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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spirituality: Creating a Religion of One’s Own

I was privileged, as I had mentioned earlier, to have attended a workshop in Birmingham, Alabama recently on the topic of spirituality and psychotherapy. I believe that the path of being transsexual is a profoundly spiritual journey. To the degree that one develops their spiritual life on this journey reflects the enhancement and sense of wellbeing we experience throughout the decision to transition, the transition itself and the quality of life we lead after we transition. Many people assume that once the transition is complete, you have arrived at your journey, but I, like many others recognize the journey continues and we are faced with many challenges. Many of these challenges are the same one faces whether they have been through the transsexual experience or not, but there are still unique situations that will come along. Having a well-developed sense of spirituality will help you to not only weather the storms of life, but will also enhance the pleasure one finds in everyday life as well.
In this article, I would like to begin to share the concepts that Dr. Moore believes will help someone to develop a deeper spiritual life. This is the first installment in a series.
1.     Deepen your formal religion

Many of us have a background of having been raised in a church, synagogue, or Islamic place of worship. It is something that is ingrained in our being and affects us in many profound ways, both positive and in negative ways, depending on the orientation of our faith and in the way a particular denomination of our faith teaches us about God and how we need to behave within our faith. I was fortunate enough to have attended a Southern Baptist church during my adolescence that taught love and tolerance for each other. Other people have experienced and learned that their denomination or church were very legalistic and were condemning, particularly if they were gay or transsexual. 

In my adult life, I experienced this with a United Methodist pastor. Her condemnation led me to leave that church and find a home in the Episcopal Church where I am welcome and made to feel part of the church family. Having found a place where I can formally worship is very important to my spiritual life, though over the years, I have been an episodic attendee. I may attend for a year or so at a time and then find myself not being very active in formal worship. Most recently, I stopped attending due to the death of my father a year and a half ago. I simply did not have the energy to go during that time, which coincided with my work transition. Yet I find that I do better all the way around when I attend on a regular basis. Formal worship keeps you from neglecting your spiritual life. 

The most profound spiritual experience I ever had was when I visited a church my friend Marsha attends in New Jersey. It was the first opportunity I had ever had to stand before my God and worship as I am with others who accepted me as I am. It was also the first time I had ever taken communion as I am and I remember tears running down my cheeks during the whole service. It was something that had been missing and  much needed in my life to move forward on my journey as Lauren. 

2.     Get to know one or more other faith traditions. 

The idea of becoming more familiar with other faith traditions is one that is not often encouraged. Some of us who are more spiritually advanced than I are familiar not only with their own faith, but have deeply explored other faiths as well. 

I have explored Taoism to a certain degree and have read several translations of the Tao Te Ching (Book of Changes), written by Lao Tzu. From that I have learned to be still and allow events to unfold, not wishing them to be anything other than what it is. It teaches acceptance and to live harmoniously with nature and in your culture. These lessons I do not practice faithfully, but having explored this avenue of spirituality has made a positive impact on me at various times of my life.

I have been interested in learning more about Islam. I think because of the acts of terrorists who falsely claim their actions are due to teachings of Islam, as well as the poor treatment of women by Middle Eastern cultures who practice Islam, many westerners have a decidedly negative view of that faith. My opinion is that each of the monotheistic religions has leaders and followers who claim to follow their faith. They pervert the message to use it to spread hatred and condemnation of those who do not adhere to their version of their faith. Knowing that my faith tradition has such people and knowing the truth of my faith, I have felt some sense of the need to learn more about Islam rather than to reject it out of hand without real examination. So perhaps this is another faith that I will learn more about to harvest what it holds that can aid me in my spiritual journey.

3.     Explore secular sources of spiritual insight

When Dr. Moore began to talk about this, it puzzled me about how to go about doing that. One of many ways to do this is through service work. Become involved in activities that serve others who are less fortunate. By doing so, it takes you out of your usual life of thinking of yourself and your needs and puts you in the position of giving to others and being with people who are in service to others. This is particularly true when engaging in a service activity that allows one to interact with the people who are benefitting from your service work directly. The examples that first come to mind are participating in programs like Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics or volunteering at a nursing home or to read to children at the library. Participating in Big Brothers or Big Sisters is another example of secular activities that will deepen your spiritual life and there are countless others.

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