Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spiritual Journey | Dreams, Darkness, False Light, a journey in Ideas

 My spiritual journey is one of incredible awe, and bizarre twists in time and space all perceived from my own strange vantage.  It ends up in many a place, many a thought, from the Donnie Darko soundtrack to street lights at 3 am on summer nights in the suburbs.  Star Wars, Luke Skywalker, Forest Gump, The Fountain, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, 1984 by George Orwell, politics, philosophy, post-modernism and the heroes journey a-plenty.  Clerks, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob.. Reading every book ever written by Hunter S. Thompson.  At times I dipped into astrology and metaphysics, at other times I studied politics and conspiracy theories.  The journey led everywhere, into blank spaces, in circles around and around again, through obsession, distortion, and addiction.

I'd like to tell you about it, because it's my testimony.  It is not wise to stray too far from the vital testimony I carry.  In the book of Acts, Paul frequently returned to retell his story of how he came to Christ and the thoughts and actions that were taken in that area.  Some of my greatest heroes of faith and truth, Ravi Zacharias specifically, often return to their testimony as they share their faith and give presentations on the truth of Christianity.

I'll tentatively rate this post PG-13.  So be warned.  Though cover to cover the Bible is at least R.  So theres that.

Walking, walking, walking.  I'd often walk the windswept streets, but always at night.  I didn't like people seeing me, judging me, and I'd often plague myself with thoughts wondering just what they might be thinking about me as they drove by.  So nightwalks, always nightwalks.  I needed a few street lamps, places to catch a breather you know.  I'm afraid of the dark after-all!  Must emerge from the monster and zombie infested dark spots to bastions of light for at least brief periods.  I was always between street lights in those days, music my constant companion.  God was choosing the playlist, though I didn't know that then, yet I often suspected things had been fine-tuned in advance.  Though those thoughts never reached convincing conclusions, only really fading off into amusing speculation.

I was in trouble often.  A child of the suburbs, of the forests, the humid summers and brutal winters of north central Wisconsin.  I never compared it to anything else, it was just what I knew.  Trees always beautiful, and winters as vacant as nuclear wastelands, my such lands to walk with a mind prancing about complex ideas.  It was yummy, and I prided myself on obsorbing the beauty of not only nature, but of moments themselves.  They were equisit, and if properly perceived, such strange emotions could be pulled from them that makes one shutter.. like soft flowing memories as one smells autumn leaves or the red reminder of vital aloneness found in a cold snowed in road seemingly leading nowhere, and no one to be found for miles in any direction who might know you existed or were about.  I loved being alone so much, I prized it so well.

My goodness, what a wonder to be internally warm, yet cold all around, sky a pale gray, orange street lights about and nothing, absolutely nothing but the sound of faint winds howling and knowing, just knowing you're totally alone.  My goodness, so wonderful.   Such a unique state of mind, such an appealing feeling.

I loved feeling, and at once hated feeling.  See I always needed to find altered states of mind.  I fancied myself a consiur of sorts.

Almost reminds me of the Screwtape letters by C.S. Lewis, a line Ravi Zacharias sometimes quotes "That's where you blew it!"  The book was mock letters from one demon to another about attempts to keep a human from "the enemy" being God.  The less experienced demon lost a human because he allowed that human to take a walk once a day for the pure pleasure of it, and allowed him to read a book for the pure pleasure of it.

I was raised Catholic, never connected to it.  It had been an incredible bore, the catechism.  Everyone in the class made an incredible mockery of it.  I recall one fellow classmate named Justin would wear his jacket during class, and he'd have his cd player in his pocket, and run the cord for the headphone up his sleeve and to his hand.  He would rest his hand against his ear, and in his hand was the headphone.  So he could listen to music during the catechism classes.

I was raised in public school, what a nightmare.  I blotted out much of those terrible days from my mind, long ago.  But I spoke with a young woman in my graduating class and she recalled with me, just how horrible the preps and jocks were to me.  She said they would make fun of me constantly.  And I recall much of that.  It was endless, and so very cruel.  It can't be overstated, how it affected me.  But it didn't affect as bad as the divorce had.  That one knocked me over.

I suppose I was always a bit different.  I was forced to play sports, but I didn't want to play sports.  I wanted to read and write.  But I had to play sports, which meant I was always around jocks and preps.  But I didn't want to spend time with them, I couldn't relate with them.  So I was kind of stuck by myself, no time to pursue friendships with like minded people and instead forced to spend time with jocks who found it extremely easy to single me out as the quiet nerdy kid and lambaste me with ridicule and hatred.  I can still remember their names.  Chris R, Jarred G, Zach Z, Eli J, Brandon T, Alexi S, Nick S, and on and on and on.  I didn't like them, they didn't like me.  Unfortunately I was forced by my dad to always be in their presence, thus I had no time to make my own friends, thus I was always in the line of fire and always an easy target for attack because I had no companions.  Basketball, football, soccer, and on and on and on.

Such was my suburban nightmare.  I had nowhere to run.  No one to turn to.  No support.  Of course I crumbled.

And yes.. Catholicism, oh my.  I could write a book on the shortcomings.  But I could write another book on the failings of Protestantism.  So we won't go there.  Enough to say, I could write several books on my own failings.

Drugs, and trouble.  Alcohol and trouble.  Pain, separation, loneliness.  And a lot of rejection.  To this day a pain remains in my mind with one word stamped on it: "rejection."  I'm reminded of it time and again.  Every time I'm rejected a fresh by a person or a group, it gets a little bigger.  It's proceeded from high school to this day, growing larger and larger, like a fat elephant drunk on wine.

And dreams.  Lots of dreams I've had over the years.  I recall many so clearly.  I'm left handed you know, perhaps that has something to do with why.  Those dreams I wrote down.  I studied dream interpretation, read books.  I had dream encyclopedias.  I wrote my dreams down, and I'd use them later as plots for short stories and novels I'd write.

If my soul were a nation, when I was 14 and my parents divorced, it was like all my major cities were nuked.  The survivors boarded space ships and blasted off into the dark unknown desperate and afraid.  That was the state of it.  During my junior year I was expelled from high school for drug related issues, apparently some students believed I was going to blow up the school, or shoot up the facility.  The students who had once mocked and ridiculed me suddenly were terribly afraid.  They went to their influential parents who called the principle, Johansen, coach of the football team, and I was quickly expelled.

Rage, fear, rejection, and hatred.  These were emotions, mindstates that filled me up to the brim.  What do you do in that situation?  I was in a mental hospital after eating too many ambien pills from my prescription.  I was expelled, parents divorced, and none of my friends would talk to me because they thought I was a killer.  It was terrible.  Dark depression set in.  During that time I met up with a group of potheads, seven guys.  In retrospect there was an interesting fact to note about the group: every member was from a divorced family.  I recall one night my sister and mom were screaming at each other as they often did, my sister took a lot after my dad in that respect, and I recall my friends were there and I saw the look in their eyes.  It was like their throats had been cut afresh.  I saw reflected in their eyes the pain they held in witnessing their family, their foundation explode into nothingness below their feet.  And we all tumbled together down a dark tunnel, endless, empty, full of pain and nowhere to go but down.

I was starting to learn about hell.  There were good times in there I suppose.  Smoking pot, lots of pot, all the time.  Playing Halo for the Xbox 2 vs 2.  Talking about stupid crap, whatever.  Listening to music like REM, Radiohead, Blink 182, Dismemberment Plan, Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.  Talking about deep stuff.  Playing more videogames.  Playing Madden.

Eventually I met a young man who would become a very dear friend, a fellow explorer of mindsets, realities, and drug effects, named Greg.  He was an intriguing young man, quite brilliant.  He was a pyromaniac, several times we'd make napalm with gasoline and styrofoam throwing it about like madmen.  But we talked, and we talked a lot.  We talked philosophy, politics, religion, spirituality, metaphysics, science.  Beautiful things, beautiful little conversations.  But specifically.. hm..  As Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse wrote in one of his songs titled "The Good Times are Killing Me" he sang, "Jaws clenched tight we talked all night but what the hell did we say?"

What indeed.  I suppose I was like most modern young men, with a certain sympathy and vague respect for the cult figure status of Jesus Christ, but of little interest or desire to investigate.  I certainly didn't think or believe anything of value existed there.  But more so, I did not care about anything, period.  It's a strange thing to say.  But after you watch your foundation collapse, you very much have no ability to care about anything but blotting out the pain.  There was no thought of the future, there was no desire to plan or find work or attend college.  It was just about getting messed up and evading all responsibility.

I worked though, at a terrible little job answering phones for a shoe company.  Truly terrible.  Greg and I had broken off from our old group of friends.  Several of them had started working at a Pizza Hut, and an employee there had slowly recruited them.  This man was a drug dealer.  He pretended to be their friends, and mine, but slowly worked on them, until they were drivers delivering drugs, and then dealers under him.  I watched it happen, as he brought them in one by one.  But Greg and I kept our distance.  We didn't want any of that.

We began traveling from city to city across Wisconsin.  We'd go places, and I'd write about what we did, where we went, what we talked about, the drugs and alcohol we were doing.  It was crazy.  We went to shoes, met with girls, all these things.

At this time my mother began attending a baptist church in Mosinee.  I wouldn't find out until much later, but at that time she attended Bible study, and the people at the Bible study would get together to pray for me and my sister.  I deeply believe those prayers 10+ years ago were instrumental in my future date of salvation, November 2012.

Darkness descended one night.  I was arrested and put in jail for possession of marijuana.  Two weeks later, driving while intoxicated and disorderly conduct.  So it began, the march downward.  Probation.  And then jail.  So much could be said about those things.  Over and over again.  The legal system can be a revolving door for cases like mine.  And so it went, again and again.  There is nothing worse than the constant state of fear and trauma found in that revolving door.  I wish to never live such again, in any reality, for any reason, or for any higher or lower cause.

Standing before judges, sitting before judging.  Reading the Bible in jail.  I don't recall praying in jail.  Just reading, a lot of reading.  Maybe I did pray.  Probably simple prayers; God help me.  Get me out of this mess.

Amusing antidotes aside, pain.  Lots of trauma, and pain.  I was a fool, blundering from one terrible mistake to another.

Yet what I recall are the night walks.  And the beautiful sounds.  The crickets, and the deer standing along the road I'd come along in the woods.  The bright stars in the sky.  Watching the moon.  And the thoughts.  The mission, the journey, and the endless writing I did in those days.. thousands of pages every year, asking questions like "Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  What does life mean?  What is my destiny?  What or who is the supernatural and sense around me?"

In 2007 the journey changed, from one of drug and alcoholic collapse, to one of searching.  I collected charges, and I was in jail once again, and it was decided that these things needed to stop, so I went to a treatment facility for two weeks.  Transfixed with a dream, my writing began to change from gonzo new journalism trip outs to spiritual explorations and philosophical searching.  The dream I recall clearly.  I was walking through a dark field, and into a forest.  There was an owl watching me from the edge of the thicket.  There was no sound, only the great darkness of the forest.  I was searching.  And soon I was climbing a steep hill through the woods, light shining through, and the summer forest was turning to fall, leaves falling from the trees.  I found myself at a summit, a bright golden meadow, a clearing where the light shined down, and I sat down in the meadow and felt a feeling of peace overcome me that I had never before or since experienced.  It was true peace.

Ever since that day I had been searching for that place.    The place in my dreams.  It was like memories of dreams across my entire life were meshing together, to form this ethereal journey in my mind.  But I still had no idea where the road was heading.

There were several tracks of investigation, several primary tracks that all weaved together to push down this road.  The first was my writing, journaling, poetry, and the novels I scribbled in.  They were the output of my response to stimuli.  The second was conversation with good friends, bad friends, and teachers and family regarding spirituality.  The third was media, music, movies, books I read, the spiritual journey of Donnie Darko deeply affected me.  Movies like The Fountain impacted my conception of the spiritual.  Sociologically movies like Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, zombie movies formed my conception of the people around me, and how to deal with them.  The Matrix movie with it's absolutely brilliant similes and metaphors of a rebel resistance against the status quo, and "waking people up."  This stimuli was prepping me.  I loved classic literature, 1984 by Orwell, Brave New world by Huxley, A Wrinkle in Time, Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit, A Scanner Darkly, Fight Club, Hell's Angels, The Art of War, Walden, Thoughts from Underground, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, Alice in Wonderland, the Time Machine, the classics always amazed me.  Such beauty, such diversity of writing ability.  And of course the Bible, my goodness what a book.  But I didn't treat it as much more than a novel, or at best, a culturally bound spiritual book due respect in it's traditional heritage and antiquity. 

So much could be said about the media that impacted me.  It sounds stupid, but I'm born and raised American, suburbs, out in the woods, not much too do, most friends living too far away.  So media was a huge part of my life.  Plus everyone at school hated me, so I spent a lot of time in media.  Nothing to be ashamed of.  Star Trek Voyager played a huge part in my considerations on morality, and doing the right thing.  To this day I'm thankful for Voyager and the Next Generation, and their exploration of the human condition and struggling in difficult moral dillemas.  You don't get that in the average citcom.   

After rehabilitation was recovery groups, where I was deeply impacted by the spiritual solutions offered to me in the 12 step environment.  It was at this time in 2008 that the esoteric mysticisms became my interest.  I had always been quite interested in astrology, numerology, metaphysics, and dream interpretation.  They call the bubble encompassing all such interests as "the new age."  The straw man I knew as Christianity held no appeal to me.  So I went down this path, reading many books on the zodiac, astrology, reincarnation, spirit beings, and such strange things.  Unfortunately these things never really led anywhere.  Fascinating to study though, at the time.  In retrospect I was consulting with evil forces, things that the Bible had told me not to interact with.  And I knew that at the time, but I didn't care.  

I was legitimately unconvinced of the existence of God.  And then there was relapse into drug addiction and alcohol.  That began in late 2009 and opened up a new chapter of my life I've referred to often in retrospect as "the year of no-light" though the period lasted three years.  It was really just one long year of total darkness.  

New pains entered my life.  So much could be said.  So much has been left out.  So much cannot be remembered.  But what I can say about 2009 to 2012 is that drinking, tripping, dxm addiction, pills, it had lost it's appeal.  It was not a steady even keel of heavy use, it was blotting out use, meant for the removal of pain.  It was still fun at times, but not as fun as it used to be.  And becoming more and more a chore, and eventually a drudgery.  

I kept ending up in detoxes and mental hospitals.  Suicide attempts abounded.  The questions faded away, and the spiritual journey didn't matter much anymore.  What's the solution to this riddle?  The addiction, the growing death in my mind?  How do I escape this snare of addiction?  There was no more time for vague spiritualism, pontificating, making self righteous assumptions about morality and the spiritual energies that impact the universe.. I needed help.  Pain and suffering has a powerful way of refining the journey and stripping away the lies, half truths, and false realities made up by ones own desired state of reality.  Suddenly I had a very real need to know what truly is, was, and always will be.  

Who is on the other side of the door?  

Nightmares continued.  And one by one things fell away in my life.  I had gathered many friends at my time at the university of Wisconsin extension, while writing on the university newspaper, from acoustic cafes and dates and random parties.  But one by one they left me behind, because they could not bear to watch me destroy myself piece by piece.  I really only had one friend left, Kyle.  You see when you reach down that low, the only people that stick around are the ones just as despicable as you are.  

The journey through the forest had reached a breaking point.  I would often have dreams that seemed to metaphor the journey.  Dreams of walking through dark forests, getting ever darker.  Dreams of swinging from branches in forests, climbing high up.  And now the dreams had changed.  I would repeatedly dream of walking across a dam, a metal dam on this path across the middle of it.  A very shoddy path, and a dam in great disrepair.  One of the last dreams I had, I had fallen into the water on the right side, and I was clutching to a rock at the edge of an abyss-like waterfall leading nowhere.

And so the moment came.  In a dark room, on the floor, in the depth of night.  And I called with a full voice, an inner scream, an outer scream, "Jesus Save Me!" 

I remember at that moment there was a great rumbling sound, and the ground began to shake in the living room where I lay.  I thought I was losing my mind.  Inwardly and outwardly I shook as I called out the long call for help, and then I collapsed on the floor.  

That was how I came to Christ.  And now I am so humbled, and honored, to call myself- a Christian.