How an Atheist Taught Me to Live a Compassionate, Integrity-Filled Life




Compassion[1]By Guest Contributor, Lauren Wessinger

“What kind of yoga do you teach?”

One of the most popular questions in the yoga world as of late, and one I have welcomed from students after almost every class I have taught for the past few years.  Depending on the time available for a reply, I may just shrug and say “it’s yoga, I pull what I love from several disciplines.” Or, if time allows and depending on who is inquiring, I may delve into my philosophy on why I teach the way I do. One of the myriad reasons I fell in love with the woman who I did my first yoga training with is because she said to me “never teach something just because I told you to teach it. Teach what you know to be true, teach what feels right in your heart.” Love her.

Growing up, I was never put in a “box” of any type. I wasn’t put in a Caucasian box, a box containing a power struggle, a religious box, a political box, a “this is your female path” box…none of it. The only box I was put in (by my own doing) was the “fear of being in a box” box. I don’t have a cool story about how yoga saved my life, although sometimes I wish I did because it makes me smile to read those of yogis I love. I don’t remember my first class, where it was or who was teaching. I do know it was circa 1993, and I was most definitely with my mother because there is no way I would have made it to a yoga mat at the age of 15 by myself. Atha yoga anushasanam…and so it begins.

Stop. This next sentence is not meant to offend the reader whatsoever. However personal life experience of what this word does to people is nagging me to say this as this might just be the latest seven letter curse word, according to some folks. If there is a little hat sitting atop your head that has the word “judgment” written across the front, however big or small, now is the time to take that hat off. Alright, let’s keep going.

My Dad is an atheist. (Check it out…did that judgment hat come back on? Set it back down. Or better yet, chuck that thing out the window. It is just holding you back anyway.) In the most steadfast sense of the word, he is an atheist. Actually he’d rather not be called anything at all, but for those who need life wrapped up in a pretty box with a perfect bow, this word is the closest label if one must be given. He had the most appalling childhood of anyone I know, and made his way to where he is now on his own. His is a story for another day, but one that deeply inspires to say the least. He had no help, no support, nobody to show him the way through the darkness of his early years. Most sad to me, is that he had very little love in his childhood. Trauma does that. It either leads you on a path to the Divine, or it drives you so far away from that path you will never find your way back to it, nor do you wish to.  My Dad believes, as do I, that whether you are on a path to God or walking it alone, we are all progressing toward the same goal which is learning to live a happy, beauty-filled, integrity-filled, healthy life. He chose not to indulge in his darkness, fought his demons and emerged a better man because of what he overcame. So yes, he is an atheist meaning he doesn’t believe in a higher power. But, he is also (and light years more important than his lack of a belief system) one of the most developed, devoted,  deep-hearted, sensitive, loving, intelligent, funny, soulful people I have ever known, and a badass drummer to boot.

He loves religion for what it does for society and how it can help heal people. He is completely supportive of the 99% of people in this life for which it is their path. It just didn’t work for him. I wish we could flip the coin and hear someone say one day that they love atheism for what it does for people and how it has helped people heal and how it has brought them personal strength. Honestly, why can’t we? If it has helped people heal, why can’t we say that? Try it right now…say it out loud. Say “atheism is wonderful for those it has helped, and if it helps, it heals. Who am I to say it is bad?” How does that make you feel? Do you want to puke? Or can you say it with love, acceptance and humane tolerance? Can you love people that are different than you, even if you don’t like them? Because that is what the world needs to stay alive.

The light is that there have been many people with different beliefs than my Dad who have been supportive and loving towards him and his path. There is such darkness with others though. It is painful to watch the unapologetic malevolence that can unleash when the atheism card is laid out on the table. It is painful to watch how deep a scathing word can wound when someone speaks of an individual, a wholly integrated quality human being, (a.k.a. my amazing Dad) in such an inhumanely cold way. It is magnificent, though, to see how the wisdom of age has led him to a place where he doesn’t need to defend himself anymore. He has laid down his atheist sword, silently hoping others will follow suit. It doesn’t steal his happiness one bit if someone disapproves of how he lives his life. He knows he can’t waste the remainder of his time here on people too afraid to look past a belief system to see the beauty of a human that he is. The battle is over. He is happy in his skin, in his life and with who he is. He has no need to fight. He is living…whole, true, real and just as full of life and love as ever. No fear. Without religion, and by example, my Dad has shown me how to live a compassionate, integrity filled life.

Similar, yet so very different in the same breath, was my Buddhist upbringing. This essay continues in part two called “How a Buddhist Taught Me to Live a Compassionate, Integrity-Filled Life.” Stay tuned.


bio picAbout Lauren:

Never say never! Four years ago I left fashion and business to raise babies and teach yoga. I moved from the gorgeous desert after 32 years and moved to Fort Worth, Texas…and can honestly say I love it. After a lifetime of scribbling intently in journals, I now share my heart via my writing with the world (or whoever will read it). My sweet supportive husband and I just celebrated 10 years of marriage, and my biggest living inspirations are my son and daughter. I am living the life I created, and living a life that I love.  Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter, or through my blog.

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