Project Conversion

Project Conversion

The Rebellion

In Flann O’Brien’s literary masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, the protagonist is a young writer whose own characters conspire against him in order to determine their own fates. The insurgency falls apart only after the young protagonist, at the end of the novel, completes his college exams.

When I started Project Conversion in January of this year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off. “I’m a fiction writer,” I told a good friend, “I don’t know anything about non-fiction.”

“You are the character now. Write the story,” he said.

He was right. I’ve spent years creating people, places, and situations in my mind and now, I am the protagonist. At first one might think, “That’s so cool! You can make your world whatever you want!” To a degree, yeah, it’s true. But for all you writers out there, you know better, don’t you? Just as the fictional creations of O’Brien’s protagonist secretly conspired against him for control of the story, we are only kidding ourselves if we think we have full control of our own narratives.


From the Sikhi perspective, while we have free will, that ability is set in motion by God’s “Order.” Early in the Japji Sahib, the introductory verses of the Guru Granth Sahib, we are told:

“By God’s Order all forms come into existence, but the working of His Order cannot be described.”

Every writer knows that truth is stranger than fiction and that any good piece of fiction arises organically. Like a garden, we can till the soil, create boundaries, use stakes to guide the stems, but if you want the garden to grow you must allow it to freely move, unhindered.

As a writer and the protagonist of my own story with Project Conversion, I’ve identified the rogue character, the organic element that I never saw coming in the story.


The “Temple” at the river.

Those of you who’ve been around here for a while know about the river. Originally, it served as my base camp during the ascent toward religious understanding. It was supposed to be neutral ground where I could physically, emotionally, and mentally refresh myself each month. But over the last few months, I’ve had intense experiences there which only increase in potency over time. These experiences stand outside the scope and realm of each faith and thus are something different entirely.


I sense subterfuge. But is it a bad thing? Is this part of “God’s Order?”

Here is what I know–and it’s something I’ve wrestled with for over a week now because as some of you know, I visit the Temple toward the middle of each month, and that’s when the fireworks begin. I don’t think I can go back–not this year. It’s like looking into a dark cave. You have a light, but it only illuminates a small space around you. Eventually, the deeper you go into the cave, your own light is enveloped by the cool dark of the cave and soon, there’s no turning back.

I know that if I go back to the Temple, if I cross the river bridge, there is no coming back.


Why is this important? Because you can’t un-know something. What I’ve gleaned there is disruptive enough. I think about it every day. It keeps me up at night, and it competes with my experience of each faith. One cannot serve two masters.

Since I am the protagonist of my own story, and I understand the elements of story-telling, I’ve now officially rebelled against the narrative. I am resisting the resistance. But who is the writer? Was this–was the river–all “part of the plan,” all part of God’s “Order”? Am I following a natural evolution of thought/development set in motion once the seed for Project Conversion germinated in my mind nearly a year ago?


Someone is allowing this garden to grow, and Project Conversion was the stake, the borders.

In conclusion, I don’t know if my refusal to visit the Temple is actually a rebellion or simply me acting according to some mysterious script. What I do know is that if I go back, the curtain will fall early on this project, because I’ll cease to be who I am today. Life however, tends to find a way. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” Shakespeare once quibid. The story must go on, whether I like it or not. I’ve had experiences outside of the river, although not as powerful. Will the “author” (natural events, God, fate, etc.) simply make edits to compensate for my actions? Who freaking knows. Just as Guru Nanak saidin the Japji Sahib,


“Everyone is subject to His Order
And no one can defy it.” 

Little ol’ me against God’s Order? Gulp. Bring it.

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posted September 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm


Good to hear from you. I enjoy/welcome the analysis of Project Conversion’s readers. In a way, this journey is universal; I am only a projection of what many go through/want to go through/have gone through. Dialogue is healthy here and it challenges my own perspectives.

You are right, changes are going on at a snowball’s tumbling pace. Destruction is truly the craddle of creation. Who knows what will rise from that ashes, but I certainly won’t be what comes back.

Thanks for the well-wishes. I hope to hear from you again.

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Sam Karvonen

posted September 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Dear Andrew,

It seems we’re all vying here to psychoanalyze your spiritual rollercoaster rides! How does it feel to have a colourful assortment of amateur shrinks digging into your head, free of charge too? How presumptuous of us indeed. But fun! Some of us seem to hint that your experiences are somehow specifically related to our particular faiths. Wishful thinking I say! Let me tell you the truth: You’re probably just going nuts! Or stung every dratted time at the river by some weird breed of Eastern Seaboard mosquitos carrying weapons-grade hallucinogenic bacteria. 😛

But seriously (ever heard that Phil Collins track?), here’s my two cents at your psychoanalysis (yup, I’ve lost bets before):

I think you’re slowly realizing that your close exposure to all these different faiths — each having their own powerful say on what is Ultimately Real and True and Worthwhile — has simply challenged the Andrew Bowen that you knew to the core. It didn’t turn out to be a “game” after all (I’m exaggerating of course to establish my point). True faith never is. Even if you only “dabble” with it. Each and every faith has questioned your purpose in this universe, and hence challenged you far far deeper than you expected at the outset of the Project.

As you said, you set out to “experience” different faiths. In the process, however, you are *discovering* faith. The one and only faith: Your own awareness of the existence of that Unknowable Essence, that Object of all worship and devotion. In Hinduism they call this awareness moksha, in Islam taqwa, in Christianity “the Holy Spirit”. But that faith knows no denominations. It does not because ultimately there is only one faith. The Faith in God. And all of the faiths have it.

Wishing you the most meaningful and successful of spiritual journeys,


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posted September 13, 2011 at 9:25 am


First of all, thanks for sticking around. It’s come a long way, hasn’t it?

What I feel about this is that, I have something waiting for me there, something I never expected or asked for, but it’s there through my experience with PC. Remember that Project Conversion was never about me finding truth for myself, but in living through the eyes of others. In doing that I have seen many things, and now it is getting personal. Truth is not bound by time or space, so I don’t think it’s a “While supplies lasts” sort of thing. I could cross the tree bridge and slip into the “cave” at any time, but if I do it before the year is over–before I’ve completely what I promised to do–then I think it will be a mistake. This whole thing is about being selfless. We could very well call my final crossing of the bridge my 13th month in Project Conversion.

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Debi Dusseault

posted September 13, 2011 at 1:08 am

I’ve been watching your journey from the beginning and I’ve seen how this project has been transforming both you and all of us that comprise your congregation. My question is: If you truly feel that God is speaking to you at the temple, can you live with the decision to stop going and to never know the fullest result of the journey which God has invited you to experience?

You will have to live with this decision long after all of us and this project are a memory. Don’t let fear take you away from what could be one of the most important moments in your life. Is this not what you have been searching for all along? It’s a difficult decision to make, I hope that you make the one that is best for you.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Thanks jamicam,

It is a dilemma, one that will present itself to me many times over before the year ends. The point of Project Conversion was never about finding truth for myself, but simply to experience life as someone else–someone of a different faiths. I’m trying to live out the “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If I “become” multiple types of people, then I can no longer hate them, because I AM them. It’s the sort of example I want to set for others. This Temple thing, this whole phantom experience…totally unplanned for. I hope that makes it clearer as far as why it would be hard to go to the river one more time, knowing that what awaits me on the next visit is a choice. And I know deep down, because of what I’ve seen, that I could not say no.

You have been excellent in your attention to this issue. I so appreciate your careful analysis, your challenges, your recommendations, and I’m so honored and so blessed to have folks like you with me on this journey. I hope to hear from you in the future!

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posted September 12, 2011 at 11:42 pm



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posted September 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I understand the sense of commitment you feel to completing this project. And if what is facing you at the river threatens to put an end to it, then I can also understand the desire to put it off. It’s admirable, a selfless act really – putting off what you need/want for yourself out of a sense of responsibility to others. I can totally respect that.

On the other hand, perhaps by putting it off you are not being true to the project. If the point of the project is to experience other paths and allow those experiences to have an impact on you, how can you prohibit any impact from taking hold? How can you put off what really is the entire point, the ultimate goal?

A fascinating dilemma for sure.

Personally, I think you can’t go wrong either way. This is your journey, you make the rules. And rules can always change. And decisions can always change – even major ones. Something started can end if the time for it to end is right. And something ended can start again, at a later time, if needed.

Whatever you do, I’m just glad you let us all along for the ride!

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Editor B

posted September 12, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Having read through the comments I think I understand now. Well, you know, sort of. More power to you.

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Dan Jensen

posted September 12, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Great guru quote!

Who can put his Order/Logos/Asha into words, or even a thought? Would you capture your Order and stuff in a bottle? Feel it. Inquire of it. Embody it.

… he said into the mirror, unable to open his eyes. 😉

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posted September 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm


Brilliant, thank you so much.

No, Project Conversion is not the excuse, it is the vehicle. How else could I have arrived here without the change I’ve experienced through each faith? Indeed, each one has altered me, impacted me in a unique way, preparing me for the next step in the path. I think that is why each month, this connection, this awareness, this unveiling is stronger. Each month prepares me. I cannot stop, I cannot go back to that spot because of my dhama, my jihad, my mission and obligation to everyone whom I’ve promised to see this through. I want to be an example to the world of just how one lives in the shoes of another–to truly become one another. I don’t think the Temple is a passing mist. The Temple is where I am. It is there, waiting for me when I am ready. Even King Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, he had to learn how to use it. To go back and take up the sword there would be selfish because I haven’t fully served my role in Project Conversion yet. What if there is more to learn these last four months? There must be.

Damn straight I’m a little nervous about the Temple, but the darkness is always soothing to me, as I often meditate in the dark or by a single candle, but on the contrary, going back to the river would BE the easy way. Project Conversion is hard. I’m ready to collapse. That said, I can only see what waits on the other side, not what the path involves. Taking that step is the next part of this journey, I think, one that Project Conversion is conditioning for me now.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm


I understand your position. The arrival is inevitable, I’m only delaying it due to my promise to the world–to complete this mission of total immersion in the lives of my fellow man. There is a sense that, each faith has prepared me for the next, and therefore the building experiences. You are right to ask how could I not go. I will. I must. Be I have miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.

Thanks so much for your imput and thoughts. I hope you’ll share more.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm


No back-tracking indeed. The die is cast, as it were, and I am aware of the kama leading to this point. On the other hand, my dhama is to continue with the project as promised. How can I not think outside of an order in that regard? Just as there are undercurrents in a river or sea, reality is the same. At the moment, I’m swimming on top, not able to dive until I’m done with my task.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Seemingly independent, order and free-will are inter-twined. Do what’s right, instead of targeting a particular future consequence. Gut-feeling “What’s right” depends on your preconditioning and current state while you can “choose” to do it or not, per your free-will. The step taken today, shall bear the fruits tomorrow or day-after. The order that was, and, the step combined decide the “kind” of fruit you receive while order and free-will are on-going as you act. You are thinking this accordance to an order, and so am I writing in an order. I could write something non-conforming, while you can act different (or not Gurmukh), and THAT will decide the future course or destiny. Remember, no back-tracking feasible.

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B Irwin

posted September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I suspect you’ve reached a point where you know too much to go back. You’re just not ready to be honest with yourself. So you find excuses not to do what you know you should do. That’s called “free will.”

Tho’ I’m not a Muslim, I’m reminded of Muhammad running to his wife from the cave and saying, “Cover me!” Not that I’m suggesting you’re on a level with the Prophet, or anything. But it scares even the Messengers.

Things are getting intense and it’s scaring you. Any time we get outside our comfort zone, it’s a scary thing. But to grow and reach for the Light, we have to creep outside what’s comfortable.

Here’s something to ponder. Will you be able to live with yourself if you turn your back on what’s waiting? Or will you forever kick yourself and think, “Darn it, I was so close. Now I’ll always wonder what might have happened if I’d reached for it.”

There’s a time and place for everything. This is your time. You’ve made a special place. Are you ready to face the infinite? Are you? Can you live with turning away from the answer you’ve asked for? Only you can make that decision. But also ask yourself, can you live with NOT facing it? What if you’re missing something wonderful?

Has the Project become an excuse, a limitation? You talk about your journey as travelling into the dark. The womb is dark, but you grow and develop until you are ready to emerge into the light. Perhaps the perceived dark is merely your passage through a time of necessary development until your reach your Light.

I don’t have your answer. This is your spiritual journey and only you can know your capacity. All I can do is offer my support from a distance and ask more questions – how will you know what you are capable of until you try? Until you push yourself to what you think are your limits…and beyond?

In closing, think of how often the news is better than the recipient thinks it will be. “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy.” Or, from Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words:
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.”

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posted September 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I think you should go to the river and make peace with whatever is waiting there for you.

How can you not go?

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posted September 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm


Maaaaan I’m a huge fan of those films! I’m particularly loyal to Pixar, but I won’t refuse a good flick.

You are right, of course. I’ve had experiences outside of the the Temple, but for whatever reason (and maybe my focus is just higher?) they are super intense there. It was my first real “flash” of insight that changed everything, and something happens whenever I go there–without fail. I think it’s like the cave in Episode V of Star Wars where Luke walks in and faces an illusion of Vader. Luke took that in there with him, but the cave magnified it somehow. It’s really strange, the energy around the Temple. I feel it as soon as I step onto the bridge, and then when I take off my shoes and my toes sink into the white sand on the other side, it’s like electricity.

The “subterfuge” ref simply implied that the story I’ve found myself in seems like it’s conspiring against me. I didn’t want this Temple distraction, yet here it is, taking up more and more of my life and attention.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm


I will indeed return at the end of the year. In fact, I think that’s where everything will finish.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm


If they are oatmeal cookies, I’m game.

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posted September 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I wonder if you’ll still have an “experience” whether or not you visit the river. Like in Kung Fu Panda where Master Oogway says, “Often the steps we take to avoid destiny lead us to it.” (Hey, don’t judge. There are some real gems in those movies! :) ).
Maybe it’s not so much the place, anyway, but what you’re doing at the time that leads you to these moments. Or, maybe it’s your meditation that invites the experiences to come about and you just happen to be at the River, nothing to do with “The Temple” itself. I think if God wants to talk to you, the “where” is much less important than the message.
Either way, I’m interested to see how the middle of this month goes.
Also, could you explain your use of “subterfuge” above? Dishonesty? Cheating?

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posted September 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Resistance is futile. Come to the dark side, we have cookies. 😀

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posted September 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

Even if you don’t go to your temple at the river this year, you will probably have to go back when the year is over. I expect you won’t be able to resist.

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