I’ve been wanting to write for a while now about where I am at in my life and where I am at spiritually. It’s been some time now since I have released anything, and I’ve been pretty intentional with it. Any time I start to write on a topic, I can’t help but see the place where I once was and where I am now. Quite honestly, I’m not the same person that I was. While I know a lot of my family wouldn’t agree on where I am at, I still feel the most liberated and loving than I ever have.
After posting “Why I Left My Church Pt.1: Justin”, It caused a bit of an uproar in my life. I felt so free to get everything off of my chest. There was so much anger and pain within myself that I wasn’t able to process through. I had released many poems that expressed my internal agony, but it never showed the full picture. My wife and I had planned on putting out our full story in multiple parts, which we still wish to do so. We have very opposing schedules, so it’s hard for us to find the time to sit and write. We’d much rather spend our time doing other things than working when we see each other. We’ve also put it off due to the uproar. It caused a lot of hard family dynamics which pushed me into a mental breakdown. At that point, I was going to walk away from my job and leave everything I had known. That day, I decided after a long talk with Audrey’s father, I didn’t want to be labeled as a Christian anymore. The moment I let go of that attachment was the moment that I began to feel liberation and healing.
Audrey’s father never persuaded me to drop the label. He didn’t even know that it was something that was going to happen. As I’m writing this, he may not even know that it happened. I love my in-laws, but I feel that I’m in a very weird space. I’m learning to love through my disagreements, and for the time being, that means that I need my space to sort things out in my own life. Nobody forced me to do this. It was my personal choice. I needed this. I know you may be asking “why?”. I’ll answer that.
I dropped the label Christian because I was so tired of arguing. I’ve been in both conservative Christian circles and liberal Christain circles. Both realms have been toxic to me in some degree. Christianity from my point of view was surrounded by an overwhelming undertone of “us or them”. On the conservative side, I was attacked for loving the LGBTQ+ community, wanting a separation of God and country, and for my universalist ideas. On the liberal side, I was attacked for not understanding things. I felt attacked from the majority of conservatives in my life, so when I humbly went to people on the left, I was attacked because my suffering didn’t compare to those on the margins. I love people on both sides, and I believe there are good people on both sides. That put me in a void where I didn’t belong in any camp. I had no tribe, home, or place where I felt embraced. I do attend a house church that I love very much, but my personal spirituality doesn’t quite fit in with it, even though they don’t carry the label “Christian”.
When I had my breakdown, I scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It was the one and only appointment that I really needed. I came forward about my pains and frustrations. I told her that every time a friend comes into my life they leave. I told her that I had left my church and nobody talked to me anymore because I’m not in that world anymore. I told her how lonely I was, and still feel to this day. I told her that I was diagnosed with Autism as a child and just now accept it. I told her everything. I told her who I was, where I was at in life, and what I needed. She told me that I already had all of the tools that I needed to cope. She handed me a paper of coping mechanisms that help people who need relief. Her biggest coping mechanism that she suggested was meditation, which I was already familiar with.
Meditation has been something that I had been trying to incorporate into my every day spiritual practice. So far, I’ve been meditating for two years now. It started as Catholic and Eastern Orthodox type meditations. I would light a candle, light frankincense, and grab my rosary. I would meditate upon one single word, usually “love”. After every meditation, I would say the lords prayer and cross myself. I didn’t branch out until I had heard Michael Gungor talk about chakras with The Liturgists. I was intrigued to try it, and like any good spiritual seeker, I let my curiosity lead me.
My curiosity led me to find Kundalini meditation. My first experience with it changed the entire way that I view meditation. It was an entirely transcendental and psychedelic like experience. I had gone through every chakra from my root at the lower part of my spine up to my crown at the top of my head. The difference was that this meditation added a chakra out of the body about a foot above the crown. I pushed outward and felt myself leave my body. There was no Justin. There was no ego. There was one. There was all. That was roughly a year and a half ago. That leaves me to pick up after my psychiatric appointment.
I put all of my focus on learning Eastern practices since I no longer identified myself under the Christian label. I was intrigued by Buddhism since my dean in college had us all sit in silence as a spiritual practice one morning. I knew Buddhists to be peaceful and they were very good at silence. In fact, Christian mysticism is very similar to Buddhism. I didn’t recognize that when I was learning these practices through Southeastern, but I recognize it now that I have seen all sides of the coin. My interests didn’t stop at just Buddhism. I began to study Hinduism as well. That’s where I started listening to Ram Dass.
I had heard the name Ram Dass quite a bit in my experience with The Liturgists and the world of progressive Christianity. Ram Dass was formerly known as Richard Alpert before being fired from Harvard University due to his psychedelic research on consciousness. After being fired, he went to India where he met Neem Karoli Baba, and through the guidance of the guru became “Ram Dass”. Ram Dass has since then put on yearly retreats, which is how I heard about him. Michael Gungor was on one of those retreats which he talks about in The Liturgists episode “Names“. Not only has Ram Dass impacted Michael Gungor, but he has also impacted my life as well. Ram Dass opened my understanding and awareness to love, grace, and the value of what it means to live.
Currently, I follow a Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian blend of spirituality. I weekly attend a class under a Lama at the Charleston Tibetan Society, I regularly meditate, I sing Hindu mantras, I approach the Bible with my Buddhist and Hindu understanding, and I give my full devotion to the Bhakti yoga path. I live my life in love and service to God and others. It’s the most Christ-like that I have ever found myself being. In all honesty, I don’t have the time to write out my full in-depth “Where I’m At”. Like everything, I would need to write a book, which I intend to do one day. That leaves me with one more experience to talk about to conclude all of this.
Over the past year, I have been working with a friend of mine who I met online. He started a podcast called Sacred Tension. I’m the Marketing Manager and co-host of the patron’s only podcast “House of Heretics”. I was recording a meditation for Patreon when I stumbled upon something interesting. I didn’t feel comfortable saying “This is Justin”. I was really frustrated by this. I didn’t feel comfortable with it because “Justin” was a spiritually arrogant person. I had so much baggage attached to my name and so much history with who I was when it comes to spiritual names. I had talked to someone I met online about all of this. She told me to meditate and who I am would come to me. After a full day of constant meditation and internal battle, I realized who I was and my name came to me like a mantra. Rama Krishna Dass. I am Rama Krishna Dass.
In the Ramayana, Ram is an incarnation of Vishnu. Ram goes through a battle alongside Hanuman to save his kidnapped wife. The Ramayana gives a view of what it means to love, devote, and serve. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna gives advice to Arjuna about life, love, and spirituality. The Bhagavad Gita is an overview of what it means to fight internally and overcome with God. The word “Dass” in Hindi means servant. The entire name sums up as “servant of God”. Both the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita are very important holy books to me. They both show the internal nature of who my true self is; not the ego “Justin”.
There’s an idea in India where God, Guru, and self are all one and the same. This oneness is where I got my name. Over my spiritual journey, it has developed suffering which pushed me to break through the veil and see who I really am as opposed to what faith was handed to me. I realized that God and I are one. You and I are one. Guru and I are one. We are all one.
This doesn’t mean that I am legally changing my name to be “Rama Krishna Dass”. In fact, nobody has to call me that. You can if you want, but it’s not a requirement. It’s a holy name, just like in the Catholic or Orthodox church folks receive holy names upon confirmation. Under the illusion of my ego, I am Rama Krishna Dass.
The future of The Spiritual Dilemma is still in question for me. I’m wanting to do meditations, teachings, and more honest and open descriptions of who I am and where I am in my life. I want to serve others and help as others deconstruct and try to find their place in this life. There’s a lot of change happening and it’s for the best.
I know for a lot of families, and folks in my life who are not close to me have a possibility of seeing this as something super weird, and I’m willing to embrace the strangeness of this just like I was willing to embrace the strangeness of Christianity in college. I hope that this honesty helps people better understand me and where my life is right now. I am open to any conversation that folks wish to have about it, and I am always willing to listen and hear as others tell their stories.