One of my core spiritual beliefs is the power of “faking it ’til you make it.” I was on a silent retreat recently, where I dropped out of the “advanced” class, because it felt too academic and intellectual for what I wanted at that moment. People in that class were debating about nondualism versus dualism, and I just didn’t care. The way I understand my world, there is no “versus,” just “and.” In my version of nonduality, dualism has a place. Even if it’s pretend.
A teacher of mine says that we need to have a personal god to relate to because we’re persons. That makes sense to me, even as a I push back against pronouns. I like the mystery and the incomprehensibility of a nondual relationship with God. Sometimes, though, it’s just not helpful. It doesn’t make any sense- I don’t feel anything. I met someone once who said that she really envied people who could rely on God, who felt free and comfortable to talk to God, to feel comforted by God, and that she never felt that and couldn’t imagine it.
First, I think it’s important to recognize this desire to connect, this ache to feel God in our lives, whatever that means. Second, it’s just as important to realize the depth of this disconnection, the pain of not feeling comforted, this lack of God in our lives. This is where pretending works for me. Imagining what it would feel like to be in a relationship with God as a parent, friend, lover is a profound practice. Sometimes during meditation or prayer, I pretend I’m being held by God, and I try to really see what that would feel like.
In the practice of hitbodedut, taught by Rebbe Nachman, one talks to God, out loud, in a private place, and doesn’t stop talking- even if you begin by saying, “I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t even believe in you!” The idea is to be in relationship with God, to pour your heart out and/or talk about whatever comes to mind. It’s possible at some point that it becomes unclear who exactly is talking and who is listening, and the search for clarity itself falls away.
It’s in these small moments, of pretending or praying or meditation, that we can get a taste of deep connection. To me, there’s no distinction between what’s “real” and what’s “fake.” It’s all truth. If we find meaning or are touched in any way, we’ve made it. Who cares if the path to getting there isn’t the way we thought or were taught it should be. When I was a kid I used to pretend to be sleeping, to trick my parents, but every single time, I’d wind up falling asleep. This feels like the same thing. Pretending can be practicing. Practicing to be holy, to be kind, to be honest, that leads us to a place where we’re no longer practicing, no long pretending, we just inhabit those qualities. And if we know that works, let’s all start pretending to be mindful, content, safe, strong, and see what happens.