I recently realized that I want to write more on Sparkly Dark about spirituality. So we are all on the same page, I want to explain what I mean by “spirituality”, because this word means a lot of different things to different people, and it means something very specific to me.

My relationship to spiritual beliefs

I was not raised a Christian, and I’m not part of any tradition.

Spirituality is not the same as religion. I was raised an atheist, and I found my spiritual path organically on my own. I’ve studied a lot of different traditions, but my stubborn independence and high need for autonomy extends to my relationship with Spirit. I’m not here to follow someone else; I’m here to follow my inner calling.

I think of myself as a mystic–someone who seeks a direct experience of God.

Although “seeks” sounds like I haven’t found it yet, which isn’t true. I experience God as an ever-present reality—a feeling that I can tune into at any time. I worry that this sounds like bragging, but it seems to be something I was born with the ability to access, because I haven’t spent decades meditating or anything (maybe I did in a past life, who knows).

But this awareness comes with its own set of challenges—I live with an ever-present feeling that this world is an illusion, and yet I still have to live in it. I find it hard to invest in Earth things to the degree my peers do, which leads to a sense of isolation and alienation.

And despite my awareness that I am more than my human existence, I still occupy a body and am subject to its biological fear mechanisms hijacking my brain like everyone else. I’ve spent a lot of my life working on healing trauma so I can not be subject to it, but it’s still a work in progress.

I care a lot more about experiences than beliefs.

Most people think of spirituality as a set of beliefs, but I think this is unhelpful. I think that the translation of the Divine and unseen realms into something we can interpret is always symbolic, because direct experience of God is not something that can be translated into words. This is elucidated in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation):

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.

Humans endlessly argue about their symbolic interpretations of God, which I think is pointless, as all they can ever be is approximations based on the perceptual map of the person having the experience.

The human conundrum is that everything we experience is subjective and is filtered through a complex perceptual system (the brain & nervous system), which interprets experience based on whatever previous experiences we have had in life and the beliefs we have formed to organize that experience. The brain is incapable of having an objective experience of anything.

Consequently, we can never know the objective truth of God while we are in these bodies. The best we can do is find symbolic representations that are useful in walking the path. That is why I borrow from many different traditions and look for whatever resonates with me and helps me experience God, and I don’t worry about what works for someone else. That is also why I will never be the kind of spiritual teacher who tells you what to believe—because I know you have your own path to walk and you will resonate with things differently than I do.

That is why I don’t think in terms of beliefs, but in terms of experiences, and working theories to explain them. (See the Cosmology section below for the working theories that work for me.)

My experience is that this world is unreal—the words that sum this up best are the opening lines of A Course in Miracles:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

I felt the truth of these words the first time I came across them, long before I actually read the book. Returning to these words was useful, because they put me in touch with that felt sense of truth. That is my litmus test for all belief systems—can I use this? Does it help me?

I don’t need spiritual ideas to be objectively true, because nothing we come up with about the Divine while we are on Earth is really true anyway.

I don’t think we can actually know what ultimate reality is.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Imagine you decide to rearrange the app icons on your phone. These icons are “real” within the operating system—you can see them, you can move them around, you can delete them. They follow a set of logical rules—the “physics” of your phone operating system.

But there are several levels of “reality” to your phone. There is the operating system, there is the code it was written in, and there are the 1s and 0s that is how all of the code is stored in memory. And then there is the overall physical reality of the phone—how old it is, what model it is, who owns it, and how they use it. There is who designed it, who built it—there is a blueprint somewhere of your phone, a manufacturing specification.

Now imagine you were somehow transported into the operating system. You can see the icons and study them. You figure out the logical rules that govern how they work. The world makes sense, it’s explainable.

But you would have no way of knowing, from within the operating system, that your whole existence was stored within a physical object called a phone that someone was carrying around in their pocket. You could study the movement and appearance and disappearance of those icons all you wanted, and you wouldn’t figure it out, because you just wouldn’t have access to the layer of reality where that information exists.

Being in an Earth body is like that. We can move things around, and that has effects we can see, but we still have no way to access or comprehend the underlying reality in which our experience arises.

The icons on your phone, were they conscious, would have no idea that they are really a set of files and instructions stored on a physical hard drive. They may come up with all kinds of theories about the nature of their existence—but the actual reality would be wild to them. Given the constraints of the reality they exist in, they would not be able to conceive of one phone’s physical existence, let alone the existence of all these other phones, models, and each one having a little Universe of icons in it, let alone the nature of programming languages.

The icons on your phone can’t escape the phone they are in and examine the underlying physical structure of it. It’s impossible, because the icons only exist inside of the operating system as it is running.

That is how far from the reality beyond this one that we are, here in our physical bodies. We can’t comprehend it, because once we leave here, we stop being who we currently think we are.

I have studied a lot of NDE (near-death experience) accounts. They are all different, but they have some common themes. One of them is that as soon as you are out of this body, you suddenly understand how everything works. You are reconnected to some kind of knowledge or awareness of everything. You have no need for beliefs, because you know. You have no need to pray, because you are reconnected to that which you would pray to.

Therefore, “spirituality” is only a useful set of practices while inhabiting a body. It has no meaning outside this existence, so how could it hope to explain whatever is outside it? It can’t. That is why I don’t look to spirituality to answer eternal questions. I only look to it as a useful way to achieve a felt sense of truth that helps me navigate my life (more on my spiritual path below).

All of the symbolic meaning encoded in spiritual texts is only a means to the end of achieving a subjective experience of whatever is beyond this existence. But we can’t know how well that matches any objective truth of the reality beyond the one we find ourselves in—even if we have the same subjective experience (or think that we do).

So, everything that follows is not an attempt to describe ultimate reality. It’s just a set of maps and meanings that help me navigate this reality.

If it’s all subjective, why bother?

Look around your room. You have assigned each object all the meaning it has for you. Just think about that for a minute. (This is the first lesson in A Course in Miracles, FYI.)

We walk every day through a world of subjective meaning and perceived reality. That defines our existence far more than the objective reality we live in. We just don’t notice it most of the time.

Think about falling in love. We all know what it is—we write songs about it, cry about it, and structure our life around it in many way. But what is it? It’s a subjective experience.

And yes, surely there is some physical thing happening when we fall in love, but nobody really cares about that—what we care about is how it feels and what it means to us.

I’m sure that something is happening in my brain when I feel God. But that’s not what matters to me about the experience. And just like I can compare notes with someone else about what falling in love feels like, and how to make a relationship work—I can also compare notes with other people on what a spiritual experience feels like and how to progress on the spiritual path.

Here’s another completely subjective shared map—the concept of the “inner child”. There is not actually a tiny human child in your brain. And yet, this simple metaphor has been very useful for helping millions of people heal from their childhood wounds and feel more free and happy.

Subjective experiences matter deeply to us—and we constantly use metaphors to describe them, and share those metaphors with other people.

That is how I think about spiritual beliefs. They are useful metaphors, and how much you believe in their literal truth is entirely up to you.

I use spiritual beliefs as working theories, meaning I act as if they are true (much like I have conversations with my inner child as if it really exists), and I don’t much care what the literal truth is, because I don’t think I can know that right now, and it’s not actually something I need to know to move forward in a meaningful way.

What I mean when I say God.

I know many people don’t love the word “God” due to the negative associations with organized religion. Sometimes I will use “Spirit” or “The Divine”. I tend to not use “The Universe”, because I think that already has a physical meaning, and by “God” I mean something beyond the physical.

In my head-cannon, God is non-gendered and not a discrete being at all, but rather the ground from which everything else arises (pretty similar to how the Tao is described above). As such, it doesn’t have an agenda beyond expansion.

I once had an intense experience of God as pure unconditional love. It felt like there was an invisible sun in my living room. It felt like every part of me, every cell of my body, everything that I am, every memory, was being fully seen—and accepted exactly as it is.

Normally my experience of God is more mild—a kind of inner ocean I can float in, a timeless place of stillness and peace.

My spiritual path

You might be wondering, if I can tune into God anytime I want, why don’t I just do that? Why keep studying and practicing if I’ve already achieved what many are trying to achieve with spiritual practice?

Well, because I also have a felt sense of purpose—something that points me in a direction and urges me to follow it.

Where does it lead? Why is it there? Where did it come from? I don’t know. I spent a lot of my life trying to answer those questions, until I realized that it, too, was pointless. What I do know is that when I follow my path, magic happens. Synchronicities unfold, healing occurs, and I feel like I’m doing what I came here to do.

When I look back at my life, I see all these ways in which my path unfolded that seem to point to an order and a purpose for my life. It all seems to hang together in a cohesive way that I couldn’t see at the time. So I’ve learned to trust it, have faith in it, and keep walking. And that’s just a choice I make because it feels right to me—even though it’s often not easy.

My path has led me through very difficult experiences.

My first long-term relationship was tumultuous, overwhelming, and ended when my partner committed suicide. My second one was with a prisoner, who I waited for and visited in prison for 7 years until he got out and quickly became a person that was unrecognizable to me and mostly disappeared from my life. He is someone I tried very hard to save but finally realized I couldn’t, which was a lesson I had to learn the very hard way.

All the dreams of our future that I had held onto were shattered. After being a prison wife for so many years, I was burned out and exhausted with nothing to show for it. It took me several more years to claw my way back from the confusion and heartbreak of that experience, get divorced, and move back to Portland.

But in the process of doing that, I healed my attachment trauma, codependence, limerence, worked through a deep self-sacrifice pattern, and came to embody my power in ways that I had never experienced before.

I lost everything, but in the process, I came home to myself. And that is, for better or worse, often how it goes.

I trust my path not because it is easy, but because it leads to liberation.

My path always eventually leads to inner freedom. I crave that expansion so much that I have dedicated my life to pursuing it. While studying psychology and trauma has helped me heal particular wounds, it is my path and my stubborn insistent on following it even into the pits of hell (which prison very much resembles), that have set up the experiences that have forced me to confront patterns that I would have just kept stubbornly avoiding otherwise.

The person I am today is infinitely stronger, wiser, and more powerful than the person I was before all of that pain and heartbreak and disillusionment and confusion. It was fighting my way through it that built that strength.

When I got married, I had no idea how it would turn out. If I had, I might have avoided it. That’s why we don’t know the future, and have to just make choices and see what happens and then integrate the experience—it’s the only way to transform who we are.

More than one friend has expressed their concern over the years for my apparently reckless choices in love. And yes, I was definitely playing out dysfunctional patterns and making objectively self-harmful decisions sometimes. But if you are stuck in a pattern and can’t see it, what the Universe can reliably do to force the issue is make it worse. That usually ends up destroying your life in the short-term, but it makes the healing unavoidable, because it just hurts so damn much and you are out of ways to avoid the work you need to do to transcend it.

When the avoidance of your healing leads you smack into a brick wall, you finally start to wonder if maybe healing might not be a better option. I was so stubborn in thinking a partner would rescue me from my childhood wounds, and it was only in being proven overwhelmingly wrong that I was willing to let go of that delusion and start doing the work I always knew in the back of my mind that I really ought to be doing. That same stubbornness, when applied to healing, works wonders.

So I walk this path because it gives me what I most want—more inner freedom, and more capacity to live in God consciousness (unconditionality).

Spiritual mechanics

Now I want to share some practical tips on how the spiritual path works, in case they are of use to you.

Willingness / Opening your heart

Your spiritual path starts with your genuine willingness to open your heart to what your mind cannot understand.

Spirit respects your free will, so you have to go to it; it will never force you to feel it or accept it.

The simplest way to start is to think of however you conceive of God (or angels, or spirit guides, or your ancestors—whoever you want to connect with), and say, “I am willing to see, please show me”. Speak from your heart about what you want and why. And then pay attention to what happens over the coming days and weeks. Be open to what you are shown.

Surrender / Handing it over

The main obstacle to spiritual growth is the ego—your individuality. The ego is not bad—it’s a crucial part of being human. It’s job is to keep your body alive and your human existence trucking along. The problem is that it gets a bit carried away with its job and also tries to define your sense of self, control your decisions, and make you think it’s in charge and nothing else matters.

Since it only exists within the human brain, and can’t access or understand what is beyond it, the ego is terrified of annihilation, and it seeks power to avoid that outcome. How much power you give it is ultimately up to you.

The ego interferes with growth by generating fear, and fear-based thoughts and belief systems. Some of these can become so habitual that they can be hard to break out of. If you can’t get past a particular belief system or pattern, a neat workaround is to hand whatever you are struggling with over to a higher power. That gets it out of the ego’s grasp, and allows Spirit to help you with it.

Faith / Learn from everything

Faith means trusting that everything in your path is there for a reason, even if you don’t know what it is yet.

I’m not talking about assigning specific meanings to things that happen, I’m talking about having an open attitude toward everything that crosses your path and asking yourself how you can learn from it.

You create all meaning, so the meaning of anything isn’t important—it’s the freedom that the meaning gives you that matters. So choose meaning that is liberating, not disempowering.

Forgiveness / Taking 100% responsibility

Your wounded emotional self needs validation, and you should provide that to yourself. But your spiritual self needs truth. And the truth is that you only fully heal and integrate lessons by taking responsibility for every single experience in your life and completely forgiving your past so you can let it go and move on. Because there is something bigger you were meant for than feeling victimized by life.

A lot of people complain about “toxic positivity”, but the reality is that the narrative “woe is me” simply has a lot less power in it than “I’m going to learn from this and I’m going to be OK”. The ego loves to complain and judge things. So if you see a spiritual message and all you can do is complain and reject it, you are just shooting yourself in your own foot.

Of course the lessons hurt—that’s how Earth School works. Give yourself all the compassion you need to heal, but do not lose sight of the goal or the reality that none of the pain we experience here can ever damage who we really are.

That doesn’t mean you can rush through the pain of grieving and integration. You can’t skip over that step any more than a caterpillar can snap it’s caterpillar fingers and instantly transform into a butterfly. Transformation is a messy, painful process that always takes longer than you want it to. The struggle to accept every part of your life and appreciate what it gave you rather than what it took from you is the price of wisdom, power, and liberation.

Cosmology i.e. “how reality works”.

I have studied lots of different spiritual traditions and practices, including Wicca, Buddhism, astrology, tarot, and various New Thought and New Age ideas and authors (Neville, Abraham-Hicks), and listened to recountings of many NDEs (near death experiences) as well as read the work of people who do past life regressions.

I strongly resonate with the idea that we choose our incarnations before we are born to have certain experiences, and that therefore everyone has their own unique path to walk and so different traditions will fit better with different people. So in no way do I think you should subscribe to any of these ideas unless you feel like it. You do you.

So with the above caveats that this is only a working theory and I’m not a guru, and that actual objective understanding of what is beyond our reality is literally impossible, here is the set of ideas I generally work with.

We choose to incarnate on Earth

My working theory is that this reality is not nearly as real as whatever reality is outside of it, and we come here for a particular purpose—to refine our soul in some way. And we do that by forgetting who we are and experiencing fear–something we could never experience if we knew who we really were–so that we can learn to overcome it and return to love/Light, which is the closest thing to what is Real that we can experience here in these bodies.

Souls are eternal, immortal, have no physical existence or needs, do not die, and therefore cannot experience fear or deprivation in their natural state. The only way to do that is to come to the physical plane and forget who we really are. As soon as we are plunged into a human body, we feel fear and deprivation quite readily, for better or worse.

Why would a soul want to do this to itself? Apparently, so it can develop itself in some way. The struggle of enduring the fearful and overwhelming experience of being in a body, and trying to remember that love is actually greater than fear, refines the soul. (For more on this, I recommend reading A Walk in the Physical by Christian Sundberg.)


Karma simply means “cause and effect”. Karma can play out within your lifetime, or over many lifetimes (which is confusing because we can’t remember or see the cause), but there is always a reason things occur. This is another reason to adopt the attitude of, “What can I learn from this?” to everything that crosses your path. You can’t change the karma that is already in motion, but you can avoid creating more.

Your childhood is set up to induce the same issues you were working on in previous lives that you were not done learning or clearing. You can get more insight on this by looking at your astrological birth chart, especially the North and South Nodes, and how it interacts with Pluto and Uranus. Astrology is extremely complicated, but if you are interested in understanding the most painful experiences in your life, I recommend the work of Jeffrey Wolf Green, especially his two books on Pluto.

The more you incarnate, the more you plan out your life

Newbie souls just want experience, so any life will do. But if you’ve been at this awhile, you develop specific goals of what you want to experience and with whom, and plan out your incarnations to accomplish this. I recommend the book Your Soul’s Plan for more on this process.

Given that the whole point of coming here at all is to go through the meat grinder of being human, you might not particularly appreciate some of the things your soul has planned. I get it, believe me—but I have found the phrase “let go or be dragged” to be accurate. As well as: “the lessons don’t change but how long you take to learn them is up to you”.

It’s fairly common for people on a spiritual path to become frustrated by the people around them who do not appear to be interested in growing. This is an attachment that has to be released. You really don’t know why their soul chose to incarnate in their life, what they are working on, or if they are on track or not — and it’s really none of your business. You are only here to live your own life.

Soul mates and soul family

You end up reincarnating with the same souls in order to work on things together, and resolve karma between you from previous incarnations.

There are a lot of more specific ideas about twin flames and starseeds and such that I find to be interesting and somewhat useful sometimes, but I try not to put too much stake in it. Again, I think they are at best a symbolic representation of what is happening, and they are also something that the ego can become very invested in, so I hold them loosely.

Spirituality is made up—so make up something that works for you.

Again, the above cosmology is just a set of working theories or symbolic representations that I experience as helpful to work with. Thinking about certain patterns as stemming from past live karma (as interpreted through my birth chart) helped me unravel a lot of my relationship issues. Conceptualizing childhood trauma as something I chose in order to grow helps me accept and let go.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what our theory is as to how it all works, unless it helps us with the goal. I believe we are here to experience being here and to grow in our ability to embody Divine love despite the trash-fire of a planet we incarnated on. We aren’t really here to figure it all out, and we can’t anyway.

So, all of this could be wrong, and it’s fine. I’m still going to be working on myself and walking the path anyway, and that’s what actually matters to me.

If spiritual ideas don’t help you, don’t use them.

I support your complete autonomy in deciding what your relationship is with any and all spiritual concepts.

Thanks for reading!