Making a conscious choice

Toronto’s Centre for Conscious Living attracts many who call themselves `spiritual but not religious’ Minister says.

It’s 11 on a Sunday morning and time for a little boogie-woogie.

The pianist, who works both ends of the clock performing live jazz, smiles as people begin to hoot and shout and the mood in the Toronto Truck Theatre becomes downright funky.

“You were born perfect, whole, and complete,” Reverend Barbara Schreiner-Trudel tells the congregation.

“If you are hiding your greatness, you are not living God’s purpose.”

Cafeteria Religion

Also known as “Salad-bar Religion.” Denotes the trend where people pick and choose religious beliefs, doctrines and practices – mixing and matching them much as they would select food in a cafeteria.

A number of publishers refer to the phenomenon as “private spirituality.” It is also described as “spirituality without religion.”

Welcome to the Centre for Conscious Living, Toronto’s “un-church.”

The centre is a trans-denominational, inclusive spiritual community that meets Sunday mornings at any space they can scare up now that their Bloor Street Cinema home has closed for roof repairs. (“We’re going to have the smartest congregation ever,” says Schreiner-Trudel. “They can’t just show up to the service. They have to find it first.”)

The focus is on empowering individuals to create the life of their dreams.

“God, the Universe, Spirit … you can use whatever name you’re comfortable with, but we believe it is a power that is where we are, in us and around us,” Schreiner-Trudeltells her congregation. “It’s the power you use as you live your life and express your life. The moment you begin to recognize the power is within you — that it’s not somewhere outside — your life will begin to shift. If you change your thinking, you can change your life.”

Torontonians have eagerly supported the centre’s teachings, prompting Schreiner-Trudel to add a Sunday evening service in a United church at Sherbourne and Carlton Sts.

The message is pure New Thought, and fits right in with that of many of today’s prominent spiritual writers and speakers.

Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and others talk about a force in the universe that we use as individuals to create our lives, and about the power of the subconscious mind to create our reality. Together, these thinkers support a grassroots backlash against traditional, formalized religion.

New Thought concepts have made a powerful sweep around the planet, and in the last 10 years have become positively trendy. Everyone’s talking about it: Oprah, Madonna, Keanu Reeves, Nelson Mandela.

The Centre for Conscious Living is an idea whose time has come. In Toronto, so many people consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious” that the phrase became a cliché here before Alberta even knew it existed.

Eighty per cent of Canadians say they believe in God, yet only 20 per cent attend weekly religious services, according to the 2001 Statistics Canada survey. Canadians who reported themselves as belonging to no religion — and who are a mixed bag of agnostics, atheists, new thought spiritualists and those with simply “no religion” — made up less than 1 per cent of the Canadian population 30 years ago. Today, they represent the second-largest “religious” group in the country.

People are searching for the truth, and many are finding it in non-traditional places. Although Canadians report themselves to be just as spiritual as ever, Torontonians are increasingly more likely to find their answers in a Learning Annex workshop or Deepak Chopra tape than in a pew at their local church or synagogue.

The new bookstore spiritualists are some of the millions of people worldwide who, in one generation, have changed the face of spirituality from a matter that was primarily prescribed by traditional places of worship to one that is increasingly shopped for and selected by individuals on an à la carte basis.

In a recent interview, James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, explains the backlash against traditional religions. “Many religions traditionally claim their founder’s experience of the word of God is the one true experience, and everyone else’s experience of the word of God is at best a mistake and at worst a blasphemy.

“The new spirituality will step … into an inclusive kind of understanding that allows us to honour and to celebrate each other’s points of view without finding them mutually exclusive.”

The centre’s Schreiner-Trudel, a member of Toronto’s Horizon Interfaith Council which works to promote harmony and understanding among Toronto’s cultural and faith groups, finds value in any spiritual path. “We are an inclusive community that really believes there are many paths to God and this is one. Whichever path you choose is correct. There is no one way to find God.”

Many of the new bookstore spiritualists, as well as a significant number of dropouts from other religions, have been drawn to The Centre for Conscious Living.

“People come here from all walks of life,” says one member. “Many come who have never considered going to a church before because they don’t really consider themselves to be Christian or religious at all.

“Others come here from regular places of worship because this just fits more with their beliefs. I think there are some people who alternate coming here with their regular synagogue.”

Says Schreiner-Trudel: “We just believe there is one God, and God is love, and that power is available to all people. Knowing that helps us to recognize the validity and value of all faiths.”

Visit the Centre for Conscious Living’s Web site at http://www.cfcl.ca or call (416) 778-5433.

Sharmaine Ryan is a Toronto actor, singer, and journalist. She recently became the music director for the Centre for Conscious Living.

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