Death, Anxiety, & the Wisdom of Watts

Posted on May 14, 2020

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Converting to evangelical Christianity as a high school senior was, for my health, both physical and mental, out of the fryin’ pan, and into the fire.

Growing up with parents involved in a secret religion to which one must be initiated in a very formal ceremony–as an adult who decides to participate in such a group, I had minimal exposure to Christian culture or the Bible. My mom did force us kids to go to the Federated Church (a federation of 2 denominations who became one church after one denom’s church burnt down) on Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day–but that was IT! My elders did not model Christian religious practices within my view in my childhood: no Bible reading, no praying, no watching TV preachers or listening to preachers on the radio.

Grandma & Grandpa Eddy didn’t go to church, and Dad never went, but his decision regarding church–like all HIS decisions–was not up for discussion. We kids had to go because Mom said so; Dad’s business was none of ours. His favorite aphorism about church is one I adore: “See you in church…IF you sit by the WINDOW!”

Dad was a Freemason, and Mom was a member of the women’s counterpart,The Eastern Star. Fortunately for us, their religious practices were off-limits for kids. We weren’t allowed to read the books, and even though they had some moderately-long scripts to memorize for their various, highly-ornate rituals at the Lodge, they did it without transmitting any of their content to me. Mom and Dad were elected Worthy Grand Patron and Worthy Grand Matron, and they served the organization and the larger community, as leaders and as members, until they died. For my parents, Freemasonry was the religion of choice, and the interest to which they dedicated much more time, energy, and resources. Their clothing budget alone shows their devotion. Dad had to have many expensive tuxedos, shoes, fezzes, and ceremonial accessories. Mom had an entire closet full of sequined, formal evening gowns, glittery, Dorothy-like, shoes (or am I only saying that because she Mom was from Kansas?!?), handbags, coats, and shawls.

In the fall of my senior year, after being stalked by an ex-boyfriend for several months and having to keep the mounting number of attacks and subsequent police reports secret from Dad (because Mom said…perhaps to keep Dad from doing harm? I’m not sure of her reasoning), I developed several chronic illnesses, and my doctor advised me to move away from home, in the hopes that a different environment would allow me to heal.

My niece’s mom and my brother were divorced, and she invited me to stay with her new husband and children. She and her new husband had a toddler, and a new baby was on the way. We could both use the support.

She and her friends were evangelical Christians. They were stay-at-home Moms who studied the Bible and claimed to receive supernatural powers, “gifts of the spirit,” from their Lord and Savior, such as prophecy, tongues, and the power to heal physical ailments with the “laying on of hands.” Their daily conversations referenced The Lord giving them “a word of knowledge,” dreams, visions, answers to dilemmas, and perhaps best of all, excellent parking spots at stores!

She and her friends were evangelical Christians. They were stay-at-home Moms who studied the Bible and claimed to receive supernatural powers, “gifts of the spirit,” from their Lord and Savior, such as prophecy, tongues, and the power to heal physical ailments with the “laying on of hands.” Their daily conversations referenced The Lord giving them “a word of knowledge,” dreams, visions, answers to dilemmas, and perhaps best of all, excellent parking spots at stores!

Their warmth with their children and husbands, their excitement, and their kindness to me at a very low point in my life convinced me that I, too, should be born-again.

Freshly baptized, 1983

The consequences of that decision are many, but one that was particularly troublesome was sleep disturbances.

They didn’t start right away, but after about a year of practicing the faith, including being at church three to five days per week, teaching Sunday School, serving as song leader, “praying without ceasing,” and intense Bible study through an Independent Study to become a lay minister (one who can do all ministerial duties except marry and bury)– anxiety, depression, nightmares, and night terrors became my nightly reality.

The imagery of the Bible: the rapes, the genocides, the enslavement, the tortures, the slaughters, the human and animal sacrifice, the threats, the rage, the jealousy, the demons, the dark forces, the devil and HELL…caused me to maniacally work to try to please the Lord all day, then be tortured by the subconscious worry that I was not one of the “elect,” all night.

Within four years, the misogyny and racism of the religion, along with the obscene holy book, made it clear to me that if the god of the Bible did exist, he wasn’t worthy of my time, let alone my worship.

As I began the long and painful process of recovery from religion, I explored every religious idea and practice I could locate information about, asking, “Is this religion the right one for me?” (The answer, no matter the religion, is NO.) Fortunately, I stumbled into Buddhist meditation and Alan Watts while reading Beat writers, and I found a healing balm in a tiny, 62-page book called Death.

In his small tome, Alan Watts contrasts life (something) and death (nothing). By practicing meditation, and by meditating on his explanation of death as nothing, and, therefore, nothing to fear, I was able to dismantle the terror and anxiety that I had contracted, like a killer virus, from practicing Christianity. I was reminded of this treasure yesterday, in a conversation I had with a reader after they read my post, Learning How To Die.

I picked the book up, along with another volume in a set, The Nature of Man, in a used bookstore in the the mid-or-late 1980s. I’ve gone through a lot of life changes and moved house at least twenty times since then. I still own these two books, along with a few others by Watts. I am grateful for what he has taught me about dying and about living. His words helped me heal, and once again be able to lie down at night with an expectation that I will get a good night’s rest and rise refreshed.

Here’s a taste of the healing Wisdom of Watts.

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lisa eddy is a writer, researcher, educator, advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com