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Project Conversion

I just spent the last hour on the phone telling one of my best friends and Buddhist Mentor that I’m losing my mind.

Best Friend: “What’s going on, man?”

Andrew: “I’m having independent thought, and I’m going nuts.”

Best Friend: “Well what’s so wrong with…oh, I get it. That sucks dude.”

Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it right away. He understands because I blab to him on a daily basis. In fact, he helped me plan Project Conversion last year.  How about a round of applause to anonymous best friend!

So, what’s going on? When I planned this adventure, I expected that I might need a little breather–a halftime–somewhere in the middle. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong.

Here’s the deal, in two parts.

1) I told you kind folks that I would spend the month taking it easy and looking into different “fringe” elements of religion. We are doing that, I promise, but I’ve noticed something: you guys don’t really like…information–at least, not according to my site stats. In fact, whenever I post something info-laden, such as interviews or a religion’s history, the “views” number hits bottom. It also happens with my end-of-month video. Probably because the production value sucks, but hey, I’m just a poor kid with Windows Movie Maker trying to make the world less twitchy.

Anyway, it got me thinking: These people, especially the folks who have joined the Facebook Congregation, aren’t coming to Project Conversion for information about religion…they are coming to see me live these religions. You want to see what I’m going to look like, how I’ll think, what sort of thing I’ll drag my wife and kids into…that’s Project Conversion!

Am I right or am I totally off? Pretty close? Okay, cool. Gimmie a high-five. Moving on…

This first point means that while I am going into these so-called “fringe” elements, the content will be limited–because I’m not experiencing these things–I’m not living and breathing them, and that’s not what this is about. The fact that my wife won’t let me join a cult also puts a damper on things. So here’s the plan: Two…three posts maximum with a categorical listing of different traditions. Each listing on the page will have a very brief introduction with a link (if available). This way, I get to keep my promise to you without boring you to death the whole month. How’s that sound? Really, let me know.

2) The interesting part. If I would have known in the planning stages how I feel right now, I would not have inserted a “halftime” point for June. I’m going nuts. Here’s why…

For five months I have lived completely faithful to each religion. I believe what I’m supposed to believe, act the way I’m supposed to act, and in some cases look the way the faithful do. I’ve received strange looks in public, been avoided, the subject of conversation with strangers, and a curiosity for you. For five months, I have been a Hindu, a Baha’i, a Zarathushti, a Jew, and a Buddhist. Understand, I’ve loved every single moment, but today I realized one thing that I have not been all this time…

Andrew.

That is, until this month. For the first time in five months, I’ve inhibited independent thought. This isn’t to say that the religions I’ve practiced do not invite one to think freely. What it means is that for every month, my view becomes biased by that religion. If I’m a Baha’i, I think like a Baha’i. If I’m a Jew, I think like a Jew. Now that I’m in June without a religion, I’m all alone, because to think in any of the ways I have so far this year would be unfair.

For five months I’ve buried my subconscious with the intense immersion process that is Project Conversion. And now, with nothing to keep these thoughts in check, my subconscious is blowing its top like Pandora’s Box. What does this mean? It means that I sit outside and stare at the sidewalk and contemplate things like “perfection”, “infinity”, and even the existence of God without any lens or filter through which to view them. It means the flood gates are suddenly wide open and questions that have built up for months now burst at the seams. Each religion offered a perspective and a way to keep these in check. Now, I’m not only victim to my own rampant thoughts, I find myself craving the teachings.

I want my spiritual opium.

I’m experiencing religious withdrawal, and to be fair to each tradition, I cannot spend time with any of them for relief. But I’ve already cheated. I’ve taken hits from the faiths. Earlier today, I craved prayers so I flipped through my Baha’i book of prayers. No, I didn’t actually recite them; just the sound of them in my mind gave me temporary solace. Now, close to midnight, I’m wrapped up in my Buddhist robes.

What does this mean? It means that June truly is a month of “fringe,” only I didn’t realize that I was the one on the edge. Now that I’ve stepped away from everything I’ve learned and experienced, I’ve created my own periphery–looking outside in from the cold of non-faith–and it’s lonely out here because I’ve created a dependence, a habit.

I think this experience, while uncomfortable, raises questions about why some of use adopt a faith. Is it for security–emotional, social or otherwise? Is it because you searched so long for answers that once you’ve found something comfortable you were too exhausted to deny it? Maybe it’s fear of the unknown, or, in some cases, fear of a terrifying reality. Perhaps it’s because you can’t handle the idea of emptiness, that this is it, and so you cling to whatever semblance of meaning you run into. Or maybe, just maybe, you fall in love with a certain philosophy, its community, or God.

Regardless of what your reasons for faith are, know that this month, as I am on the outside looking in, that I envy you. Your faith (or even atheistic compassion) is precious. I challenge you this month to do everything in your power to strengthen it, nurture it, share it with loved ones. Meanwhile, I will be here on the wings, waiting to join you by the campfire again.

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