CONNECT WITH YOUR INNER VOICE
Topics covered in this Connect with Your Inner Voice section include:
- Learning to live as a free human being
- An organizing tool, the Action Board
- Developing critical thinking
HOW DOES A RECOVERING FUNDAMENTALIST LEARN TO LIVE AS A FREE HUMAN BEING? HOW DOES THE NEW SELF FUNCTION?
In fundamentalism, we’re used to looking outside ourselves for guidance. In fundamentalism, guidance comes from a holy book, from our spiritual leaders, through prayer, through religious books and tradition, etc.
Now, guidance must start from within us.
We learn to recognize and listen to an “inner voice,” the organic, growing part of our true selves. We learn to integrate the different parts of our self, including the emotions, the reasoning ability, and our intuition. We learn that our self is organic, growing, and not rigid and defined once for all. We learn that an essential way in which we come to know our self is in relation with other people.
How do we bridge the gap from our childhood inner wisdom to where we are now? How do we grow into integrated and healthy adults? How do we get it together?
As children, we were born with a sense of who we were and what we wanted, but in fundamentalism that sense atrophied as the years passed and we accepted our programming.
The exercise about going back to childhood memories in the previous tab helps us to reconnect with our built-in human values. However, a lot went on between childhood and where we are now.
We can’t simply pick up the pieces and proceed from where we left off. We have to process what we have been through. We talked a lot about that already. Now, we have to nurture the roots of our humanity. In this section, we’ll be talking about nurturing and developing the roots of our humanity.
DEVELOPING OUR POTENTIAL
The characteristics that I listed from my childhood memories section were good, but from an adult perspective, they were also undeveloped.
So I had a resonance with the Palestinians as a young child. Then I got side-tracked about justice issues for some decades. I couldn’t suddenly turn on a switch and say, “Well, at age 30, I’m going to reconnect with justice issues.” What was I planning to do? Leave the church and join a picket line? Of course that doesn’t make sense.
Further, factors from the more immediate past would demand our attention on leaving fundamentalism, not childhood memories. What sort of more immediate factors might call for our attention?
FROM THE MORE IMMEDIATE PAST
I can assure you that justice was not on my mind when I left the fundamentalist church. My attention was more on learning about the world and about relationships outside the church, as they pertained to me. I was also still tied to religious congregations, as I attended various increasingly progressive religious groups during the years post-fundamentalism.
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
To experience life, we have to live life. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, we do have choices before just plunging into whatever crosses our path. We can get a sense of who we are and what our values are before our debut into life and relationships, or we can skip that homework and just head for “life.” We can also just be passive and let experience head our way.
Which do you think is the better path? To be cautious and be careful of your time and emotional resources, to plunge headlong into whatever crosses your path, or to be passive and let life happen?
There is no contest between these choices. An adult would choose the former… only we probably aren’t adults when we leave fundamentalism, and we may be clueless about first getting our own act together. I speak for myself here, but I suspect there are a lot of other folk who were or are as directionless as I was upon leaving fundamentalism.
And so we may plunge merrily and blindly into experiences and relationships as they present themselves. With luck, good experiences and good people will cross our path. Without luck, we may be doomed to learn the hard way. As my mother used to say, “Marry in haste. Repent at leisure.” That said, our path will not be black and white. That’s fundamentalist thinking. There will be a wide mix of experiences and people, yet we can have some control through the choices we make. If we were wise, we would do thus-and-so and not the other thing.
HOW CAN WE BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN THE WISDOM OF OUR CHILDHOOD AND WHERE WE ARE NOW?
We are in a position of virtually having to do everything at the same time, and that’s not possible. We have to transition out of fundamentalism, lick our wounds, come to understand what we have come from, as well as consider the future. In addition, we have to figure out who we are, where we are going, what we want from life, and what we can contribute to life. It’s catch-up time on every front.
Meanwhile we have to deal with the present as life crosses our path. Maybe we have some fundamentalist relatives on our case thrown into the mix. That’s a lot on one person’s plate, especially a person who may not have the tools with which to deal with these issues – tools such as common sense and skills at critical thinking. We need to be kind to ourselves, be patient with the process and back off from what we cannot handle at present.
AN ACTION BOARD
I’m going to give you an organizing format that you may find helpful. Remember my mentioning the psychiatrist David Viscott, who said, “You are saved. Don’t blow it”? Well, he taught the concept of an action board, which he used himself to organize his own life.
He said that when you’re starting out with the Action Board, it can take about a year to get a sense of direction about who you are and what you want. So, if you decide to apply this Action Board concept, work with it and let it work with you.
How to work the Action Board.
The Action Board is an organizing framework for helping you to develop a sense of self and of trust in your direction. David Viscott, M.D., presents the concept of the Action Board in his tape, “52 Minutes to Turn Your Life Around.”
Here’s how you set up an Action Board: Get a bulletin board, such as a cork board, plus 3×5 cards and thumbtacks. Divide the board into 3 columns, as follows:
Left column – ideas that occur to you, things that you might like to do, possible future projects
Middle column – transition area from left to right. Ideas are moving closer to being put into motion.
Right column – projects you are working on now. Each project has a 3×5 card, with the next step toward completion noted on the card.
This is your organizing board for deciding how you will spend your time and what you will do to grow. The board helps you to keep track of your priorities and also to not lose ideas that come and go.
Sit with it each night, getting a sense of which action steps (noted on 3×5 cards) you will do the next day. Sit with it each weekend, each month, each year. Move ideas around. Add new ideas to the board; take old ones off the board.
For a recovering fundamentalist, you might start from the long view, like having a perspective over your whole life. How do you do that? On each of your index cards, write down one idea of what you see that you eventually want to accomplish – maybe short-term objectives and long-term objectives. These are the ideas you work from on the board. I’ve put the examples below into question format, but you may just have a word or two to describe your objectives.
Here are some examples of possible short-term objectives (ideas) for a recovering fundamentalist:
- In terms of religious community issues, do I get involved in another group during this transition time or not?
- How do I increase my understanding of what I have been through? Do I read some books by recovering fundamentalists? Do I read a book on the higher criticism of the bible?
- What do I do about my fundamentalist family members? Do I say or do something to assert my boundaries? Do I even have boundaries? Should I read a book on boundaries, or seek counseling?
- How do I find people to talk to in my new life?
- If I want to find a partner, do I even know what to look for? What is a good relationship? How can I learn to be street-wise?
- Short-term objectives can be housekeeping objectives, too, such as “vacuum the bedrooms, organize the bathroom cabinet,” “look for another place to live,” or “try a low-carbohydrate diet.”
Next, here are some examples of possible long-term objectives (ideas) for a recovering fundamentalist:
- How do I learn to be a citizen? How do I get educated about my world?
- How do I learn about justice? How can I expose myself to the harsh realities that many people live with? Where can I work with others to make a difference?
- How do I take care of my body? How can I learn about nutrition, healthy homes, climate change? Where can I find information?
- How do I make job-related decisions? Should I stay where I am or move on?
- Where can I learn about what is going on in this country, in the world?
Write down as many objectives and ideas as occur to you on the index cards. You’ll essentially be brainstorming with yourself. Don’t worry about completeness. There is no such thing. As time goes on, you’ll be adding new ideas and dropping off old ones.
Next, organize your ideas. Make three piles. The objectives you will work on right away go in the pile on the right. The objectives that you are not ready to work on will go in the pile on the left. The objectives that you are not quite ready for but expect to be ready for soon go into the middle transition pile.
Next, take the pile on the right, the one with the more immediate objectives. On each index card, list one step to make progress toward the objective. That would be your “action step.” Here’s an example.
“How do I find new people to talk to?”
Action step: Find a local hiking group and check the schedule. Mark the hike and contact information on your calendar.
Saturday comes, and you go on the hike. What then? What’s the next step to be added under “find new people to talk to”? Maybe you’ll continue with the hiking club, maybe not. Maybe you learned something from the hike, such as it was too strenuous for you. That bit of information can lead to the next action step. Maybe you have to work up your stamina before going out with the hikers, or maybe you need to switch to an easier “C” level hike.
Action step: Take bicycle to the repair shop (so you can build up stamina before rejoining the hiking club).
Do you see how this works? The Action Board gets you in motion, and you learn from doing the action steps. What you learn helps guide the next action step. You keep doing – and learning – and refining your direction based on what you learn from what you do. Do this for a year, and you’ll have a better sense of who you are and where you are going.
Continuing… now let’s put the 3x5s up on the Action Board. Tack them up in three columns, corresponding with your left-middle-right piles of cards.
The right-side column is the immediate column. Let’s say you have 10 cards tacked on that column. Each card has its first action step listed. Sit for a few minutes and consider these 10 cards. Your job is to see what feels right for you to be working on. Your job for the next day will be to do the action steps for the cards that you choose.
In fact, as you consider the cards, you may kick back a few of the cards to the transition column. Maybe you are not as ready as you thought to work on all ten of them.
The next day, you will do what you can with the action steps from the right-side column. After you do one action step, write down the next one. The next day, you may do the next one. That’s how it goes until the goal is accomplished, or until you’ve done enough for now and you move the index card back to the transition area, or all the way over to the left column which is the “back burner” column – or maybe even off the board totally.
Once a week, make a date with yourself to sit and look over the entire Action Board. Are there cards to be moved from one column to the next? Are there cards to be removed? Are there new ideas to be added? You may never move a particular new idea from the left column to the right column, but do jot down the idea so that it is not lost.
Once a month – and then once a year (maybe on New Year’s Day), review the whole Action Board. See where you are. See if you can appreciate the progress you’ve made. See if you feel like you’re on the right track. Make adjustments as necessary on your organizational Action Board.
Working the Action Board is a tool for self-organization. You are not imposing on your self what “should” be done, but rather you are listening to your inner voice, not only about ideas to be posted but also about the timing on when to do what. You have no train to catch. Take your time with the board. Observe how one step leads to another. See the mileposts going by, as you maintain forward motion.
You can get many ideas on helpful resources throughout this web site, especially by clicking on the Resources tab. You may add some of the resources to your Action Board – books to read, organizations to explore, news sources to check in with.
Over the first year of working with the Action Board, you should gain a better sense of who you are and what you want and what you want to be doing. The mileposts should be moving on by.
But there might be an even more basic question than is related to getting your life organized. Many former fundamentalists don’t know what they want or like, even given the choice. They haven’t had practice in being able to own what they liked or wanted, because they were so busy surrendering all the time. How many of us had to surrender what we wanted? So, how do you figure out what you want and what you like? Until you know what you want, how will you recognize it if it crosses your path and how will you go after it?
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT
Figuring out what we want, now that we have the opportunity for choice, may result in our drawing a blank. We may never have had the opportunity to address this question.
Coming to know what we want takes exposure to the different options, practice in choosing, use of critical thinking (why do I like this better than that?), trial and error (learning from my choices), exposure to new ideas and education, and overall, becoming mature enough to make wise choices and skilled in listing to our inner voice. It takes connecting with your inner voice.
PRACTICE MAKING COMPARISONS
Dr. David Viscott addressed this subject with a radio caller who told him that she didn’t know what she wanted. After encouraging her with how common that condition is, he suggested that she take the Sears catalog (back when). Look at the items on one page and make your choices. “I like this. I don’t like that.” Maybe add in a “because.” “I like this because…” “I don’t like that because…”
You can practice with what you like or don’t like with endless subjects. If you’re in school, ask why you like one teacher better than another. Think about what education is and reexamine the teachers in terms of who is the better educator, even though you might like another teacher better. If you work, apply the question to supervisors and associates and to parts of your job that you like better than other parts. Continually ask “Why?” and try to understand the principles in your answers. Life is the classroom.
What men or what women do you admire and like? Why? What ones don’t you admire or like? Why? What relationships or marriages are appealing, why or why not?
You might connect up this thought-exercise with your Action Board. If you come up with a list of what you like in teachers, read a book on educators and see how what you read compares. Maybe what you read will expand your consciousness and you will be better able to refine and understand what you like and what you don’t like. Read a book like The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller, which might turn your ideas about teaching reading upside-down. Notice how her approach parallels the path out of fundamentalism, from having someone else tell you what to do to your taking responsibility for your life.
There are endless opportunities for growth here and for helping to define what you like and want. You can also learn equally from the other side of the coin, what you don’t like or want. You might, for example, think about what makes for an unhappy marriage, or a less-than-effective teacher. The most popular isn’t always the best.
With growth, one thing leads to another, as we saw with the Action Board. If you are thinking about what makes a good teacher, then what do you think about cyber schools? If you were a student, what kind of school would you want, and why? Would you want to go through your lessons at your own pace on a computer? Would you like a teacher and a classroom? Would you want to be in public school or in private school? If the latter, what kind of private school?
Do you know that many politicians with so-called conservative social values want to do away with public schools? What do you think about that? What do you think are the underlying reasons for eliminating public schools? You might be interested in reading Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010).
Of course, doing away with public schooling would have “nothing” to do with the billions of education dollars ready for the plucking each year. Investigating along these lines can lead to a deeper exploration of the free market system, with a primer being Thomas Frank’s One Market under God.
Before you know what is happening, you are developing opinions founded on fact about controversial issues. You are growing naturally into issues of justice, politics, and international economics. Questions are arising, and you learn as you read more and as you expose yourself to other avenues of learning – and it all started with a simple question about which teachers you like.
As you figure out what makes a good teacher, you use your mind to assess, evaluate, and draw conclusions based on your experience. Plus, reading helps you expand beyond your experience. Reading raises more questions and can cause you to reassess your original conclusions. This is how we learn. This is how tentative opinions begin to form. Then we can grapple with different opinions, learn more, and revise our tentative opinion as needed. As we move to other subjects, we may well find parallels and links with things we learned in the first investigation. Curiosity is a good characteristic to nurture. Curiosity, imagination, and intuition, are not fostered in fundamentalism.
See how growth in understanding and in knowledge of what you want grows? Growth happens like ripples out from a stone dropped in the pond …even starting with as small a stone as, “Which teachers do I really like, and why?”
Start with whatever is around you. “I like this because…” “I don’t like that because…” I like this dog because she is sensitive, quiet, smart, funny.” “I like that neighbor because…” “I don’t like that fence because…” “I like this music but not that music.” “If I were to choose any of these women for a friend, that’s the one I’d choose, because….” “My hero figures include…, because…” “The animal I’m most like is … because…” “If I had a million dollars and had to spend it on something other than myself or family, I’d spend it on…because.” Go to an art gallery and pick out paintings that you like. Get a book of poetry and note the poems that speak to you and why. Read a book, figure out what you like about it or not. Then look up the book on Amazon and see what other people said about it. What do you learn from their comments? Pay special attention to the lower-ranking comments. Critical thinkers might be found there, or maybe just grumps.
This is mind-practice and a useful tool, not a way of necessarily of processing life – though really, isn’t anything you do “life”? For now, practice on your likes and dislikes, and learn from thinking them through and, in the case of the Amazon book reviews, learning from how other people thought through their likes and dislikes.
A lot of people don’t know what they want, not in terms of another person, a job, or even a picture to hang on their walls. Not to worry. You are where you are, and that’s fine. You’ll be farther down the road a year from now. The important thing is to keep learning and making progress.
The goal is to learn to connect with your inner voice and to marry that connection with critical thinking.
CRITICAL THINKING HAS TO BE DEVELOPED
My 10th grade math teacher, Mr. Hardy, told our class: “Don’t believe everything you read.” That was news to me, pretty shocking. I had no clue how to figure out what I shouldn’t believe in what I was reading, nor did he give any suggestions.
I was from a background where I didn’t need critical thinking. Perhaps you were also from a group that had an opinion about just about everything, saving you from developing your own opinion and from hearing opposing points of view. Now the safety net is gone, and we have to learn how to think for ourselves, or not, as the case may be.
You are probably from a conservative religion where you were taught to self-censor what you read and watched on TV. You read religious books and periodicals. On TV, you might have watched Fox News, drama, and murders, but probably you self-censored out “liberal” news programs. Now it’s time to open up and to expose yourself to the rest of the news. Continue to watch Fox if you wish, but balance it off with Ed Schultz, Rachel Madow, and other commentators at MSNBC or the news at Al Jazeera. On-line, check out Amy Goodman at “Democracy Now.” If you can’t listen to her programs, read the transcripts. Sign up at truth-out.org and alternet.org. Check out www.talk2action.org and progressive periodicals, such as The Progressive, Mother Jones, and In These Times, The Nation. Tune in to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, political satirists.
Fox News is an important source of news for many fundamentalists and evangelicals and Republicans. FairleighDickinsonUniversity in NJ has on its web site the results of a political survey which found that Fox News viewers knew less about what was going on in the world than folk who watched no news at all. (www.fdu.edu, search on “Fox News”)
Perhaps that is a statement of where we have come from politically and how intellectually incompetent we may be as fundamentalists. It took me years to begin to understand the manipulation of the information we get and how so many voters can be induced to vote proudly against their best interests, and how our news sources and political system are largely influenced and controlled by moneyed interests.
I enjoy the weekly periodical, The Week, because it seems to present both what liberals and conservatives are thinking about an issue. Does it have a slant one way or the other? Maybe, but I haven’t detected it. I say to myself, though, “Maybe the ‘slant’ is more in what’s being left out than in what’s being said.” And so I don’t depend any one source but listen to a variety of news sources. Some of the most down-and-dirty programs I have seen lately have been on Al Jazeera – programs on various aspects of the prison system, such as the bail bond system and the incompetency of some labs that result in innocent individuals being sent to prison. Chilling.
What else did you watch on TV? In my experience, many fundamentalists like mindless drama, with women and children being threatened with harm, but always with happy endings. Oh, and the actresses all look alike, mostly blond and beautiful. Avoid this stuff. It numbs the mind and is a waste of time.
We need to educate ourselves with various perspectives and sniff out where truth lies. Truth is not black and white, either. It won’t be delivered to us in a neat package. What will the global economy look like? Will it be oligarchic, where the 1% has their way over the 99%? Will it be humane? What are the options? The world is changing rapidly, and if we want to know the issues, we are going to have to do some reading and listening, to say nothing of participating. We can read books by authors who have grappled with the same questions we are asking, such as what a humane world economic picture might look like.
In fundamentalism, we dismissed alternative views without really thinking about them. We listened to the nay-sayers regarding climate change. We never suspected that they might be lying to us. Who knew that the Republican senator who wrote a book about climate change being a hoax received $1.3 million from the oil industry? The stakes are too high not to seek out assorted viewpoints and then make up our own minds.
For my own growth and for this web site, I needed to be more in groups and projects that are addressing issues that are not religious in nature. There has been way too much religious language in my life – maybe in yours, too. We learned to think in religious language in fundamentalism. Now we have to learn a new tongue, human talk, and participating in our world is a way to do that.
HOW DO YOU LEARN TO THINK CRITICALLY?
The development of healthy critical thinking starts in childhood and continues as one becomes an adult. For this process to proceed in a healthy manner, you must have foundations that are not corrupted. The summary below addresses how critical thinking would develop if you came from a “normal,” healthy family, not from one such as many of us did, where what we were living in seemed a mirror reality of the real world.
What would the typical growth process and development of critical thinking look like for an average child in a functional family?
As the child grows up, he learns what yes and no mean, what right and wrong is, about whether he likes pink or blue better and that he has a choice between them. He learns what good is and what that feels like and what bad is and what that feels like. He learns that he is ok, and his parents support his explorations. They talk to him about his choices and help him to develop good judgment.
Growing into adulthood, he brings with him what he learned before, but he builds on that. He learns that choices have consequences. He learns to pay attention to the little voice inside that knows the difference between yes and no. He learns the bigger meanings of right and wrong and of making choices. He learns to project beyond the present, to see himself beyond the present, and to link consequences with behavior and choices. As maturing individual, he also learns about self respect and respect for others. He learns who he is as an individual and how to think critically. He learns how he fits in with the larger arena of life.
But what if his background is skewed so that black is white and white black, so that taking responsibility for himself is viewed as sinful and he is instead told that he has to live a surrendered life? What if he is taught not to think for himself but rather to depend on some sort of surrendered voodoo where inner promptings get identified with God’s voice?
In contrast to the description of the healthy development of a child, this latter person’s foundations are corrupted. If he later leaves fundamentalism, he has the added burden of not only trying to sort things out after leaving fundamentalism but also to play catch-up with realignments of his notions of self and the development of critical thinking.
I believe that every child has the right to develop naturally as a flower, and it is painful to see children who are told that their natural inclinations are wrong and they should instead think and feel a different way. We were the children at one time who were programmed into a different way of thinking and feeling according to someone’s ideology or evangelical marketing scheme.
“Normal” children from good families have foundations that are trustworthy and honest. They get exposed to examples that are true. They have the opportunity to grow and develop into strong human beings, a singular individuals, good people who return good to others, who return freedom and respect to others and to the larger society.
Normal children get to grow into people who can have good friendships, where friendship has a good foundation and is not itself a corrupted scam. Good friendships happen when all else is in order.
Depending on our backgrounds, we may have missed out on a lot, but being older, by applying ourselves, we can also catch up faster.
Here, we laid the foundation to connect with your inner voice, i.e., for learning what you like and linking it with critical thinking. In the next tab, Tips for Growing a Self, we’ll be talking more about more nuts-and-bolts tools.