[The following account details my experience with religion, spirituality and a cult from 2016-2018. It is the final part of this short series of blog posts on the subjects. Click these links to read Part 1 & Part 2]
When I gave up the mantle of “Spiritual Teacher” something changed in me. It was like a weight had been lifted. And it wasn’t until then that I actually realised how much of an affect the whole thing had been having on me. Feeling caged inside my ideas about how I was supposed to act and about what I couldn’t say or do. Having this automatic chasm between me and someone who was struggling through something because I couldn’t meet them at their level and had convinced myself I had something to teach them about life or about themselves.
I’d become unwittingly accustomed to this strange, almost contorted way of living. In moments, I was more in touch with myself but this strange tension I’d concocted for myself pervaded. It was as if, without me realising it, this title had come to mean so much for me and I had let it make this thing out of me that I couldn’t see past. Not until, finally, I dropped it and started to move past it.
I asked Rosa just now how I changed when I dropped the title and she said that I became more playful afterwards. She agreed that it was like a weight had been lifted. She also said that I was much less arrogant afterwards too. That was a bit hard to hear but she’s right in saying I was arrogant. I mean, I thought I had all the answers to everything. I thought I was everybody’s coach or mentor, and she got the worst of it because she was living with me and saw me every day.
I looked back at an older post I wrote called “Done with Spirituality”. I wrote it several months after doing away with the title. I hadn’t remembered what I’d written and, upon revisiting it, I saw that the title was a bit click-baity. Really, though I’d begun to move on from it and was by no means the same as I was before, I wasn’t done with it all yet. In fact, I don’t think I was really done with it until about six months ago, give or take.
In the time that followed me giving up the mantle, I held tightly for a bit and then, before long, my convictions waned. Gradually, I found myself focusing less and less on spiritual matters and more so on music and I decided I wanted to get into composing music for video games and short films. I also threw myself into modding Skyrim, which is a project that is on-going today and I have composed the soundtrack for it too. You can listen to that here. I took more of an interest in history too and science. I remember one day, sitting with Rosa while one of Brian Cox’s programmes was on the telly.
From 2016 until the tail end of 2017, I think, my spiritual ideas and my belief in them undulated. How intensely I felt about them differed from week to week though the number of things I interpreted through the old spiritual filter dropped steadily. I have to say that, even as recently as earlier this year, I was still unpicking some of the detrimental ideas that ended up wedged in my mind as a result of Teal Swan and her cult. And I’m sure there’ll be a few other things I find left behind and lurking in the shadows as we go forward.
I want to say that there was something positive that came from this cult. There was an encouragement to speak honestly and openly that I picked up on. Of course, the way they spoke in the cult was always bursting at the seams with buzzwords and was geared towards making the person who was being honest feel like they were a victim of something or other. There was a strange practice of Jungian ‘Shadow Work’ which tended to result in a lot of tears and in people saying things that were perceived to be their deepest darkest secrets but were likely subconscious memes absorbed from Teal herself or someone else in the community or artefacts of the improper way psychology was practiced in the community.
I was always quite a candid person and my dad has often said I “take no prisoners”. In my teens though, during the latter part of the height of my weed smoking and the beginnings of my involvement with all of this spiritual and cult stuff, I had grown to be a bit more timid. The relationship I was in at the time likely didn’t help. We argued a lot and in the end weren’t good for each other. I think that the encouragement to speak honestly and openly in the cult was the nudge I needed to start speaking my mind a bit more. The incubation period for me doing that becoming a good thing was the best part of a decade, however. And, now that I’m past the arrogance, buzzwords and generally cringey demeanour, I think I can finally write in a way that I might actually look back on and at least not shudder and start sweating a bit. Suffice to say, without the cult, I may not have started this blog. So, for that, I’m grateful. Ironic though that it’s the very platform I’m telling the story of how awful the whole thing was.
Some time towards the end of last year, I started watching some videos of Richard Dawkins. This was when the dissolving of my spiritual ideas was kicked into overdrive. For the first time, really, I was faced with someone who not only spoke with conviction (if a little rudely), but I was faced with someone who spoke with countless examples of data, research and evidence to back up his claims. These are things I didn’t have for any of my ideas. I had my version of rationality and reason, based on a shed-load of suppositions and assertions made by dubious “authority figures”, but I couldn’t back them up.
After being fooled by Spirit Science and Teal and Mooji and plenty of others, I wasn’t so willing to take things on at the say so of another. Believing in something just didn’t have the same hold for me anymore. Why believe in something that directly contradicts the evidence when the evidence is right there? After becoming such an unpleasant person with all these baseless ideas in my head, I was well aware of the danger of strong ideas. I wasn’t about to do the same thing with atheism now.
Still, here I was, faced with more and more people (Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Robin Ince, Ricky Gervais, Neil DeGrasse Tyson – to name a few) who had a wealth of evidence to back up every claim they made. And the logic, the reason and rationality, is undeniable.
The thing was, for the first time, the people who were saying these things didn’t matter as much as the facts. For the first time, their opinions were something I was happy to look past, unless I could quote them to bolster I point I was making. It wasn’t about the people or their beliefs or their opinions. It was about facts. Cold hard facts. Evidence. The tried and tested results of tests. And, more than that, what really caused a change in me were questions.
Questions like: “Why do I want to believe this? What would it mean for me if this weren’t true?” When you ask yourself questions like that, you see what underpins the belief – you start to see why you were/are dependant on that belief. As I tend to, I took to contemplating. Instead of watching videos all the time, I listened to more music and let my brain work things out. And, bit by bit, the various remains of my spiritual beliefs fell away in the wake of logic and rationality.
As I covered in my ‘Why Agnostic Atheism?’ post, I soon turned to look at the idea of god. For the longest time, my relationship with new ideas had been one of scepticism. And, while I was involved in the cult and to some extent with spirituality in general, my view of a lot of the things I’d have then called “mainstream” was that they were lies put together by a ruling elite intent of subjugating us for some reason. Those ideas don’t last long under the microscope though and soon I came back around to a more sensible point of view. The sceptical eye that had gotten me into conspiracy theories and spirituality and then into the cult had gotten me out of those things too. And now it was time to turn that same eye on the things that had previously hung in there under the radar. Naturally, what little remained of it all went then.
I feel like I did a fairly good job of explaining what I think about it all now and why in my Agnostic Atheism post, so I won’t retread the same ground here. What I do want to say is what I gained from the whole experience.
Overall, this whole tale spanned the best part of a decade of my life and I would be out of pocket if I hadn’t gained anything from it. And, as someone who always endeavours to learn and grow from everything they go through, this can’t be an exception. In fact, given the sheer size and span of it all, it would be insanity not to get as much out of it as possible. That being the case, I think there’s stuff I have gained from it that I’m not yet aware of – stuff that will likely become apparent in the future. But, as of now, I know there are things which I am grateful for that have come as a result of the whole episode.
First and foremost, my relationship, and now marriage, with Rosa. That’s something I’m tremendously grateful for and, if it wasn’t for that cult-associated dating group, we’d likely not have met. So, that’s a hugely positive thing.
I think, of all the things I got out of it, I definitely learned what a lot of new things feel like. I can recognise when I’m going overboard with something now – I can spot fanaticism in myself more easily now. I write that hoping it’s definitely true though I imagine some things may fall through the gaps from time to time.
I gained a new relationship with caution. I’m so careful now when it comes to how I approach things. I’m genuinely terrified of ending up like that again – which I think is a good thing to be honest. It keeps me conscious of how I’m behaving and if I’m being fair and level-headed. Of course, there’s the risk of it going the other way and making me a very insecure person, so I’m aware of that too but I do feel like – anxiety aside – the intense desire not to be like that again keeps me away from being like that again.
I’m no longer as gullible as I was either. As I mentioned before, I don’t take people at their word anymore – not on the bigger things anyway. I’m not mistrustful though, not in so many words, I’ve just been there and done that sufficiently. And I’m not going back. So I’m much more critical.
I’m much more tolerant to differences in opinion now. Of course, if someone is positing nonsense, I’m going to call them out on that. But if it’s just a case of different worldviews or differing philosophical stances then who am I to say they’re wrong. Most of us might agree on a certain moral baseline but that doesn’t mean our relationships with logic and reason are the same. And, as long as people aren’t harming others, I’ve got no problem with what they believe. I mean, this Teal woman is harming others – albeit quietly and subtly. And I still can’t figure out if it’s all intentional or it’s just, as this guy who criticised me said “the blind leading the blind”. She could be someone who means well and is caught up in fantasy or she could literally be a dangerous delusional narcissist. I don’t know. But it is doing harm.
And, like, religious extremists and these “incels” – and a small number of feminists too – they’re causing trouble and they’re causing harm. I mean, to be honest, I think all religions should be phased out. I would say people can believe what they want but I think religion is toxic and it’s got to go. That said, I’m aware that religion is naturally occurring in human cultures and there are certain evolutionary benefits to people sharing worldviews. One of which is that, if we believe the same thing (and if our religion isn’t dependant on human sacrifice or something else that ends up causing a lot of death) then generally it would at least stop us killing each other.
In light of that, I think that the journey I’ve found myself on over the last decade has been a very natural one – really, a very human one. And, ultimately, a healthy one in the end. Though, I regret the way I was and the harm I caused during, I know that I’ve come out of it a more balanced person. I’m more capable now, I’m more inquisitive now and I’m certainly wiser now. Not because I know anything but cause I have an inkling of just how much I don’t know. And, in the end, I’ve come back to myself with a deeper heart and with more knowledge of myself. And, for that, I really am grateful.
[This is part three of the story of how I went from being largely uninterested in the mystical, to getting into a cult, to losing my personality more or less and then to eventually coming to a point of agnostic atheism. This concludes this short series of blog posts on the subject]
Now, I look to the future. Having closed the chapter of spirituality in my life with the thought in my mind that it has nothing more to offer by way of fulfilling my needs. The needs I had when I first came to it are not the same needs I have now.
Where once I needed to feel a part of something, now I have found real connection with myself and with those who were already there as well as with new people who have come into my life. Where once I needed answers and to feel certain of something, now I am happy with “sure enough” and with the wealth of known information and evidence available to me through the incredible masses of humans working away day and night to understand this universe we find ourselves in. Where once I needed to feel like there was more to this life, now I find myself firmly positioned in myself.
Now, to whatever extent I can be certain that I am, I’m looking out at the world from the seat of my body, through these two little eye-holes and I’m presented with the Earth and universe, vast and knowable. I’m faced with complexity and simplicity, wonder and reason, joy and sadness. And, for the first time, I’m not waiting for any grand answer or any enlightenment. I’m not forever searching for the answer to some unimaginable mystery or forcing myself to be any given way.
I’m searching for the answers on how to get Creation Kit to do something I want it to do for my Skyrim mod. I’m searching for how to achieve the sound I want in my music. I’m taking delight in debating with people on Twitter (Tweet me – @AndeyTheFellow). I’m connecting with my family and the friends who stuck with me through all the madness properly, honestly. I’m looking into the eyes of my wife and treasuring the life we share together – whether we’re on an up or a down, whether we’re smiling together or crying together – I’m grateful for every day. And I’m working with Rosa towards the life we want for ourselves.
In the end, I did find myself. In the end, spirituality did make me happy. Just not in the way you’d think.