But you can't run away from yourself
Once I had a dream which was so disturbing that when I woke up I could hardly stand being myself. I wanted to be anyone else but me. I wanted to run away from myself. I didn’t want to live with myself anymore.
What brought on this feeling?
I dreamed that I finally met God. That was the exciting bit. The shocking part came when He looked at me and said, ‘Who are you?’.
That’s when I woke up – literally and figuratively.
For almost as long as I could remember I’d believed many strange things about a God in the sky, taught to me by parents who’d joined a cult-like religion when I was eight years old.
I believed that to please God I had to observe the weekly Sabbath, keep annual holy days, pay a tenth of my gross income to the church, wear dresses below my knees, and be a humble and quiet woman (especially at church). I was going to be flown to a Place of Safety in the Middle East on the back of an eagle when the apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation began to be fulfilled. And when Christ would return in the clouds of heaven to save the world in 1975, I would fly up into the air to meet him. Heady stuff!
But the day after the dream, this edifice of nonsense came crumbling down, and I was forced to face the doubts I’d had for years but had chosen to ignore. Now home truths whirled through my mind.
You’re a fool, Marlane. Admit it. Your life’s been one long farce. God isn’t coming back. There’s nothing holy about certain days of the year. There’s nothing special about you. You haven’t been chosen by God. You’re just an ordinary human being, like everyone else on the planet.
My hands clenched. I paced the upstairs bedroom to get away from these uncomfortable thoughts. But they followed me like a swarm of mosquitoes, catching me at every turn. I moved to the sliding glass door, opened it, and stepped onto the narrow balcony, hoping the wind would blow them away. No. They were still with me. Whispering insistently. Fool. Stupid. Dumb. Blind. A great God in the sky who’s keeping an eye out for you? Flying to safety on the wings of an eagle? Heavenly trumpets heralding his return? You’ve got to be kidding!
I went back inside and shut the door. How could I resolve this stuff? It was embarrassing. No matter where I went or what I did I couldn’t get away from myself, from the person who’d denied for so many years what she’d increasingly suspected, deep down, wasn’t true. My whole life made no sense. I wished there was a way to separate myself from this person who hadn’t had the courage to face up to reality for so long.
And then I thought about how superior I’d always felt in relation to others. I’d mentally assigned them to hell not only in this life but also in the next. I’d thought they’d burn forever, but it was me who was burning now. Burning with shame. I could barely stand being in the same room as myself. I squirmed like a snake struggling to release itself from its old skin.
I was beside myself with shame.
I wished I wasn’t me.
Your Relationship with Yourself
The Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, wrote in When Things Fall Apart:
Whether we experience what happens to us as obstacle and enemy or teacher and friend depends entirely on our perception of reality. It depends on our relationship with ourselves.
When I wanted to run away from myself, I was seeing myself – my life – my experiences – as an obstacle and an enemy, rather than as a teacher and a friend.
When I calmed down and realised there was no getting away from myself, I understood two things:
Life was teaching me something
I needed to be a friend to myself
Leaving a Religion
Leaving a religion that has dictated how you will live your life can be a confusing time. You've lost the parachute of beliefs that made you feel safe, and you no longer trust yourself.
But this is the time when you need to trust life and trust yourself.
Your life can be your best teacher and you can be your best friend.
You may not know what will happen next, or what new direction to go in, but life is enabling you to experience this shift in perspective because it knows you're ready for it.
While you're going through it, remember that life is your teacher, and that, ultimately, you have the potential to be your best friend.
With love, Marlane