But none of that was enough to convince me, until the universe decided to dump on me. I'm not fond of talking about my own background, so I'll keep to the salient points....
Pre-1990. At first I believed in God because everyone else did (they had us reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school, replete with "under God"). After a brief fascination with the psychic at an early age (including reading lots of Carlos Castaneda, and even trying a rather nasty experiment with Out of Body travel as outlined, if I recall correctly, in an OMNI magazine article), I lapsed into the scientific "Prove It" mentality, and I also eventually rejected all religions. Why? Because they all contradicted each other, and how was I supposed to choose which one to believe? I grew gradually more and more sick of society's version of religion: it seemed irrational, fanatical, un-scientific. I grew particularly allergic to Christianity. The very name of Jesus brought images of hypocrisy and irrationality. So-called Christian kids were hardly angels of kindness; Creationism seemed hardly scientific; the Bible's position on women, animals, and people of other religions seemed barbaric; wars seemed to be caused by religion more than anything; if God was omnipotent and loving, why did He allow terrible crimes to be committed on Earth?; Christians seemed determined to be cruel or patronizing to non-believers; and, as I said, each religion contradicted the other religions and insisted only it was the right path. That kind of blind self-righteousness seemed to be the binding thread of all religion. I rejected them all.
1992. As noted above, I had no respect for Christianity. I was a staunch atheist. Many of my friends were Wiccan. I sort of liked Wicca/Paganism for its gender equality and open-mindedness, but the fact it was so Earth-centric (e.g., ascribing great importance to seasons, earth deities, and physical gender) seemed somehow wrong and limiting to me -- after all, we live in a vast universe filled with stars and other planets; how can a religion tied to Earth and minor geographically-limited deities be universal?
1993. I was introduced to Ki Aikido, and began sensing the existence of "Ki," (aka Star Wars' "The Force"; aka "prana," "chi," "qi"). It was real; it worked. I could sense energy, and I could manipulate it. So could others. All this was surprising to me, but I got myself to accept it. Over and over I was told that Ki should never be used destructively. To use energy to hurt others would hurt oneself, or so I was told. Thank God I had a good teacher, a teacher who truly lived his teachings of kindness and joy. The seeds of wisdom, compassion, and understanding that he planted would sprout later, with great abundance.
1994. I began hearing stories from Wiccan/Pagan friends about how they would get messages from spirits. I heard about different people hearing the same message from a spirit. I was interested, but I mostly wrote off their stories. As a note, I was not at all religious at the time. On the other hand, I was still playing around with energy like a kid playing with matches. In my own life, I was cynical, depressed, lonely, and thought my future hinged upon publication in the book industry....
1995. The events of this year sound like a fantastic nightmarish dream, not the events of reality; yet I know they happened, and can no more deny they happened than I could deny my own name. I cannot blame anyone who can't believe what I write, for "experience is not transferrable." But anyway, these things did happen....
One night, I was rushed to the hospital because I was close to passing out. I got home the next morning shaky and frightened. For the next few days, I was constantly fighting what felt like a strangely animated feeling of numbness and nasty energy. Then, a friend of mine (we'll call him K) discovered an item (a skull-shaped candleholder, as crazy as that may sound) that seemed, he said, to be the source of much of the nasty energy --- moreover, it seemed to possess some sort of intelligence. We placated the angry item (actually the entity that had taken up residence within the item), and I felt slightly better, but still pretty wretched. Next, K discovered he could mentally converse with another entity that was attached to me --- and when communication was established, the feeling of nasty energy within me abruptly changed. There was a clear correspondence between what K told me he was "hearing" and what I perceived. A lot went on here, but let's just say we and the entity reached an agreement, and we took it to a place where it could leave safely. I felt it leave. But I was still evidencing symptoms, and I still felt horrible, and drained. I could hardly eat. I felt like I was dying. I went to all sorts of (spiritual!) healers who could do very little --- and of course the normal physician (neurologist) had a waiting list 3 weeks long.
Finally, well over a week after the first rush to the hospital, I called a man (a friend of a friend) who apparently dealt with such spiritual matters regularly -- in other words, a sort of exorcist. This person psychically connected to me from 480 miles away over the phone (simply by talking with me), and, with a crew of what he said were rescue angels, he rendered (mostly) harmless a psychic fragment that had been attached to me, and removed a small pile of dark entities including ones he called "demons." Immediately, I felt much, much better. Instead of feeling like I was dying, I felt alive and healthy again. This man explained that he worked for Jesus Christ. Well, that was a big blow to my world view, but I chewed on it for a while, and said, "Well, OK, let's think about it." By now I knew that spirits existed, so the existence of Jesus Christ wasn't that surprising. The possibility of the existence of God, however, took a lot longer to sink in. I had to spend weeks clearing tons of emotional baggage and the built-up allergies associated with the very word "God," all so that I could evaluate the situation clearly. (And I should note that clearing out the baggage was hard work! It takes a lot of work to adjust to change one's mind about something so deeply ingrained. Moreover, as of 7 years later it's still not all cleared out.)
This person who helped me sent me material that included, among other things, how to tune to God and channel God's messages in order to help others (others might call it "how to pray and hear God's reply"). The key to this two-way prayer was "reverent joy," which Christians might call "a spirit of praise and worship and faith." K had already verified that he could see a distant Light, as described. So, my friend K and I embarked on trying out the instructions for tuning to God. We quickly fell in with spirits who claimed to be angels --- and it seemed OK at first. They advocated blessing others, and other things that seemed benevolent. But gradually things swerved away from "Love God and love your neighbor" into the self-centered "accomplish great things in your life" philosophy --- which is not the teachings of Jesus Christ. They even started telling us that the angels closest to God are bound by tons of bureaucratic laws and regulations -- a sure way to turn me away from God! Much of what they taught was New Age teachings (everything from stuff about "Higher Self" to chakra-cleansing), and not knowing better, I trusted them. They constructed elaborate staged events to convince me of soul-fragmentation and of the truth of their teachings. (Some of it was even silly, with spirits playing roles as various different fragments of myself; in retrospect it's fairly ridiculous that I bought into it, but I was "hooked.") And then finally, one day, these spirits took me on a "vision quest" --- and by the end of it, more than 6 hours later, I was not only exhausted, but I was under attack by a very powerful dark entity as well. I had been betrayed.
Panicking, I called the man who said he worked for Jesus, and he explained that much of New Age material is misleading and false. (I think he even said he had met some so-called "Higher Selves" and didn't have too high an opinion of most of them.) The warning was too late for me. We also discussed the limitations of his channeling instructions, which don't work very well for people who don't know what "reverent joy" might really be. (In other words, people who are trying to channel God may wind up channeling less-than-holy spirits.) In the meantime, I spent weeks fighting for control of my mind, because the dark entity was still there, and still attacking. Gradually, I got a better grip on myself.
Since that fiasco, I abandoned the New Age path, and tried (still trying) to re-center on a more giving, light-filled path, and I have tried to learn what "reverent joy" is.
1996. The path has been hard, nasty, educational, and occasionally wonderful since the events of 1995. I am still fighting that same dark entity now, nearly a year later, and it is NOT pleasant. I regularly get attacked by other spirits as well. I have also encountered yet more spirits that claim to be angels. Some of them definitely were not; others I don't know about yet. I have hope that some are the real thing. [2002 Note: I have since learned, as Dr. Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" learned, that the BEST thing to do is to simply stop listening to, paying attention to, or otherwise giving credibility or interest to random spirits, thoughts, voices, etc.... By sitting there and trying to sort out real angels from false, I was still too attached to the whole idea of spirit communication, and hence drawing the liars out of the woodwork.] I have met far too many destructive, lying spirits; I see the need for spirits that truly care and who hold to truth. They are rare, alas, but I have hope that anyone can, with self-discipline, actually become another caring, truthful spirit, and so increase their ranks.
I read up on a lot of different religions. Of all of them, I think true Christianity (not the hypocrisy practiced by many so-called Christians) is perhaps the highest of the religions. It teaches --- and was perhaps the first to teach this --- that love, caring, and forgiveness are above fertility rites, above revenge and retribution, above conquest, above wrath and greed, and above laws, regulations, and taboos. I think it also ties one to the Earth and the physical world less than many other benevolent religions. (None of this is to say that other religions are necessarily bad, or that everyone ought to be Christian; in the end, it's the individual that matters, not what religious group she belonged to).
I also met many people with spiritual or psychic experiences. Pagan, agnostic, Mormon, Christian ... this included many MIT people I had not previously suspected of having psychic abilities. (Not surprisingly, people tend not to mention their experiences for fear of ridicule and disbelief). I compared notes with them, and I discussed things with them. It was actually very educational, and it's a re-affirmation of the existence of the psychic and spiritual aspect of the world. [In checking my notes, I see that of 21 MIT people I knew, 2 were skeptical materialists, 4 were open-minded but had no firm experience, and 15 believed in or had experienced at the very least something outside the bounds of a material existence. The number of experiencers rises significantly if I include non-MIT acquaintances. -2002]
I have a long, long way to go. But in the meantime, I hope other people in similar situations don't make the same mistakes I did, and don't get caught in the same snares. Psychic battles are painful, and unpleasant, and can lead to real problems; worse, they can jump on you out of nowhere, even if you don't believe in them. It's best to be armed with knowledge --- but don't forget to keep a healthy dose of skepticism! [1996 is also the year I started this web site compilation of my spiritual observations and thoughts.]
1997. The path looks suspiciously familiar often, but sometimes I think progress is being made. This is a narrow, steep path that I've been trying to tread. It's tough. Funny that. But I am more and more convinced that the key to growth is, in fact, caring for others, blessing those that curse you, and loving one's enemies. The hard part is maintaining even a little bit of that attitude. Now, that's hard work!
1999. It's difficult to travel when one is busy tripping over one's own feet most of the time. It's also difficult to navigate when so many ideas conflict, and the threat of a punishing, vindictive God looms overhead from the powerful influence of books and culture. What is Truth? Where is God amidst the horrors of what we do to each other? Even now I cannot answer so many of those questions that bothered me as an atheist. Maybe I am coming to see exactly how much I don't know. But as long as I can see a certain light in the faces of people who tirelessly work to help others, I have hope.
2001. Heh, well ... I know the power of temptation (have had numerous reminders, even), have learned much about myself and others, and have also gotten a couple big prayers answered in ways I never expected. Now, I just need to get myself moving again.... If God is angry and vindictive, I'm screwed. If God is loving and far bigger than one might expect, I'm blessed! And Sept. 11 has taught me one thing: even if I'm a horrible nasty sinner (and yes, I make a lot of mistakes, sometimes knowingly), the least I can do is try to be of service -- I have nothing to lose!
2002. September 11th, 2001, is still a clarion call to me. It says that I must dare to speak up, even if what I have to say may sound strange or difficult to other people -- and that includes speaking about my betrayal by New Age spirits. Yet I must never become the type of person who beats people up with religion -- because that is precisely what turned me off of religion. On a general front, I need to stand up for what I believe are the two truest paths to God: truth and love. If we as a people fail to treat others with compassion and respect, and that includes those of other religions and cultures and especially the poor and suffering, we are dooming ourselves to a nasty, painful future. Aikido still says it well: we need to find the "non-fighting" mind. As for my personal life ... we shall see.
5/02 I took some time out to edit some of the text of this document, adding details in some cases, or shifting sections to make this more of a chronology than an essay-with-updates. I should make it clear that the bulk of material was written first in 1996, with commentary tacked on later. At this point, though, it needed a bit of reorganization. Where the text uses present-tense voice, I have tried to preserve it as much as possible with minimal editing.