Finding a Faith that Works: Yin and Yang Part 2
(WARNING, this is a long post filled with my religious ideas. If you are not interested, I will not be the least offended if you choose to not read it)
I get many emails every day from people who are interested in vandwelling and write to ask me questions. For many of them these are very dark times and their mail begins with a sad story about how this long, deep economic recession has cost them everything. They lost their jobs and have been unemployed long enough that their unemployment has run out and now they are losing their house or being evicted out of their apartments. A surprising number of them also include health problems that make things much worse. To add insult to injury, all too often they turn to their families for help and their family is unwilling or unable to help.
Having gone through some very dark times like that myself, I have a strong sense of empathy for them and I always answer their questions with as much hope and practical advice as I can. I was lucky, and my mother, family and friends were there for me so I didn’t have to go through those times alone. Everything I have done on my websites and now on this blog has been with the goal of providing a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for all who need it. My goal in this post is specifically to show you how I found the light of hope. By necessity it includes spiritual and religious topics and I hope you are not offended by my experiences and conclusions. I mean no disrespect to any of your beliefs.
In my last post I talked about the oriental principle of Yin and Yang. I said it was one of the guiding principles of my life and has provided me with many answers to life tough questions and gotten me through dark times and provided me with constant hope and faith. First, let me tell you how I came to believe in it.
In my 40s I went through a divorce and a difficult mid-life crisis. I found a program that got me through it, but it was a spiritual program and part of it was that I had to find a faith that worked for me. I had been religious all my life, but that faith had not worked for me. I believe I tried hard to follow all the instructions I was given with my whole heart, but there were things about me that needed to be changed, and they never were. So when I found out the only real hope I had was through a spiritual renewal, I felt totally hopeless. But I had come to the point where I had to find a faith that worked or I would simply end up dead or wishing I was dead. I started out by putting all my faith in the program I was following and having faith in it. That was enough, and my life began to change.
That first year in the program was horrible, the worst of my life, but at the same time I had also found real hope because I was changing. There were literal miracles of change in my life: one moment I was one way, and the next moment I was different. A friend in the program described it as “changed at the cellular level” and I agree. God (as I understood god) was doing for me what I could not do for myself. Part of the program that I was following suggested that I turn my will and my life over to the care of god, as I understand god. But the god of my understanding had failed me, so I fired the old one and began a search for a new one. I studied all the world’s religions as best I could. None of them worked for me so I decided I would take the best of each of them and blend then into one that did. The two that spoke most profoundly to me were Native American Spirituality and Zen-Taoism. To the best of my ability I have worked hard at incorporating their principles into my life. I do not follow any of the details of their religion, because I have no confidence in religion. But I do try very hard to live my life by their underlying principles.
The reason I chose them is because they are nature-based religions. One thing I decided was that if there is a god (and if there was not a god, I was doomed) the most logical way for him/her/it to speak to humans was through nature. Nature speaks to every human who ever lived in exactly the same way. We have all looked at the same sun and moon, the same stars and felt the same wind. Every human has looked at a star-filled sky or a beautiful sunrise/sunset and heard the faint whisper of god’s love song. All of nature’s many lessons are available to every person no matter where on the planet they lived or at what time period they lived in. Its meaning cannot be changed in translation or be miss-interpreted because of cultural differences. Nature is the one and only truly universal messenger.
So when I found the concept of Yin and Yang in the Tao Te Ching, I knew instantly that it was true. Everywhere I look in nature I see examples of paired, complimentary opposites locked in a beautiful, harmonious dance of transformation. I knew that this was a solid foundation to build a life on. And ever since then I have been continually amazed at how many of life’s most difficult and important questions are answered by looking at it in the light of Yin-Yang.
I want to look at some of the biggest questions that we face and see how I resolved it for myself in just that way.
- Why is there evil, did god create it?
- If he did, is he evil, and if he didn’t, who did?
- Does god plan everything in our lives?
- If so, how can we have free will?
- If something bad happens to me, is God mad at me?
- If God is mad at me, how can I pacify him?
I think all those questions can be summarized into one question:
Why do bad things happen to good people; and good things happen to bad people?
You might think “That is an interesting question, but it really isn’t all that important.” But to me, it is life and death. Remember I said I had to find a faith that worked? While I had been religious all my life I never had a faith that worked. It was all theory and ideas and never became a true, living faith. So when the day came that I had to turn my will and my life over to god, as I understood god, I couldn’t because I wasn’t absolutely sure he/she/it was good and wanted only the best for me. My faith didn’t work.
As I learned more about myself, I learned that the god I had always believed in was a kind of Santa Clause. If I was good I would get gifts, and if I was bad I would be punished. The problem was, it didn’t seem to work that way. When I was as good as I could be, things went wrong. And then when I was being bad, things often went well. There was no rhyme or reason to it. So I kept trying harder and harder to be good, but it was never enough. I was never happy or at peace.
Through a long process, today I have a faith that works. It would take too long to go through the whole path so I’m not going to try. However, I do want to summarize how I’ve resolved the questions above.
It begins with the principle of Yin and Yang, that everything is composed of apparent opposites. In nature we see a great orderliness. Many of nature’s events are so orderly that we can predict what will happen next for 1000s of years into the future. Nearly all of astronomy is that way. For example, we can track and predict the earth’s rotation, and it’s slowing, down to a tiny, tiny fraction of a minute. But on the other hand, in nature we equally see total chaos and randomness. The same science that can predict eclipses for thousands of years can’t accurately predict the weather next week. Sometimes it can make some pretty accurate guesses, but with all the variables involved, that’s about all it amounts to.
These facts fit in perfectly with the principles of Yin and Yang. Chaos and Order are written into the very fabric of the universe. So it should come as no surprise to us that that our lives are full of random events. Luck, both good and bad, plays as big a role in our lives as does god. And there is never a way to know exactly which is which. As I have taken a journey into faith the one thing I have come to know absolutely is that whatever god is, he/she/it loves me totally and no matter what is going on in my life right now, it is going to be okay. So I can see both luck and god at work in my life all the time and I believe with my whole being that they are not contradictory.
Oddly enough, as soon as I embraced these ideas, my life drastically improved. The storms of life settled down and virtually disappeared. And when they did blow through, I had the tools to deal with them and maintain my balance. I love this quote and find it a great source of hope:
“Steady faith is stronger than destiny. Destiny is the result of causes, mostly accidental, and is therefore loosely woven. Confidence and good hope will overcome it easily.”
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
It’s my prayer that these thoughts will help you move into a life of living faith, and that in doing so you can overcome the force of luck and destiny. Bob
Having met you Bob, I would like to say that your demeanor and attitude reflect, in a very positive way, your beliefs. If I may say so—Good Job!
That’s very nice of you to say Michael!
P.S. I’ll give you the $10 the next time you are at camp
I have my own perspective on this subject. I can’t say I’ve given it as much thought as you and I am hardly a scholar on this subject. I was very well educated in my parents religion and I passed all its mandatory rituals with honors. I can’t say that any of the teachings have brought me solace or guided me in times of anxiety or illness. What I will say, however; is that the child of the 50’s who believed in God, attended worship services, accepted rightous fundamental values was much more likely to become a good citizen, friend and neighbor. There were rules for good behavior and while there was always a shade of gray, the general path was always clear.
As my intellect developed and it was broadened by a great deal of education I asked all of your questions and came up with none or unsatisfying answers. I was particularly put off by the concept that only those who followed the tenets of my faith would reap some reward. That concept implies that a whole host of people who I loved and respected weren’t going to be with the chosen few on Judgment Day (whatever that is or means). Why was the manifesto taught to me better that the one instilled in my neighbor?
When my life seemed to be at odds with the world neither my religion or any other seemed to have answers except that “I should have faith”. Eventually I reached a similar conclusion to yours – I have faith gravity makes objects fall, the sun always rises in the east and two plus two always equals four. The only place in my limited universe where I saw absolute consistency was in nature. There were matters that defied my comprehension or explanation but I was always confident there was an explanation – be it beyond my limited capacity. It was then that I realized that I had found my supreme being, God was the compiliation of all the laws and rules of nature. But my theory was somehow lacking in what I perceived as necessary morals and ethics that need to go along with the concept. In nature when a lion gets hungry it eats the zebra that lives next door. Somehow we need a code of behavior so we can survive and thrive. I am still convinced the Ten Commandments probably contain all the rules we need, but when I think of all the souls that have been snatched in the name of God, I am not so sure.
I will end this diatribe with the thought that there is every reason to believe that God created the universe as to believe otherwise. God’s rules are the laws of nature – the rest we still have to figure out.
Gary, it is all very puzzling, I’m afraid that ultimately, we must each make our own way through the maze. Every day I am less certain who god is, and that pleases me to no end. Bob
Thankyou Bob for your beautiful writings and all the knowledge that you so kindly share. I’ve been reading your site for a while now but typical repressed ‘Brit’ that I am, did not have the courage to comment! However the comment provided by Gary was truly lovely, mindfull and compassionate.
Having a vw camper and several years experience of dropping in and out of the rat race to live in my van, I can attest to the feeling of freedom you experience. In the UK we generally experience 6 months of wet,cold, grey weather and due to our island status have to drive down to spain /morroco to escape this! Financially I find it easier to keep a small home, dip in and out of jobs to support my joy of travelling. How I long to join in your rubbertramp meeting in the Arizona Sunshine. Oneday maybe best wishes. Sally
Sally, I’m glad you found the courage to comment, it is always good to hear from someone in a different land with a different perspective. As similar as we are, there is still a difference.
It would be wonderful if you could join us at the RTR! And you wouldn’t even be the only “Brit”. A wonderful friend of mine named Linda is British and I am already looking forward to seeing here again for many reasons, and one of them is so I can hear her accent!
I love America, but I do envy your easy access to so many other magical places. I wish you the very best in your travels! Bob
Wow! If we leave out names, locations, and labels, your story is very nearly my story in terms of spiritual development. The Yin and Yang concepts as you present them have helped me to live much more serenely than before regardless of my circumstances, which would otherwise frustrate me enough right now to lead me into rash actions. I am clergy in the religion that I use as my label, so I use some different terms but I believe the concepts are universal.
“Those who know do not speak, those who speak, do not know”
“Even a 1,000 mile journey starts with a single step”
Two of my favorite qoutes from The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.
Adriana, it is a wonderful book filled with very simple, but life-changing truths. Bob
I solved my problem with free will one day when I realized that, as a parent, I taught my child the best I could how to live in this world. I made plans for her and helped her learn how to fulfill those plans. Then she left home and became free to find her way from there the best she could. She made mistakes. They helped her learn.
Very true Linda, ultimately we all become responsible for our own choices as an individual. I tend to think there is way too much blame put on our parents for our faults and mistakes. Of course they play a role, and sometimes with truly bad parents the roll is profound, but finally we all have free will and must make our own way.
I loved getting to meet you and wish you could have stayed longer! See you at the RTR!
Bob’s admirable aim is to show how he “found the light of hope,” and presumably to help others feel similar hope (or comfort or direction, etc.). I find his desire to help and comfort others inspiring.
In that spirit, I wanted to mention what is perhaps obvious–that hundreds of millions of people around the world find hope or comfort or direction in their traditional religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, etc.,
Also, tens of millions are leading satisfied lives with no religion and no supernatural faith at all.
A quick look around the world shows us that no specific creed or faith is the only one that gives hope and comfort to people–instead, many contradictory religions successfully provide most of their followers with hope and comfort–and shows us, too, that religious or supernatural faith is not necessarily required for many to lead deeply satisfying lives. All manner of New Age or individual philosophies provide comfort to many others. Innumerable atheists and agnostics, too, have found life engaging and meaningful. (Also, every belief system and non-belief system has its unhappy and despairing individuals, too.)
Even when it feels like our spiritual belief or lack of belief must lead to unhappiness or despair, it is demonstrably not so. Look around at the world of incredibly varied belief and non-belief, and see that most are reasonably happy with life no matter their beiefs. So whatever you believe or don’t believe, or want to believe or feel you cannot honestly believe, know that many with your same beliefs or lack of beliefs are leading satisfying lives–and have found ways to get through life’s difficult passages. You can, too, whatever your beliefs. Millions do every day.
If you don’t know how, that can be learned–but don’t make the mistake of thinking that any set of supernatural or metaphysical beliefs or non-beliefs must result in a certain level of happiness or unhappiness. Look at the world; you will see it is not so. We can all engage with life, meaningfully and joyfully, or unhappily and despairingly, irrespective of creed. There is hope and comfort for us all, whatever we believe, if we will but learn to help create it.
All very true Michael. I don’t make any claim to know THE truth, only a truth that has worked for me. It just seems most logical to write about things I know and have experienced personally (and therefore can endorse) instead of things I don’t know.
Thanks for the reminder. Bob
I believe in myself. That’s more than enough for me.
Cyrus, it sounds like it is working very well for you! Bob
Great words, Bob!
I think adversity brings on introspection. That’s how I like to look at it. So maybe it’s a blessing for all of us who’ve been there?!
A couple of years ago I had to go through some medical challenges that required two weeks of hospitalization.I was scared I wouldn’t make it. But I did. And I’ll tell you one little technique that puts me in a good mood when I start feeling down on myself for some reason or another….I am still here and feeling pretty darn good about it. You want to put things in perspective? Face your mortality.
CAE, I think you are so very right. I don’t think there is anything that will contribute to a good life as much as coming face to face with your own death. I can remember a time in my life when I became totally aware that one day I would be gone and never see this life again. I wanted to talk about it in the light of Yin and Yang, but I don’t know how to tell people to face their own mortality. It can’t just be an intellectual exercise.
I’m sorry you had to go through those difficult time with your health, but I am very glad you took it and made something great come from it.
I’ve been reading your blog for a while as I contemplate becoming a Fulltimer myself. I’ve enjoyed the photos and the write ups and I appreciate your candor and honesty and your willingness to entertain uncensored comments from your readers. At the end of the day you are free to publish what you like and we are free to read or not read and comment. There is something about the simple life that you practice with others who are like minded that has universal appeal. For us who are older we will remember “the Summer of Love” or more recently the spirit of goodwill after a national disaster.
While we may disagree regarding our core beliefs I think most of us can agree that type of discussion should take place in an environment of mutual respect and phileo. My faith encourages me “to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me” but that implies someone is asking a question. Recently a woman who is an Agnostic emailed me but when she noticed I was a Christian she quickly followed up by saying she was sorry and assumed I wouldn’t be interested in any further interaction with her. I replied that I was an Agnostic once myself so we met and had a very nice lunch and the topic didn’t come up.
Our ability to entertain opposing views in a civil matter has more to do with us and our level of maturity then it does with what we are so passionate about at that particular moment. Thanks for creating this space. I hope to drop in on you one of these days – Bob
Hi Bob, I know there are quite a few Christians who follow my blog, and so I approach spiritual topics with some trepidation. The spiritual program I follow has a very simple suggested code that we live out lives by: “love and tolerance of others is our code.” So I always endeavor to keep that in mind when I write.
I consider most Eastern spiritual ideas as much more a philosophy than a religious or spiritual truth. The concept of Yin and Yang is an idea that can be applied by most religions to some degree. It is the total black verses white thinking that lead to the crusades, burning witches at the stake, killing Jews and Gypsies in ovens and 9-11. Had there been some tolerance and understanding of Yin and Yang, perhaps those things wouldn’t have happened. The difficulty is that none of us want to compromise our core beliefs (including me) so how do you tolerate without compromise?
I don’t have an answer, but this conversation shows that it can be done.
I once a read a book about the religious beliefs of the Navajo people. The early anthropologists that lived with and studied them concluded they didn’t have any religious beliefs or practices. Only with a lot of study did it become apparent that in fact the opposite was true; there religion was so dominate and powerful in their lives that it became submerged and hidden into their daily life. There was never a time when they WEREN’T practicing their religion. There was no such a thing as the secular and the holy.
I hope to live up to that standard someday. Bob
from the depths of the snows of Minnesota comes; “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.” — Garrison Keillor (Lake Wobegon USA)
Hi Vern, that Garrison Keillor has a way with words! I totally agree with him. Like him, I’ve concluded that I rarely know what is best for me and those decisions are best left to someone or something much smarter than I.
Thanks for bringing that up! Bob
I just stumbled across your blog while doing some research about van dwelling. Thankfully, my interest is not out of necessity but something that I am considering after retirement. I found your thoughts on faith very interesting and thought I would add my two cents worth. For me, the biggest mistake I have made in this area is to question why things happen the way they happen and then allow myself to believe that there is something wrong with God because His way of doing things is not how I would do them. One day I came to the realization that I am not
God and have no business trying to do His job. The one point that I always tell others about this subject is this: There is a place where it all makes sense, where children don’t die of terrible diseases, where families don’t lose there homes, where hunger and worry are not to be found. That place does exist. It is called Heaven, and we are not there yet. We are a fallen being living in a corrupt world dominated by Satan and evil. Expecting this world to operate like Heaven will only leave us disappointed and questioning whether God exists and whether he really knows what He is doing. It is for us to trust God’s perfect will and not to question it because just as you have said He loves us, knows what is best for us, and always has the best plan for us. Unfortunately, we usually don’t see this until after we go through a difficult situation and look back and see how God took care of us even though we were going through a very dark time. Sometimes God’s plan is hard but the hard times are what strengthen us and deepen our faith. And, even though we trust and believe in Him we will still experience loss and disappointment because this is not Heaven. I guess my point is that even though we often don’t fully understand why God does what He does or why He allows things to happen the way they happen does not mean that He is any less worthy of our trust. Sometimes it is hard to remember that true faith in God is for His glory and not ours.
Well said Paul!
Normally I cringe when someone wants to share their religious/spiritual beliefs, but I really appreciated your HUMBLE sincerity & courage when you shared your personal story & spiritaul evolution. I too could never swallow Chritianity & knew that just stepping outside alone into Nature was what really worked for me, so when you mentioned Native American & eastern religions & how they made more sence to you, I really resonated with that.*****I also appreciate your thoughtful/respectful consideration of gender pronouns when talking about the creator or god.
Thanks so much for this article. I really enjoyed reading it! (My cargo trailer cabin is about 90% complete, so I’m making plans on hitting the road soon. Thanks for all the inspiration! Leigh.
Leigh, it’s always good to hear from another cargo trailer dweller, we are a very special breed (just kidding!)! Yes, I am very humble, just ask me and I’ll be glad to tell you all about it!
Seriously though, I am glad you enjoyed the post. Spirituality is such a huge part of who I am that the blog would be incomplete without it. However, I never mean to denigrate anybody else’s beliefs. Everyones beliefs are valid to them and worthy of respect.
When I first began my spiritual quest, the first thing I did was throw out all my old notions and begin with a clean slate and I asked myself what I needed in a Higher Power to make it accessible to me, something that I could truly have faith and trust in. For me that could only be in the feminine. All the masculine ideas of “god” had failed me and wouldn’t work. So I began with the idea of the divine She. However, over time I have given up nearly all attempts to describe or define “god”. Today it is an unidentifiable nothing/everything, totally beyond all attempts at description. God is an intuition, a “knowing”.
That could sound like I have reached some higher plane, but the truth is much more likely that I am simply lazy and don’t want to work through what I really think! Whatever it is, its working for me, and for that I am incredibly grateful.