I was brought up in a “new age” family by parents who practiced energy healing, angel speak, and Sufi meditation. For me, the overwhelming mix of parables, lessons, and imagery brought both comfort and confusion.
When my parents divorced in ‘91, I felt bitter and disillusioned that their spiritual ideals had failed to save their marriage. I felt angry at my parents for abandoning me, and at the same time secretly blamed myself for their separation. I would spend hours a day playing my Super Nintendo, trying to escape into my imagination. When I turned thirteen, I started smoking pot and drinking. I would also spend whole days hiding out at my best friend’s house, dreading the moment when I would have to return home.
The time when I needed spirituality the most was the same time I stopped believing in God. I felt empty, scared, and isolated. I rebelled against everything.
After floundering my way through public school, I managed to enroll myself in a local community college. I was drawn toward the Liberal Arts and felt that somehow they would allow me to express my pent up anxieties. While there, I met a philosophy professor who started me on a journey towards self-discovery. His classes were provocative, and he rekindled my interest in spirituality. He also challenged me to think deeply about the ways that my own negative patterns of thinking were translating into depression and anger. He exposed me to what psychologists now refer to as meta-cognition, or put more simply, thinking about thinking. I took every class he offered even if it didn’t count towards my degree. We eventually became friends and would often have lunch together, talking about literature and poetry. When the time came that I wanted to move out he offered me spare bedroom in his house.
I lived with him for year and a half. During that time, he helped me to uproot some deeply engrained emotional patterns and perspectives that had insulated me against pain. The deeper we got into discussing these fundamental aspects of my personality, the more defensive and paranoid I became. I argued with him almost constantly, beyond the point of meaningful dialogue, and a growing rift developed between us. Before we reached the point of a complete breakdown in our relationship, my friend suggested that I attend a gathering at the Pima Friends Meeting House. Perhaps he thought that an environment of silence would leave me with nobody to argue with but myself.
I first went to a Quaker Meeting in 2011 and since then, I have taken up the position of Newsletter editor, participated in three separate clearness committees, and have attended Intermountain Yearly Meeting twice.
Spending time with Friends has taught me to sit quietly with my spiritual pangs and yearnings and to wait for my own little light to illuminate my sorrows. I’ve realized from listening to people share their experiences, that we are all connected by our struggles and dreams, and these deeply intimate moments remind me of the importance of community. This feeling of connection grounds me and provides me with a profound sense of comfort and belonging, which helps carry me through my week. Little glimpses of Spirit infuse me with a sense of optimism and hope.
This feeling of deep connection first dawned on me during one of the first meetings for worship I attended. I was struck by how calm and peaceful the meeting for worship was. There was stillness, but also movement and energy. These contradictory impulses cohabited and moved throughout the room until they finally settled and found expression when someone stood to speak. The meeting was refreshing in the way that a cool breeze or a drink of water can be refreshing on a sweltering day. People would speak of their own experiences and share their feelings of spirit. They did so with conviction, unapologetically, and perhaps most importantly for me, they shared no dialectics of metaphysical axioms for me to argue with.
Recently, I have stopped attending meeting as regularly. This is largely because the more involved I am, the more l feel pressure (either real or imagined) to take a more active role in the logistical operations of the Meeting. Seeing the interworking of any institution means seeing its loose gears and worn belts. The health and wellbeing of Pima Meeting requires more focus and commitment then I’ve been able to muster. I am also acutely aware that I am at a stage in my life when I want to develop my vocational and family relations. Most of us need to pay attention to our emotional and spiritual needs while we also work to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. A large portion of my own time is spent working at a job that is socially demanding and intellectually deadening, and I can’t seem to find enough hours on the clock to fully participate in the life of my Meeting.
I want to find a better balance between my life in the world and my spiritual practice. Whether I’ll ever find a career to bridge between my intellectual interests and the needs of society, I don’t know. Questions of love, money, and health occupy the majority of my thoughts and feelings. And even though I’m in my thirties, I still remain challenged by the questions, “Who am I?” and “What are my values?” Whether I will ever find answers to those questions that satisfy me, I can only guess. Even so, I have learned something about friendship along the way.
If I could go back in time seven or eight years to meet my younger self, I would tell him to really take an interest in other people. I would say that good relationships can help get us through the hard times, when uncertainty about the future makes acting in the world seem frightful and arduous. Friendship comes without promises of success or material advancement, but it is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. While “big F” Friends have been important in my spiritual development, I have also learned that “little f” friends are essential to making my life worth living. ~~~
Jonathan Rex is an attender of Pima Friends Meeting and serves as co-clerk of the Young Adult Friends group in Intermountain Yearly Meeting. He is a careful student of the psychology of creatures big and small.