“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha
I’ve been thinking a lot about beliefs lately. Some things that have crossed my path, coupled with the fact that I’ve been listening to American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, off and on over the last few weeks, have it top of mind for me…I struggle with the sentiment of belief.
I don’t subscribe to any organized religion. I don’t agree with a lot of it. I’ve never quite found my pantheon…instead I found pieces of all different ones that I can relate to. I’ve often joked that my religion is based in American Gods and thought, “but that sounds kinda ridiculous”. But is it really? After all, the largest religion in the world is based on a book. So does that make Neil Gaiman my savior, my Jesus Christ? Why not?
Now, before that sounds too crazy please stop picturing an alter to Neil Gaiman hidden in my attic or my secret dungeon. That would just make me a serial killer. And no, I don’t nor would I ever plan to pray to Neil Gaiman for help in times of need and I don’t study his novels or writings for enlightenment on a regular basis. I don’t live my life by the Sandman (what a fucked up life THAT would be then). It all sounds silly, doesn’t it? But people live their lives based on other books in this manner…
So, how DOES Neil Gaiman factor into my belief system? He presents ideas that make me stop and think. Some of them resonate with me and make me pause and consider things that I do or don’t do or want to do differently. Those ideas I carry around with me, whether consciously or subconsciously, and on some level they may influence how I live my life. That’s a big part of religion, isn’t it?
To take it further, music is part of my belief system, too. There are songs that come on that I listen to over and over and each time I think, “yes, that’s what I want/have/love in my life. that’s what I believe in.” Victory Lap by Riverboat Gamblers just came on my iPod a little while ago – that’s one of those songs. Art is a big part of my belief system as well. While we were at the Art Institute in Chicago there were some amazing pieces of old Japanese art (wooden deity/demon statues) and a handful of paintings and other pieces that I felt like I could literally fall into. I was actually dizzy when I looked at one. That’s where, as I mentioned previously, my latest fixation on Ganesh came to the forefront.
Here’s the serendipity of Ganesh in my life recently. In American Gods, there’s a scene where Shadow (the main character) is holding vigil for Odin on a world tree and Ganesh comes to him. Ganesh is a Hindu god believed to remove obstacles and barriers, which I didn’t really pay attention to much in the past. I listened to this part of the book on the way out or back from Chicago the first time. On the latest trip to Chicago, I turned a corner at the art museum and there was an awesome statue of Ganesh front and center of the Asian/Indian art exhibit. “It’s in the trunk,” I thought immediately (that’s from the book). And I told Bryan and dragged him over to it. Reading the plaque I saw the detail about obstacles and it started to sink in for the first time. Brown line train to Belmont, a few hours later and we wind up in one of the Alley stores – and there are probably 10 different versions of Ganesh statues available for purchase. That’s when we started to talk…most of the problems we have, getting things up and running or keeping things on track are because of (and what feels to be constant) obstacles – things getting in the way. We decided we needed a Ganesh and it needed to be prominently displayed in our office at home. Then, to top it all off I come back and pull up the Alley website to research my last post and I find a Ganesh ring.
So, a lot of people will say that the only reason all those Ganeshes started popping up was because I was looking for them. Valid point – I agree. Was I consciously looking, though? No. And why was I subconsciously looking? Because it was something I needed for my life at this time. Again, that’s a basic part of many belief systems. Do I think there was a man with an elephant head running around at some point serving this need for people? Who the hell knows! But I like that image in my head when I try to think about overcoming yet another hurdle in life.
Gods from any pantheon come with stories and ideas about various facets of life. They provide a focus for things you want to make better or different in your life. They remind you of elements that may be important to you. Having a statue of a deity in your life just serves as that reminder. But are gods the only thing that can serve that function? Absolutely not! That’s why my house and my desk are filled with pictures and music and bits or baubles that remind me of all that’s important. Anything YOU need as an individual can fill that role. That’s what’s important and that’s what I believe.
Belief is something you do – it’s who you are. Religion is something you follow out of fear.