My Indian yoga teacher in Malaysia once told me that everyone with a desire to go to India is seeking something spiritual.
While images of the Taj Mahal, camels and temples came to mind, my Catholic-turned-agnostic self began to wonder if maybe he was right.
For the first 20 years of my life, I was deeply religious. I went to church every Sunday, prayed daily and was quite outspoken on what I believed to be right and wrong.
Then the questions and the doubts began to pile up, eventually becoming overwhelming, and I decided to take a break from God, a break that ultimately turned into abandonment.
It’s not that I didn’t want to believe. The idea of having an omniscient, omnibenevolent being always looking out for you, waiting for the day to take you away into eternal bliss is incredible, comforting and altogether a desirable thing. But, as I’m sure God would know, if you don’t really believe in it in your heart, you can’t force yourself.
And so, for the past seven years, I’ve sort of teetered the agnostic-atheist line, not quite confident enough to believe God doesn’t exist but not placing my bet on the fact that he does.
But to live with that sense of isolation, that life is ultimately futile, can be quite difficult. When things go wrong, “Maybe this happened for a reason” or “God will get me through it” just doesn’t work anymore and you only have yourself or chance to blame and, ultimately, to rely on.
Living this way does have its benefits. If you believe you only have one life to live, without any notion of a higher purpose, you are less likely to put up with undesirable circumstances in the present in the hopes of greater rewards in the future. Your life becomes your most prized possession and making yourself as happy as possible becomes the ultimate goal. (Note: pursuing happiness and pursuing pleasure are two different things. A hedonistic life does not necessarily bring happiness, and a person (including an atheist) can certainly achieve happiness by dedicating his or her life to helping others).
But despite my own doubts on the existence of God, one thing that has always perplexed me has been the conviction and frequency of other people’s experiences with the supernatural. While nothing has ever happened to me personally, I have known so many sane, intellectual and trustworthy people who have had anything from freaky ghost-story experiences to deeply enlightening spiritual awakenings that have caused me to reconsider my beliefs.
While I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I decided to go to India with an open mind and dedicate time to learn meditation and yoga and see what happens. My goal was not necessarily to discover God, but rather, to learn how to control my mind and emotions instead of remaining a slave to them with my high-stress, anxious, mood-swinging personality (which has often been an obstacle in my happiness :)).
While I still haven’t figured everything out, I think my three-month trip to India may have inadvertently made me a believer again, though on a much different level than I believed before.
In the next segment of my blog, I’d like to share some of my spiritual experiences during my time in India and how they have changed my beliefs today.