For me, personally, I had always believed in some sort of divine power. Actually, belief isn’t the right word. Believing takes effort – it’s a verb – a choice to mentally accept one set of thoughts whilst rejecting another. I would say it feels more like I’ve always known there was some sort of divine power. I’ve always had the sneaky suspicion that mainstream religion was our human, mere mortal, way of expressing this - and that the different religions were like different languages trying to articulate the same mystery. This is what I felt intuitively from a young age and despite learning (and then in some ways unlearning) the language of mainstream Christianity, I have never lost this feeling of a connection to God/Source/the Universe/Divine/Allah. Delete as you will.
I say all this in no way to undermine those that do find their truth within an organised religion. In many ways I have often coveted the ease in which some can follow a pre - decided set of teachings and rituals. I also feel the dedicated time and space to spiritual growth that following a religion often brings is incredibly useful in today’s material world. As well as providing a framework to raise children within. It was just that my experience didn’t bring me closer to my spiritual path. In fact, it led me away from myself and shaped my spiritual experience into something quite worldly where - behind the gospel praise - the rules, guilt, fear and tribalism left me confused, depressed and constrained. To me there is so much beauty in religion – I’m often drawn to the more spiritual side of each – the Sufi teachings of Islam, Jesus’ example of humility and love, Buddha’s enlightenment, the Upanishads – it’s just for the most part, us humans get in the way of that. Like an Ikea self- assembly instruction manual, we try to formulate and prescribe these teachings, resulting in something that resembles a club membership. Ruled by men. This has always seemed ironic as Jesus never once mentioned calling oneself a ‘Christian’ and I wonder what he would make of this label in the modern world.
So here we are in Britain 2020, where less than half the population consider themselves religious. But if we look closer, we can see it’s no longer a simple rejection of the spiritual for the secular. It seems for many they have rejected what has been handed down to them in replace for a self-made path. Prayers have become meditation, church has been replaced with women’s circles and yoga classes, and pilgrimages have been replaced by retreats. Are we going full circle? Will we end up with the same rituals and lessons that were given to us by religion? Will we reject drink, drugs and meaningless sex not as sins but as a vacuous distraction from our path to peace. Are we then just reframing the language of religion to a cross culture, millennial, woke mishmash of practices? And if so, is this such a bad thing?
I think we are at a time where many of us are craving connection. We are over stimulated and under nourished. In the West, most of us can now be constantly occupied. As a mother I try to allow my child to be bored - I know intrinsically the importance of free time - time to dream, to think, to ‘be’ with yourself – but the world he is growing up in isn’t built for that. We can be entertained, stimulated, sold to, advertised at, twenty-four hours a day. In fact, nowadays it takes effort not to be reading, scrolling, watching, chatting, buying, doing. And yet with all this ‘connection’ we feel more disconnected than ever. Of course, much of that can be solved with putting down our devices and calling a friend, meeting up with loved ones or inviting the neighbour over. But there is another connection that I think we are missing here – a connection with ourselves – our deep selves/spirit/soul/divine light – delete as appropriate.
So many of us are starting to ‘tune in’. And it’s exciting. Especially for black women, who are forging the spiritual path in a powerful new way. We are taking the teachings of the higher consciousness pioneers - Eckhart Tolle, Louise Hay, Oprah Winfrey and fusing them with ancient practices of indigenous brown people, often our own ancestors. We have a deep connection to the land, to nature – we are part of nature, not a witness to it, and yet that seems to have been forgotten. Most of our parents and grandparents arrived in the UK from rural settings where they traditionally had a very strong connection to nature. But they had to deal with the pressures of assimilation, economic survival, mental and emotional survival in a race to compete with Western ideals. Fast life, fast food and urban dwellings. There was no time for observing the cycles of the moon or a mediation practice or researching traditional African spirituality. And if there was time for a spiritual life, they poured themselves into Christianity with more pain and passion and fervour than those that gave it to them. For many of us still trying to keep up with this life it feels like there is no time now either. Or perhaps it has felt too much of a white, middle class luxury to meditate, do yoga and ‘be spiritual’ – which is ironic in itself, considering the origin of these practices. But something is starting to shift - well, in all honesty it has been shifting forever – but now we are seeing a new chapter unfold. And women of colour are very visible in this chapter. We are starting to own our spirituality in a new way. From the rise in African American women practicing traditional Yoruba religion to UK based holistic healers like Soul Mama Coach and Diahann Holder.
Hippie-dippy. Arty-farty. Woo-Woo. I get it, I really do. For many years I passed off a lot of this spirituality stuff in the same way. Even the likes of Erykah Badu made me delight and cringe at the same time. So serious, so earnest. Incense and bare feet. Definitely a bit woo- woo. I was more EastEnders and Pinot Grigio.
However, recently I found myself at a women’s circle. As you do. A small group of female strangers gathered in a female stranger’s flat on a Sunday in South London. We sat in a circle (unsurprisingly) around a candle and some dried leaves and twigs. None of the women had dreadlocks (surprisingly) and the group was very mixed in every sense of the word. It didn’t feel ‘middle class’ or ‘alternative’ or ‘black’ or ‘white’. It felt like a typical tube carriage of diverse women. The woman leading the circle was mixed race and in her thirties. And around her flat there was a lot of artwork, particularly from Ghana, where she explained her father was from. She made us all tea and gave us biscuits (normal biscuits – I half expected vegan, spelt, raw food ones). She then explained that nothing has to happen in the next hour and a half. “It is our space and whatever happens will be right.” She said that if we want to talk then we pick up this large polished stone and when we are finished, we put it down. Everyone just listens. We don’t respond or give advice or ask questions. We just listen. Sounded simple enough. It was a profound experience and taught me more than anything how we humans just need space to feel and sometimes for someone to hold that space for us. It wasn’t pretentious, ‘woo-woo’ or out there, it was incredibly simple and primal and wonderful. Everyone felt the impact and was asking which Sunday the next circle was. As we left, I made a joke about it being like church.