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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Recording and exhausting – Remembering the development of ‘In Your Brain Right Now’

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Tom recalls the development of No Side Effect’s new song ‘In Your Brain Right Now’


It is Spring 2014. I have just moved house from Newbury to Swindon. I feel a haze of tiredness most days because of a very intense conservation project I am working on and trying to unpack into our new home. It’s the weekend. I’ve just returned from leading a wildlife walk and I am exhausted, but the sun is shining and everything feels tranquil.

Adrian is standing on the drive as I arrive home in the car. He has a purposefulness in his eyes that I haven’t seen before. He’s arrived at my house so we can work on a new song.

He sent me a demo of this new song the week before. The demo was titled ‘A New Conversation’ and it was based around a sample of a Sam Harris lecture titled ‘Death and the Present Moment’. I’d never heard of the guy. When I first played the demo I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with it. I was worried we would end up sounding too much like Public Service Broadcasting.

Adrian and I go up to my little recording studio and I play through some of the guitar riffs I have been messing around with and Ade is pretty firm on which ones he likes. This song means a lot to him, I can tell. He sets himself up at the recording desk and tells me to start playing the guitar.

I play the guitar with complete freedom. Ade has control over the recording process so I don’t need to worry about doing it myself for the first time in years. I just dive into the repeating drum beats beneath Sam’s voice. I play for about two hours. Sweat is pouring off me and I feel a new type of exhaustion. Ade gives me a thumb’s up to tell me he is satisfied with my guitaring. I let out a sigh of relief and drop my bulky electric guitar to the floor.

In Your Brain Right Now CD Cover V02

‘Do you want to do some drums now?’ Ade asks.

I look at the drum kit in the corner, wondering where I can find the energy.

‘Give me second’ I say and I go downstairs to get a drink and wipe away some of the sweat.

‘How are you getting on?’ asks Ruth.

‘I think he’s trying to kill me.’ I say.

‘You could always have a break’ she says.

I consider it for a moment, maybe just stopping for the day, I have done quite a lot of stuff for one day. The wildlife walk seems like a distant memory.

‘No, I’m good, I’m good.’

I go back upstairs and leap onto the drums. Ade is still at the computer. There is a serenity about him, but an excitement beneath it all. You can almost see this song being created through his neural pathways.

‘Shall we do some more?’ he asks.

I re-adjust my posture and give him a nod. As the song starts I manage to find a beat that doesn’t really feel like it should make any sense, but I stick with it and I become lost in the drum kit. I don’t really have arms anymore, I just have drum sticks. I look to one side and Adrian has a camera. He’s leaning towards the drum kit taking pictures. It distracts me for a second, but I keep on the beat. I can feel the walls of the world opening up and I am not too sure what is happening. I have become Adrian’s instrument. He is somehow playing me.

I have played the drums for about an hour when Adrian gives me the thumbs up with a big smile. It’s done, it’s over. I feel my back crack as I get up from the drum stool. The room is warm and thick with sweat. I open the windows and doors and I stand for a while, panting, taking off my shirt and towelling myself down.

Adrian listens back to a few sections and he looks incredibly satisfied. He has a quick coffee and packs up his stuff and leaves the house. I stand at the doorway trying to understand what just happened. I think someone just dragged some music out of my chest.

The next time I hear the song it is nearly in its final form and we have renamed it ‘In Your Brain Right Now’ and I can’t remember playing a lot of the things I play. I hear elements of jazz in the song, which originally sounded more like a slow burning Underworld track and I don’t understand where these influences have come from. How the hell have we started playing jazz? I discuss this later with Ade and I discover that his Nan use to play jazz records to him when he was a kid.

Adrian also doesn’t fully understand where some of the influences came from, which leads me to conclude that this is the most No Side Effects song that we have recorded. It seems to transcend the two people that made it.



 

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Second Single: ‘In Your Brain Right Now’

In response to the underwhelming demand for our debut single we’ve decided to clog up the ever expanding and overloaded internet with another mediocre piece of musicianship*. It seems we can’t give this music away, but we try. You can download it for FREE from the ‘Music Shop‘ or have a listen:

 

This time though, on a more serious note, we are very grateful for the kind permission from Sam Harris for the use of some audio from a lecture he gave for the Atheist Foundation of Australia in 2012 called ‘Death and the Present Moment’. The track uses samples from a sequence where Sam talks through how to attain an ‘in the moment’ mental state using mindfulness meditation. It is a fascinating introduction to meditation and really resonated with us. If you would like to listen to the full lecture then we include the YouTube video:

 

This single includes the main track itself called ‘In Your Brain Right Now’ along with a B-side called ‘In Your Brain Right Now (Naked Mix). This B-side is an early draft of the track that includes the whole mediation sequence from Sam Harris with a simple repetitive and hypnotic beat.

We hope to share and explore some of the themes that underpin this track in some writing and another podcast shortly. These incredibly interesting themes include meditation, the urgency and value of life and the ability to enjoy each moment and the influence of religion and how it has played a part in our lives. We’re also pretty sure we’ll again make little sense and get carried away with delusions of grandeur.

*Tom is apparently offended by the comment about mediocre musicianship. No Side Effects are not able to reconcile this issue, because Tom is part of the band.


 

Debut Single ‘Isolation Explosion’ Released

The first single by No Side Effects is now available for listening and/or downloading. The single is called ‘Isolation Explosion’, the themes of which we have rambled at length about in our ‘No Side Effect Podcasts‘ and written about in our ‘blog’ entries.

There are two B-sides included with the single called ‘Isolation Explosion (Industrial Slavery Mix) and Isolation Explosion (Replacement B-Side Mix). The Industrial Slavery Mix was an early incarnation made during the development of the single which we both ended up liking. It is interesting how far some of the songs we’ve worked on have changed since their original rough sketches.

The second B-side ‘Replacement B-Side Mix’ was recorded in Tom’s studio during a rehearsal session. There was going to be a different B-side but we had a few difficulties getting permission from the BBC to use a sample that was used in the track. Well, we could not afford to include it, should we say.

It has been a long journey since we first chatted about doing a collaboration over 2 years ago over a pint in a local pub. Have a listen and download for free if you wish and send in your comments, keep them clean though!

You can listen and download via the Bandcamp website for free. You can also click on the ‘Music Store’ tab on the right hand column of this website: Have a listen here:

 

If you prefer Soundcloud, you can stream the single here:

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.

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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.

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