Rahma with Rose

Finding Peace within the Ambiguity of Life and Spirituality: A Conversation with Amanda Quraishi

November 17, 2023 Dr. Rose Aslan / Amanda Quraishi Season 1 Episode 16
Finding Peace within the Ambiguity of Life and Spirituality: A Conversation with Amanda Quraishi
Rahma with Rose
More Info
Rahma with Rose
Finding Peace within the Ambiguity of Life and Spirituality: A Conversation with Amanda Quraishi
Nov 17, 2023 Season 1 Episode 16
Dr. Rose Aslan / Amanda Quraishi

In this episode, I speak with Amanda Quraishi, aka Q, about her life journey through numerous religious and spiritual communities. We walk through the sensitive territory of leaving a cult in her youth, exploring various spiritual paths, and becoming a Muslim interfaith activist in the post-9/11 United States.  

Q shares her candid struggles with mental health, the challenges of representing Islam for several decades, and how she endured and came out of intense burnout from community activism. Q discusses the complexities of navigating spirituality in a modern context, her struggles with spiritual identity, and how she now embraces sitting in peace with the ambiguity of life. We discuss ways in which Q found herself again after intense introspection and healing work and how she practices self-care and connection with others.

Amanda Quraishi, aka Q, is a writer from Austin, Texas.

Visit her website: amandaquraishi.com

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaTheQ
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amandaquraishi/
Fediverse: https://realsocial.life/@imtheq
BlueSky: https://bsky.app/profile/imtheq.bsky.social
Threads: https://www.threads.net/@amandaquraishi

Support the Show.

Find out more about Rose's work here: https://lnk.bio/dr.rose.aslan
Website: https://compassionflow.com

Support Rahma with Rose so I can keep producing more episodes here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/2197727/supporters/new

Music credits: Vocals: Zeynep Dilara Aslan; Ney/drum: Elif Önal; Tanbur: Katherine Hreib; Rebap: Hatice Gülbahar Hepsev

Rahma with Rose +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I speak with Amanda Quraishi, aka Q, about her life journey through numerous religious and spiritual communities. We walk through the sensitive territory of leaving a cult in her youth, exploring various spiritual paths, and becoming a Muslim interfaith activist in the post-9/11 United States.  

Q shares her candid struggles with mental health, the challenges of representing Islam for several decades, and how she endured and came out of intense burnout from community activism. Q discusses the complexities of navigating spirituality in a modern context, her struggles with spiritual identity, and how she now embraces sitting in peace with the ambiguity of life. We discuss ways in which Q found herself again after intense introspection and healing work and how she practices self-care and connection with others.

Amanda Quraishi, aka Q, is a writer from Austin, Texas.

Visit her website: amandaquraishi.com

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaTheQ
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amandaquraishi/
Fediverse: https://realsocial.life/@imtheq
BlueSky: https://bsky.app/profile/imtheq.bsky.social
Threads: https://www.threads.net/@amandaquraishi

Support the Show.

Find out more about Rose's work here: https://lnk.bio/dr.rose.aslan
Website: https://compassionflow.com

Support Rahma with Rose so I can keep producing more episodes here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/2197727/supporters/new

Music credits: Vocals: Zeynep Dilara Aslan; Ney/drum: Elif Önal; Tanbur: Katherine Hreib; Rebap: Hatice Gülbahar Hepsev

Dr. Rose Aslan: Welcome, Amanda Quraishi also known and will be referring to you as Q. Thank you so much for joining me on Rahma with Rose. 

Amanda: Hi, Rose. I'm so excited that you asked me to be on your podcast. It's nice to see you. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Likewise. We connected a number of years ago through the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, which is awesome.

Yeah. I also had Adina Kovich on a couple of episodes ago. And so it's great to have you as well. Maybe I'll start having more people from that organization. Just such amazing group people. And I remember we connected and we had a lot in common and we were able to talk a little bit, and we've been connected through social media for a number of years, and it's been such a pleasure to watch you as you just share your truth.

And you, show vulnerability in ways that most people don't. And I would also say that your social media pages are probably the funnest place to be in the way that you create community and you just help people express themselves and say their own truths and have fun as well. Like you bring play into it.

And it's just really fun seeing your social media posts as well. I'm really honored to have you here and to hear your story in one place. Why don't we start with the place that we start is, can you remember when you first started getting interested in spirituality? 

Amanda: Oh gosh. So here's the thing. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. And so that's the earliest memory that I have. I think actually I was baptized Catholic, but then shortly after that my mother converted. And, for those who don't know, Jehovah's Witnesses are a small, Christian sect, although some people don't consider them Christians.

But, they, have a very profound end times theology. And so I was raised from the time I was born. My earliest memories are of me going proselytizing, going door to door. When I was five or six, I was talking to people at the door. I was trained how to, go through all of that.

And, yeah, we had our whole lives revolved around our, religion. And I will say that, that organization has been criticized and, is considered by many people to be a cult. And... I do feel like I just want to preface this because I think it's an important frame. I, do feel like I was damaged spiritually by having been in that organization for so long and having that be my formative experience.

I know other people may not agree with that. That definition, but I'll affirm that I think that it is, or it has cult like tendencies and back to your question yeah, from the time I was, my earliest memories I can't remember a time when I wasn't talking about God, thinking about God, reading the Bible, blah, blah, blah, and even when I was older and I left that religion, I ended up converting to Islam in my 20s.

And in between I dabbled in some other spiritual nonsense. And I would classify myself as an spiritually experimental person in general. I really like the embodied experience of religion. And I probably spent my entire life. Immersed in some kind of religious study or community or, culture.

And yeah, it's been. A lot, and in fact, I'm about to turn 50 next year and have actively drawn away. From religion, I used to be very, active as an interfaith activist. I've really cut all of that out. And at this point, my spirituality is probably best summed up through my Zen practice, which, as is not a theistic.

Type of religion. It's very simple. It's very embodied. It's very much about being here and being present and having an ethical and moral view of the world that is not based in a threat or a promise of punishment or reward. So I could probably write a book. When are you going to write it?

Dr. Rose Aslan: The question is, when are you going to write it, the memoir? 

Amanda: Yeah, the thing is, It's a lot. I see a therapist and I've spent a lot of time sorting through I have enormous religious baggage. I can tell you, and I've had suffered from religious abuse. And so I think, for me to be able to articulate really what I think and feel about it. I, still have a lot of sorting out to do. Yeah. And so that's why initially I, told you, as we have this conversation, I don't know that I have all the answers or even, an adequate response to some of the things that you might ask me, because I'm very much in a liminal space, spiritually speaking.

And frankly, I like it. I feel really good about it. Where I am, I feel like there's growth taking place. I don't have some end point in mind. And, I feel more spiritually healthy right now than I think I've ever felt in my life after having put some space between me and formal religion.

Dr. Rose Aslan: And Q, that's exactly why I invited you. Cause I noticed that in your writings and the way you express yourself, there's ambiguityand trepidation in regards to your past experience in religion and spirituality and the power of saying, I don't know, and not knowing everything I think is incredibly powerful.

That's literally why I wanted to invite you, right? Because I'm actually really tired of scholars and leaders who claim they know everything. And they know that what the divine wants from us, they know what is best for us, what's bad for us, as if they know us, as if they know what works for us and what doesn't.

And what I've found is things need to be tailored. Things need to be interpreted in ways that work for us, right? There might be some people who flourish with a fear based approach to religion. And many of us actually suffer in that. Interpretive approach. And so I love, and I think there's so much power, actually, and authenticity and just saying, I'm in a state of ambiguity.

That's really beautiful. So I appreciate you just expressing that. 

Amanda: Yeah. I made a commitment to myself to be honest with myself about this because it's important to me. If my, spirituality was not an important facet of who I am, I could just do whatever. I could just go along with whatever, right?

I could live on the margins of religious community and just go about my business. But because I have this very profound need to connect with something greater than myself. And I don't know what that is even called. And because I have a very rich interior life, and because I think there's very few things in this world more beautiful than that yearning that human beings have for, for transcendence, right?

And in all of the ways that's manifested in the world, I think it's fascinating. And I always have. And because it's that important to me, I'm not willing to accept. Anything that causes me to neglect or, cut off parts of myself spiritually that I know for a fact I need. And, I think that's where my struggle with religion was for so long, is I felt like I was denying parts of my spirituality and this is true throughout my religious experience as a child, as an adult.

And and I don't want to do that anymore. I don't think it's authentic to who I am, and I don't think it's. It's honest or fair, and it's certainly not fair to other people who might take what I have to say about religion or faith and allow that to influence them. I don't want that. I don't want that at all.

I really believe wholeheartedly that there is a sacred right that every single person, On this planet has to explore their own connection to the divine and whether or not it's within the confines of community or on their own does not matter to me, but that should be protected at all costs because it's what makes us, it's one of the things, the most important thing that makes us human, in my opinion.


Dr. Rose Aslan: To that cue and wow, you express yourself so well and you've clearly spent a lot of time grappling with this and coming to the best way to express your frustration with your past experiences, but also still holding all this respect and love for people who You may no longer agree with, but to hold that their beliefs also sacred for them as well.

And that's really beautiful. And I can just see yourself, you've been on this journey of compassion. I can tell and this compassion you're giving yourself as you speak about it is really evident and I think that's why we connected because you can sometimes see if someone is learning to give themselves that compassion, it just shines through.

And I, and that's shining through now to me. 

Amanda: It took me a long time to get there, but yeah, I'm working on it. Yeah. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: That's why I want to interview women who have been through a lot and we want to learn from your stories and how other people can benefit from this wisdom. That's really what it is.

We don't have all the answers, but we can share our experiences and our understandings of the world. Soif you think back and, I'm sure you've done a lot of reflection on your past experiences in spiritual and religious communities, are there any that you feel comfortable sharing just to tell us a little bit about because you mentioned the nonsensical religious experiences and you're really young and then you became Muslim and now you practice Zen Buddhism.

Are there parts of that you'd like to share with us to give us a little bit more insight into your, what your experience was like, the good and the bad, whatever you want to share. 

Amanda: Sure. Sure. So the first thing, which is being raised in as a Jehovah's Witness, which was just a a closed loop system. We weren't like cults that go live off and by themselves, but we kept to ourselves I was raised to not. Like I wasn't allowed to have friends in the world. We called it the world, right? The rest of the world, because they were all going to be destroyed, right?

God was going to get rid of all of them and we had to keep ourselves pure. And yeah I, wasn't like at school, I would go to school. I wasn't allowed to like. Hang out with other kids when we'd never celebrated holidays. So if there was holidays in the class, I would go to the library and sit by myself.

We were apolitical, so no saluting the flag, no voting, none of it. And. Our primary focus was this ministry work that we felt was our calling and everything revolved around it. We went to our little church for three days a week. We, and then on the weekends we would go door to door and talk to people about the Bible.

And this was just what I did from the time I could walk, and it was a very powerful indoctrination. And I think the thing that played Into, my own kind of spiritual crisis with that religion was the end time stuff because, we, I was told when I started kindergarten that I might not even get through that year.

And then the end was going to come, right? And then I was told you're not even going to make it through high school and my parents actively. Asked me, not asked. I was not allowed to go to college. They didn't want me to go to college because my time should have been spent, should be spent, according to them, going door to door, trying to convert people before the end comes.

Soit was a very oppressive environment. And of course I look back and knowing who I am now, I'm almost 50 and knowing myself and as a small kid and being this just super weird, creative, quirky little kid that just is so interested in so many things and then having to live inside that box.

And I remember struggling so hard, trying to like, deal with the reality that these people that I knew who weren't part of our religion, we're just all gonna die, because they wouldn't be part of our religion and how it just didn't compute. But because I didn't have any other alternative or choice, and because I was indoctrinated, I also didn't know how to challenge that idea.

When I finally left that, I drifted around, I tried all kinds of things. I actually went on a little mission to explore. I would go to the library, and I actually checked the Quran out from the library at that time. I think I was like 22, 23. But I would like, check out holy books from the library.

I would like, Randomly walk into churches and sit in their services, just checking stuff out. And thenby the time I was 25, I was really, I, knew I wanted to be part of a religion and I wanted to be part of religious community. And at that point, I began actively seeking, like, where do I want to land?

And. I met my husband at work. He's from Pakistan and Muslim. And I remember the first time I met him, I was like, Oh, this guy's really cool. He told me he's from Pakistan. And so I went home and I Googled Pakistan. Or actually Google wasn't even invented. It was Yahoo. Back then. I went on the internet.

Yeah. And there are two things on the Pakistani website of any interest to me. One was cricket. And one was. And I was like, Oh, Islam. I knew about, it vaguely. I had checked it out of the Quran out of the library. And then one of my old co workers was a black Muslim. And I remember he and I used to have really interesting theological discussions.

And so I was like, Oh, I'll just ask him about that. So I went back to work the next day and I was like, Hey, you're Muslim. And he was like, Yeah. Yeah. And I said let me ask you, let me ask you some questions. And then I said, what does this mean? And I wrote down the word jihad for him. And his eyes got really big.

And he's I don't think I'm the person to ask. And I was like, oh, okay. And he's no, but he he tried to give me an explanation. And then he's why don't I introduce you to my friends? He was going to UT at the time. And so I met all these. That's University of Texas, right?

Yes, yeah. And they answered my questions, and I they gave me a Qur'an, and they gave me a janamaz, a rug to pray on, and I was like their little, it was like my fair lady, really. It was like that, like I was their project. They were gonna, they were gonna help me out, which was very comical, because they, none of them really knew anything about women at all, and so it was like very awkward.

When those guys got older and started to get married, I understood a lot more, but in the beginning, it was Very funny. And yeah, so I embraced Islam and then married my now husband and and then lived as a Muslim for 20 years and became really active in interfaith work, two years after I converted when 9 11 happened.

And that was just such a seminal. Moment, right? Because here I was this brand new Muslim. I was in Austin at the time and it had such a, very small Muslim community and they were all at that point immigrants. It was like, there was there may be a handful of people who were 2nd generation, but there was like, language stuff that I couldn't get past and cultural stuff that I didn't understand.

And I was winging it. And I just remember, getting calls from people at the masjids and they were like Oh, this church group really wants somebody to come and talk to them about Islam. Can you go, right? And they would tell me you can represent well you can speak well in front of people.

And so I would go and I would have these conversations with people. And in some ways it was great because it really pushed me to, do something I don't think I would have done. I don't know that I would have been an interfaith activist if I hadn't gone through that and other ways. I feel like it was too much too soon because I just didn't have a lot of foundational knowledge.

And. What ended up happening and what it, what I think ends up happening a lot, at least in this country, is that my Islam became very secular se secularized very quickly in that it was really more about social issues. It was more about like everybody wanted to talk about women in Islam and blah, blah, blah, but very, rarely was there ever a spiritual component to those conversations?

Something you know really what is your the thing that initially drew me to Islam was this idea of. Of Tawheed, right? The oneness of God and all of that. And, rarely did I ever get a chance to talk about that. And so I do think that my practice of Islam was defined by those early years in ways that made it really difficult for me To call it my own, to relate to it on a deeply spiritual level. And that's okay because for what it was, I don't know that I ever truly felt or have felt like I'm at home. Even, and especially back then, I feel like there was a lot of, you, stick out. I stick out. I walk into a masjid.

I spent most of the first 10 years of my Muslim life, the only white person in the room and having people, Think that I'm there to spy or just like what or that they needed to talk to me, explain things to me that I already knew. So being, constantly guided by my people who just assumed that I was an idiot, that I didn't know anything.

So it was a really difficult journey. And I think the secular part that at that point, it just became easier and it was actually after I did amicly that I realized, oh, maybe I can just be this kind of Muslim who isn't in it for all of the spiritual stuff. There was a spiritual component, but I didn't feel like I belonged completely.

I didn't feel like I believed everything completely. And I didn't have the space to work through it or talk through it or to challenge it. At that point, I became a servant leader. Or that was my aspiration and it was really just about representing a community of people that I felt were being unjustly treated in this country.

I still think that. But it wasn't nourishing for me spiritually And I tried for a long time to make that work, and at a certain point I had to just say this is not feeding me, this is not the thing that is making me feel that connection that I'm craving, and I had to step away from it.

Which is not to say I, had great experiences as a Muslim. I have great experiences as a Muslim. I have many amazing Muslim friends and family members, but I don't want to be a representative of the Muslim community anymore. Yeah. I have my own. Yeah. it's to the point where I don't think anyone else can help me at this point.

 I'm going to have to just go, on my path And discover what's there for me. And yeah it has been fraught in a lot of ways. I don't want to give the impression it was terrible. There were times when I had wonderful relationships. I had great opportunities within the Muslim community to do some really cool stuff and to meet some really cool people.

But. None of that is the spiritual, the feeds of spiritual hunger that I have and, that to me is the problem. And I, actually, I think a lot of people feel that way, not just in Islam, but in every major religion. I think there are a lot of people who attach themselves to their beliefs or these belief systems and they.

They use them as a frame, but they don't really buy into all of it or it doesn't really feed. It becomes more of an identity thing than a way to nourish yourself spiritually. And again. That works for some people and it is what it is and not everybody has the same spiritual needs, but for it hasn't worked.

Dr. Rose Aslan: I just want to say one thing, Q. I'm just like, I just want to say, I see you and I hear you and I hold space for you. And it's a really brave thing to talk about this because I've also been there many times. I completely relate as someone who also entered Islam, two years.

One year after, two years after 9 11, right? And I was a professional Muslim for many years, also representing Muslims and it is exhausting and you do, you lose your connection to why you're Muslim. For me. It's all about God, but along the way you get caught up in being an apologist and trying to represent a community and fighting Islamophobia and being obsessed with like political situation and debate and arguments and it makes complete sense and it's it's unfortunate but it makes so much sense.

And I'm so glad that you've been able to find clarity and that you are able to understand the process and. What led you into it and what led you away from it? It's something that is really special and I want to honor that and hold space for that just for a moment before you move on.

Amanda: and I want to be really clear about this becauseI don't begrudge the Muslim community for not being able to meet my spiritual needs. I understand In this country, I'm speaking specifically where Muslims are a minority, and when I converted a very small minority and, we're being used as a scapegoat politically, and we're being spied on by the government.

there were a lot of things that Muslims went through. And I understand the racial dynamics of this country as well, and that as a white person walking into a space that is created for primarily black and brown people, I have to check my expectations and check my Who I am a lot of times at the door because that space is where a lot of people go to find security and safety that they can't find outside.

All I'm saying is I have and I had incredibly profound spiritual needs and I came from a background of spiritual abuse and I, was withering where I was. I didn't have what I needed and I felt too guilty. About how bad other people around me had it to try to fix it. And so I, just ignored it for a long time. And I think that's that until it got to a spiritual crisis for me, I was able to successfully do that for 20 years. Yeah, thank you for sharing 

Dr. Rose Aslan: that. It's really profound and I have such deep respect, especially for the beautiful way that you hold space also for Muslims and other people who have been with you along this path. So tell us then, how did you get into the path? Is that, do we go straight from there into Zen Buddhism or what else is along the 

Amanda: way? So I actually Started sitting with a group, a Zen group because Zen is not, I don't see it as a conflict to Islam. I think Buddhism, obviously, theologically has some stuff that is contradictory and that's true of all religion. But a lot of the practice itself, and especially a westernized practice of Zen stays away from all of that.

 I don't know that I believe any of that. The reincarnation and, all of those kinds of mystical elements, which is why Zen, is very pared down and it tends to focus less on The cosmology and the theology and more on an embodied practice. That is very much about being present in your own body and being here and now and meeting the world with compassion.

And I don't want to make it sound like it's devoid of spiritual spirituality. It's just that it's not a spirituality that's based on an idea of anything other than what is real and what is now. And for me. Not knowing what to believe in and being really lost that has been refreshing anyway. the point I forgot I was going to make 20 years ago, 21 years ago.

I actually. Went to a little Zen sitting group because of the meditation piece. Cause I really want, I enjoy meditating and I also see an enormous amount of value there. And like about two months after I started with that group, I found out I was pregnant with my twins. Which totally like talk about blow your Zen.

So I just drifted away from that. And then during the pandemic. We were all stuck at home and I remember thinking, I really need something. I should see if there's anything online and I Googled it and I found out that the same people were still sitting together, but they had expanded into a larger community.

And so I just started sitting with them again, but that's also not, I don't, I consider myself part of that community, but I'm also very Thank you. Judicious about how much time and energy I put into it, as opposed to, I need to obviously maintain balance and I don't want to be in a situation where I'm once again, just immersed in religious community without having given it a lot of thought I'm making my slow deliberate steps toward this path of Zen, and I've embraced a lot of the elements of it, but Yeah it works very well for me because it's not asking me to believe anything that, it's not asking me to believe anything.

It's asking me to be and to experience life as it is. And I like that. I don't want to ever, I don't want, I don't consider myself a skeptic per se, but I also don't want to believe things that aren't true. Having grown up the way I did, where I was having had my entire worldview, destroyed when I left that religion and having nothing to go on.

I was, raised in a box, a theological, psychological, spiritual box with very little access to other knowledge and information. And everything that I believed It's not true. And when I found that out I can't tell you how many years it took me to get past that. And to still, and I still to this day have some of the tendrils of those teachings and those beliefs and those fears and anxieties around.

Oh, my God, is this the end of the world? And it is a very magical Difficult thing to overcome. So I don't want to ever do that again. I never want to just believe anything that I can't verify or, and I don't think I have I'm not a total materialist, but I also think that if you are going to believe something, it shouldn't contradict any part of reality, right?

And so I don't, I have to be very cautious about what I take on as a belief. So yes that's where I am right now. And it's, like I said, it's a very messy space to be in, but I'm, very happy nourished for the first time in a long time, because What I am doing may not be I may not be sitting on a mountainside and meditating 20 hours a day, but what I am doing is real, it's beneficial, and it's something that I can do without overextending myself or forcing myself to believe things that don't resolve inside of me.

And I did feel that way a lot growing up. And even in Islam, there were things that I couldn't. Resolve in myself and whether or not that was part of the actual religion or the interpretation and the way that people practice it, that we can have that conversation all day. But, yeah for me, That's an essential part. I want, do not want to practice or to base my spirituality on something that is not real or true ever again. And maybe that means I'm overcompensating by Putting so much space between beliefs, those kinds of beliefs, and myself. But I'd rather do that than turn into a bitter, angry person who hates religion and hates religious people.

I don't think that's the right thing to do either. And I think we're all trying to understand what this world is about, and who we are, and what our relationship to each other and the incredible existence is. And the last thing any of us need is to just be hateful to one another. And so I don't, want that to happen.

I don't want my bad experiences or my pain from the past to turn into that kind of anger. So what I'm doing right now is working, for whatever reason. That's it. I don't have a plan. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: I hear you, Q, and what you're saying makes complete sense based on your life experiences. We are a product of who we are and how we were raised and the experiences we've had in the world.

And what you're saying makes sense. You have to overcompensate to avoid what encountering what happened in your childhood and the beliefs that were imposed on you. So it does make sense. So thank you for sharing that and being so vulnerable and just in ways that most people aren't able. And they're very fearful of sharing this in a public setting.

So I really appreciate that. So I'm going to go out on a limb. I'm assuming your healing path has also been parallel. And some people see them as intertwined, the healing and spiritual path. Where do you see this healing path? Do you have a time when it really, you intentionally set on this path? And what has it been like for you? 

Amanda: I had a, I guess I would call it a, you could call it a midlife crisis, you can call it a breakdown, you can call it whatever you want, but there was a point, over the last couple years where I, had to just, I lost it. I lost everything. I couldn't keep going.

 I quit work. I stepped away from religion, stepped away from activism. I was struggling very hard with it. Clinical depression and anxiety. I was,

I was in a very bad place physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. And a lot of that is because of how many years I suppressed my, pain and my anxiety. Fear and my trauma and, you know what they say, you can't let it go forever. You're going to have to face the music at some point and these wounds when they're not healed properly will fester and they will infect you and they will hurt you and they could kill you.

And so I had to thank goodness I have. Such a loving and supportive family and friends who, that was probably my biggest fear, honestly, because when I left Jehovah's Witnesses, they, don't let you my father and I are estranged. My mother is no longer a Jehovah's Witness, by the way, but you're cut off, basically.

I lost Family and friends I'd had my whole life. And I was really worried when I decided to come out about this in the last couple of years and just say I can't go on this anymore. This isn't who I am. It's not what I believe. And I don't even know what I believe.

And I've, but I had to say it. Because the problem was I was so known and for what my, work, I was very vocal, visible interfaith activist for decades. And I felt like I owed an explanation to all these people, but also people just kept coming to me with stuff. And I would be like, no, I don't want to do that.

And and I eventually had to just come out and be like, no, this is not who I am anymore. And it's not what I'm going to do, but I thought I would lose everybody. I thought I would lose all my Muslim friends and family. I thought they would just. that was a legitimate fear. And I'm happy to say that, that's not what happened at all.

Yeah, there are people that I've drifted away from, and people who were, not really friends, just associates or colleagues In the activist space, who I don't we, just drifted apart, but the people who were my friends and who have been my friends the whole time have stuck with me and have offered me such compassion and grace and understanding.

That's what made me realize that this is something that a lot of people go through, and a lot of people have to grapple with. And we're not, it's not an all or nothing. There are a lot of people who are trying to figure out where they fall within these spiritual frames.

Everyone's afraid to talk about it because nobody wants to be called a heretic and nobody wants to be thought of as like weak or you're not a person who can be trusted because you're you're not really committed. It's terrifying. if I could wish for anything, it would be for us to give one another the grace.

To fall apart spiritually, to walk away, to go to get angry at God and religion, and to still have this, the love and support that we need to figure it out I'm so happy to tell you that I was given that by some very good people in my life longtime friends, Sadia and Kamala and you and Rose Dayton and just people who I've known for, years, who Understand the complexity of what, it's like, what it means to confront your, spirituality or lack thereof, and try to understand what your next steps are going to be.

And to have the courage when the answers are unconventional, or they fall outside of the purview of what everyone else is doing to respect that and to say you're a Fully grown and mature adult person, a person with intellect, you're clearly a good person, right? You're not out there trying to find justification for why you can kill people or kit kittens.

That's not who you are. this is a search and it's a profoundly terrifying internal And external search for us for understanding your own spirituality that has to take place in each and every one of us. There's a point when no matter how devoted you are to a community, they're not going to carry you on as you evolve.

And each one of us has our own relationship to the divine that has to be defined for by us for us. and it doesn't always look pretty, and we don't always agree. And that's okay. It is. I guess what I'm saying is I'm astonished and pleased at how many people get that more people than I thought would understand that.

And maybe I know a lot of it was colored by. The trauma from all the rejection I had in my youth when I left that religion. But, I, think it's fair to say that there are a lot of really good hearted religious and or spiritual people who are humble enough to accept that they don't have all the answers and that can respect you when you. Are looking for answers that you need. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: I just wrote down the grace to fall apart. This has really struck a chord with me. Because you're right in so many contexts, we have this mask that we're wearing in the religious community and we all. A little bit are quite broken underneath it. We're hurt.

We're struggling. In fact, as a coach, I experienced this every day and speaking to my clients and there's a lot of hurt, especially connection to religion every day. I can't pray. I feel bad. Like, why can't I do this? What's why do I feel terrible? I'm with this person, all these hurts and. They can't speak it out loud for fear of shame and being shamed by the community for the guilt they carry.

They can't just fall apart. Just, you just made me think whatif compassion is the center of religion is for me, the divine is compassion, right? But. If that's the case, then how come our communities don't offer the grace to fall apart? I just found that just the way you put that is so astute really is we should be able to fall apart and wrestle with the concept of God if that's necessary and to be able to, be held and seen and respected because we're humans and we have an intellect and the Quran tells us to use our mind and we have to figure out what.

It's right for us and what works for us. So there's a lot of hurt and, because we don't have this grace to fall apart in most places, it was difficult, but I'm also really glad to hear that you did, despite being fearful about this, you did find some amazing souls to hold you, which I'm so grateful you had that 

Amanda: As well.

Yeah. Yeah, me too. I have a theory about why it's so why we don't allow for it. And I, that theory is based on my lived experiences, which is, at times when you're struggling with a spiritual path. You have to maintain this cognitive dissonance, right? Because you're, there may be doubts or there may be things that just aren't working for you.

And, when you confront those things, it's terrifying because religion often informs the most fundamental outlook that we have of our purpose. And what happens when we die, and these are things that are so incredibly, powerful as ideas for us as humans, right? Just the idea of death, right?

It's such a hard thing to wrap your head around. And religion can, and it does bring comfort to a lot of people with those explanations, the explanations that it offers. But if you start questioning religion, if you start picking at the threads of things that aren't working for you, and then it suddenly opens up and you're like, maybe things aren't the way I believe that they were, it can give you an existential crisis.

It will freak you out. And it is terrifying. And so a lot of times people will do exactly what I did, which is even if they have those things tickling them in the back of their minds, they just, shut it up. We're not going to talk about that. That's not true. That's not how it is.

And if anyone else brings it up, it's a threat. To that kind of a wall that they built up there. And to me, it's a matter of, and I don't know that community at large, any community is capable of doing That I think that's the point of all of this is, some people just can't or don't want. To deal with these questions. They're not even in a place. For many years I was raising kids. I didn't have the time or the bandwidth to have a, existential crisis or, confront my spirituality.

And I don't know that it's fair to say we need we need our community to be able to let everybody just lose it. But I do think that there's a really important need to create spaces among spiritually mature people to work through things that, are hard and to fall apart. But those spaces have to be created and they have to be nurtured.

And I'm okay with that, but I, didn't have that and they don't commonly exist. I think where those kinds of things happen, within social groups or among friends or whatever, but it's not part of the institution of religion. In a lot of ways, you have to, if you're at that point, like I was, you have to step away from religion and just go find a little space and some good people, hopefully, that can help you through it.

But. I don't know that it's even feasible to ask a community at large to accommodate that because it's not something everybody is capable of doing or wants to do. And that's okay too. It, really is. I'm not a person that thinks, that's going to judge somebody else if they're happy with what they're doing and it works for them, as long as they're not using it as an excuse to hurt somebody else.

But yeah, I guess what it is we just don't take our spirituality and the evolution of our spirituality seriously enough to create the, structures that are needed for us to do really hard work on ourselves and to support one another as we see one another doing that work.

And in some ways, I see what you do. what you do. As attempting to create a space like that, right? Because you are inviting people into conversation that allows for nuance, that allows for, radical honesty that allows for people to not be perfect. And to claim not and to be able to claim that they don't know what's right at a certain point and to do it without judgment and to do it in a nurturing way and to do it in a way that says, what you're going through is really, hard and you need the space and I'm here to help you.

And to me, that's holy work. That is as holy as it gets. And I really appreciate that you do that. And there are other people that I see trying to do that, but it's just, there are very few spaces like that. Thank you for doing that. And I, would hope to see more of that. What's weird is I think.

The people that are doing it are, largely women. I was never seen men having this conversation. Yeah. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Thank you for acknowledging that. That means a lot that you, Q, that you see me doing this work and that's what I feel like I'm doing, creating the space to fall apart, really. That's why it resonated with me.

Cause you just put words to what I'm doing really, where we can just grapple with all the questions that we need to grapple with and we can't ignore anymore so that we can move forward and figure out where do we stand? How do we connect with God? And clear out all the rubbish in the way that's distracting us and keeping us really tied back.

Yes. And unfortunately, not fortunately, unfortunately it is dominated by women. I, the other day I was having a conversation with a friend who's the equivalent of who's doing what I'm doing as a man? And we couldn't think of any, and if anyone's listening to this podcast and can make recommendations, please let me know of men working on this compassion focus approach to religion and spirituality. Especially in the context of slam, let us know. But it's something that it's not enough, but hopefully it will grow also. And this concept is going to become more widespread with time. Hopefully. 

Amanda: Yeah. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Inshallah. So cute. Tell me along the way you mentioned you do a Zazen or Zen meditation and you have therapy. What other kind of healing modalities have really been key to you in your journey? To come back to yourself. 

Amanda: Oh gosh, writing. Yeah, writing for sure. Tell me more about that. Yes I, always wrote as a kid. That was just my, one of my biggest outlets and made a commitment to myself this year to just really focus on that. And it's a thing that I'm doing every day. AndI'm actually writing a blog series about This crisis I had, as well as a novel, a fictional novel and just some other little things, but it's, very cathartic art is always. And that's the answer for me. That's the thing that helps you, helps me work through stuff that is really hard to articulate or even understand in my own mind.

 Even when I'm having a hard time defining my challenge, I feel my way through and art helps me do that. So yeah, writing, meditation, exercise. I know that sounds wild, but I. Take into these four or five mile walks every day. And yeah, there's a reason why, like why wild people, why is exercise?

Dr. Rose Aslan: Why is exercise wild? 

Amanda: Oh because I think a lot of people view it as just for the physical benefits. I don't, know that everybody understands the. spiritual aspect to it. But there are you read stories about holy people, or even great artists or thinkers and many of them, that was a habit of theirs, was to take long walks, right?

And I started doing it and you really do, it becomes meditative and it becomes rhythmic and it becomes a part of your life and we're so inundated these days with screens and information and everything that like, just bangs against our poor little prefrontal cortex. It's really great to be able to take an hour and a half away from all of it.

Just go out of doors and breathe the fresh air. And what's really cool I've discovered is I've started doing this. I do it the same route almost every day. And I see new and interesting things every time I go out. It's cr I actually thought I might start a Tumblr for it. 'cause every time I go out I like see some weird thing that I've never seen before.

Awesome. And I'm like, I should take a picture of that. Totally. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: One of my previous guests on the podcast mentioned tennis for her was one of her healing modalities like this specific sport that just was cause the movement and you have to be so present. So I'm totally with you on the idea of movement exercise. It can be a deeply spiritual and helpful act on the healing process. Yeah. 

Amanda: That's the satisfaction of whacking the ball must feel really good. Oh, you know what else I started doing is Tai Chi. You know what Tai Chi is? Yeah, of course. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it's really cool, actually. It's a martial art, but it's very slow moving.

And it's actually complementary to Kung Fu. Kung Fu is the sort of... Fighty part. And Tai Chi is really more about learning the, presence. It's really moving meditation is what it is. And that has been huge for me because one, I found community there in my little Tai Chi school that kind of has helped me as I've had to step away from religious community.

So it's filled a little bit of an emotional void there, but then it's also. Really taught me how to be present in my body. And I think, again, we live in such a world. That's just driven by us thinking all the time, we get into so much trouble by thinking so much. And to take this really cool tradition of, these movements that you learn and focus all of your attention on making those movements and.

When you're done, like every time I'm done, I feel refreshed, right? I feel oh becauseit's the same, I guess it's like taking a nap, right? Like you, which by the way, is one of my healing modalities. But if you take a nap, suddenly you wake up and something that was. the end of the world an hour ago, suddenly seems a little bit more manageable, right? Because your brain needs to reset a little bit. And that's how it is for Tai Chi too. Beautiful. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Beautiful. Yeah. Anything else, on this? 

Amanda: I do see a therapist and I also will just volunteer that I have medication. I take medication for depression and I actually I had been before as well, but as I was working through all of this, I realized that my medication had not what needed to be adjusted. I needed to do something different.

And so I don't want to discount that either because I think psychiatry and modern medicine. Is really, important and valuable and I actually feel really frustrated when I hear people, religious people dismissing these, things as you don't need those just pray because I, think they're all part of a toolbox and, we need them.

We do need them. I can tell you my life is much better when I take medication. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that is a huge part of it. And there's no shame in it. There's no reason to feel bad about it. If I had diabetes, I would be taking insulin. I have depression. So I'm going to take my medication for that. And it's really that simple.

Dr. Rose Aslan: Yeah. Thank you for sharing. I also took an anti anxiety medicine medication when I was at the height of my existential crisis and difficult time in my life and I was able to stabilize. Because of it. So I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to take it for some time. I was grateful that I was able to get off it, but for that time, I definitely was in need of it.

And I'm glad that I was able to get access to a psychiatrist and it's definitely something that people can use if a doctor deems it necessary as part and hopefully not forever. But hopefully something that can help us along the way. Yeah. So thank you for, 

Amanda: for sure. Yeah. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Q, as we wrap up would you like to share some pearls of wisdom, some life lessons with the listeners? I know that's a huge question, but just what would you tell your past self even, but what are, just what's something that you find really important that you would like to share with others? 

Amanda: Yeah. I think the thing that the biggest thing that's helped me with where I've managed to get to at this point is to trust yourself, because you're not a bad person.

You're actually a good person. I think a lot of times religion is taught. I don't think it's inherent, but I think it's taught in a way that. Undermines your confidence in what you know is right. And again, I go back to this. I, believe it. We are all connected to whatever this greater thing is around us, whatever you want to call it, God, the universe, whatever.

We're all connected to something larger than ourselves. And, we have a right to set those boundaries. And to, make decisions for ourselves and not check with somebody else, even if they're a scholar or somebody highly credentialed. If it's not working for you, if there's something wrong and it's not working, it's okay.

You're, right. There's a reason why. And you need to figure that out. And there's no shame in that. And anyone who tries to make you feel bad. For trying to get yourself to a better place, or to get yourself to a place where you feel the connection, the spiritual connection that you need, they are irrelevant.

And if they attempt to prevent you or to make you feel bad for it, they are doing spiritual harm to you. They are doing spiritual abuse to you. It's not this idea that If we're not following these rules that some guy, sets down for us, or if we're not living by the opinions of other people, then we're sinning.

It's just nonsense. I think you. Once you get to a certain point in your life, you know, who you are and don't let anybody ignore that tell you to ignore that listen to yourself, listen to and listen to yourself. not just this is what I think the best thing that I did for myself this year when I was at the very bottom was I gave myself two months.

To do nothing. Nothing. And I'm really lucky that I'm in a situation. I have a husband who is... I was employed, my kids are in college, and so I could just get up every day and sit and stare out the window and feel like garbage. And I didn't try to force it, and I didn't try to make myself be or do anything.

I just... Let it heal. My therapist made a great point. She said healing always starts from the inside out. You look at your wounds, the healing comes from the inside out. We always think about just the outside, the scar or whatever is left there, but you have to let your body You have to let your soul, you have to let who you are do this work that it intuitively knows how to do.

And you need to trust that intuition. And the best thing I was able to do was just sit there. And, there were moments when I was like, I'm broken. I will never move again. I'm just going to sit in this chair and be sad the rest of my life. And then very slowly, I started listening to little things like I should go outside and plant that.

Or I should go do this little thing and before I know it, I'm gardening and I'm writing and I had this enormous just like outpouring of creative energy and I started getting stronger and my power came back. And, but I can't say that it was something I did. it was something I allowed to happen.

And I allowed it to happen because I finally trusted myself. That I wasn't going to, lose it that I wasn't going to fall completely apart that I wasn't going to curl up and die that if I needed the space and the time to be still and to hear, what I needed to do and listen to that little voice inside of me that I would have it.

 And that's the, best advice I can give to anybody. It is gonna healing feels like hell until it doesn't. And we live in a world that is constantly telling us. That there are things to make you feel better. You don't need to feel bad, but sometimes you need to feel bad and you need to really feel bad and you need to give yourself the space.

Again, to just be a mess and then follow the intuition that tells you who you really are and what you really want and I guarantee it's not going to lead you astray. It's not going to, you're not going to turn out to be some kind of mass murderer or whatever crazy thing people think is going to happen if they I don't know. we're paranoid about it. Because I don't know, But yeah, that's it. To me that was the breakthrough for me, and it's not like I think I know everything, but I know more than anyone else on this planet. Who I am and what I need. And you do too, right? You know about yourself, and we all do, and there's so much in the world, in religion, in society, that is dedicated to undermining that trust that we have in ourselves, especially as women. And yeah, that's it for me. yeah. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Amazing. That You just gave us these beautiful pearls of wisdom that I hope people will take and let digest and simmer and brew within them and see what comes up. But most importantly, yeah, the healing path and this process sucks sometimes that could really suck sometimes, but it does get better.

And this creative outpour and beauty does come, after the storm. Thank you for that reminder and thank you so much for joining me on Rahmo with Rose Q. Such a pleasure to have you today. 

Amanda: Absolutely. Happy to be here.