How the experts ruin everything from enjoying a hobby to practicing religion

For the first time in my long slog out of abusive religion, I'm finally finding spirituality that fits: sitting still, learning the language of silence. It's taken me almost ten years to get here. But I can feel it now, that settling, these deepening roots. I can hunker down into the stillness and just be.

It's funny, though. No sooner do you find something that works, then you start hearing from people who want to help you improve on it. Make it better. Go deeper! Try harder!

Optimal functioning is something of an obsession. It's like we don't think we're fully experiencing something until we've invested all kinds of time, energy (and money) into improving on something that wasn't broken in the first place.

For example, nobody is content to be an Ugly Runner anymore--everyone has to start training for damn marathons and posting their race times online and fundraising for charitable causes and slapping little 13.1 bumper stickers on their cars. Everyone is into the whole "take it to the next level" thing and I guess that's fine if running is your thing: but for me? That ruins everything.

If I tried to take running "to the next level" (ie. training for a marathon), I would start hating it. Becoming an expert runner would ruin my enjoyment of it. I am perfectly content to be an Ugly Runner, a hunching-up-the-hill jogger. I don't need to monetize or charitable-ize my running. Also, I don't need injuries--which is what seems to happen to a ton of people who take running "to the next level."

The same goes for spirituality. I've done the whole 100%, sold-out for God thing. And all I got was constipation and an anxiety disorder. In other words, I got injured by taking religion "to the next level."

Maybe if you're a first-generation believer, going all-out is a necessary kind of purgation--a vital life-overhaul that helps reset the generational trajectory.

But if you're like me and were born into high-demand religion, you've experienced soul burn-out. You've spent decades trying harder, working longer, volunteering more. Resting on the Sabbath? Ha.

It's taken me ten years to untangle myself from the guilt of "not doing enough" for God. I was so tightly bound up in religious OCD that I was routinely wracked with guilt for having missed an "opportunity" to do more.

For those of us who have been wounded by intrusive religion, perhaps the most healing thing we can do for ourselves is to do less. As in, become slackers for Jesus. For us, actually resting on the Sabbath is something of a major revelation.

Just being able to bring my mind and heart to a place of quiet stillness is enough for me.

Indeed, taking this to the "next level" would ruin it for me. I would be right back where I began: pulse-pounding, high-alert religion.

Ah, yes. Silence is enough for me.

This is what it means to seek God entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God.--Thomas Merton, p. 71, "Seeds."