Dealing with the Loss of Faith
deTraci Regula, author of The Mysteries of Isis and Egyptian Scarab Oracle
Very few resources deal with the loss of or decline of personal faith as applied to the New Age and pagan religions and philosophies. The truth is that most, if not all of us, undergo periods when our trust in our basic, core beliefs is threatened or those beliefs seem to be virtually inoperative. Since so many of us have come to alternative faiths from traditional ones due to a loss of faith in that first, parental religion, finding oneself in the same situation with one's new faith can be horrifying. Did I make a huge mistake? Are all faiths flawed? Maybe I'm just not meant to be religious. Maybe my soul is so damaged I cannot worship anything.
Maybe I really am damned.
What is even more disturbing is that, often, these crises of faith follow on a major spiritual milestone or experience. An initiation, an ordination, even a spontaneous vision or experience of a god or goddess may seem to trigger doubts. At the moments when our faith should be strongest, it instead weakens.
Occultists have sometimes termed this period the "Dark Night of The Soul", and have considered it a spiritual crisis where an individual confronts their own ghosts and demons, whatever they may be.
My personal belief, backed by a basic though far from comprehensive understanding of biochemistry, is that these bad periods are really not psychic or spiritual, but, more essentially, biochemical. The chemical communications of the human brain, which in my belief is a physical communications device for the soul, are still poorly understood. Attempts to look at spiritual beliefs from a biochemical standpoint are rare, and have generally sought to "debunk" spiritual experience and reduce it to a random firing of neurons.
Just as when we fall in love, resonating with a spiritual path creates a new mental chemistry. However, because it is new, it is not well-established. Such mundane things as diet may affect our ability to create and sustain the biochemistry that allows our physical form to perceive spiritual input and phenomena. I suspect that many of the same molecules that allow us to be passionate or creative are also essential for us to perceive the spiritual and sacred worlds. This is also possibly the reason why certain substances allow spiritual experiences to follow, such as peyote and other drugs. These are substitutes for a fully-functional human brain capable of creating and maintaining a supply of "spiritual" message carriers. And, since they are "outside" molecules, they are not ideal for an individual's spiritual experience.
When we experience transformative spiritual events, our brains exert themselves to perceive these new inputs. Because of this exertion, stocks of the chemical precursors to these molecules are depleted. The reason why cold medicines containing pheynylethylalanine work and keep energy up is that they artificially force the brain to fire, thinking it is receiving phenylalanine, an amino acid crucial for both energy and mood. After taking cold medicines for several days, many people become depressed. The brain's stock of supplies have been wiped out, and until diet slowly restores those crucial, genuine building-blocks, depression results.
So when we have a major spiritual experience, causing our brains to joyously release spiritualizing chemistry, it is almost certain that shortly after that experience, there will be a chemically-driven letdown. Since few of us live intensely spiritual lives on a daily basis, our brains are not used to making and providing these necessary chemical carriers, so the building-up process is very slow.
What can we do to restore ourselves? The chemistry of ecstasy is still poorly understood, but generally, my educated guess is that a diet relatively rich in amino acids may be an important component in rebuilding those depleted stores. And again, my guess is that phenylalanine, an amino acid that appears to be involved in the chemistry of falling in love, may also be crucial. (One of the few relatively intense sources of phenylalanine, by the way, is in chocolate.) A B vitamin supplement, which can enhance dreamwork and so is related to spiritual experience, is also something to consider. Essential oils, which tend to deliver almost directly into the brain through the olfactory system, will also play a role - and is the reason incenses have been popular in all places and times as an adjunct to spiritual experience. Try the traditional scents, such as myrrh, frankicense, sandalwood, copal, and others which have enjoyed a long history of use in many faiths.
Also important to the rebuilding of the brain is the release of toxins, through exercise, cleansing, and fasting. Toxic build-up in the body distracts the system from restoring itself, since its resources are tied up with making sure the organism survives, rather than making sure the organism connects spiritually.
There are also some simple spiritual tasks that can help remind the brain that these substances are required.
- Don't abandon your daily devotions, even if they feel utterly empty. The simple repetition will help the mind prepare for new spiritual experiences by creating the necessary substances.
- Try simple devotions, meditations, or prayer - but keep the sessions short. Extended work may only deplete you more.
- Look for stress-free ways of aligning with your faith -for me, it is cleaning my altar items, rearranging and looking at books, and creating artwork.
- Spend time with persons whose faith is strong right now - their spiritual vibrations may help your mind align again with your spiritual beliefs. This is why religious retreats to sacred space, surrounded by others whose spiritual brains are finely tuned, can be so restorative. (Of course, if one is too depleted beforehand, even these spiritual retreats can leave one unmoved.)
Above all, try to take it in stride. You are not a bad person if you have spiritual doubts, but if those doubts are purely biochemically driven, it would be a tragedy to abandon an otherwise satisifying faith. We live in the physical world, a very dense form, and keeping the tenuous spirit alive in the all-too-solid body is a tricky task, whatever your faith may be.
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