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.

NSE Adrian Icon

Advertisements

The Fight Against The Racing Mind

Brain(LR)Tom replies to Adrian’s recent blog about the overactive mind and discusses the difficulties of keeping an overactive mind under control.


Adrian’s recent blog about battling the negative mind has made me think about my own conscious and subconscious thoughts. I have never considered categorising these thoughts in this way.

My mind races and it always has. I fear the speed at which thoughts can run through my mind and the level of detail that I can pick out of any given scenario. This partly links to my imagination which is able to create a new world one minute or go through an alternate discussion with a work colleague the next. It means that ideas and opinions come quite fluidly, but these thoughts come at a cost. That cost, like Adrian’s, is normally sleep and peace of mind.

I often worry that my mind will race ahead of me at a pace that I just can’t keep up with and I will be lost forever. Having hobbies helps significantly with this, turning a burning mind to the attention of building a model, writing a novel or recording music pushes all other distractions aside and allows me to find focus.

I limit my exposure to media messages and news articles and try hard to maintain a choice in what I read, watch and listen to, so that I can avoid gathering nonsensical worries about the world. My imagination is best directed at things that are constructive. Worrying isn’t the most constructive activity, but I have developed some wonderful project strategies and business plans over the years while trying to curtail any worry that comes careening into my mind.

As I get older I have started to realise that such planning for the worst seems less and less of an importance. One of the few universal laws that I have discovered in this life is this:

‘It is always the circumstance you never planned for that always happens’

I use to think that if I planned for the worst case scenario in all situations then I could work backwards to a safer scenario. For the most part, this approach has worked well for me, but it really requires a significant mental investment. subsequently my stubbornness to modify my plans can then seem incredibly strange to others who haven’t followed my imaginary project plan.

As my universal law above states, this is often thrown to ruin by that one thing happening that you never conceived as a possibility. A whole new thought process then begins regarding the containment of this mysterious anomaly. These mind games have been fun for most of my life, but I admit that I am getting ‘too old for this shit’ and I am starting to prefer this variant of my universal law.

‘Nothing ever goes as planned, so you just need to be able and willing to adapt’

This is pretty similar to the previous law, but requires much less mental effort. In a world where accountability seems to be paramount I think a lot of people worry about things going wrong and whether they will be blamed. Most of our time seems to be spent ensuring that we are not caught doing something wrong or we are proving that something that has happened wasn’t our fault. It is a shame, because so much stress and anxiety is caused by this culture of blame.

I am starting to become more comfortable with accepting that I make mistakes and just try to find a way around resolving things. It is rarely worth the mental effort to harbour regrets and guilt. It is better to be prepared for change, whatever that change may be.

NSE Tom Icon

A Hidden Conversation

A Hidden Conversation

In this blog, Adrian tries to illustrate the battle between negative subconscious thoughts and the reasoning, rational conscious ones that can defeat them.


 

In the quiet and still of the evening, when conversations and distractions subside and the patter of rain drops can be heard above all else, just before retiring to sleep, are the times I feel most vulnerable, most aware of the world as distinct from me and the times I wonder just who am I?

It is these moments a conversation ignites, stirring the mind, drawing attention and keeping me infuriatingly awake! It is a conversation that goes on all the time, day after day, but only now I notice it because of the absence of external stimulus and clutter.

This conversation is in my mind. It is between thoughts that randomly appear from my subconscious over which I have no control, and those that I generate through conscious thought, ones over which I have some element of control.  The question of whether I have the ability to create and control a thought or whether I am subject to an endless stream of uncontrolled thoughts is related to the question of free-will. I refer to an understanding of free-will that suggests that all thoughts appear from your subconscious, from somewhere beyond the tangible spotlight of internal consciousness. If thoughts that appear un-announced, uncontrolled and preceding conscious thought implies that our will is actually not free and subject to hidden workings.

So, in the quietness a thought will pop into my head. Where does this thought come from? I would ask you the same question. Where do any of our thoughts appear from? As I lie in late evening semi-slumber, a thought will be created ‘I did not do that speech very well at work’ or ‘I am really not liked very much’ or ‘I am ugly’. I did not ask or try to create these thoughts, they just appear.

If we had free will, would I ever have bad thoughts? The fact that we have bad or negative thoughts is surely testament to the fact that we do not create them. Why would I purposely place bad and negative thoughts in my head? What does it serve me in terms of my well-being? This is a fundamental component of understanding for me and for understanding my own depression and anxiety because once I recognise that these thoughts appear in my conscience mind against my will, then I can seize trying to stop them. In fact, it’s important to accept that they will appear and concern myself with the things I can control.

These unwanted thoughts will appear then, building a narrative of yourself, pretending it is the true you, the depressive you and there is nothing you can do to stop them. But, you don’t have to believe them. It is not that these thoughts are true in themselves, it is my belief that they are true. So, when a thought pops up in my head unwillingly from my subconscious and says ‘I am a failure’, it is only a statement. It is my conscious mind that turns this into ‘I believe I’m a failure’ that it starts to take its negative effect. The goal then is not to stop these negative thoughts but to stop believing them. They are falsehoods collected from past experiences and uninvited. They throw their collective weight into the narrative of who I am, an incorrect narrative.

There are times when I can recognise the distinction between automatic unwanted negative thoughts and conscious thoughts. As the negative thought appears it is tied up with all sorts of associated emotions so it is not easy to battle against but it is becoming more and more possible, with practice and understanding. As they appear I can send a conscious arsenal of reason, understanding, testing the truth of a particular thought against the reality. I feel that being aware of this interplay between automatic and conscious thoughts is a big step to overcoming depression.

So who am I? I guess I’m still working that out but what I am not are all the automatically generated negativities that disturb my peace and quiet and keeps me up at night.

NSE Adrian Icon

Isolation and the Social Network

Toms-Isolation

Tom discusses his recent experiences and thoughts about Facebook and other social networking apps and ponders how social the social network really is.


Modern communications confuse me. This social networking thing confuses me more.  For years I was very cautious of including any personal details on the internet, but a few years ago I gave up and entered the Facebook and Twitter-spheres.

Although I have found some positives of using these mediums of communication I have also found that they carry with them a burden and a loneliness that isn’t easy to describe. Facebook is a medium that demands attention. The way it highlights who has ‘liked’ or ‘commented’ on your posts creates a tally that carries faux social-kudos. Studies have shown that there is an addictive characteristic to this type of social networking and that people start to crave this type of attention. That might be the case, but this type of interaction seems like a very pale shade of what it is like to interact face to face.

Last year I decided that I was just too busy to waste time looking at Facebook and I was in the process of taking all of my photos and posts down, so I could shut down my account. That was until the divorce began. I then started to rely on Facebook to maintain communication with friends. It started acting like a surrogate relationship, but Facebook isn’t a real relationship, is it?

My friends have told me how it is useful to see photos of myself to help rebuild self-esteem, so I quickly uploaded all of my photos again. So here I am, back where I started with Facebook and it still feels hollow. My feed is populated by friends uploading holiday photos, smiling faces, drunken good times or people expressing hurt and loss and crying out for attention. I find it a very strange forum to discuss things, but like everyone else I stay with it because what is the alternative (and I don’t mean what is the next social network, I actually mean: How else can you stay in touch with people these days)?

I have noticed that people’s real personalities and their internet personalities can be quite different. You can meet someone that seems quite confident and chatty in real life and when you make friends with them on Facebook you discover that they continuously post strange needy posts. Comments below these posts including ‘hope you are okay’ or ‘PM me’. These posts often never have a conclusion or explanation, like a story with no ending, so you just feel confused. I don’t think anything represents the loneliness of the modern world better than Facebook.

Tom Social Media

You can make friends with people you have known for years and reacquaint yourselves with what they have been up to since you last met, but there often comes a point when you feel that you should probably bring the discussion to a close, or look like you are becoming some strange internet obsessive (it is probably unfair to generalise here, that is probably just me). Any subsequent contact with these friends then resorts back to the default of ‘liking’ other peoples Memes and images. Although I was late into the Facebook fad, I have watched a lot of the more tailored, personal posts slowly be replaced with the sharing of feel good Memes and heart felt words written by strangers. I find this fascinating. It is almost as if people feel more comfortable expressing their emotions if they can create personal distance from those feelings.

Then there are those moments when you don’t really want to broadcast your emotions across the social network. What do you do then? Private messaging, I suppose. I admit that I also find direct messaging or private messaging confusing. All of my friends have different preferences. Some of my friends use the Facebook Private Messenger App; others like emails (my preference); others like text messaging from a mobile phone; some use Apple’s ‘iMessager’; and I was recently introduced to ‘What’s App’. Very few actually want to talk on a phone anymore. It is quite common for me to not get any response from my friends when I use these forms of communication and I start to wonder whether the message ever made it to the recipient. I then start to wonder whether I have forgotten that particular person’s communication preference.

I suppose the reality is that these messages haven’t been lost, they are just being sent to people who are just as busy as me. I do it too. There are messages I don’t read (which normally involves passages of text as long as this blog).

It is a shame to think that this is where we are in modern life. We are left tapping at keyboards and mobile phone screens and posting out things to no avail with no audience and no contact. We have statistics instead of friends.

On the other side of the virtual/physical divide someone might have been looking at you, thinking that you were attractive or interesting, but you were too busy on your phone or iPad to notice. Is there any more complete form of isolation than this?

So how do we resolve isolation within the social network? Maybe I should go and meet up with all the people I like on Facebook in reality? That sounds like a good idea, or maybe I will just carry on writing blogs about how social networks do not reflect normal social interaction.

Only time will tell, but I suppose most will never know what I do because they never clicked on this post or they stopped reading after the first paragraph.

NSE Tom Icon

An Account of Social Anxiety

Isolation Ade

Adrian shares a personal reflection on the feelings and emotions that manifest when you suffer from social anxiety.


The weight of your body is pulled around your waking day by muscles that try to carry its  weight. Those muscles will be used to their burden, delivering you about your daily comings and goings with relative ease and automation. It could be that one day you realise that you have been carrying around an unfair weight your whole life, unknown until this moment. A weight exerted by the mind that cripples, isolates, dominates and tears at your every joy. A black mental filter that twists words, cast shadows on every event, pulls you away from those you love and shoves harshly at those you care about and who care about you. A mind that torments itself in the silence and relishes in pain and suffering because this is the normal practice.

This heavy burden of long term anxiety was saturated deep inside through your childhood, given to you by the culture in which you live and through unknown instruction from family, friends, school, news and the mediocre of the day to day. Your mind has had many years of practice reinforcing just how bad, useless and worthless you are by repeating this mantra over and over again until it is normal. In the minds desire to see just how correct its view of the world is, it will extract any little morsel of supporting evidence it can from wherever it can get it. The smile of a girl is turned to a smirk, the complement on your physical appearance is a secret joke, the offer of a cake is a hint at how fat you are, the praise by your boss is a subterfuge for redundancy and the trust of a friend is just a manipulation ready for exploiting you. An endless tiredness claws at you earlier and earlier each evening, this exhaustion draws you away from friends and solitary quietness and rest becomes a persistent necessity.

It becomes difficult to spend time with anyone and fear joins the normal run of things, fear of failure, rejection, insult, death and loss of loved ones. The fear sometimes manifests itself when multiple people are present in a room, in a bar or in a restaurant, the knotting ripples down through your abdomen, picking up the baton and running with the dysfunctional messages from the brain, broken and false messages that the body does not question. A repetitive cycle of learned responses, homed and trained over a lifetime.

The consumption of this fear instigates a clinging to your homely sanctuary, wherever that may be: a home, a shed, a toilet or a corner of a woodland. A place to shut off, to re-coupe and prepare for the inevitable social interactions that litter the day and bring persistent anxiety when they fall upon you.

A friend or partner you have known for years will become impatient with your inexplicable intolerance of friends or family and the reluctance to venture outside into the dangerous, critical, brash world beyond. When part way though a group interaction you’ll constantly question your role:

Do I deserve to be here?

What do they think of me?

How will I be remembered?

In the quiet of the evening, you’ll constantly ruminate, question and concern yourself with the social events of the day and how these interactions contribute to other peoples perceptions of you and whether or not you have rectified with the outside world the intended story about yourself.

This persistent burden limits your every waking moment, saturating and draining the joy out of each day. The weight of those extra bags on your shoulders are part of you and learning to live with them, rather than removing them is the most realistic option.

It is actually useful to understand that depression and anxiety is the subconscious’ way of letting you know that something is not right and your thinking is faulty. It is difficult to see when trying to gather up your feet from the thick mud that depression is a positive thing. The recognition of your predicament is actually the baseline from which you start fighting your way out.

It will take courage to firstly except your inherited condition, then to the face the world with it. Social interaction is such a large part of your life that when it becomes a displeasure to instigate this wondrous activity, the fear and anxiety is compounded and hardens within.

So how can an individual move away from this heavy burden of long term anxiety? This is where you will need courage and a new way of looking at the world and, I must confess, I am still working my way free to this day. The key component is slow, careful reasoning, dissection of your outlook and the way you think of yourself.

NSE Adrian Icon

Combating Isolation

Isolated Tom

Tom discusses his feelings about relationships and isolation as part of new series of blog articles about isolation.


 

Me and Ade decided a while ago that as we released our No Side Effects singles we would share some writing and discussions about some of the themes that influenced our music.

Our first release is called ‘Isolation Explosion’ and we were both interested in discussing social isolation in its many forms. This is a wide ranging subject and encapsulates elements of social anxiety, the disconnect between our online and real lives and maintaining effective communication and maintaining or losing belief systems in a modern world.

With the imminent release of this song I have found that the world has shifted beneath my feet and given me my own understanding of isolation due to a sudden divorce.

The sensations that come with such a sudden change in status quo are quite odd. I immediately feel more connected to the world and less able to communicate to anyone about it. I have such a great group of friends and they are all looking out for me, but they can’t truly fill the void that my wife once occupied and it is unfair to expect them to. Everyone has their own lives to lead. Any time they can spare is greatly appreciated.

But what do you do with yourself in those moments in the void? I suppose for many these are very dangerous moments. Do you let you mind wonder into the past? Considering what went wrong? I do this from time to time. It is terribly un-constructive, but sometimes it is necessary. We were together a long time. There are so many memories to explore and redefine. In a perfect scenario you would leave these memories as happy and content moments, but we aren’t perfect.

My mind cycles fiercely, it always has. It likes to find answers to problems. That is what I do in my day job. That is what I do all the time, but this puzzle is the master puzzle and it can never be solved.

This is where isolation creeps in. While trying to find answers to these questions you end up isolated within your own mind. You have no external stimuli. You just have your own problems to torment you indefinitely. This isn’t healthy.

The breaking of trust can also lead to isolation in these instances. A failure of being able to trust seems to be a common theme when relationships fall apart. How long does it take to trust people again? How do you know your friends from your enemies? It is too early for me to tell.  I can only work on my instincts at this stage and I know the people I can trust, and they are the friends I am talking to right now.

There is also a trepidation of moving out of my isolation. My relationship was attentive and didn’t really cater for the more social aspects of human interaction (dinner parties, gigs etc.). Now that such things are likely to occur I have to adapt. Pre-divorce me wasn’t interested in such things, I was comfortable and happy, but now I have to try and step out of this restrictive mindset and enjoy myself.

That doesn’t sound difficult does it?

But I am someone that can spend considerable amounts of time on my own while surveying the Scottish coastline. I’m someone that is quite comfortable in my own company. I prefer an open grassland in winter to a drunken night out.

Despite this I cannot retreat fully, because if I do, who do I talk to about such places? Who will ever listen? More importantly, how will I learn about what other people care about?

I am combating this by getting out and about in public.  I am usually on my own, but sitting in a coffee shop or a bar helps (like I am while I write this). Listening to other peoples conversations, receiving the odd smile from a passerby. This is how I combat loneliness when I am field surveying, so why shouldn’t it work when my relationship has fallen apart?

This modern world is demanding and distracting and leads us to forget who we are.  Maybe sometimes it is important that these events happen so we can reassess ourselves and consider whether we are on the right path. This is much more constructive than wallowing in loss and pain.

No one can save you but yourself.

NSE Tom Icon