Of Spirit and Man

I have always been a very spiritual person, though when I was younger I didn’t know it. When I was younger and all alone in my grandmother’s place I remember watching the dust motes in the small bedroom swirl around in the afternoon light and fall slowly to the bed and I felt something at the heart of myself that was probably there before I was born. As children we have a unique and instinctive connection to the Divine that actually never really goes away even when we “grow up.”

Thinking back, I’ve had plenty of spiritual experiences when I was younger. Star Wars and Transformers were plenty spiritual, though perhaps not in the conventional sense…but then convention is overrated. I never realized until later in my life that the Autobots’ “Till All Are One” is actually their version of “Amen.” And the scene in the movie where the Matrix is unsealed and everything comes together with “The Touch” playing in the background is pretty damn awesome. Who says spiritual can’t be awesome?

(By the way all this time I was talking about the original cartoon and not the horrible Micheal Bay remake.)

Then there was the time of “big thoughts” in America and of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Questions that couldn’t be answered (by the mind and science, at least) but whose answers resonated somewhere deep in my soul. As I grew older and less identified with the mind, I realized I didn’t need to figure it out. All I needed to do was feel it and know that it meant something.

But growing up in a family of Absolute Rationality, it was hard to understand or express these things. To be completely honest my mother is and was actually a pretty spiritual person, (she even learned Reiki at one point and prayed over us while we were younger) but it all got swallowed up in the mass of her own issues. My Dad was the old-school “if it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist”. Not exactly uncommon because men do tend to be less emotional and more rational, it’s just that due to his own issues he took it to the extreme.

Bereft of guidance of any kind during my teenage years, the Universe saw fit to continue my spiritual education using the medium of video games and anime. I’m not complaining. You take what you can get and hey…it beats going to listen to boring old sermons any day!

You have probably noticed that as the book has progressed that the amount of spiritual content has increased. (and not just as it relates to video games either) Well, that’s because I was beginning to become more and more aware of the different parts of my own nature. I remember having long conversations about religion with Meimei, and starting to think in many different ways about many different things.

I think I began to pray sometime in my mid-twenties. I didn’t even realize I was praying, I just thought and felt very strongly about things. In Japanese all I knew was that “thought and felt strongly” (tsuyoku omotta) When I couldn’t sleep (which was often) I sort of sat by myself and rolled around in bed and spoke to myself and the Universe in the language of my heart. Was that praying? I couldn’t say for sure. All I knew was that when I was all alone and upset going into reverie and saying certain things to myself helped.

I couldn’t believe that I was suffering all this for no reason. I believed then (and I believe now) that there was a greater purpose to everything I was going through, that even if it was not revealed to me then I would someday. I prayed and I swore that I would see it through no matter the cost. I prayed for the strength to vanquish the darkness and make it through to the light that I knew was there.

Somewhere along the way that long-held hatred of Christianity began to give way to another viewpoint. Much as I didn’t hate FF7 anymore I didn’t really hate Christians anymore. I began to see their actions in a different light – they really thought that this was the best way to worship and be faithful to what they believed in. Also, Christianity has at its heart a desire an evangelical desire to spread and promote the Gospel, which probably accounted for their fervent desire to convert others. I didn’t (and still don’t) think it is a good way to go about things, but to each his own. I also had to acknowledge my parents’ fervent anti-religious tendencies (my mother once literally slammed the door in a missionary’s face) and the effect they might have had on myself.

I still take a rather dim view of aggressive proselytizing and overly dogmatic approaches to religion but that’s a topic for another time. In any case it’s not my place to judge.

By now it’s pretty obvious that video games, anime (especially EVA!) and books formed the basis of my spiritual beliefs. And why not? Though I used to be quite embarrassed and unsure about it when I was younger (don’t get me wrong it’s not like I prayed to Mario or anything) I also grew to realize that art is nothing if not Divine. All artists create from a place that is both inside and outside them, reaching into the Infinite to draw upon something unseen and eternal. If you are an artist yourself you’ll know exactly what I mean. If not, find some art (it’s all around us!) and you’ll know too.

I think I became semi-converted to Buddhism (and to a lesser extent, Shinto) because of the sheer amount of Japanese games I played and how deeply they affected me. Like being semi-naturalized in America I sort of realized that it happened without my knowing about it. When I first starting reading about Buddhism seriously (the sutras, suttas and related material) I spent most of my time saying “wait, why is this so familiar and why do I already believe it?”

I should take some time out here to mention Shin Megami Tensei, which definitely had an effect on my spiritual development. It’s probably the only game in existence you can team up with Gabriel, Vishnu, Sun Wukong and Thor to fight Lucifer in Hell. There is a veritable plethora of gods, demons, monsters, angels, devils etc for you to both fight and ally with. Not to mention that the games themselves deal with pretty deep philosophical themes. It provided me with a broader view of mankind and his place in the cosmos. As one reviewer somewhere put it – one man’s God is another’s Devil. It’s all in how you see things.

In the end we all find our own ways. In growing and changing and seeing more of the world, I began to realize that the Divine is all around us, always inside us. It’s only how we get there.

Remember that song I told you about in The Handover? Everything is Possible? Well while I was in Australia and doing Deep Serious Work on Myself I remembered that the singer was a Unitarian Universalist minister. I had learnt about the group (religion?) and wondered if maybe they had a chapter in Singapore.

No way man, my mind told me. Singapore? Conservative Christian Central? You’ve got to be kidding. I told my mind to shut up and Googled it instead. What do you know? There was a group.

I sent an email which no one replied and I forgot all about it. Two months later I got a reply. It seemed positive so I went. And soon after that first visit I went whenever I could.

Over the next year or so the members of that small group would change my life in ways that I couldn’t have previously imagined. (which is why they get their own chapter!) I’m not going to go into the structure of our services here but (you can come and find out if you want) they are pretty cool.

I’m also not going to talk about Universal Unitarianism here. If you want to find out more you can Google it pretty easily enough. (or check the glossary) I have always hated people who go and on and on about their newfound love for Christ or whatever in their own life stories. I mean it may be true and I’m happy for you but it doesn’t always make for interesting reading. (Then again I go on and on and on about EVA in the chapter on it…ah well.)

As a person who has always loved philosophical discussion and debate I was truly happy to participate in each and every service. We could actually talk after each online sermon, which was great. And then we had hymns, which meant singing, which was even better! And everyone was nice and then we could have tea and cakes and talk about philosophy and religion some more. It lifted my heart and spirit in ways that I could never have imagined.

Why hadn’t anyone told me about this sooner? I seemed a natural fit for the UU philosophy which was wide and encompassing enough to fit almost anything. I later learned that most members of the group felt the same way – that “traditional” religions (not that there was anything wrong with them) didn’t provide the answers (or the questions) that they went in search for. The journey was one of discovery, and that was more important in many ways than the destination. Tabi wa michizure nari. (The road itself is the travelling companion.)

I learned why people go to church. When I was smaller church seemed the most boring place in the universe. OMG, you have to get up on Sunday morning early and go somewhere instead of wake up whenever you want and watch cartoons? Count me out. But here was a fellowship of like-minded people who explored issues of life and spirit in an open and friendly manner.

I should introduce some of the members here the same way I’ve introduced everyone I’ve known in my life so far. Zhen, a smiling Buddha of a man and Winston, his wise and silent partner. Keith, a sensitive and sometimes troubled soul. Josh and Catherine, a very academic couple from California. When I started talking to them for the first time it was like I was back in my old middle school from the US – everything about them seemed so familiar! Only that I was twenty-one years older.

Stacey, our resident sociologist. A few others who came and went and then came again. Mona, a psychotherapist whom I had great conversations with in the short time she was here, and her husband Thomas, a wise minister who taught me that most great truths are often paradoxical.

But I think the biggest influence that the group had on my life has been from Beth and Indra. While I was talking about my recovery from trauma and some very painful experiences that I was still going through the former turned to me and said “look at me, just look at me.” So I did and in her eyes I saw a frank, warm gaze that gave as good as it got. And what it gave me was love.

I grew close to her over the next few months. She was a woman of many talents – an incredible cook, Scrabble player, and rich in life experiences besides. I went over to her house many times and not only did she listen to me she shared parts of her life story as well. She and her husband were well-off but unlike so many other well-off folk I knew they were also actively involved in social work and welfare. I thought to myself “man if I ever become really rich I’m going to be like these guys.”

Indra (his friends call him Mo) a man no less big-hearted and accomplished as his wife -helped in his own way. After dinner one evening he called my name and told me straight out that I was wasting my life (didn’t I know it!) and that someone as smart and talented as myself should be leading a UN think tank or something and that if I didn’t get myself to college he would fucking PAY for me to go there. “If you were my son I would not say it with any less love.” I didn’t know what to say – what do you say to something like that? So I just cried a bit and hugged him.

I couldn’t sleep the entire night. I felt happy – so happy someone finally believed in me wholeheartedly and was even willing to back me with cash. (not that I needed the latter, but in this case it seriously was the thought that counted) I felt fear, deep, unabiding fear, that I might not be able to live up to his expectations. My internal therapist as always wondered if transference was happening, but for once, I was so deep in emotion that I didn’t even realize I thought that until later.

Deep in my heart a door opened that I had not realized was even there. A young child came stumbling out, brushing sleep from his eyes and yawning. What was this warmth, oh-so-familiar and yet unknown for so many years? He stepped forwards, feet shuffling, still in pajamas.

A memory of a distant country stirred.

“Mom? Dad? Is that you?”

I’m not for any moment suggesting that they are or were. But I definitely felt some of it. I couldn’t help it – they were older than my parents, and I had been in sore need of guidance and mentorship for so long. I wrestled with myself a bit until I just finally let it be. Yes I was a mature adult now and I trusted myself not to confuse things or cross any boundaries, but like my sister said after she met then – in those few months that I spent in their company they were more my parents than my real ones had been in a long time.

In the intervening months I went deeper into reflection and I realized that yes, indeed, what I had been feeling all these years while reading books, watching anime and playing games were really honest-to-goodness, true blue spiritual experiences. Back then all I thought was “wow this game is soooooooooooooo good” much the same way as I thought I was thinking “big thoughts.”

I guess that is in part why I wrote this book in the first place. To show that video games – anything, actually – can be what brings you to the Spirit/Allah/God/Zur/The Flying Spaghetti Monster/Whatever. That resonance of the soul, once felt, cannot be denied. The light is the birthright of every human – nay, every living thing on the planet. We all get there in our own way and time.

I don’t know what your faith (if any) is but I can say that I love being UU. You can worship however often or as little as you like. You can worship whatever you like or nothing at all. You can be scientific, or spiritual, or anything in-between. It’s all a matter of choice. Whatever your path may be it is one that you can travel in any way you wish.

I reflected on everything I’ve gone through in my life while writing this chapter and I am struck dumb in amazement. Such depth and wonder and mystery of the spirit! What songs the soul sings in this world and the next! Being human is a truly unique (and often humbling) experience.

Being in touch with those aspects of myself which transcend and yet embrace humanity has been instrumental in my healing of the last year or so. I wouldn’t have been able to get that far – and that fast! – without recourse to a Higher Self, a Greater Power.

Perhaps strange for a person who has studied so much psychology and has thought of becoming a therapist for the last ten years or so, but psychology has limits. Sometimes we need a deeper healing than the mind, body and emotions can provide. There are aspects to existence that are beyond the grasp of the intellect and reason. Open to them and you will know whereof I speak.

Man has and will always continue to have a relationship with the Divine, however you define it. May you find your way much as I have found mine.

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