it something like whole.
Photograph by my latest obsession, Amanda Charchian [do check out her work!]