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How Living With an Open Heart Can Redefine Your Understanding of God

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About a month ago, I had one of the most incredible and most challenging days of my life. For our seventeenth month anniversary, my boyfriend and I took a trip to Point Mugu State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. We started off our adventure struggling to eat a tofu salad dish and with the ambitious goal of hiking about 13 miles. By nightfall, we had rerouted completely and to our humbling delight, found God.

I know this is a bold statement, to some even incredulous. Maybe you don't believe God exists or you've lost your faith. Perhaps you think science disproves the existence of God or you have an image of God that doesn't make sense to you. Maybe you've never experienced God.

If you fall into any of these categories, I hope my trip will inspire you to rethink your understanding of God. Consider the idea that what gets in the way of your relationship with God is your understanding of God. I was raised Catholic and part of an evangelical Christian group for about a year in college - now, I identify as spiritual. I study different religions and from each one I take the religious beliefs and practices that make the most sense to me. I approach my spirituality with an open mind and although sometimes it makes it hard to know exactly what I believe in, I have found that spirituality is not as much about belief as it is about openness to the beauty of life. Taking my own spiritual path has deeply enriched both my understanding of God and my appreciation of being alive.

Here's what I learned during my trip in nature:

1. God is Awe. During my hike, I had many moments when I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the surrounding landscape: the dark and light blue hues of the ocean dancing together and encircling me with their shimmering waves; a lone green bird chirping, humming, and singing with longing for love; the soothing caress of warm dirt between my fingers as I scribbled infinity into the ground; the heart made of rocks on the ground, a loving gesture from one traveler to humanity; the vibrant green plants fighting for life amidst the brown landscape; the glowing stars connected to each other high in the night sky; the faint white glow lining the horizon; and the twinkle in my boyfriend's eyes as he held my hand.

2. Awe exists in the people around you and one of the most humbling ways to experience Awe is through love. True love is overwhelming and consuming. It is as beautiful as it is scary, and when you feel this love open your heart to embrace it.

3. Anytime I felt overwhelmed with the beauty of being alive, it left me speechless. What could I possibly say to capture that I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, that I felt lost and little in the grand scheme of the universe? My new prayer to Awe is, "I love you. Thank you. For everything."

4. My purpose is to show Awe to people. There is nothing more fulfilling than sharing with others the infinite beauty and wonder of life.

5. Awe is most easily experienced with youthful openness and curiosity. My boyfriend and I made music snapping a rubber band on a raspberry container and tapping our fingers on a wooden bench. We meditated and hummed "ohm" together. We ran carefree down dirt slopes and observed nature for hours. While in nature we felt liberated.

6. To achieve peace, you must be content with being exactly where you are. Our dreams are like mountains in the distance. They're goals in our line of vision that we strive to reach. However, looking to dreams outside of yourself leaves you worried about where you are and where you're going. Awe wants us to have goals and dreams, but invites us to find peace by remembering to appreciate the present moment.

7. Sometimes you will fear Awe because Awe will show you parts of yourself you don't want to face. You'll be terrified because you can't run away from yourself. Awe invites you to seek self-awareness despite fear.

8. Despite the struggle and confusion of everyday life, at the end of the day all that matters is that Awe is holding you in Awe's hands. Awe brings you comfort and peace.

9. Everyone will experience Awe in their own unique way, but ultimately, Awe is simply life.

For me, God is the awe I feel when I am overwhelmed with love and beauty. God is the awe I feel when I embrace my inner child and remain open to the world around me. God is the awe I feel when I am forced to question the essence of my very existence, terrifying and beautiful at the same time.

So whether you believe in God or not, I encourage you to spend some time in nature. Go on a trip with a loved one. Go bird watching. Play in the dirt. Make music with rubber bands. Count stars in the night sky. Simply revel in the beauty of life for a little while and you'll find love, peace and joy. Call it God, call it Awe, call it whatever you want. Your experience of life's beauty will be unique to you, but remain open to the beauty and it can change your life.

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