A question that has been coming up lately is, “How is it possible for someone who is atheist or agnostic to participate, and thrive, in a spiritual program like The Clearing?”
The short, easy answer is: With an open mind.
I’ve had a long wrestling match with the concept of God.
It’s true too, that since coming to work for The Clearing, and actually going through the program, my struggle hasn’t lost any steam. You see, I grew up in the Church. That is, believing—knowing, full well—that without a personal, trusting relationship with God, well, to quote one of my favorite Slayer songs of all time: “Hell awaits.” (1)
That all changed for me though. Starting with a little bit of skepticism that only popped up here and there, my doubts soon began multiplying. Some time in my late teens, those doubts finally reached a boiling point.
It took a bit of time, but eventually I became convinced that the entire idea of a God was nonsense. God(s) were just something for folks that liked to be fooled—I wanted no part of it. I had found atheism, and with as much fervor as I once had for the denomination I was raised in (Presbyterian, in case you’re interested) I ran with it. I spent a lot of time and energy feeling resentful to anything that even smelled of religion.
“How is it possible for someone who is atheist or agnostic to participate, and thrive, in a spiritual program like The Clearing? The short, easy answer is: With an open mind."
What is Spiritual Psychology?
“Sounds like some sort of mystical BS,” a not-that-much younger version of myself would have said.
Eventually though, my anger towards religion cooled to indifference. I found myself shying away from religious arguments, rather than instigating them. After a while, I just really didn't care if God existed or not.
About five or six years ago, my best friend gave me a book on meditation, and I guess that was my first exposure to anything—outside of standard, organized religion—that fit into the realm of spirituality.
The book took a lot of influence from Buddhism, and I dabbled in the Zen side of that religion for a little while. It was the first time I had been exposed to concepts like awareness and insight. The big draw for me, though, was that, finally, here was something to put faith and energy into, and—this was key—there was no God required! I never really dove too deep into Buddhism. I just took the parts that interested me and left the rest. What I see now in retrospect, is that those things I got from Buddhism—meditation, expanding my awareness, the quest for insights into the true nature of things—are exactly the same things I’m cultivating now in this chapter of my spiritual journey.
Spirituality is a very broad term, and one that is continually open to being redefined. I really like Robert Coles’ definition, which is, “the search for meaning in life events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe.” (2) Others have explained it as “the search for the sacred.”(3) I think that term, the sacred, is where people develop a lot of misgivings about spirituality. Our culture ties the idea of sacred pretty tightly to religion: We hear of the bible as a sacred text, or Mecca as a sacred place, etc. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has three definitions for sacred. (4) The first two definitions use the word religion, and while that is accurate in one sense, I think the real key to wrapping one’s mind around spirituality is to take a look at that third definition: “Highly valued and important, deserving great respect.”
“Ok, that’s great,” you may be thinking. “What do I actually do with that?”
Great question! In 1904, Rudolf Steiner wrote, “it must be emphasized that higher knowledge [spirituality] is not concerned with the veneration of persons [also places or things], but the veneration of truth and knowledge.”(5) That, in a nutshell, is what spirituality means to me; holding the concepts of truth and knowledge sacred. Now, what’s important to grasp is that both truth and knowledge are open to many different interpretations. That’s the beauty of spirituality! It can mean a million different things to a million different people. Whatever your truths may be, whatever concepts you value, you can explore through spiritual practice.
Another key point to spirituality is that there isn’t just one way to practice it. The Clearing takes several different approaches simultaneously. You’ll hear discussions about God. Don’t worry—God means something different to every person here. When I reference God, chances are I’m talking about an entirely different concept than anyone else at The Clearing. Chances are it means something entirely different to you. God can simply mean energy. Or truth. Or insight. Or anything. There’s no limit, no right or wrong, no good or bad way to conceptualize God, just as long as the concept used comes from a place of loving.
Additional Spiritual Concepts
The idea of God may be the big one, but there are some other spiritual concepts you may encounter at The Clearing.
Energy is one.
Much like God, energy essentially comes down to whatever you want it to be.
To some, energy is the most import thing in the universe.
To others, it’s a helpful way to visualize an intention. Intentions are another spiritual concept we love and use. Along with affirmations—sometimes referred to as mantras—intentions are powerful tools that help identify, and eventually manifest, new desired attitudes, behaviors, beliefs—entirely new, positive ways of being.
At the end of the day, The Clearing is a spiritual program, created to fit seamlessly at the intersection of conventional psychology and spirituality. Don’t let that scare you though.
The counselors here don’t demand—or even ask—that you think or believe anything you don’t want to. They’ve found a lot of great ways to explain concepts, illustrate points, and most importantly, bring about healing and change using spiritual tools and ideas. We’d like to share them with you, no strings attached, because we know they work. Whether you consider yourself to be atheist, agnostic, spiritual, religious, all or none of the above, as long as you have the desire and curiosity to explore yourself, your perceptions, and your reality, The Clearing provides everything you need to not just heal and change, but to grow, to thrive, to live, joyfully and authentically.
Jake Wolowski is an employee at The Clearing and participated and graduated from the program. His views are his own.
About The Clearing
The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.
Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more, contact us, or download our free eBook:
(1) King, Kerry (1985), “Hell Awaits”, Hell Awaits, Metal Blade Records
(2) Coles, R. (1990), The Spirituality of Children, Houghton-Mifflin Co.
(3) Snyder, C.R.; Lopez, Shane J. (2007), Positive Psychology, Sage Publications, Inc.
(4) "Sacred." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.
(5) Steiner, Rudolf (1947), Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its attainment, SteinerBooks