Dark sexual fantasies and troubled minds

Tom steps through some of the difficult narratives behind acting out darker sexual fantasies and the contradictory nature of the mind.


Last night I was thinking about the #metoo campaign and a certain subject that came up in regard to it. One of my friends had written about porn websites and the amount of real rape and abuse on them and that we need to educate and better inform young impressionable men and boys. Someone replied about fantasised rape and BDSM and how that shouldn’t be included within this, as it is between consenting adults.

I knew this was close to my line, I could feel it. There was something I needed to say about this, but I didn’t know what. After a while I started to work it out.

Fantasising rape might be exciting for some, but it is still a form of desensitising of aggression and abuse. The human brain has an odd quirk of miss identifying the sensations of excitement and danger; therefore, it is quite commonplace to find something dangerous, exciting. There is also a fair amount of psychological research on early development and experience being a coda for what you class as ‘sexually exciting’. If your mother told you off for doing something when you were a kid, and you subsequently felt bad about it, then you might fetishisise this later in life. If all this is new to you AND you are one of the ones immersing yourself in risky sexual practices, I suggest you go and read a book.

Fetishising rape is concerning on many levels to me. In my experience, this type of behaviour is frequently associated with people who have a history of sexual abuse. Are there any stats on this? I’d imagine not. How well do you know your partner when participating in these acts? By making such fantasies a reality are you healing them or making matters worse? I wouldn’t know the answer, but I would hope that those practicing it have had this discussion.

I have spoken to people that have put themselves in rooms with men they barely knew with the specific intent to act out abuse. I have seen the emails these men send and how they talk, and what I saw was aggression, disrespect and threat aimed at women. Those men have mental problems and difficult relationship histories with women (and have a shockingly low opinion of them too). They are simply not safe to be in this situation with, but that is where they are, under the shroud of supposed ‘consensual sex’, ‘acting out’ rape with vulnerable people, who can struggle to communicate and express themselves honestly and truthfully.

Part of the problem is the switchable nature of the mind. The ability to endorse and support women who have been abused and then wander off back to your phone and share videos of naked ex-girlfriends with your friends. Are you aware of your own two-sided nature? Dark/light/dark/light/light/dark/light/dark/light…..

Someone on Twitter I know has a male friend that likes all of their posts and all their other ‘liked’ posts are porn videos and sexual content. Is that not an indication of what the male mind can be like? Yeah, it could be harmless stuff they do in their spare time, but it is still a window into their mind, and sex seems to be high on the mental agenda, the sexual being hidden beneath the friendly face, and yes I am more cynical about this than, maybe some others would be.

Not long ago I was chatting with a guy who was having a bad day at work and was feeling angry and started talking about his overriding urge to ‘fuck someone’. He was spending a lot of his days with women and vulnerable people. I guess there is no problem with that urge, in itself, but the harm you may be causing by acting on that urge needs to be mitigated. I wonder if this guy’s mind in ‘angry-sex-urge’ mode was able to consider that respect requirement? He casually talked to me about it in a ‘you know what I mean, right?’ kind of way. Honestly, my reaction, was ‘no… I don’t really get what you mean’. He could, of course, just go off and have a wank somewhere and calm down his sexual urges. I don’t talk to him anymore.

Someone’s drive for sexual gratification can lead them to do strange things, to manipulate, to control. This can also include denial of sexual contact. The stories I have been told are shocking, but all have a scent of the very primal urges that procreation manifests, after all, we still jump if we hear a loud noise, as our senses are still prepared to defend us from other tribes and animals, even after all these thousands of years. Just because Neolithic man was more likely to rape women, or use his physical strength to control a physical encounter doesn’t mean 21st century-man should act on it.

If it is a subconscious sexual urge, then you may be totally negligent to its overriding drive in your life, but seriously… learn to know your own mind! What does it do? How does it react? Think about yourself, educate your head!

If you are man reading this, ask yourself: Do you find rape sexually exciting? Don’t get all bitter and twisted at yourself, just note that answer. Finding it exciting isn’t an an issue in itself, but how far you are willing to go to gratify your sexual urges most certainly IS!

So how far are you willing to go to get this sensation and how strongly does it control your day to day life? For the people who’s emails I saw, well… it looked like most of their days were occupied by such urges. If that is you… I think you need to go and get some help, as putting vulnerable women at risk, no matter how you choose to justify it, will never be okay. Never!

‘I CAN control how I feel, in the mind is all it is. It’s all this is’

 

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Reinventing Failure – National Poetry Day

No Side Effects approve of #NationalPoetryDay. As a special treat, we thought we’d depress you with some of our prose of existential dread. 


We have retracted

All our names from the sun

This is enacted

This wave that never turns

 

All these voices sing and bicker

Reaching out for a slither of gold

But these machines and machinations

Will bring ruin to us all

 

Flick the switch that makes it fall apart so efficiently

Lay foundations that allow us to build something that can truly fall

And all we have are pedigrees and interventions to bury us all

 

We are reinventing failure

 

Our long protracted

Sentiments of how we feel

Our world is divided

Don’t apologies for the things you’ve done

 

All these engines roar and splutter

A space apart from our worlds apart

We’re certain we can die

So much faster

 

Smash the bricks so they can crumble much quicker

Recycle our memories and repackage them for another day

When all we have are trembling hands and prophecy

 

We have reinvented failure

 

Clear this, clear this faster

Find this, find this quicker

Kill this, kill this cleaner

Take this, take this leaner

Build this, build this bigger

Run this, run this water

Make this, make this torture

Hate this, hate this weather

Share this, share this failure

 

We revise and analyse

What’s in our skies

With time and lies we pacify

Our resemblance to humans

 

We rewind and wonder why

Our minds are inclined to satisfy

 

Our imminent failure.

 

Revisiting loneliness and isolation

Tom revisits some of his thoughts on loneliness, overpowering subconscious thoughts and relationships


Ade suggested recently that I ‘revisit’ some of my writing on loneliness and isolation from back in 2015. Most of it was written at a time when the divorce process was just beginning, and I was left to react to a world and life situation that was incredibly different to what I had been used to for most of my adult life.

One change that I am aware of is my own enthusiasm for sharing my thoughts on these subjects online. I would like to think that it is because I have become so comfortable with such subjects that I no longer feel the urge to write about them, but the reality is probably more to with confidence. There is so much written on the internet, by so many people; what gives me the right to contribute and what would I be saying that adds value to this whirly web of thoughts and opinions? These thoughts might reflect a lack of confidence in my writing muscle, or maybe I have had many of these discussions in the offline world and don’t feel such a need to do it anymore? Even so, here I am, trying again.

Thoughts of loneliness and feelings of anxiety certainly crop up more than they used to, but my perception of their arrival is much stronger. In recent months I found it difficult to achieve a meditative state while so many things were going on in my personal and work lives and I am aware now, while returning to the meditative practice, how much of a toll that has taken on my mind.

I have spent some time dissecting the thoughts of loneliness. I have sat and looked at them. I visualise them to my left and the more rationale part of myself to the right (for some reason). They encapsulate a constant bickering of conflicting points of view and self-deprecation. As I have looked at these thoughts I see more clearly that they have very little to do with loneliness itself. They are a mix of other thoughts: the fear of letting go; longing for meaningful and reciprocal connections; doubting the people you trust; replaying events with different, fantasised motivations; fear of rejection. It interests me that none of these things are specifically or exclusively connected to being alone or to loneliness, but they do empower the negative feelings of isolation. If you spend too much time listening to such voices then you just become trapped within yourself.

Many people are quick to defer much of this negative thought stream to the hunt for a ‘significant other’ who, they fantasise will chase all these unwanted sensations away. This seems to be entirely unfair on the other person. We are talking about the acquisition of happiness, which is something that can’t realistically be attributed to a single person.

*In reference to what I mentioned earlier, that voice has just appeared; the voice that says ‘why are you writing this? Everyone knows all of this already. You don’t have the answers’. Thank you for the reminder, brain!

So where am I with loneliness right now? I am aware of it. I see it. I know that I am actually quite happy on my own and always have been; it is the battle against the stream of negative thoughts that is the main thing I struggle with. This negative stream of subconscious can be combatted or, at least, postponed by being sociable. I have been quite sociable in various forms in the past couple of years, but I am also aware of a need for my own space and time away to process things and empty my mind, so I am trying to find a middle ground with this.

I think relationships hold great value, but probably more for their ability to help two people cope with the ever-increasing demands of life, rather than a means for combatting loneliness. If both people (or more, if that is your bag) are invested in it then it can be a wonderful thing. It is great to have people you can turn to for support, but I am aware of the ever changing nature of things. The fight to keep things as they are is fruitless if life is inevitably about change. Change is not always something welcomed, but it pays to be prepared for it.

The world around us in 2017 is one of perpetual changes in political landscapes and crises which contribute to anxiety and division, but it is important to tune out from time to time to allow essential perspective to flourish. Knowing there is ground beneath your feet is an important realisation.

 

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Will these memory flashes fade? Coping with the coping mechanism

Coping Mechanisms

Following Ade’s recent blog on loss, Tom considers how we walk through the maze of healing and tries to understand how the brain reacts to loss.


Ade’s recent blog about death and how we cope with such things has made me think about the ghosts and shadows that haunt my life. It has been almost 12 months since I separated from my wife and the pain of that event is still present. Ade wrote that ‘much in life becomes trivial and is rendered superfluous in the wake of a loved one’s permanent absence’. I have said many times that it would have been easier to cope with my wife’s death, rather than the circumstances under which we parted ways. In that scenario there would have been an end to our story, but there wasn’t one, there was just a sudden transition to a different form of life.

I am still haunted by her. Not long ago I left an important work meeting and drove away in my car, really pleased with the day’s achievements. I turned my gaze to the passenger seat, where she often sat, and I was ready to tell her what I had done today, but the seat was empty. I had to go and sit on my own for a while after that and process this lingering memory of familiarity. That was a very direct version of such hauntings, there are others that are subtle, but more frequent. Certain colours that held some association with her were difficult for me to cope with, but this issue is starting to leave me. TV programmes, films, sayings… anything that allows access to some of these abandoned memories of our relationship often bring a sudden rush of images and sounds and emotions that I can no longer abide. As time has passed, I have started to accept these experiences as part of a healing process and have felt more comfortable in the knowledge that these things will dissipate with time. I have tried hard not to run away from such experiences and tried to face them and accept that I will, of course, meet people that like similar things or wear similar clothes. I think I have put some barriers in place that I consider to be ‘too similar’, but I assume I will know them when they occur. I think people who haven’t experienced such loss find it difficult to understand the mental effort required to push past such issues and avoid shifting into a very negative and defensive mental space.

It’s funny how you can make yourself believe that you have overcome something like loss or trauma and then you find yourself moving into a new stage of the healing process and struggling to overcome an aspect that was previously beyond your understanding. This recently happened when I started to re-engage in relationships with others. My friends had told me that I would have difficulty trusting people again, which I knew would be the case, and I thought I had coped well with this, but it was only when I entered into a new relationship that I could actually see the amount of damage I needed to fix in my own internal wiring. It takes all I have to convince myself that other people will not treat me the same way as I have been treated before. What helps with this process is knowing I don’t actually need anyone else in my life, that I can survive quite comfortably on my own and I can maintain my own self-sufficiency, and that the people in my life are there because I want them to be.

I don’t want the events of the past year to define my life, so I am annoyed when unwanted thoughts careen back into my consciousness, but those friends that are close to me, tell me that it is still early days for me and that I should talk about these things when I want to and allow myself to feel the emotions that come forth.

Ade also wrote ‘in a world of opposites the more you experience one side, the greater the secrets of its opposite are revealed’, this is so true to my recent experiences. The feelings of freedom and peace that I have felt around the darkness and trauma have been so uplifting that I wouldn’t change a thing. I have met so many new friends and experienced so much, that I can’t conclude that all of this has only brought me pain and suffering. Anyone that has been through a similar set of events knows how far reaching the fallout is. It effects everything in your life, but it also cleanses at the same time. I have enjoyed losing the set predictable patterns of my old life and following this bumpy completely unpredictable one. I can see things differently, hear things differently. The world just isn’t the same.

You do have to be cautious of the type of people you communicate regularly with, as some types of discussion can be hard to cope with if there is a lot of difficult things going on in your life. Some people’s attempts to empathise can be damaging, as some people can’t help but reinterpret your issues via their own insecurities. I have been the recipient of some astronomically damaging advice and support over recent months. I include some of my favourites below with a few of my internal reactions:

It must be so difficult for you, you must see no future’ – all air in my lungs suddenly departs, and all I can say to myself is ‘wow, just wow, I totally don’t agree’

I feel so sorry for you, you have had such a terrible year’ – I don’t think it has been a terrible year actually, but I get what you mean.

The loneliness hasn’t kicked in yet, you’ll feel it in another couple of years’ – How patronising, thanks for the support, this assumes that I require some kind of permanent ‘other’ in my life, maybe you should read my blog about solitude.

I would have killed myself if I was in your situation’ – ummm… that is a bit weird to say and isn’t that helpful, because I immediately have to consider that specific train of thought. I’ll internally reform this into a sentence that says ‘wow, you are doing really well’.

You have plenty more years to start a family’ – another patronising comment and making further assumptions of what I want my life to be in the future. Thank you.

The best support has come from people that accept that I will have difficulty coping at times and that I should take every day as it comes, and have emphasised that I am doing well. Positive support, patience and positive distraction is just fine to help me along the way. Someone recently showed me a David Attenborough documentary about bioluminescence when I was feeling particularly low, which allowed me to refocus my mind onto other things. These experiences are so important.

‘Time will save you, you don’t need to save yourself’

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Consolation, Memories and Lessons of Death

In this blog, Adrian recounts the loss of a close pet and the thoughts that help with consolation. This inevitably leads onto the memories of others and what can be learnt from the ultimate finality without the comfort of a religion.


SUNP0003

As I sprinkle a last handful of soil into Dumplings final resting place, the wind whips. A giant Holm oak in its winter greenery grows next to our garden. It’s girth is wide and itssprawling muscular limbs are dark-set against the bright, overcast sky. The wind pulses violently again. The air is cool.

As I look upon Dumpling for the very last time I feel tired. I imagine Dumplings molecules dispersing back to the earth. The multitude of compounds and atoms that were gathered up at Dumplings creation, held together to give him life for a short time, are now free of the energy that bound them. Those same elements that were born within stars billions of years ago, today return to the vast and timeless earth on which I stand. Dumpling, and indeed all of us, are testament to a mind boggling collection of inherited miracles that started at the birth of the universe.

In years to come, some of those elements will eventually soar up into the sky continuing the epic story of our physical bodies as our energy moves on. The molecules of Dumpling will surround me for the rest of my life and when my life ends, I, as my constituent physical properties, will join those same molecules and altered energies soaring the landscape.

There is some solace to be gleaned from the absence of consciousness and the discontinuation of being. Dumplings current experience, of which there is nothing, is devoid of all life’s joys but also pain, suffering and hunger. The ultimate indifference. The suffering is currently only felt by those of us stood around the lip of his tiny grave. Dumpling will now be ‘experiencing’ exactly the same thoughts as before he was born. A total and absolute absence of consciousness.

The physical effects of loss are common to all who experience it. A tight stomach, a numb throat and burning eyes. I try, painful as it is, to etch these feelings and the discomfort of this moment onto my life with Dumpling in the hope of making the memories stronger and more permanent. Dumplings life is held within the memories of those of us still alive. This is all that remains.

In the rawness of separation, a smile. A small furry Lagomorph shared a house with three apes in a weird interspecies relationship. A bizarre situation really, but the soreness of the final departure is equitable to any I’ve experienced before. As far as our understanding of rabbits extend, we consul ourselves with the hope that we have made Dumplings life comfortable and maybe even happy, whatever concept that forms within the mind of a rabbit. As a product of modernity and separate from the ethics of a society that breeds pets for our own amusement and comfort, we did our best by him. He was plucked from a rescue centre, paired with another, and we were witness to signs of affection and contentment in Dumplings behaviour that we now hold onto.

Over the next few days, it’s the little reminders that stretch a smile of reflection. The habits that once saturated the mundane and the everyday. The expectation of Dumpling greeting me at the front door, the stretching out relaxed as I stroke him by my side, the half used bag of favoured kale in the fridge, the eagerness of Dumpy’s attention as he’d stand on my slippers as I tried to walk past. These are little shadows of moments that my thoughts still fall upon. An expectation for a continuation of Dumpy’s life before the regular, intermittent dawning that these times have passed.

The Reflection on other Losses

The loss of Dumpling is not just about Dumpling. His passing stirs up the memories of an  amalgamated line of losses that pepper my life. The times I’ve walked through the sunshine, wind or rain to watch a coffin disappear behind a curtain, marking the sombre melancholy of a passing. We all have these moments.

Death is our only certainty. It will happen. Sometimes it appears sooner than we would like. To avoid thinking and talking about death is to deny ‘knowing’ this single piece of clarity. The encroachment of age also forces me to consider my own mortality and the questions of how to deal with death, both of others and my own. The calm reflection during and after grief is a ‘good’ time for this. To dwell on the joy and enrichment other people and animals have brought into my life and absorb any lessons to which I may be instructed.

It is worth having some further clarity here. It is a fine line between calm reflection on the close people that have departed your life and the permanent lamenting of the past in an overly sentimental shroud and self diminishing flagellation. There are the memories of the direct experiences which have now ended, but their absence should only serve to illuminate the space that is left. That space of our own lives.

Death as a Reminder of the Urgency and Limits of Life

Why should I think any more of the inevitable, final, painful death? It is because it is the opposite of life? In a world of opposites the more you experience one side, the greater the secrets of its opposite are revealed. The more discorded a chord, the sweeter the harmonies. The deeper the depression, the more exciting the joy. The colder the winter, the more elating the arrival of spring. Pain and joy. Dark and Light.

In the melancholy and quiet after Dumplings death and of those before him, there seems to appear a clarity that sets life on a pedestal. A further insight into an understanding that is usually buried by the distractions of every day. Just how fragile and fleeting life is when viewed from enough distance. Just how beautiful. How urgent.

Much in life becomes trivial and is rendered superfluous in the wake of a loved ones permanent absence. Often I dwell too long and apply too much concern and attention on activities and thoughts that I feel drawn to against my will. To be vigilant against these unnecessary distractions in the hope that the magical moments of life will not pass me by unnoticed when they occur.

There are occasional times when fear of loss of the close people still alive in my life threatens to overwhelm me. To torture oneself with the imagined loss of another close friend or family member. To think that the last glimpse of your loved one could be the last. This is the flip side of an acceptance of the uncertainty and unpredictability of death. We would like to see order, to see a carefully fulfilled narrative from birth to death, hopefully a reasonably long narrative. As the saying goes ‘Life’s what happens to you when you’re making other plans’. Except the uncertainty. If someone dies it is painful, but we have time to heal. There will be new experiences and the slow, inevitable drip of time will eventually sooth, hard as that appears at the moment.

I am also aware of my own insular, more fortunate world as separate from the incredible suffering and unfairness that curses so many around the globe. The reflection in grief shines a little light on my position as a Human Being and brings certain things into focus. The oppression of people under theocracies and tainted governments, the gulf between the rich and poor and even the distractions and illusions of celebrity importance when brilliant minds go unnoticed. The suffering and unfairness is packaged as entertainment in 15 minute news articles. So many of us are touched by a dying pet or close family member but seemingly so dispassionate to other human beings, so dismissive of their desperation, unable to transpose the emotions conjured at personal loss and extend them to a fellow human. The gulf between the connection we have with a family member or pet and the plight of human beings we see every day is so vast.

Finally, and it is difficult to avoid cliches at this point, but existence is truly in the moment. A tiny moment perched on the top of an finite wave that quickly gathers up the future and sweeps away the past. This very moment has already passed. If you can at least momentarily glimpse that moment, sandwiched amongst the myriad and busyness of thought and rumination, maybe through meditation, you can see time’s persistent march through your life. We can choose to engage those moments in whatever way we wish.

I have promised to myself that I will take good photographs of the day to day. I realised when looking for the photographs for this blog that my memory is not as sharp. I strain as I reach for those distant links to smiles, touch and smells. As time moves on, memories fade. Those photos, if only snippets, can help focus and recall the smiles, laughs and pains I had with each of them and if possible, share them with others who knew them.

Dumpling has gone. The memories of him and the others I have loved, still love, are reinforced within me during another important period of reflection. A new shift in outlook feels right, better, clearer. I am left with my life spread out ahead of me, however long that is.


Notes and Further Reading

Rizvi. Ali. A. 2013: ‘Grief Without Belief: How Do Atheists Deal With Death?’ A Blog from Huffington Post. 22/10/2013.

School of Life 2016: ‘How to Use The Thought of Death’ from School of Life You Tube Channel. 5/11/14.

The British Humanist Society (BHS) 2016: ‘Humanist Ceremonies: Funerals

Hitchens. C. 2012: ‘Mortality’ Published by Atlantic Books. 25/08/2012

Christina. G. 2011: ‘Grief Beyond Belief: How Atheists are Dealing with Death’ Blog article on www.freethoughtblogs.com. 15/08.2011

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How lonely is your solitude?

IMG_0026NSEPSCTom discusses his recent thoughts on what it is like to be alone


Let’s talk about loneliness and being alone. Seriously, let’s do it now, before anyone notices. Of course if you are actually alone then maybe no one will notice anyway. I’m alone. I’m alone right now. Well, not exactly: I’m on a train. I don’t know anyone on the train so I suppose that counts.

I’m starting to spend a lot of time on my own. It isn’t that bad really, but it does take some getting use to. When I was in a relationship I use to spend a lot of time on my own too. Usually when I was doing fieldwork. That was difficult to cope with at first. I was a very homely person. All the things I use to love doing were things that I could do at home (building things, making music etc.) but I had to adapt, so I did. I started writing again, building imaginary worlds while away from home helped me concentrate and stopped me missing home. I also managed to find a method of recording music while away (one of our B-Sides was recorded in a little house in North Norfolk). Before long I was starting to enjoy these experiences away from home. I enjoyed seeing new places, meeting people, learning new things and challenging myself to get out and about. This was always easy in the framework that, at some point soon, I would be home with my partner, comfortable in my known surroundings and with someone I trust. Things change.

What do you do when a relationship ends? How do you cope? I’m learning that right now.

There is a song on Daughter’s new album that describes the feelings of loneliness in a very visceral manner. I like this song, but it isn’t the way I feel about being alone. I am starting to feel quite comfortable about it.

 

It isn’t that different to how I deal with being away for my survey work. It involves all the same things. You have to learn to cope first. Becoming use to a new routine can be really difficult, your domestic duties double, minimum (unless you were the one doing all domestic duties anyway), your financial outgoing increase and beyond all that there is this absence, a pain, but what is this absence? If you look close enough what does it actually look like and what do you want to do with that absence? This has been something on my mind for a few months now.

What I am starting to see and learn is that people can be incredibly lonely and isolated within relationships. Some relationships can be overpowering and oppressive, but they can still be comfortable. I wonder how many relationships are clung onto due to a fear of change? I’m not sure those situations are built on respect or love, or if they were it might have dissipated with time. There are so many people that look lost or drained within their coupling. I’m not sure I want that in my life. Life is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Maybe being alone isn’t that bad, after all.

So if I start to consider that loneliness is not systemic to an absence of a relationship, then maybe it is related to a lack of communication with other people in general? I talk to a few people, not loads, but those friends I have, I am close to. In fact, these days I’ll talk to pretty much anyone (to start with). It’s usually uncertainty or fear of new things that slows my progress, but it is easier just to throw caution to the wind and just get on with trying things out.

I’m actually starting to find a lot of comfort in solitude. I suppose that can be classed as ‘comfortable alone time’. I can define the parameters of my existence, I can go where I want to go, do things when I want to do them, and there is little need to compromise.

I have my weaker moments, but I try and deal with them as best I can, but they are rarely any different to anything I have felt before when in a relationship, so what is the problem with being alone? There is a social stigma to it, which is discussed in this interesting blog on Brain Pickings. I’ve experienced a few of the things mentioned in this blog before and just one such experience can be damaging to progress, but you just have to chalk it up to ‘experience’.

 

And home, what is home anyway? Is it where you feel safe? So many people cling to this idea. Four walls of safety. A lock on the door. I’m starting to consider home as a broader concept. It’s not just the place I live in Swindon, it’s starting to become many places. Home is anywhere I feel comfortable. The more places I visit and the more things I do, then the more comfortable I become.

I do hope I meet someone I’d like to spend time with again (maybe it will be soon or maybe it won’t), but until then I might as well work out who is under this Midlander’s skin and go places and meet people and do things. Why the hell not? A friend told me recently that we are always alone and yet we are always not alone. I suppose I need to learn to find peace within both scenarios.

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A Journey Of Disconnection

A Journey of Disconnection

Religion affects and permeates every element of society. In this blog, Adrian tries to explain how he disconnected from his religious beliefs and poses the question of what is left when it has gone.


I guess there are many people who have some concept of a Supreme Being, overseer, creator or ‘other-worldly’ force that shapes our lives, whether people are affiliated to one of the many organised religions or simply see themselves as religious without going to a church or other house or place of worship. I somewhat unwittingly subscribed to a very loose set of religious beliefs. A set of beliefs that permeated into my subconscious as I grew, the local culture providing the social framework that I operated within, dictating my social limits and setting forth a mind set that shaped my world view. I just happen to have been born into a Christian culture.

This ‘religious’ world view will often be called upon in assessing a course of action in a social situation or a moral decision, whether that’s in the course of raising a child, interactions with friends, deciding on helping or leaving a person to suffer, to judge right from wrong, provide concepts of good and evil as well as an array of challenges that everyone has to navigate throughout their lives. That is not to say that religion provided all the answers to situations. Basic humanity and humanist qualities are always a major factor, but the religious filter in which all things were considered was a major one. The level at which we draw on a religion or religious belief to assist us along a path varies greatly of course, from the subtle, gentle rumblings of ‘there is something more’ to the more extremist view, each scale of doctrinal faith providing another filter in which to assess and make decisions.

As I mentioned, I considered myself to be around the ‘very loose’ or possibly ‘moderate’ end of the religious spectrum. I attended Sunday school and the usual Christian ceremonies including baptism and marriage and swore an oath to God and the Queen in the Boy Scouts and attended various parades. The church was the epicentre of the community, respectable people attended and circled around the church and its activities. The mild religious world view manifests itself as a set of responses to certain situations based on those childhood and early adulthood experiences. It is a deep, subconscious filter creating habitual thought processes. If there is a death in the family then you would console yourself with the thought that it is part of a larger plan by an all knowing being or that you will be reunited after your own death or be consoled that they are still by your side as a presence, helping you the rest of the way. There are other moments I would pray for a loved one if they were ill, to do well in an exam, to show appreciation for something good that has happened or to help draw me out of a long patch of depression. This religious reasoning served me well enough and most things in my life could be attributed to a greater force. When my closest friend died at 15 years old in a car accident I consoled myself with the thought that it was his time and I would meet him again one day.

There then came a time when understanding and reasoning without religion were sought to provide comfort, albeit unconsciously in the beginning. A moment, or series of moments, when religion was just not enough or did not provide any comfort. This is an incredibly powerful switch where reason is called upon to help me through a difficult time rather than the default religious comfort of my youth. I began to address difficulties through understanding, applying the mind using parameters that embrace reason, and it worked. The joy is incredibly intense as there was a shift in my outlook on life from one of a passenger to an active participant leading in the healing and shaping of my own mind. A click of resonance that can physically reverberate through your body and a technique that can be applied to all life’s experience. A seed of reasoning that demands facts and understanding to grow and is critical of everything in the search of truth that is often very elusive, from the spoon fed news to the intricate workings of our own mind, from the seemingly unfair nature of the monetary system in which we live to the slow depletion of the planet as we extract resources. The shift in my psychological outlook from one of religious passenger to fact focussed driver was at first a subtle shift but one that eventually grows and finally turns its attention to the religion embedded within me from those early days of my Christian culture.

The reason inspired de-construction of a closely held personal belief is hard and the dissection of one that includes religion can be incredibly painful, even for the mild-mannered moderate like myself. It takes courage to pick apart your own beliefs, even if it means you will be in pain during and after doing it, especially in the moments where your religious beliefs act as a crutch through difficult times. To think that the person close to you will not be going to heaven and you will not see them again. This newly discovered ultimate finality of death is difficult to swallow and forms just one of the ideals propped up by faith. The attention falling on my own beliefs was an inevitable consequence of a broader dissatisfaction with my understanding of my own mind and the world in which I live and a desire to see things more clearly. The start of the replacement of those religious comforts with something purer and simpler had started.

In the midst of the dissection of my beliefs I also realised that religion was not applied to every minute of every day so there were already large gaps where I would not consciously dip into its assistance, realising more and more that it is possible to live large parts of my daily life already without turning to religion. There were already large gaps in the day where I may operate away from the conscious thoughts of a God, only applying religious meanings in the quieter, lonelier moments to help console and sooth. There may be moments when I was spending time dealing with the bills, thinking my way through a bad day at work with a colleague, chatting to a therapist or laughing at a comedy show on BBC radio 4. It is only occasional moments that I would apply the religious significance to things, although quite often I would realise that I’ve solved and worked my way through some problems using reason and understanding alone. I realised again that I have a new set of skills and the dawning that I can use these same learnt skills in the future.

The religious ideals and understandings from my early years ultimately required believing in something that cannot be proven by facts and science and becoming comfortable with this in the face of a new reasoning outlook. The more you rely on empirical evidence, the more it becomes difficult to reconcile your religious differences. The workings of your own mind are difficult enough to comprehend and figure out; the emotions, anxieties, loves and passions without a mix of unnecessary cloudiness and a belief system that was becoming less useful in actually helping.

So ultimately, painful as it was, I slowly shed my religious beliefs and replaced them with a fresh new view of the world, one of intricate beauty, awe, amazement and of just one life that teeters on the edge of chance and impending death. The reason it was so painful was because this mythical, Godly companion had been there my whole life in times of need, but now leaving me truly alone, scared and isolated. But, this was gradually replaced by a feeling of urgency. An urgency that I am alone, life is fragile and every minute is a moment to be enjoyed and appreciated, every conversation with a friend to be relished and every person I hug to be done as my last. The view that I will not meet my loved ones again is a painful thought and to not turn to this for comfort in times of need is very hard, but think about it; the moment you are with them now could be the last, the moments you spend with friends on this earth are the only times you will see them before you’re the wrong side of the grass. If you hold onto that urgency then it places so much emphasis on the moment and dispenses with the illusion of immortality. Religion is often proposed as an antidote for the human condition of loneliness but I can no longer suspend reason to attain it. My disconnection from God was a hard but an incredibly valuable realisation for me and one I needed.

This inevitably leads onto the question of the space that is left when religion is removed and what we do to fill it. How can the wonders of life be reconciled with science and reason when they seem so woefully inadequate to encapsulate the whole human experience? What can reason say of love, awe, wonder, deep felt connections with people and family and of course, the unexplained. This is where we can develop our own view of the world and, importantly, being comfortable with just not knowing. There is no shame in the not knowing and it does not need a ‘God’ to explain things that there is currently no evidence for. As a starting point for life beyond science and reason, its worth accepting that some of the things science unveils is intensely inspiring and our recent history has been peppered with an incredible new understanding of the world never before experienced by humans. This contains a great amount of groundwork for rebuilding a personal ‘spirituality’ without religion. The next step is really up to us.

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