I consider myself a spiritual person rather than a religious one. The difference in my mind is that I believe in an animating and unifying force of the universe, which some people call "God." I don't, though, subscribe to the idea that any one religion is the only way to experience divinity. I'm not going to go into my specific issues with the holy books and rituals that bind together religious communities, but I am interested in the kind of experiences that believers often have. Faith in something larger than ourselves fulfills a basic human need by overcoming isolation and imbuing life with a sense of purpose.
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The desire to merge with the divine may be even stronger now with Neptune in Pisces. The planet that dissolves barriers entered its magical home sign in April 2011, and will swim through these spiritual waters until January 2026. This is a long stretch of time in which our yearning for illumination is likely to grow. A greater need for higher purpose is also a common companion during hard times. Yet Neptune is also the planet of illusion, as it blurs the boundaries between between reality and fantasy.
People who are deeply touched by Jesus, Mohammed, Yahweh, Krishna or other deities are enriched by what they feel and see. Their connection to spirit is totally real from an experiential point of view. Any logical arguments with their particular religious beliefs are washed away by the subjective truth of their experience. That others have reached the same level of ecstasy by other means does not lessen their faith. And if doubt does creep in as to the meaning of what they felt, there is a congregation of fellow believers to assure them that their experience was the one true way.
I thought that I met God in the late 1960s. My communion wafer was chemical and illegal but the experience I had was the most meaningful one of my life. I had an illuminating moment when any sense of separation melted away and I became one with the universe. All of my questions were answered as the false limits of words gave way to the fullness of total and direct experience.
Only recently, though, did I realize that my sense of total connection didn't require that I was truly plugged into the entire universe. All I needed to trigger the illumination that changed my life was enough awareness to blow my circuits. It didn't take absolute knowledge to have what was an absolutely fulfilling experience. The same is true of religious people who are certain that they have found God through their particular faith. Prayer, meditation, and ritual can align us with the divine, yet the key to that door is an individual one rather than a universal one.
A personal journey
This is why Jesus and Mohammed work for some folks and why sweat lodges and pagan rites work for others. Each journey is a personal one, an initiation into a higher state of consciousness, but the means we use to get there, profound as the outcome might be, is not the only possible road to take. Yet when we're struck with the magic wand of Neptune, we project individual experience on all of the universe, assuming that our highway to God is the only true path to enlightenment.
We do need faith, yet when one religion's truth denies the truths of other beliefs, intolerance overcomes reason and respect for their experiences. It's ironic that the apparently loving true believer can use their map of the way to heaven to condemn to hell those who don't follow the same path. This is the shadow side of absolute belief and the darkness of Neptune: that with the subjective truth of our own experience, we can coldly deny the truths of others.