I forget often that I come from a lineage of religious families. My mother comes from an evangelical Christian zainichi Korean context, and used religion mostly as protection against and providence from Japanese bigotry. My father comes from a longer lineage of a Buddhist fringe sect borne of an aggressive pacifism movement but ultimately ends up in the tradition of a punishing asceticism. The violence of their religions was all self-inflicted, which means it was hyper present only to family. Our parents are byproducts of God. They are a league of international boomers so broken that they’re lucky if they still believe where they came from.
There’s a database out there for people of color in an industry—I wanna say food writing or photography—where the people in the database disclose their religious affiliations, if any, and those with no religious affiliation may opt to share that they are non-believers, but for some reason that information gets registered as “atheism.” I assume because of some coding syntax on the backend of this database, the identity traits for each database entry are listed alphabetically. Therefore, for a large majority of the people in the database, the first thing you learn about them is that they are: Atheist. Alphabetically this comes up frequently right after: Asian. The thing is, I have a suspicion most of these people aren’t introducing themselves as atheists first and foremost in real life. We happen to have stopped believing in religious practice, and sure, most of us don’t believe in God. But is that really the first thing you tell people?
I do not know what my relationship with God is anymore, but I used to pray like my life depended upon it and since I’m still alive, and life keeps pointing me toward emotional freedom, I feel hopeful that the voice in my head that I attribute to God is a gesture of benevolence from the universe.
And most of us need a little help to reach higher planes of thinking and feeling. Sometimes it’s God, sometimes it’s drugs, sometimes it’s sex.
When I was around 25 or so, I’d gone through a major breakup, and confiding in a lesbian friend that I wanted to brute force my way out of the sadness by having sex with anybody, anybody at all, she said: just go to (my favorite bar) and hang out till closing time and ask (the bartender) what he’s doing. I’m sure he’ll be game.
I trusted her advice and my favorite bar happened to be a short walk from my apartment, so promptly did I head there after midnight and stuck around while single patrons came and left. One even bought me a beer. A local firefighter. If I were paying attention, I could’ve just left with him instead. I think at 25, sleeping with a firefighter was a preposterous idea, though. Somehow a gangly bartender felt more natural. As I get a little drunker, I work up the courage to make small talk and ask him, “what do you want to do with your life? Are you a career bartender or do you have something else going on?”
To this day I’m not sure if his answer was meant to throw me off his stink, or a real answer, but he said:
I’m training myself to transition into a real universe beyond this one. I don’t believe the world we live in is reality. I want to become a shaman so I can access the real universe and leave this world.
There I was, looking for physical intimacy to break out of my real world of emotional pain, and this bartender was looking for the universe. It was sobering. I left, and gave up on the idea that casual sex would fix anything at that moment.
I’m amazed when people can reach their higher planes without the assistance of dogma, drugs or other interventions, because in my experience, the organic path to enlightenment is so time and resource consuming. I find god inside my arts practices, whether it is playing music or writing or sewing together a dress or listening to the wind inside the leaves. But each of these things requires an inordinate amount of energy to push away the voices in my head. Much faster to eat a mushroom and let all the voices come out in symphony. Much better to get there on my own. Much harder, too.
It’s better to ski and think of God than to be in Church and think of sport. (Fridtjof Nansen)
My favorite recorded conversations with the universe are by Anders Nilsen. I don’t know if I’m just on a Scandinavian kick or if North just feels closer to heaven, but Nansen and Nilsen are both great avatars for meeting the earth where it ends. Check out anything Anders has written, but think of me if you see his piece in the Mome 2 anthology (published 13 years ago and still unforgettable to me).