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Standing in the African Rain, Arms Stretched Out To the Sky: Is It Right For You?

A few days after I had arrived in the West African nation of Ghana, there was a huge tropical downpour. I, being the romantic that I am, thought that standing outside in that downpour would be a meaningful way to commemorate the start of my new life.

Boy, was I wrong.

By the time I came in, I was cold, wet, and I didn’t have anything to change into after I dried off. I ended up in the dress I’d worn on my 23-hour plane ride.

That day was the start of an unlikely yet important lesson, that doing something because it seems like the right thing to do and doing something out of sincere passion are two different things. You can check out a movie because your friends said it was cool, and because it grossed huge numbers at the box office. But going to see a movie because it tells a story you’ve been waiting your entire life to hear? That’s a different experience altogether.

This is a part of the reason why I’m not such a huge fan of organized religion. I know it’s different for everyone, but when you’re religious, you run the risk of falling into a spiritual rut (which is the absolute worst place to be). You end up doing things by rote, or believing things because you’re told to. You act and speak because you’re expected to; because you see other people doing it. That sort of mindset doesn’t serve you in times of deep need or despair. It crackles and breaks beneath the pressures of the world like brittle wallpaper.

Pure spirituality, however, is something deeply personal. I love the way Neale Donald Walsch puts it:

Religion asks you to learn from the experience of others. Spirituality urges you to seek your own.”

I was a devout evangelical Christian for the first two decades of my life. All of that fell apart when my life as I knew it started to unravel. My parents got divorced, I got kicked out of university, and I found myself jumping from the metaphorical frying pan into the fire by entering into a marriage I wasn’t ready for. It wasn’t until I I allowed myself to seek God in my own way that I found a paradigm that could actually hold up to my new reality. Now every moment of my life has the potential to become a word from God. I can find messages and lessons on a walk through the forest just as easily as I could while sitting at a traffic light. I don’t feel the need to validate an idea or feeling with a scripture or sermon. The scripture is written on my heart, and evolves even as I do.

It’s been a joy to rediscover God this way. I feel no pressure from outside forces to behave in a way that contradicts who I feel I really am. God has been speaking to me in ways that only God can, through synchronicity, through nature, through the words of friends, family, and strangers both nearby and far away. It’s been so amazing to see God expand beyond the limited notions I had of him when I was younger.

I must admit, doing it this way is also hard. It means I don’t have as much support as I would in a congregation where everyone pretty much thinks the same (or, at least, they act like they think the same to avoid conflict). I still harbor the feeling that if I say some of the things I now believe out loud, I’d be labeled crazy or a blasphemer. Especially in a very traditional, very dogmatic society like Ghana. Most people here are devout Christians, and openly discussing spirituality and religion runs the risk of setting off a theological landmine. But I’m pursuing God on my own path anyhow. I’m drawn to the path because I’ve never felt more alive in my life. For the first time ever, I’m defining a belief system for myself that actually feels good to my soul. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. It’s why I’m filled with such a deep sense of joy and gratitude as I’ve never felt before.

It’s why I could message my boyfriend this afternoon and ask him to please pray and trust God that we’ll soon experience the financial breakthrough I’ve been manifesting. He and I are in a long distance relationship, our finances are sketchy, and we’re both anxious to begin life a new life together. “Something big is coming,” I wrote to him on Facebook. “I can feel it in my spirit. Please just trust me. Please pray.” I knew that initially he wouldn’t be happy with my optimism, but he knows just as well as I do that we wouldn’t be a couple if divine providence hadn’t intervened to put us both in the right place at the right time. “Okay,” “He wrote back. I trust you. I love you.”

And I meant what I told him. I believe that God is about to infuse my life with a undeniable financial blessing. I can feel it, even with my apartment totally void of furniture, and my bank account carrying less than a dollar. I know in my heart that my renewed sense of purpose and joy are only a prelude to what is to come. I can feel it like a tide swelling in the sea, ready to crest over and emerge as the most glorious of waves.

So it rained again tonight, which is unusual for this time of year. And I felt so much gratitude for the rain, as I have been feeling for lots of small things these days. I went outside to stand in the downpour again, and this time it felt so right. It was a symbol of a new beginning, my own personal baptism. My confirmation that I’m free to seek divinity in my life in whatever way most resonates with me. It’s my wish that everyone on earth would feel such freedom. That we could all stand in the rain with our arms outstretched, not because we saw it in a movie, heard it in a song, or saw it in a stock image. But because we’re truly grateful for all that is, and grateful for the gift of life we’ve been given. I can think of no better way to connect to the Almighty than that.

Photo by grey1313 on DeviantArt

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What Smoking Weed Taught Me About Loving

It’s surprising to me how much the conversation around marijuana has changed over the past decade or two. Half Baked taught me that marijuana was the domain of goofy good-for-nothing boys who have little and ambition and nothing to offer the world. Today in America, marijuana has been rebranded as cannabis, and the government recognizes it as something that makes sick and anxious people feel better. Which means you no longer need to be a male twentysomething with no prospects to use it without criticism.

When I met my boyfriend Percy, I’d had marijuana before and hadn’t been terribly impressed by the experience. But his stuff was entirely different. His stuff made me feel like a fucking shaman communing with the spirit world (I have a story about that, but I’ll save it for another blog post). The first time we sat outside of our ramshackle apartment for some puff and pass, I felt a blanket of calm and a deep sense of clarity that I’d never had before. I gave no fucks about anything at all, but in a totally zen-like way. And it’s from this place of calm and no expectations that I learned something very important about what it means to love.

We all know that you can’t actively love well when you’re wound up and anxious. You can’t love well when you’re thinking about car payments and bills. That’s because preoccupied people can’t listen well. And loving has a lot to do with listening. The higher we got, the more comfortable Percy was with telling me the deep hurts of his life. And instead of trying to resolve those pains for him,I listened. I nodded my head, looked into his eyes, and listened. When you become focused on trying to fix someone and their problems, it can easily become all about you, how you want them to act, and what you want out of your relationship with them. But when you listen, it becomes about them. It becomes about offering a shoulder to cry on, which is what we need most in certain moments of our lives.

Percy had been living alone for a long time before I came along. He and I were both foreigners in a land that hadn’t shown us a whole lotta love. Looking back, that time I spent just listening to him spill his guts was invaluable to both of us. I learned a lot about his fears and dreams, and he got to say things that he hadn’t been able to say to anyone else.

Smoking weed also helped me to better love my ten-year-old daughter. She’s an only child and a confirmed mommy’s girl; as I started spending more time with Percy, she engaged in a tug-of-war for my attention. One night after a particularly great blunt on a particular beautiful night, I went inside to put her to bed. She was so upset that I wasn’t going to sleep in the room with her and would instead watch T.V with my guy. Eventually, she started crying and admitted that she had been leaning on me so much because she didn’t have that many friends at school. My heart was broken. I had no idea that my little girl had been suffering the schoolyard blues like that. But I listened to her patiently. I asked questions so that I could understand better. When she finished I told her with unbridled sincerity that I loved her more than anything, and nothing could change this, not even a new boyfriend.

During my time in Ghana, I’ve gone through some pretty heavy shit. I’m still dealing with the fallout of failed relationships and painful money problems. Had my daughter poured her heart out to me while I soberly stewing in my broke single mom issues, I would have met her confession with anxiety and impatience. Instead, I responded with calmness, a listening ear, and reassurance that my love for her was permanent. I also told her that we’d work together on finding ways to help her make more friends in the coming school term. What mother wouldn’t high five herself after a performance like that?

So, I’ve learned that loving is listening and listening is loving. You know that old saying about having two ears to hear but only one mouth to talk? Humans can be impulsive sumbitches who are constantly trying to rationalize, excuse, minimize and exaggerate for our own benefit. We like love because in its most beautiful form, it strips away the need to protect the ego and desires nothing but to give. Being under the influence of cannabis has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. While I don’t smoke as much as I used to, I carry this lesson in my heart. I have a deep desire to love the people around me. Love ’em till it don’t hurt no more. Even if I can’t completely erase someone’s pain, I know just what to do to help ease it.

Try this experiment: Try listening a bit more today when someone you care about is speaking. Show them that you’re listening. Nod. Make eye contact. Empathize with them. The marijuana is totally optional, but you might find that it helps things along.

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