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Your beliefs can change

I have been writing this for over a month. I stop and I start. I step away. I start again. I save, I shut down.

I have done so much writing in my journal lately. August was the month to bring it the mountain and sit there and write.

I went 6 times and did a different trail every time.

Mount Wachusett, MA trail through the ski hill

I brought my camera a few times. I always brought snacks and a PBJ accompanied them.

I lost a pen to the grate at the top of the tower, but someone nearby let me borrow theirs so I was able to finish writing. At first I took it as a sign and then I realized, if I looked around and asked I may be able to find something to write with. Now I have three pens in my hiking backpack.

The backpack is special.

It was my grandmother’s, however, she never used it. She actually had a few backpacks just for hiking. She worked on a section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia with my grandfather. There’s a National Park Service patch on the bag. This bag is huge. I can fit a full gallon of water in with my face towel, notebooks, snacks – everything.

September led to more hikes, but I took a trip to New Hampshire to see a different mountain, get a different view, but hunted for the same feeling. The freedom I get from the mountain. The peace that comes with finding the top.

Then, I would find a place to sit and write – eat my snacks, people watch and then pack up again and head my way down.

Mount Monadnock, NH on the way to the summit

It’s weird writing this, but I think it’s liberating in a way too.

In March, I was having some issues reading. I found myself having a hard time focusing and my eyes would skip around. I know it’s because I had a few weeks where my anxiety was sky high and I had a hard time reducing it. I wanted something that I could read in fragments – something that didn’t require me to finish long pages unless I wanted to. I also wanted something to analyze. Maybe something with symbolism or fables.

I downloaded the Bible app on April 9th. I know this because I date my journal entries.

First, I didn’t grow up with religion in my house. In fact, it was quiet the opposite and there were times religion was scary. Often my mom, who’s bipolar disorder controlled her heavily, would declare she was God or that he was speaking to her. I also struggled to see how there was something overseeing us.

As a kid, Santa makes sense, but God – nope, not at all. Honestly, they could’ve been the same thing.

Anyway, as a teenager, I was an atheist – very anti-organized religion. As I got older, I thought about it and decided maybe there’s something out there, but may be we can all also co-exist too and influence change. You don’t need religion to be a good person. They’re not exclusive.

I don’t believe religion – any religion – automatically declares a believer to be moral – you still have to work at it, so without religion you can still be a good person too. Obviously, this may stir the pot, but maybe it needs that so things don’t stick to the bottom.

I started reading from the beginning. Sometimes that’s the best place to start and since I didn’t know what I was getting into I figured I’ll start there and jump around if I needed to.

I looked at the text in a scholarly way – I think that’s the best way to put it. I wrote what I think it meant, how different versions of the Bible were written and how the language used could influence the interpretation. I think my junior AP English teacher would be proud.

In Genesis, I learned that small actions lead to bigger change – over time. I learned that if you build your foundation and get used to using those tools the hard stuff will be easier. I also learned that you need to rest otherwise, continuing on is going to be challenging.

I also learned that knowledge is power, but it’s also scary. It can help us make helpful decisions, but it may also make us challenge our beliefs and question ourselves.

After a few chapters, I reached out a friend who identifies herself as a Christian and the first thing I asked was is this a safe space to talk because I thought what I was doing was odd and would be misunderstood – trust me I do. But I like reading and I like analyzing. I like writing, and that was comforting.

I told her what I was doing and I sent her pictures of my journal. She’s the first person that has seen the inside of it aside from my eyes.

She was like woah, this great. Your interpretations are refreshing. She wasn’t judgmental and she said we should connect on the app so we could do this together.

So I read Genesis, and then we read John and Matthew. Then Acts, 1 John and then Psalms.

Then a client of mine was struggling with her beliefs. She had expressed the importance of religion in her life so we often chatted about it during check-in’s. She was the second person I told about what I was doing. I asked her if she would want to join us if my friend was ok with it. She said definitely, it sounded interesting.

The three of us started a texting chat and connected on the app. We started a study plan and Psalms was restarted.

It’s not just the language used the influences interpretation, it’s also your mindset when reading. That’s what I learned when we started this adventure.

I compared my notes from the first time through to this second time – some similarities, but a lot of differences.

We read through Proverbs. I read through Romans on my own. We got bored with Psalms and changed plans – I picked the first one. A 7 day plan about being unqualified – challenging your beliefs about yourself.

So we read bits of Corinthians, Exodus, Matthew and 1 Samuel.

It was reinforced that growth doesn’t happen overnight. It was also reinforced that our view of ourselves is important and can influence our view of life. We need to focus on our ability, but not diminish the areas we want to improve. However, understand that “improving” doesn’t necessarily make things better.

Our second plan was 5 days about the internal and external voices that influence us – we went through 2 Corinthians, Matthew, 1 John, Romans, Ephesians.

I learned that we’re allowed to be vulnerable and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We should embrace and own it. We’re allowed to have fear, but it’s important to understand where it comes from and its role in our lives.

I’ve read through Philippians, Colossians and started Malachi.

Our third plan was about defiant joy and examined Philippians.

Here’s what’s stuck out to me – Philippians 1:28, “be brave when you face enemies.”

Brave is continuing to do things while suffering – that’s an extreme, I think. Maybe brave is moving forward and understanding challenges will occur. Maybe it’s accepting those challenges. That’s what I thought about the first time I read it.

Maybe brave is to not be frightened of the unknown. Maybe it’s silencing something in you so you can step forward. That’s what I thought the third time I read it.

Maybe brave is the ability to identify what you want and go after it.

And enemies – it’s not just something physical around you, it’s something inside you too. It’s an idea or experience.

I told you, getting all sorts of philosophical this summer. But this is the kind of reflection that I also think helps us make healthy choices for ourselves.

The application is important.

We’re about 7 or 8 study plans in. I’ve done a few on my own.

I talked to another friend who’s a Jehovah’s Witness about Heaven and Hell. It was a really great talk and it was interesting that we had similar beliefs like it’s possible that Hell is singularly experienced and everyone could experience Hell differently.

A few of my clients know that I’ve been reading and it was brought up when they brought up the importance of religion in their lives. It’s talked about as appropriate and as a way to lend support in a different way if needed. I’ve sent some shots of my journal to friends that I trust. It’s personal, but talking about it also gives me support and other perspectives. Romans 14 – all opinions are valid.

And back to health coaching…

When we traditionally talk about health we think of nutrition and exercise. We’ve really started to broaden the conversation to include mental health, but that is more complex than we’ll ever be able to really discuss.

Public health examines so many more angles and that’s why I’ve tried to create a safe space and allow hard conversations to take place there. Public health includes looking at financial health, safety, geographical access, community – in your home, in your neighborhood, in your town or city. It looks at the influence society has as a social construct and broken down further: religion and culture – how one religion views things is different, but similar to others. Having worked with clients internationally in Jordan, India and Jamaica, it’s important to be sensitive about the differences in health communication especially topics like reproductive health and mental health. In some cultures, religion is looked at as a fix all – and I believe it has it’s place, but so does science.

They need to co-exist for a healthier world.

Anyway, now I’m rambling. Our beliefs are allowed to change, we can question them – there’s nothing wrong with that. As we age, we’re supposed to change, so why would it be reasonable to believe that things we can’t see don’t change?

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