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Andey Fellowes

From Cult to Common Sense – My Story (Pt. 3)

[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.

Rosa and me - my birthday 2017
Rosa and I on my birthday in 2017.

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.

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I had dreadlocks for a long time and they were all knotted into my spirituality. Last year, I got rid of them and I don’t regret it. This picture is of all the hair that Rosa and I brushed out.

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.

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Me, post dread-removal.
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Why Agnostic Atheism?

Stepping away from telling my story (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2) with this cult for a moment, I want to address the topic of atheism and agnosticism and my views on them. As I touched on in the two recent posts, when I was a teenager I didn’t really care that much about whether there was a god or not. When I was at college, I got fascinated with Taoism and Buddhism. Before that the only exposure I’d had to the idea of a god was through my maternal grandparents and through the mother of one of my sisters, at the time effectively my step-mother.

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It seems to me that the way we see the world is like a home we build for ourselves. And how we treat the problems that occur within it necessarily affect the integrity of that house.

So, before I deal with where I’m at now, I want to unpack this. I think – in anybody’s religious or spirituality leanings – it’s important to examine their earlier life and any exposure to religious doctrines or ideologies because when a child’s brain is growing, it can be susceptible to all sorts of things. If religion is crammed in there from a young age for a child, they’ll likely grow up religious. Though the source is contested, the quote “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” is often attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Most would say he’s referring to the malleable, suggestible nature of a child’s brain which, when exposed to religious ideologies from a young age, learns to function with them as a baseline for morality, dealing with grief and the like and so is unable to live well without them.

My Exposure to Religion

My exposure to the catholic church and its religion was short-lived and not something I took all that seriously, even as a younger child. I went to Sunday school twice, maximum, I think. Though I can’t really remember all that much. I remember the cold room that smelled of incense, stone walls and someone trying to teach me about Noah’s Ark or something. Then, at another point – most likely at Christmas time – I remember sitting next to my Dad in this Catholic church and everybody else was singing this “Glooo-oooo-oooo-ooooria, hosanna in excelsis!” song. (Had to google the lyrics for that because it’s in silly Latin). And my Dad made the sound of a gun cocking and then a gunshot. Now, looking back, I wonder whether he intended to shoot the Christmas angels out of the sky or whether he was merely halfway through the “I’m going to shoot myself, this is so awful” mime and realised it wouldn’t be appropriate to draw a make-believe gun to the chin with his child beside him. Nonetheless, I think that was the last time I had to endure the pomp of the Catholic church.

My exposure to the Jehovah’s Witness religion/organisation/cult is something that continues even today as my maternal grandparents are part of it. As a kid, I don’t think I really took much notice of it all. As I mentioned in Part 1 of my cult story, my mum left the religion in her late teens and my Dad never really took to a religion (if that wasn’t clear from the gun mime during the Catholic Christmas carols). When I was younger, there’d always be the odd Watchtower or Awake magazine about the house as my Nan would give them to my Mum to read in the hope that she might come back into the fold. As my sisters and I got older, we’d be gifted copies of various issues ourselves.

I was a troubled teen (as we all are to some extent), with the added fun of mild autism, addiction, depression, and a few turbulent relationships which regrettably overlapped. My grandparents, loving me as they do and feeling very strongly that they have the answers to the world’s problems in their “Truth”, never missed an opportunity to bung me a book or a magazine of some kind. And when I confided in them, they were kind and supportive. And then, towards the end of the conversation, I’d get a “You’d really like our meetings, Andrew. You really would. I know we’re a bit weird and we have weird ways but you would love the Truth if you gave it a chance.” And honestly, bless them. Fucking bless them. I love them so much and all they wanted to do was help. I cannot blame them for that and I wouldn’t want to.

But… That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of rather heated debates with my Nan about the kinds of things their religion teaches, the buckets filled with contradictions and inconsistencies, the dubious way that how they’re supposed to live changes from year to year based on the people who make it all up in the U.S. And these debates/arguments (My Nan wouldn’t call them arguments but they were arguments until more recently) only increased in frequency when I started to get all culty myself.

All this is to say that I wasn’t raised with any religion. I wasn’t baptised or christened or anything like that. And so, because I wasn’t exposed to it too much when my brain still developing and thus was more plastic, I’m not dependant on these ideologies as an adult. Also, because I have adequate tools to deal with grief, I’ve got no real desire or need to believe in anything special or magical after death and I haven’t really got the need to feel like part of a community that has come together based on beliefs (I’d rather be apart of a community based on common interest), I’m not as susceptible to conversion in my adult life. Well, now, anyway. That wasn’t always the case, obviously.

Why Agnostic Atheist?

First off the bat, I would like to stress (just like Ricky Gervais has done in the past – and I will pop another quote of his below as well) that we are all agnostics really. Despite what we believe, none of us really know if there is a god or not. We might believe there is one, we might believe there isn’t one. But none of us know for sure. We’re all just hedging our bets, really. Some of us are doing that with more conviction than others but ultimately, we’re all just hedging our bets. And, despite what we believe about our beliefs, despite whether or not we believe we KNOW there is a god, we don’t know that. We just believe we know.

So, let’s define this agnostic thing and let’s define this atheism thing while we’re at it, just so we’re on the same page. First agnosticism. I’ll paraphrase Hot Fuzz (Which was filmed in Wells, near where I used to live in the U.K): “I’m open to the idea of a god, I’m just not entirely convinced by it.” Or, we could go more specific here, “I don’t know if there is a god.” Which, as I said, is true of everybody.

Atheism on the other hand would be someone who doesn’t believe there is a god. Google defines it as: “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”

“This is atheism in a nutshell: You say there’s a God. I say, ‘Can you prove that?’ You say no. I say, ‘I don’t believe you then.'” – Ricky Gervais

As someone who has learned the dangers of certainty, I can’t say with any fervency that there is or isn’t a god. I have been wrong many times in the past and will be wrong many times in the future, of that much I can be certain. Also, to be sure about something I have seen no convincing proof of and have heard no convincing arguments in support of would be ludicrous. I think that nicely covers the title of this post in itself, eh? There’s a few more things to clear up though.

I thought you did believe in a god?

Yeah. I did. This stance is all relatively recent for me but it has been the result of a process which has unfold over the last decade. Through it all I’ve grown and I’ve learned a lot about myself, life and people. Or as I like to call them, ‘twat, dickhead and cunts’.

I think a really interesting point is that if we extricate the idea of god from its religious context, if you strip away all the meaning we’ve attributed to it and look at this god thing as simply a “prime mover” – the thing that moved the first things but itself does not move – then that’s more or less what modern science is looking for in some areas. Physics and Quantum Physics get closer and closer every day to unravelling the mystery of why we exist at all. So as humans: We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

Now, if we’re looking at the concept of god in this way, we’re looking at simply the origin of all that exists. At this point, why call it god? There’d be no point in calling it god. In that regard, I’d say that calling it god would be detrimental because it will only play into the ideas of the religious people refuse to look at things in a more objective, critical or reflective way. Like when they discovered the so-called “God Particle”, for like a minute there were these creationist who got excited. Then they were told to simmer down.

Following the same mode of thought, I’d say the same of my own belief in god. When I dropped spirituality as a thing all together (something I think I’ll be covering in the third and final installment of my ‘Cult to Common Sense’ series of posts), I was left with a bunch of experiences I hadn’t really sorted out in my head. I’d dropped the nonsense practices and remained open to the beneficial ones like meditation. I’d dropped the inclination to believe things just on somebody’s say so or based on sense-experience only. I wanted proof that things worked now. I wanted explanations that were backed up by repeatable experiments. I was done with wishy-washy and the big promises, I was done with the bag full of rainbows, a bunch a pound.

There’s still a very little box of a small handful experiences in my head labeled “Unexplained” and I’m happy enough with them being unexplained for now. However, the concept of god or anything you could call an experience I might have had of this god are not in it. Throughout my exploration of non-dualism and the various things that preceded it on my “spiritual journey”, I always defined god – however superficially – as some non-physical force-like energy which, in the words of Star Wars, surrounds us and penetrates us. It wasn’t until I got into non-dualism that I was really convinced that I could experience this god thing for myself, in a tangible sense-experience way. I covered what this entailed in Part 2 of my recent posts about this cult I got involved with and what happened thereafter so I won’t reinvent the wheel here ’cause I said it well enough there I think.

But when I gave up on all the other spiritual stuff, one of the last things to go was this whole thing about god. Slowly but surely it dissolved though. I went from a certainty in there being some god-like force in existence to saying that “the closest thing to a god I’ve experienced in the silence in between thoughts, when the mind is quiet and the body is relaxed.” Within a certain framework of thought, that’s true to a certain extent, I think. It doesn’t imply that there is a god, anyway, just that this experience is the closest thing to a god that I’ve experienced. For a while, I would say that this experience filled the “hole of god” in my brain, to whatever extent there was one.

Now, let’s say I’m done with spirituality and cults and religion and everything of the sort – which I am. Now let’s say that the closest thing I experience to a god is the silence of the mind which pervades naturally when meditation is done well. Let’s say that this is peace, for me. Even if it’s only for a minute because then I need to get something to drink or check if I left the oven on… Why call it god?

If the religion and the cults and the spirituality are stripped away, if the larger concepts of what a god may or may not be are no longer present, what is the point in calling this pervasive silence god? Like with the Higgs Boson, why call it the “god particle”? Isn’t that to the detriment of anybody who would like to understand it – or in the case of this meditative silence, experience it – without a religious framework? Isn’t it to the detriment of someone who would like to understand it WITH a religious framework? It just gets in the way. And what’s the point anyway? Why call it that when it’s not.

That’s a debate I’ve had on the Law of Attraction as well. Some people call cause and effect the “law of attraction”. What’s the point? Just call it cause and effect. This “Law of Attraction” is just psychology and chance at play anyway, there’s nothing mystical about it. So, first why imbue it with mysticism? And, second, why call it something else? Why not just say it like it is. I think that’s an issue with this continuous human need to have something mystical or magical that they don’t understand that makes them feel special or keeps a sense of mystery alive.

Like with ghosts. Let’s say ghosts are real for a moment: I heard it said – and I forget by who – that if science came up with an explanation of ghosts and proved what they were and how they worked and all the rest of the relevant information… What would ghost-believers believe in then? There does seem to be a need to believe in something we don’t understand or a need to believe that the universe/world is larger in ways we can’t perceive and in that regard, if all the mysticism in the world was explained by science and ended up proving all these people right, there’s a good chance they’d just come up with new, wackier theories to satisfy that need.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no reason to believe in a god because there is no proof that there is one. Any experiences I’ve had can either be explained by reason, logic, rationality or science or do not depend on the existence of a god to be contemplated. There is no proof of a god and there is no evidence that points to any god even possibly existing – least of all the judeo-christian one, given that it was most likely lifted from an earlier pantheon (See Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s ‘The Bible’s Buried Secrets’ 3-part BBC series for more on that).

But God can’t be perceived with the senses, you can’t have proof. You just have to have faith.

Right, the senses fail us all the time. I’ve had this debate with Flat-Earthers. Just because the Earth looks flat, doesn’t mean it is. There is evidence that it is not. You can do your own tests to show that it’s not. And, if you’re claiming that the Earth is flat then you have to also explain a plethora of other things that have been adequately and conclusively explained by theories which rely on the earth being round. If you cannot also answer the questions raised by the claim that the Earth is flat then you will never be taken seriously. Do some actual science and get off of the weird side of YouTube. Back to the topic…

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The “it’s so complex, it must have been designed” argument is ridiculous. If you don’t understand the facts that doesn’t mean what you do understand is true.

The human senses are fallible. They can’t be relied upon. That weird time I had a fever and thought I was inside an abandoned hotel with a Chinese bloke, didn’t actually happen but it seemed real when I was having fever dreams. When I’m half asleep and I feel like I’m falling, I’m not actually. My body probably just wants to know if I’m going to sleep somewhere safe or in a tree that I’m about to fall out of. And when I was meditating and I thought I experienced god… I only thought it was god ’cause I was told it was god. If I’d had the experience without hearing that beforehand, the experience would have been very different.

Studies have been done on people who have had near-death experiences. Religious people integrate their experiences into their pre-existing religious beliefs. If you’re a christian and you have an NDE, you see Jesus. If you’re a Catholic, probably Mary or Jesus. Whatever the figures are that pertain to your religion, you’ll associate and/or conflate things perceived during near-death experiences with those figures. But did these things actually happen? No. And if I’m dreaming of riding a pig – as is tradition in my family – did I actually ride a pig or did I let my grandfather down? Pre-existing beliefs, ideas or religious leanings will influence the way we interpret our experiences.

And as far as “just have faith” goes. Nope. That’s mental. Why would I believe something just because I want to believe it? Well, the truth is, nobody believes things just because they want to believe them. They believe them because believing them or “living in a world where they are true” fulfills some other need for them.

People who insist that “faith” is the only way don’t rely on this way of thinking for other things in their lives. They don’t put a potato in the oven without first knowing how to prepare it, how hot the oven needs to be and how long it needs to be in there for. They don’t go, “we’ll just have faith the jacket potato will be good.”

Some might argue that the “just have faith” point of view is only valid for god, to which I’d say, “why?” What about god presupposes exception to the very rule that enables us to function properly in a physical world. Well, they might say, god is not physical. He/She/It doesn’t obey the rules of the physical world. This is where we get to an impasse. As someone who will not benefit personally from the existence of a god, I cannot fathom a reason to believe in one without proof or a convincing argument. That doesn’t mean a god doesn’t exist but then we can’t rule out other mystical beings, other-worldly creatures, ancient long forgotten gods and the like. Then it gets messy.

Similarly, as someone who does personally benefit from the existence of a god, I might find it possible, even easy, to believe blindly in something for which there is no hope in proving the existence of. Of course, because we can’t prove it, being open-minded is the only sensible thing to do. But, of course, it is equally as sensible to discount any ideas any humans have about what this mystical god thing might be as they will all, inevitably, be wrong. The Judeo-Christian god, the Hindu ones, the ancient Greek ones, the ancient Roman ones, the ancient Norse ones, the long forgotten celtic pantheon, the 8/9 divines from the Elder Scrolls, and on and on and on. They are all the product of the human imagination and while the human brain is a powerful thing, it is, ultimately, limited.

And so, the question boils down to, do we want to believe in something we cannot know exists or would we rather await convincing evidence of the existence of this thing and proceed to operate under the assumption that it doesn’t exist? There are, after all, no convincing theories that even come close to suggesting, from a scientific standpoint, the existence of a god. And this is where I’ve got to draw a line in the sand.

Philosophy and Science

Can we not all just agree that there is an important distinction to be made between science and philosophy? Science, which deals with explaining the universe we, rather embarrassingly, find ourselves trespassing in. Philosophy, is the exploration of ideas meant to result in deciding on a good way to live. At least, as far as I understand it, that was the original intention. I think we should bring it back. Of course, as it is defined on Google, philosophy is “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”

I would say that the two should only overlap so far as that philosophy would provide theories which science would then test. And, otherwise, philosophers can get on with debating how we can really know anything. Philosophers necessarily comprehend the utility of ‘if’ and any amateur explorers of these concepts really should familiarise themselves with it too. And if we are presupposing the existence of a god to engage in a discourse about the nature of morality or the origins of the universe, at the end of the discourse, we should carefully reverse out of the parking space of ‘if’ and go about our day like the rational, intelligent creatures we are.

I think that a lot of people who call themselves “spiritual” now are really amateur philosophers without actually realising it and treat science with an all too flippant approach. That and a baseless, flagrant mistrust that I find bewildering. I speak from experience when I say this. As I said in my recent posts, I was like that once. I’m more comfortable with being wrong now though and I’m prepared to trust people who know more than me get on with doing what they do in their given fields while I hear about it from them after the fact and do my best to make sense of things.

Whether you agree or disagree with me, please do so publicly. Let’s have a chat. Tweet at me @AndeyTheFellow.

From Cult to Common Sense – My Story (Pt. 2)

Something I’d like to say before I carry on with the story is that for someone like me, who has dealt with depression and anxiety for a long time, and who has Aspergers, there is a certain vulnerability. Less so the more you sort of learn more about how people are and less so once you’ve been around for a while but when you’re trying to make sense of the world as a teenager and as a young adult, the risk of losing yourself in circumstances that aren’t all that great is higher. Especially when it comes to the way you think and act. I’m not saying that to soften the blow or to evoke sympathy, just for context as I keep telling the story.

Strong ideas can cause us to act in a strange way. They can make us do odd things, hurtful things. And they can divorce us from ourselves. Never without our consent, of course. But for someone who is a teenager or a young adult, consent can be given trustingly and with abandon. In that way, things can spiral. We can get so mixed up in everything that we lose ourselves.

[The following account details my experience with religion, spirituality and a cult from 2014-2016]

After I gave up on Teal, the notion of the Law of Attraction and all of the other detrimental things I picked up from being involved with the cult hung about like a bad smell. I had fallen out of love with the Law of Attraction but some sense of it being a legitimate “truth” clung to my mind. Nonetheless, I cast it aside. The right thoughts won’t help me, I thought, I need to do something.

For anybody else, who functions in society and in reality, the idea of doing something rather than spending the majority of your time getting what’s in your head straight would sound like common sense. To me, at the time, it was almost revolutionary. And so, in an attempt to reconcile the crumbling beliefs I had held dearly to days earlier with the new and harsh reality I was starting to see, I decided that the Law of Attraction had been taught wrong.

In my videos then, I started to approach things differently. I started to focus more on the psychological aspects of things and on the necessary actions to be taken. And, in my struggle to get some semblance of a business going, I branched out.

I had just learned about, and crafted, my own Elder Futhark rune set. I’d studied them well and familiarised myself with how to use them. Then, I started to offer ‘Rune Castings’ to people in exchange for money. The runes are a funny one because they do actually help. They work with the symbolic mind to make sense of or sort out abstract things in your head. So, whether there is some mystical component to it or not, they are a valuable tool to unpick the cross-stitch of the subconscious.

At the time, I didn’t think of them in that way. But, nonetheless, the fact still stood that in some way they were useful to people. Fortunately, I was able to get a few paying clients. And, together with the generosity of some friends I’d made in the cult, I got some money together for a passport. I sent off for it, proud of my achievement, and returned to my utility room to reflect on what had been done.

Side Note: I have to say that, as is often the case with cults, the majority of the people who found themselves involved in the whole thing were genuinely decent people. Most were hurting in some way, most were looking for something deeper than what our modern society could offer them in the way of community, meaning and/or explanations for the embarrassing, often painful, struggle of the human condition. In fact, when I went to London to this Teal’s event, I had intended to buy a ticket but wasn’t able to afford one when it came to it. (Strange how so many people who believe in the Law of Attraction are absolutely skint). When I mentioned to a few of the others who were going that I didn’t have a ticket, they pooled together and gave me the cash needed to get in. Despite the context, that was such a lovely gesture for which am grateful of the spirit of even today. And it goes to further outline that these aren’t bad people, these are good people who’ve been duped because of some unfulfilled need or unresolved pain.

When I thought about the passport episode, and talked it over with Rosa, I decided that there was likely no mystical component in me getting it at all. It was just a choice to do something, which I then did, and got results. No wishy thinking or space-star ordering.

When the passport came, the task of saving up the ticket money to get to Mexico was before me. But before it arrived, I was preparing for a change. Though I hadn’t yet formally removed myself from the “Teal Tribe” community nor fully outed myself as an apostate to what ever degree that was the case, I had started to create videos which quietly challenged the ideas held by the cult. I brought my ideas to Rosa on Skype and we would sit together for hours and work them into scripts for videos which I would then film, edit and upload.

I started to develop my own, more rational approach to the same subjects Teal was discussing in her videos and I wanted to put them out there. Actually, for quite a while, I would release a video and then – later that week – Teal would release her own video on the same subject. I never knew whether that was coincidence or whether she was watching mine and then making her own, or whether she’d just seen the title had been “inspired”. Whatever the reason, the fact is that that happened. If I could be bothered, I’d go through both of our channels and screenshot the date stamps for them both to prove it. As it stands, I don’t like to look at her face anymore really.

With all of this going on, I decided that it was time to promote myself. Overnight I went from ‘coach’ to ‘Spiritual Teacher’. And that’s when this new vice wrapped around me. And the following struggles are all my own doing, I’d say. They are the consequence of naivety, trusting the wrong sources, the “special interests” so common in those with autism and various needs continuing to be unfulfilled. Over the course of 2014, I sank to the lowest lows I’d ever experienced. And when 2015 began, things changed a lot.

Slowly but surely my idea of what a ‘Spiritual Teacher’ was crept into every nook and cranny of me. The way I moved, the way I spoke, the way I smiled. All of it. And these expectations I had of myself, without realising it until much later, changed me in way I would come to regret. As I took on this new title, I thought of it as a positive thing. A new standard to call myself up to. After all, I understood what it meant to be spiritual more than this Teal woman. And I had plenty of opinions to share on the plethora of subjects kept neatly under the banner of “spirituality”.

I was confident again. I was smiling in my videos. I was being wise, brutally honest and compassionate. I was a force to be reckoned with. At least, that was the image I was showing to the world. In reality, I was still faced with the position I found myself in. And I was still struggling to reconcile that position and the beliefs I’d held for years prior.

The eldest of my younger sisters, Beth, saw the state I’d got myself in. She saw my struggle and she wanted to help. She came forward and offered to pay for my flight to Mexico. I was elated. Astonished, as you could imagine. And so grateful. As it happened, with the various additional payments added to the price, my Mum and my grandparents helped a bit too. And on the Mexican side, Rosa’s friend Emmanuel helped her pay for some flights I’d need once I was here in Mexico.

The flights were mental. One long haul flight to Cancun, another to Mexico City and then another to the city we live in now. Each with 7 hours at airports in between. Naturally, I was absolutely shattered when I finally got here. At the time, the fact that I’d been making some changes in my spiritual “work” and the fact that Beth came forward to help around the same time could have been taken as an “attraction”. This only served to confuse my thinking more though it wasn’t something I recognised until later on.

Rosa and I, the day we met
Rosa and I, the day we met.

By late February, I was in Mexico. Living now in a house with Rosa. By all accounts, things were so much better. My whole life had changed for the better in a matter of months. And, here I was now, living with the love of my life and experiencing a new country and culture for the first time. Things were looking up. And yet, in the recesses of my mind, a new problem was taking hold.

As I graduated from the bog-standard buffet of new age nonsense, I moved onto the harder stuff. The stuff more closely linked with age-old traditions and more ancient belief systems. From wishy thinking and nonsense about being a “powerful creator” into non-dualism.

I think it started one day when I remembered that the Tao Te Ching existed. I got a video up on Youtube and Rosa and I listened to it. I still think it’s an interested thing to read/listen to. From a philosophical point of view, it’s fascinating. But it was the start of a slippy slope that brought me to Ram Dass, Mooji and Eckhart Tolle. Now, I’d just like to say that as far as problematic thought-leaders go, Ram Dass is not too much of a problem in that he’s not really a cult leader. Eckhart Tolle is more of a cult leader but generally his philosophy is harmless if you don’t take it too seriously. Mooji is the hard stuff though. Hard-core non-dualist, cult vibe. People worship the man. Genuinely worship him.

It’s quite common for people who have come out of a cult to end up in another one not long after. An old friend of mine came out of the Teal cult and then really threw herself into another. Others have gone on to worship/follow other leaders. I know there was this craze with this Matt Khan guy a little while back though I haven’t seen too much of him lately (thankfully). From one cult ideology to another is exactly how it went for me. Straight from Teal’s rubbish into this non-dualist stuff.

Me, wheely tired
Me, Wheeley Tyred in Walmart.

True to form, I filled my head with all manner of notions from these people. I studied them and their ideas inside out. Again, I absorbed them and began to emulate them. When I spoke, it took me ages. When I moved, I had the mannerisms of Eckhart Tolle. And when I was challenged, I reacted like Mooji does when he is challenged by one of his followers.

The real meat of the whole episode began when I finally got my brain to stop. Let me explain what I mean. In non-dualism, there is this idea that nothing that we think we are is what we really are. The idea is that what we are must be a constant because something about us persists even when we continue to change all the time. So, our personalities change, our the cells in our bodies are replaced, our opinions and beliefs can change too but the one thing that doesn’t change is this constant thing. In a sense, this nothingness – this silence/peace – is god and it is our true nature. That’s the idea. But there’s this caveat that if you think about it and conceptualise it or personify it or develop any sense of identity about it then you’ve missed the point. In the Tao Te Ching, it’s best put across in what I think is the very first line. “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”

The way you get to experience this thing is different for each person. It’s quite common that language is questioned until it fails and we are literally speechless. And when we can’t find any words to describe our experience, Mooji, or whoever, is like “There you go.” It seems to me that what is happening in this process is that whoever is performing this “self-enquiry” (which is the term coined by Ramana Maharshi, I believe), is endeavouring to bring the human brain to a point at which it can no longer explain what is happening.

Me, Canal.jpg
Me, staring wistfully into a polluted, man-made canal.

By getting the enquirer to first accept the fact that there must be something constant and then by refuting all claims made of anything nameable being constant, what is left is nothing and so thoughts are redundant and words are irrelevant. And when there’s nothing left to question, the enquirer is told that this nothingness is the truth of who they are because they still exist without it in some form or another but that, because they cannot both have a personality and not think, they must not be their personality. It’s all based on frustratingly circular logic intended to confuse the intellectual mind and leave it without nothing to offer. Then, that nothing to offer is called “god” or “truth” or your “true nature”.

There’s a lot of that in spiritual thought. “We don’t understand it so it’s this thing we want it to be.” There’s a lot of linguistic tricks in it too. This thing is written like this so it’s fun/cute/clever to conflate the etymology with some timeless spiritual truth.

And when I came across this idea, I was obsessed. Like a detective married to a case, I was glued to the hope of having some experience of this. And then, one day, it finally happened. My endlessly inquisitive brain got tired out. And I thought I’d got it.

For Rosa, this was a difficult time. Only in talking to her about what I was going to share here did I actually find out how hard it was for her. I was difficult, horrible to live with. Insistent that I had the answer. Forever moving slowly, speaking slowly, saying things I thought were wise. I’m grateful that Rosa stuck by me and saw through it all as I was going through it. She recognised that it was a necessary part of my personal growth and that it was important to me to experience it all. But, naturally, she wanted the person she had gotten to know back.

When I heard about how obnoxious I was at the time, how arrogant I could be, how righteous I felt, I shuddered. I’m not hung up on the past but I can’t help but wish I never had a go at Rosa every time she got upset – in a very natural, human way – and just told her it was her ego and that she wouldn’t have problems if she let go of it and experienced this thing I thought I’d experienced for myself. And the whole time I was claiming she’d have no problems, I was a problem in myself. And I was having problems with what I thought she was thinking. Ridiculous. This wasn’t all the time, though, generally our relationship was good but this certainly presented the majority of the strain on the emotional aspect of our relationship.

Rosa and I, Wedding
Rosa and I, the day we got married.

2015 wore on and soon I was listening to these Hindu devotional chanting videos all the time. Like, all day. This was well into the year by this point. I arrived in Mexico in February and over the summer I was listening to these chants non-stop. During this time, Rosa and I got married and started an online business. Through it we both offered readings and one-to-one sessions and we helped people to feel better and make sense of things. In much the same way that the runes helped to bring the abstract into focus, what we did at the time helped too. How it all worked is still something of a mystery to me and I can’t give you an exact materialist explanation of it. At some point, Rosa would like to write on her experiences regarding the work we did at this time. She wants to talk speak about what has changed since. But yeah, let’s keep going with the story.

I started to think that Ram Dass’s guru was my guru too. Now, this is a guy who’s been dead for ages. Maharaji, his name was. And he was an eccentric man who many people claimed were wise. I don’t know if he was wise or not because I never met him and he died aaages ago. But people said he was wise and I was an idiot so I thought why not. This was towards the tail end of my more irrational beliefs and I think, on some level, they wanted to go out with a bang. So what did I do? I started “seeing the guru” in all sorts of normal, plain old, mundane experiences in my life.

I can’t really remember any of them now as this is the first time I’ve really tilled the soil of these memories since they happened. There was something about a dirty plate on the drying rack by the sink at one point. I don’t know. I remember telling a friend of mine something about that on Skype one morning. But yeah, it was stupid, really. I kept this picture with me all the time and started wearing a blanket like the one he used to wear. So childlike, my brain is sometimes. Innocent and sweet but equally terrible and inside-out. When I was growing up people always said I was mature for my age but I don’t know, Rick. I don’t know.

Towards the end of 2015, I got a bunch of comments from a guy on my Facebook. I must have posted something about the Law of Attraction being bullshit or something like that and he decided to off-load his opinions. Right, he was really rude in what he said but he had a point. Genuinely, he had a point. In retrospect, I agree with what I can remember of what he actually said. He said something about how I didn’t really have any answers – which I think was him being butt-hurt that I kept changing my point of view. But he said that me trying to teach was like the blind leading the blind. That’s true.

I mean, think about it, I was emulating leaders but I wasn’t one myself. I was synthesising the appearance of knowledge based on speculation and theory rather than accumulating it. That said, most of this guys assumptions about me were dead wrong. I think he thought I was more like Teal than I actually am. We’re different people, me and her, but I think he may have equated like to like given that we were both doing some things that were somewhat, kind of, a little bit similar – with varying degrees of success.

Those comments went in though. They got lodged in my brain and were the first sown seeds of doubt. And I am so grateful for them. This whole time, I’d been making videos and writing blog posts trying to teach and explain this strange conglomerate philosophy I’d concocted. I also worked one-to-one with people on Skype and Rosa and I did these readings but soon it would all stop.

Rosa and I in England
Rosa and I in England during our visit.

Come New Year 2016, Rosa and I visited England. I took a photograph of my “guru” with me in my rucksack and I think it left the bag a total of once in the entirety of the time we were in the U.K. Actually, I think the only time I got it out was to shove it in my Mum’s face because I knew it would wind her up. (Before we went to England, I posted a picture of Maharaji on her Facebook timeline and she hated it so I carried on doing it.)

Once Rosa and I got back to Mexico, it was as if the drug had worn off for me. A month out of the routine I’d created for myself and none of any of it had the same appeal for me anymore. Ironically, there’s a Ram Dass quote about visiting family that goes (and, of course, I’m paraphrasing) “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a weekend with your family.” But yeah, I came back to Mexico more myself than I’d been in a long time. Reminded of where I came from, reminded of what real familial affection and human connection with my family felt like. That was something I’d not really felt for months before coming to Mexico because I was so enthralled by all this culty nonsense and then by my own problems.

After a month or so back in Mexico, I decided that I’d had enough of being a “Spiritual Teacher” and I wrote a blog post entitled “Time for a Change” and dropped the mantle. But it didn’t end there. Something changed the day I gave it up but my “spiritual journey” didn’t end there.

[This is part two 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. Part three will follow at some point. As and when I feel like writing it, if I do. It may not be soon.]

At this point, I realise this has become much more a story of how irrational I become given the right stimuli and that the message seems to be “spirituality isn’t good for Andey because it makes him a mental case.” In writing this, I’m actually surprised by how much I have been influenced, for better and for worse, by the people I’m around most.

In an attempt to remedy the potential oversight of how erroneous most of spirituality is, I may write something that tackles each of these “spiritual” “truths” one by one and debases and debunks them to show that I’m not no longer spiritual because it is bad for me personally but because it’s all a load of overblown nonsense. If you want to see my take on any particular idea, drop a comment wherever or tweet me @AndeyTheFellow

 

Rosa and I, Feb 2016
Rosa and I, not long after arriving back in Mexico – February 2016.

From Cult to Common Sense – My Story (Pt. 1)

[The following account details my experience with religion, spirituality and a cult from 2010-2014]

So, I’ve been having a bit of a to-and-fro with a few people on Twitter the last few weeks. A conspiracy theorist and flat-earther. A Creationist. Various people who like to dispute well-known facts with no actual evidence to back-up their claims. There’s been all sorts of mental stuff said about evolution, to take one example. And, honestly, I find it hard to believe that we’re still having these kinds of conversations in 2018. But then I remember that like a year ago, I was thinking like that. In fact, go back a few years and I was all “You create your reality”, “We are the slave children of aliens from the planet Nibiru, aliens are inter-dimensional and we’re all oppressed by reptilian overlords.”

This blog has chronicled my journey from the time I was about to step with both feet into a new age cult (Teal Swan’s – then Scott -, to be exact. If you wanted to look into it). And having trusted this woman as a leader, I took a lot of very bad advice and started to think in a strange and dysfunctional way. I started to believe that my thoughts had a mystical effect on my experiences rather than only in the sense that the affect my actions, words and the various subtle subconscious-driven psychological signals that I, like anybody else, put out.

I’d been studying Buddhism and Taoism at the time too, which – I think – helped me to maintain some objectivity and never get into outright worshiping the cult leader as is the case in so many instances. And, having grown up with personal development/self-help ideas playing a key role in my life (via my dad) during the earlier development of my brain, I was a touch more critical than my fellow cultists and – thankfully – sooner or later, fell out of the whole thing.

All of that started after a close friend of mine died. I started watching a lot of documentaries on history, archaeology and the like. Naturally, in my naivety, it wasn’t long before I ended up watching ancient alien documentaries and similar kinds of trollop. When I couldn’t find any new ones that interested me, I posted on Facebook and asked my friends list if they had heard of or seen anything good. A friend suggested Spirit Science.

And this was my introduction into the really mental stuff. I say mental stuff, what it is is a mix of well-establish esoteric and mystical traditions from around the world that we’ve all heard of plus a whole bunch of wild claims, erroneous conclusions drawn based upon misunderstood facts and some magic thrown in for good measure. The Flower of Life by Drunvalo Melchizedek was one piece of literature that I found particularly interesting at the time and I swore by it, despite never really understanding it. It was published and that was enough for me.

At this point, I feel I should mention that although one set of my grandparents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and my other grandparents were raised Church of England and Methodist, I never received any real religious programming as a child. My mother was raised in the Witness religion/cult and left in her late teens, my dad didn’t really care for religion and it never played much of a role in his life – until he got older and took an interest in it from a more scholarly perspective (and then got into self-help/personal development and his own spirituality thereafter). My parents separated when I was young so whenever I was with either of them, the focus was more on spending time with them and the family, enjoying each others company and making the most of each other, rather than on any ultimately un-useful religious ideologies.

Me, Playing up in a church - paint
Me, playing up in a church as described.

I grew up never really caring all that much for the idea of a god, neither here nor there. Church both bored me and made me laugh – all of pomp of it. That said, there is that strange sense of reverence you feel when you enter a church that makes you want to talk quietly and move slowly. That always happened to me when I went in a church, despite my inner-rascal wanting to run about the place, singing loudly. I did that once, actually. In a church in Exmoor, I think. I was told to stop by my family, who are not even that religious. It could be an inherited idea, being quiet in these places. One of respect perhaps. I do get the same feeling if I’m in a quiet place in nature though, or in a nice garden. I imagine it’s the cultivated sense of quiet in the atmosphere that evokes that response in the human present there.

Anyway, Spirit Science is where I really started on the whole new age, culty path. I love a series, and even before Netflix was a thing, I’d binge watch as much as I could with boxsets. (I remember stampeding through my Heroes boxset all those years ago. The later seasons never did match up to the first. And that Heroes Reborn business they did recently? Terrible. Hiro’s not like that!) And this Spirit Science thing has so many episodes! I couldn’t believe my luck.

me - 2012 - 2
Me in 2012, in the midst of all this nonsense, playing a gig.

So I binged them. I watched them all, back to back. I filled my head with new information about chakras, “sacred” geometry, Atlantis, higher-dimensional beings, the law of attraction and on and on. It was all very tantalising. So very compelling. That’s the thing with fantasy, it’s written to be compelling. Much more than real life is. You have to be invested in real life for it to be interesting. If you’re not invested in it, if you’re not keen to learn or discover things for the delight of the quest for knowledge – or the sheer joy of learning – then any fantasy is better than reality.

And so I watched episode after episode of this. And I found Teal. She was associated with the Spirit Science guy (Jordan). As far as I know, Jordan met Teal and encouraged her to make videos. Thanks for that, Jordan. Multiple world tours and hours of detrimental, toxic youtube content later, Teal’s leading a global new age cult bigger than I’d ever anticipated. But of course, that’s the point of it. When you’re in it, you want everyone to know. You’ve heard the good news and you want to share. Where have we heard that before?

I became obsessed. I started watching videos upon videos, listening to podcasts and radio interviews galore. I couldn’t get enough. It was more of the same stuff I’d heard in Spirit Science but this woman seemed to understand it better than anybody else. She seemed to be tapped into it on a level I’d not seen before. There was another level of knowledge she seemed to have access to than no others had. She would make these claims of being the reincarnation of Satya Sai Baba, she would claim to be able to see the world differently than other humans. I remember her saying once that she didn’t see “negative space” so everything she saw, she could see the energy in between it that connected it all

Anybody who has studied cults and their leaders will know that this is textbook. A charismatic leader making wild claims confidently. And, if you want to believe it, you’ll lap it up. I was younger then, more trusting, more willing to believe just about anything I was told, as long as it fit into this new world-view I was taking on. And I say “taking on” because the instinct is to say what I said back then. That I was a “critical thinker” someone who was “awakened” and “questioning everything”. In reality, I was asking the same questions as this Teal woman and others like her had asked before and simply accepting the answers provided for me. It masqueraded as critical or reflective thought but it wasn’t that. That’s the case usually with others in the same position.

“Intuition” is another one. Which is really just the background processes of the brain, much more capable of taking in so many more pieces of information than the part of it that I’m aware of. And they go, “use your intuition”. And, of course, if the cult ideology has penetrated deeply enough into your thinking, the intuition will always reinforce preconceived notions of the cult ideology.

Naturally, I wanted a piece of the pie. I wanted to be like this woman. And, because of the way my brain works (Aspergers), I began to emulate her. I started to talk like her, use the same phrases and words. I started to think like her. In fact, I was able to anticipate/predict the answers she would give to the questions she was being asked. Pretty soon, I knew the philosophy inside out. Then I began to make videos.

Forever emulating the people I admire, even now I struggle to find myself amid these emulations. But I always do my best to tell the truth – or the closest thing to it that I know. This is true now and it was true then too. I started to talk about the Law of Attraction, crystals and all the rest of it on my new youtube channel. And when I’d published the video, I’d share it to the Facebook group for the “Tealers”. After a while, the videos started to garner interest from the community. Before long, I’d get hundreds of views from my fellow cultists alone. And when I posted in the group, I’d get lots of replies. And because I spoke in a way that had an air of confidence (the same confidence from the cult leader, Teal, I was emulating), people started to listen to my point of view a bit.

In fact, though I wasn’t really an authority, I became a relatively well-known person in the group. People knew my name and picture, at least. And, by the time it came around to me actually going to London, to attend one of this Teal’s events, I found myself spending the day with some of Teal’s inner circle. Now, from what I’ve heard, these people aren’t the best though I – with my mild autism – sensed nothing untoward in the time we were together. There was this weird eye-gazing thing that happened in this insanely expensive African-themed restaurant in Camden that, in hindsight, could well have been part of the play to test compliance and/or feel people out to some extent.

Me @ Stonehenge on the Tealer Trip
Me at Stonehenge on the “Tealer” field trip after the London event. Look at that culty smile.

Now, I don’t know whether these people ended up meeting up with me and my fellow cultist friends because I’d been active in the community and quite vocal up until that point. It could quite possibly have been because, when Teal sat down on the stage at the event and asked everybody how they were, I shouted back, “And how are you?” To which she replied, “I’m okay.” I wonder if that was what signaled me as something of an outlier. Or maybe it was because every time I locked eyes with the guy, one of the two who met up with me the next day (Blake, from the inner circle), I pulled faces at him. I dunno. But yeah, whatever the reason (and I don’t think it really matters now, apart from as plot points in a story), me and a few others met up with this Blake and Teal’s closest at the time, Graciela.

Blake did say to me though that he “had to hang out with Andey” or something like that. I dunno if that was his preference or Teal’s encouragement to figure out what I’m like, I dunno. And it turned out he and I shared a birthday, apparently. Though, given that I’m suspicious of all of it now, I’d say that could well not be true.

After I’d waded sufficiently deeply into the strange and toxic waters of this cult, alienated just about everybody close to me, spent a few months sleeping on other people’s sofas and been to London and back, I found myself sleeping on my mother’s sofa. I had no work and no desire to work, I had no real prospects, no plans and a head full of fantasy. Ideas about how I never wanted to do anything that didn’t make me feel good (A staple of the Law of Attraction mindset). Ideas about how, if I just got myself in the right vibration, I’d get everything I wanted.

It was in my mum’s house, via a Facebook dating group associated with the cult, that I met Rosa – who is now my wife. In fact, we’d had one conversation earlier that year but didn’t really click and went our separate ways. It wasn’t until months later, when I was sleeping on my mum’s sofa, that we really began talking. My head was full of fluff from this cult. Rosa’s was less so. She’d dipped into the ideas a bit but was by no means half as entrenched as I had become.

Rosa and I had posted our profiles in the group and we started talking thereafter. From a few messages here and there to hours and hours on skype, our conversations became much longer and went from occasional to daily. We talked and talked about all manner of things. And, I can honestly say that I’ve never met somebody so intelligent. And, until I met Rosa, I’d never been able to talk with anybody in the way I found I could talk to her – and still can. I wish that for everyone looking for a relationship in which they can thrive. Open, honest, reflective, respectful and considerate conversation.

We continued to talk daily, for hours, for ten months (give or take), before I actually managed to get to Mexico to meet her. And by that time we had such a solid emotional relationship in place, that adding physical proximity felt so natural. At the time of writing, we’ve not been apart for a single day since.

Over the months we talked, I moved from the sofa into the utility room. My mum didn’t have room for me to be there and, thanks to the law of attraction and my struggle as someone with aspergers to work in a conventional environment – among other things, getting a job and my own place to live in wasn’t as viable as I’d’ve liked. The utility room was 6ft by 6ft. I’m a little taller than 6ft. I had a washing machine as a bedside table and two sleeping bags on the floor for a mattress. And in the time that I was in that room, I shrank into myself. I became progressively more depressed by the day but did my best to get my own business of the ground.

This business, I felt, would get me to Mexico and to a better life. The business was coaching. That’s right. As someone living in a 6ft by 6ft utility room, without a penny to my name, with a head full of baseless ideas and arguably debilitating depression, I thought the answer was to become a life coach. I’m rubbing my forehead in astonishment at myself now as I write this. I found a few unfortunates who were willing to pay me for this. To whom, if you’re reading this now, I’d like to apologise. I really hope I helped you with my theories on how to live a happy life.

Now, at this point, the “Law of Attraction” had really been something I needed to depend on. It was something I had hoped would get me out of this sticky situation and into a better one. But, it wasn’t working for me. Why is obvious now. It’s not real. It’s a scam. It’s basic psychology imbued with crazy mysticism that essentially confuses the true components into bullshit. But I didn’t know that at the time. I believed it all.

Me - 2014
Me in 2014 – at my sisters birthday at Pizza Hut. Probably thinking I’m better than all of it while trying to ignore the gaping depression and massive disappointment and disillusionment I’ve not yet acknowledged is eating away at me.

So, for an exchange, I set up some skype sessions with someone who was a “Soul Realignment Practitioner” or something like that. Now, if I believed in souls – which I no longer do – I’d probably say “I don’t think your soul can be misaligned. It’s not like your spine.” and this was a sentiment uttered towards the end of my time working with this woman. I can honestly say I believe she meant well and was not a charlatan (like some in these circles). And I think she believed in all the stuff she was telling me. And, as I say, I’m no better because I believed it all too.

The trouble really came because this Soul Realignment Practitioner rolled up financial and/or business advice into her services. And so, ultimately, I ended up taking some very bad advice about raising my prices and creating outrageously priced new packages that (obviously) nobody bought. I’m talking over £1000 for one package here. Mental. Considering I had next to no qualifications, had hardly lived a life, was smoking a lot of weed still and had only had two paying clients up until that point. Two paying clients which, may I add, when I increased the prices just £10 for, disappeared from my client base. Because of course, charging MORE money for a service basically nobody was interested in was the solution to all my problems.

Oh, also, because I thought it would “get me in the right vibration to attract getting to Mexico”, I ate nothing but burritos for dinner every day for months. My shits were hard as rocks. The picture above, of me in Pizza Hut, is one of the only exceptions I made to my only burritos rule. Me even being there at all was my mum’s doing. She was always trying her best to help me get back to a sane place.

At this point, I was starting to get disillusioned by it all. I was taking all the advice I was being given and I was seeing no results. I understood the Law of Attraction and all of Teal’s nonsense inside out and yet STILL I was getting no results. Nothing was happening. Nothing was changing. I was still in this little room, miserable and unable to make a change for myself.

Soon, I started to question Teal a lot more closely. I started to pick her ideas apart and saw that they really made very little sense. I started to second guess everything I’d been absorbing over the years previous. I was desperate for a way out and nobody could help me. Least of all myself. Not the way I was carrying on anyway. Slowly, the idea that something needed to change took root.

Soon, I broke. Finally, it dawned on me. Crashed down on me, really. I’d been following the advice of these random people. The lives of whom I’d never seen myself. I was following their advice without considering the sources. I was taking their word as gospel because it sounded good in theory but I’d need no real evidence of any of these things actually working. Systematically, I reviewed about every memorable experience I’d had over the last years with a new, critical eye. And all the claims made didn’t actually stand up, all the promises I’d been made hadn’t been fulfilled. And now, following the New Age philosophy, the Law of Attraction philosophy, Teal’s philosophy, each to the LETTER, I was miserable, lonely and penniless.

I couldn’t do it any longer. And, when I look back, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a video I saw of Teal claiming that she basically knew what God intended for people. She said something like “From Source’ perspective” by which she meant, “From God’s point of view…” The claim was that she knew what God was thinking. This seemed a bit strange when earlier in her “teachings”, she’d said that this Source/God was not a being with a point of view but was in fact pure energy. As an agnostic atheist, I can now say that the likelihood that – if there is a god – it’s speaking to her is very low. Actually, she used this line in an argument in a video, to win out over her husband at the time.

There was a catharsis then. I declared to Rosa over skype, “The law of attraction is bullshit.” and from that day, I’ve not looked back to it. What remained was a gap in my mindset. A desire to believe in something. A need to have something to hold onto, something to put life into perspective, something to make sense of things for me. And so the quest for happiness and for god continued.

[This is part one 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. Part two will follow at some point. As and when I feel like writing it, if I do. It may not be soon.]

Tweet at me @AndeyTheFellow

Feminism That Works

A few months ago, I wrote a post promising I’d write on feminism. Since then, I’ve been researching and I’ve learned a lot. One thing I found quite often around feminism was anger, mistrust and a whole lot of a labelling. That’s not to say these things are necessarily misplaced or unreasonable. In some instances, I think they are accurate and understandable responses to a wide variety of circumstances. But I think we can all agree that anger, mistrust and a whole lot of labelling are three things that hang around feminism like a bad smell and are three of many things that will absolutely not foster a change of opinion in a disagreement.

And that’s what I’ve decided I want to write about here. I could sit here and reel off what I do and don’t agree with about feminism but, honestly, in all the research I’ve done, what I’ve found is not a portion of the global population who are tackling old or redundant issues (as I, in my naivety had expected to find), though it must be said that there is arguably, and ironically, a bit of an identity crisis within the feminist movement at present.

The most significant thing that presented itself to me when I was researching third-wave feminism was two-fold. It lacks the organisation necessary to really make a lasting difference and, I dare say, the majority of people involved in the movement are not all that well-versed in how to have the sort of conversation that will change somebody’s mind. I also noticed – however justifiable you might think it is – that in the left wing mentality in general, and in the extreme left that many SJWs find themselves in, there is a pervasive sense of being a victim of something. But because I don’t intend this post to be a criticism of the mental and emotional wellbeing of third-wave feminists or their adjacent and/or overlapping political inclinations, I’ll instead focus on the main issues at hand.

Organisation

As far as I can tell, few who call themselves a feminist in the world right now can really agree on what feminism really is. There is a kind of baseline of agreement in that “Feminism means equality for women.” Which I get and agree with, wholeheartedly. The identity crisis I mentioned earlier is that, now that – in the western world – the equality of women is more or less taken care of (though some countries, like the US, are doing a bit of a dance on the line with the issue) the feminist movement seemed to have branched out. They have taken under-wing the LGBT+ community and they have even folded other minorities or groups that feel victimised (or, in pop-culture terms, “marginalised”).

I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with this enveloping of other causes into the feminist fold but what I have to say that, in any other instance, this would cause confusion and in this instance, that confusion is not absent. For example, if I run a shop that sells kitchen appliances and it’s called “Andey’s Kitchen Stuff” and then one day, I decide I’m going to start selling niche products like ankle bracelets for pets but I keep the shop name the same, there are pros and cons. Naturally, there are benefits to keeping the same branding. People know me, they know the brand and they trust the brand. But I don’t think I’m going to be making waves in the pet ankle bracelet market for as long as the name is making people think I only sell kitchen stuff. I would need to either change the sign or start a new shop for my pet ankle bracelet business.

Of course, kitchen stuff and pet ankle bracelets are disparate things, unlike feminism and LGBT+ issues. Feminism and LGBT+ issues are, at heart, both related to gender, social opinions and behavioural conducts (among other things). Where things get confusing is that the name of the thing – any thing – tends to be indicative of what the thing is. In this instance, the branding doesn’t match the product. But that’s a small part of the identity crisis the movement is suffering as of now.

What really plagues it, I think, is that there is no cohesion, no real organisation or strategy or plan. It’s just a bunch of people on Tumblr and Twitter, raging endlessly at people who don’t give a shit and then, on occasion, those same people gather in the streets and do some shouting. That doesn’t always make a difference. And, as much as Natalie Portman’s agent would like us to think “making a stand” among some of the most well-off people in the world really makes a difference, I don’t think it does. Other than making most of the people watching it roll their eyes at what is possibly a subtle publicity stunt, despite her beliefs.

Just think back to the first feminist movements campaigning for women’s right. There were clear objectives and they got organised. And think about the black rights movement in the US, they had charismatic voices, clear objectives and they got organised. Waves were made on both accounts. I would imagine that part of the issue at the moment, with feminism, is that it is spread very thin. There are lots of little issues to be dealing with, most of which are valid issues, and because of that it’s hard to make sense of things without a central movement, figurehead or a council that is listened to. I think, if third-wave feminism is going to really make a difference, it’s got to buckle down and get organised.

I’d also like to point out here that a lot of feminists are against the typical gender roles prevalent in societies worldwide but there is a fun bit of irony in that women, who are typically seen as being motherly, compassionate and ready to comfort the sad or injured have taken the downtrodden minorities of society under-wing and are nursing them as we speak. Not having a go but it’s a lovely bit of irony.

dog-190056_1280
If this is stressing you out but you still want to read it, have a little think about what this dog is thinking about. If you’re enjoying the post, enjoy the picture anyway. Let’s not be exclusive about this.

Being Convincing

The other major issue I see affecting the feminist movement at the moment is that so few feminists know how to get their point across without getting personal, labelling the person they disagree with, ignoring the other persons point of view, failing to meet the person at their level of understanding and, generally, leaving whoever their talking to feeling guilty or fed up or frustrated or cemented in position feeling like they need to defend themselves.

To this, I would make this simple point: Opinions rarely change in conversation, they change when the person has had time to reflect on what has been said, in the safety of their own mind. It takes a specific kind of mindset to be able to admit you’re wrong when someone is making you feel tiny. And even fewer people actually mean it when they say it. Most people, when backed into a corner, will say whatever they need to say to get out of the corner and to somewhere more comfortable. That’s why admission of guilt under duress is not an adequate confession and it’s why people who’ve been debated and seem to agree will later backtrack and disagree as soon as they feel confident again.

Something that I feel is important to highlight is that rhetoric is not always an adequate tool alone to change somebody’s mind. Listening and understanding why they believe what they believe is just as important. Most people who disagree just don’t understand or don’t want to. These people are not going to respond to rhetoric. Others have strong, researched opinions of their own and have considered them deeply – e.g. Jordan Peterson. These people won’t change their minds because of rhetoric either. And, honestly, most people don’t want to change their opinions. So you’re fighting uphill if you want them to and that means you need tools. Effective, precise and considered tools.

Emotion isn’t enough. Opinions aren’t enough. Facts aren’t enough. There’s plenty of evidence for this. The average feminist, just like anybody of a strong opinion/with a cause, needs to have conversational tools in their arsenal that extend beyond persuasive or impressive and/or imposing speech. They need to be able to listen, they need to be able to understand who they’re across from and they need to engage in a civil conversation that doesn’t dissolve into an argument, a messy personal spat or just one personal railing the other with a loud voice and pointy fingers because that never works.

There is a fundamental piece of the puzzle missing for the average feminist today, I think. And “making them listen” doesn’t work on people who don’t want to listen because they’re already fed up of listening to the endless shrill voices of angry women. There needs to be a conversation. And both sides need to listen, engage and provide considered, evidenced responses (if the conversation is about facts) or (if the conversation is about opinions), things need to be kept respectful and considered at all times. For as long as feminism is writhe with pointing out how others are bad/wrong/mean/evil/the problem, it will do very little to anybody with influence.

And that brings me to my next point. Misogynistic creationists on Twitter really aren’t the demographic I’d be worried about if I wanted to make a difference. As someone who has studied effective persuasion, I’d be interested in looking for the people who won’t allow themselves to be backed into a corner by angry rhetoric – someone who is both influential in the right ways and who is capable of having a reasoned conversation. Of course, people in the US are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this as, despite the fact that the church and state are not supposed to be conjoined, christians are usually the only ones allowed into positions of power which is, naturally, mental. But that’s a challenge that, ever more so, should be taken up with clear objectives in mind.

In Summary

I hope I’ve been able to articulate my points well enough here that, for anybody it concerns, it’s gone down like honey. I do imagine that’s not been the case for everyone but you can’t please everybody. Ultimately, I feel like if modern feminists are able to tackle the issues of organisation and of knowing how to win someone over to their point of view without being all argumentative, then feminism will come on leaps and bounds over the next years.

I would like to apologise to my regular readers (to whatever extent one can be a regular reader of a blog that has new posts only a few times a year of late). This post isn’t the usual sarcastic, upbeat thing I usually write. And that’s because I’ve been thinking to myself, for ages, “I’ve got to write that post about feminism” and in the end I felt less and less like I could really be bothered to sit down and do it. That said, the points I wanted to make are necessary ones, I think. And, had I not written this, I’d have found it difficult to reconcile having said I would do it with deciding not to. And I’d’ve been wound up with myself for not doing it. Anyway, it’s done now. And, when I do write more, I’ll do it because I feel inspired to rather than because I said I would. That way we will have good quality posts.

If I’m wrong about anything I’ve said here and you want to tell me that, or if you agree with me, tweet at me @AndeyTheFellow. I’m always keen to learn and am an avid debater and rationalist, so bring your best arguments. And be respectful or I’ll be sarcastic. You’ve been warned.

Making Space for Honesty

I wanted to talk to you about something. My writing here has become so infrequent of late, so much so that last year alone I wrote so few posts that I could count them on one hand. I like writing here and when I do it, I get a lot out of it. The sense of relief having emptied out my brain of thoughts on a given subject is just one of a shed load of reasons I love it. But lately I just haven’t had that blogging drive. More so, I just haven’t had much I wanted to say on the subjects I usually touch on here. So, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to be braver with what I write here. For a long time, I only wrote what made sense as part of an image I was to fit into. Then, I dropped that image and got “real” in my writing. Then, I stopped having things to write. Largely because I became so immersed in life that I hardly gave myself the time or space to actually sit down and write anything at all. And then came the issue of what I would write.

I toyed with the idea of starting a whole new blog, an anonymous one, where I could say exactly what I think about some of the issues I haven’t touched on at all on this blog. Things that are being passed about like hot potatoes on a train at the moment. I considered writing about the things I write about here, my personal journey and that, but adding to the mix issues like feminism and trans stuff including but not limited to gender roles and what it means to be of any gender were two of the more talked about things for me lately. Politics is another one.

As my wife, Rosa, and I walked our usual route around the local park tonight, engulfed by a conversation about the benefits and opportunities of giving ourselves to writing more, I liked the idea of writing anonymously. It would give me the opportunity to say exactly what I wanted to say, I thought to myself as we walked. And I could do it without care or concern for the consequences beyond what some poor sod wound up enough to actually write a comment in order to disagree with me might think.

On reflection, past the freedom of such an idea was the reality that the anonymity the internet provides (to whatever extent it still does) is actually the very thing giving people a platform to say – without pause – the most inconsiderate and convoluted rubbish humanity has up until this point probably ever actually uttered. Most of it is incomprehensible in much the same way as the loose skin at the elbow of the elderly is like chicken skin and is indeed, in some instances at least, called chicken skin but is not actually chicken skin. By which I mean, the anonymity the internet provides has, by and large, given just about anybody the freedom to, with little to no consequence, spew any old nonsense that, upon first glance (likely due to the conviction with which it’s being said) seems to be valid and reasonable but on further inspection is revealed to be little more than emotionally-charged rhetoric with next to no basis in fact or reason let alone relevance to the larger or more personal issues we all face in our actual lives away from computers or smartphones (or, as I like to call it, flappy skin that has lost its elasticity from years of use and abuse).

The internet, it seems, has become an insular bubble which provides anybody who is prepared to put the time in with a conclusively isolating echo chamber, the inside of which is cluttered only with an ever growing collection of things its owner would like to see as well as a smattering of targeting advertisements and the comfortably ignored and decidedly erroneous lifestyle choices of one’s extended family. On occasion, a troll slips through the lining like unexpected sperm looking to turn one nearly gestating fetus into two. They are consequently treated in much the same way a happy heterosexual couple of two who just haven’t got the money or will to have a child just yet if ever might treat the luck of any sperm fulfilling its sole purpose. Panic followed by the systematic and dispassionate utilisation of the relevant ‘block’ function.

It’s for this reason that I felt the need, NEIN! THE URGE, to decide against writing my opinions anonymously. Not because I want to get pregnant with trolls nor because I want to put my name next to some old nonsense I feel like spewing.

(NEIN! THE URGE is coincidentally one of Germany’s lesser-known theatre noir pieces that deals with both the jovial and disquieting sides of consent and sexuality or at least, it would be if I was a German writer and director and hadn’t just made all of that up)

Nor, even, perhaps because I want to use the potential smearing of my average-to-good name as an instigator for a more considered or reserved approach to these topics. But because I feel like, right now, the internet is saturated with so many strange and untoward things that it’s hard to find something decent amongst all the disarray, anger, SJWs and the like. Two of those things, I have found, are most prevalent. One, people asserting their narrow-minded, unconsidered and frankly baseless opinions without offering to show any of their workings out and then stamping their name on the tosh proudly in some attempt to create a controversial personal brand. And, two, a plethora of anons who get off on being the most awful people from the relative safety of a generic profile picture and a dodgy online handle.

I don’t think I’d be doing myself or anybody else any good by hiding behind anonymity when approaching topics that are sensitive subjects for so many people today. And I don’t think that shrinking away into the shelter of a fake name would really do much to accomplish the only thing I would really seek to accomplish as a result of talking about these sensitive things. What I would really want out of talking about these things is to be part of a more reasoned and collected wing of the on-going conversations.

I could be wrong but I feel like, with all the loud voices at the extreme ends of the political/social spectrum, the softer, kinder voices in the middle are being drowned out. Partly to do with the fact that these are people who would rather just get on with things than sit and debate the nature of the deity or whether or not genitals define your gender. Partly because these people are extremely tolerant people and sort of just want everybody to do things their own way as long as they’re not harming anybody. And partly because, when it comes down to it, there’s the expectation that these issues will pass like leaves on the wind and tomorrow there’ll be some other big issue so “why bother getting all worked up about something that ultimately won’t matter soon?” That and also the values of the people, like me, who happen to fall in the middle these days (now that things have shifted as they have), are typically expressed without shouting and so we’re drowned out by the angry and the belligerent.

I can’t help but feel like just getting on with things with the expectation that it will all die down or blow over soon enough might just result in a world that the people with more considered values aren’t all that happy living in. In a sense, I get that whole “the meek will inherit the earth” business. (That said, these people in the middle aren’t all that meek. They’re just getting on with things. They’re harmless enough when they’re left to it. Piss them off though and they’ll strike you down. Fear not the one who is angry, fear the one who is fed up of your shit.) When you think about it, if we just left the loud-mouth opinionated people to it, they’d eventually all kill each other and those who were – by chance – far enough away from the bombs when they inevitably landed, would be left with the fallout. (War never changes). That would only work if they were sterile though. I suppose that could be arranged. Anyway, that’s by the by. And it’s worst case scenario.

Me, alone in front of a lake, if I was this woman. And in front of that lake.

I’ve got to say though, this whole “as long as they’re not harming anybody” isn’t something I feel really extends itself to being entirely at home when it comes to intolerance. And that is the real issue here, after all. The far left are intolerant of the far right and the far right are intolerant of the far left. And then you’ve got all these well-meaning people in the middle whose literal highest goal in life is to stay alive until the end of Game of Thrones, or – if they’re lucky – be able to watch their grandkids play the new Elder Scrolls game on the PS9 when the game is actually released because their own fingers are just too fucked up from the arthritis to play this game I so loyally waited for all my life.

I forget where I heard it now but for as long as we’re tolerant towards intolerance then intolerance will prevail. That’s something that I remember often enough for it to inform my personal philosophy, I think. But at the end of the day, I’d be doing myself and all five people who read this blog a disservice by voicing the extent of my opinions elsewhere. Especially when, in truth, they are opinions that I would stand by and am entirely happy being held accountable for. So, in conclusion – long story short even though I wrote it long – I’ll talk about it here as and when I want to. I’ll join the conversation and be one more voice, albeit a more sarcastic and irreverent one. And I hope that my thoughts will serve to widen the scope of what the kinder people in the middle of it all have to say about the larger issues in life. If not, then at least, I’ll be one more person who is ready to start voicing tradition-informed, considered opinions in the hopes of balancing the scales of the current narrative. A narrative which has, for the most part, been overwhelmed by rhetorical but very real mob-fever.

For God’s Sake

I’m blowing the dust off of this blog for the first time in months. Hello again. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that. Okay, so, the past months have been spirals of stuff. Literal stuff and figurative stuff. So much stuff. Last I wrote here I put up a few things about spirituality and faith, I think. Well, as ever, that part of my life now has morphed into something entirely new. More or less anyway.

So, the pockets of my days that were once filled by the ramblings of people like Eckhart Tolle, Mooji, Ram Dass and so on, have been filled now with something that I’d call somewhat less baseless. I’ve been listening a lot recently to scientists like Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins as well as passionate and enthusiastic atheists like Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince among others. I’ve gained a lot from it, in terms of both knowledge, experience, having my back put up and in terms of laughter and excitement as well.

One thing I gained was the sudden realisation that one of my favourite things in life is when people talk and make sense. That’s so rare these days, especially now that we live in what I’ve heard Ricky Gervais call the “post-truth” era. Watch any debate between Deepak Chopra and any atheist or scientist and you’ll be presented with a handful of overwhelming things if you’re anything like me. On the one hand: Excitement about hearing people calling bullshit, enthusiasm about hearing pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo being shaken up and thrown in the bin. And then, on the other hand: Outright frustration at the belligerence of Deepak Chopra, his inability to accept defeat, his need to change the goal posts so that he can still seem right and then the subsequent overcoming urge to skip past his nonsense to listen to the sensible people talking again. Those scenarios – when you’ve got a ‘faith’ person on one side and an atheist on the other – are quite gratifying if you’ve got the stones to sit and watch the confrontation.  The famous one of Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens going up against the Catholic Church comes to mind. These are stark examples of people making sense in the face of covert moroseness and flat-out, bold-faced, I’d-rather-feel-right-and-be-wrong-than-be-wrong-and-learn-what’s-right denial. I used to be one. I shudder to think of it.

So let me clear up where I’m at now. Last I wrote, I was probably done with spirituality and just about comfortable with the idea that some sort of god existed. Yeah, okay. So now I’ve come to feel like the closest thing to what I could call “God” is this… I think there’s something that’s far more special than daily life – than what we had for dinner or who said what about Hermandil McTrout last week. It exists in the silence between words that hangs in the air undisturbed as the sound flows through it as returns when the sound fades. It exists in the space in every room, in every full box of stuffed animals making their way to your new house. Silence and space. That’s it, I think. If God exists, it exists in silence and space.

I think a quiet moment to yourself without any thoughts twatting around in your head where you’re doing nothing and you’re just sitting there is much more special than anything else you could do in your day. It’s not necessarily more fulfilling that setting your mind on something and achieving it nor more exciting or inviting than being creative and making something but it’s there, I think. And, I think, the fact that it doesn’t tug on the brain like “BASK IN ME” makes it more special. Better than old testament god, anyway. Less needy. But it’s only that special for a moment. In that moment in between you sitting down and sighing, just before you have heart palpitations about whether you left the oven on your not. That’s where God is, I think. If there’s a God, that’s where it is.

But then it’s stops being “God” as we define it. I mean, to a certain extent it fits the bill, right? All knowing, omnipresence, benevolent. In a sort of poetic way, that’s space and silence, right? That’s the essence of this “god” thing, without all the angry, jealous murder-y, let-your-own-son-get-human-sacrificed stuff that the Judeo-Christian mythology would prefer to believe is more at place in what they named “paganism” than their own doctrines – even though it’s kept alive by those very doctrines.

So does that mean I believe God created the universe? No. Probably not. Almost definitely not. That takes a bit too much more of this popular fairytale prose thinking that I’m not that keen on. It wasn’t until recently that I realise how genuinely ridiculous the idea that when we die we all go up into the sky and live in a magic place with all the dead people and see Jesus is. That is literally crazy for an idea. Just so ridiculous. When I think about the fact that I’m expected to believe that some people think that’s true, I tend to err on the side of just assuming they like the idea more than believe in it. I dunno. It makes more sense that they’re comforted by such a ludicrous idea (if they don’t think about it too much) than to believe it’s actually the case. It does make sense that a lot of the like core religious fundamentalists don’t like sci-fi and fantasy stuff though. Are they fulfilled by their own magical fantasy that Lord of the Rings pales in comparison? I find that hard to believe. More likely that they’re just annoyed that they ended up roped into the mythology that doesn’t have enchanted jewellery or lightsabres and the force.

I digress. The point I sat down to write about was this: I have come to feel that there is an important piece of the puzzle that we’re missing when it comes to religion, spirituality and philosophy – most notably when it concerns science and the attitudes of the intensely faithful towards science. As ever, I’m just speaking about where I’m at in the hope that you might get something from it and, if you do, great. If you don’t, get on with your day.

What I mean is that I feel like both religion and spirituality want to have all the answers. I could speculate about why that is all day. Is it because they want to keep people suckling on their mythological nipples indefinitely? Is it because in order for the things these ideologies claim are the truth to be believed, they have to have context? Is it because once you believe the craziest part of the mythology is a genuine fact then you’ll believe just about anything else they tell you? I don’t know. Maybe all of the above, maybe none of them. I don’t know.

When I say “spirituality” here, I mean it in the context of its modern, almost religious, incarnation. New age cults abound. Actually you know what, these new age things are basically religions now that it’s become an epidemic so I’m going to make my job easier and just say “religion” and mean both religion and spirituality.

God or something? I don’t know. I didn’t know what picture to choose so I just search Pexels for “Angry Priest”. After the tigers, I found this listed there. Works, I guess. Could also be me when I’m older. All solemn and contemplative but sort of wound up and worn out. I mean, this guy’s homeless. I won’t be homeless with any luck. Touch wood.

Religion seems to want to have all the answers about everything. And I mean everything. The amount of times I’ve heard a religious person claims that god created the earth (and all that other boring, less important stuff in the vast and infinite universe) in seven days as if it were an insoluble, infallible fact far exceeds the number of times I’ve heard the same sort of person say, “I like the idea that god created the universe in seven days but I don’t really know. I’m more comfortable believing this than not knowing at all. Also, I like church because we sing songs and there people there speak softly and it only costs we a few quid a week.” or something to that effect.

In light of all of this, I feel like I want to say, “The thing that fills the space of God in my life is those little moments of peace that come upon me when I sit down and shut up in every conceivable way and just enjoy being alive for a second. I don’t need hollow promises of life after death because if I need that then I’m not living this life well enough. I don’t need the idea of some angry, overzealous and yet somehow absent father figure watching over my life to make me morally balanced. I’ve already got a dad. I don’t need another one. One’s enough. I don’t need a religion to tell me how to be a decent person either. I would rather bolster the value of being a decent person by choosing to be kind and considerate and respectful and so on because I think that’s the best way to be not because some old man who happens to force little boys to have sex with in private told me that some invisible man in the sky is disappointed in me when I lie. I don’t lie because I value honesty not because your old book says not to lie.

I think it comes down to one clean and clear point. There’s a fat and hairy mollusc like line between science and philosophy. I feel like there’s a huge need to treat philosophy and philosophy and science as science. So, pondering what these medieval men might have meant by what they wrote in their book thousands of years ago and what on earth compelled them to do so would come under Philosophy. Debating whether it’s a good thing or not to lie and or steal another person’s livestock would come under philosophy. The origin of the universe = science.

This approach to these mythologies might encourage each person who approaches them to settle on their own philosophy and question the accepting fallacies and inconsistencies in these traditions. It would make ejecting someone from a place of worship for asking intelligent questions a pathetic thing to do and it would result in less of us taking baseless assertions as fact on faith alone. But I don’t know why I’m telling you this. If you’ve made it this far through this post you either agree with me or are just reading so that you can get your facts straight when you grumble with your religious friends about me before praying for my soul or something.

So, yeah. That’s where I’ve come to now. Closer to the Taoist thing about God existing but not existing without it really affecting my life all that much. No more wishy-washy nonsense about magic thoughts. A deep abhorrence for Deepak Chopra, as if that didn’t come across crystal-fucking-clear earlier. And more respect for science and the scientific method than ever before. Said the person who one said, “science is wrong about a lot of stuff.” How far we come. I wasn’t totally wrong though. Science probably is wrong about a lot of stuff, in tiny ways which it will correct by admitting it’s wrong and asking good questions – a practice I think we can all learn from.

That’s what I’ve done, really. When I was like 15, I learned what like to do horrible thing and then hate myself for it for years afterwards. When I was 18, I started looking into Buddhism and different world religions having grown up with no real religious influence other than two grandparents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. By 20, I was on that old path to being brainwashed by a cult. When I was 21, I was balls deep in the Law of Attraction. 22, I was done with the Law of Attraction, the cult and everything else associated with it. 23, I was into gurus and non-dualism and the Power of Now.

I’m 24 now. I get my ideas by thinking about them on and off for weeks, debating with my wife and then submitting to likely never knowing for sure before deciding to settle on something that “works for now.” The need to find answers about the big questions as all but worn off. I just don’t care anymore. I’m open to new ideas and genuine and non-anecdotal proof. I don’t really hate anybody but I’m skeptical of most things despite being a die-hard hope addict. I avoid people because they annoy me and with all the time I save no having that many friends, I focus on creating beauty. I write music, I mod Skyrim, I learn new things and develop my skills, I talk to the people I do actually like about things that matter to me and to them (as often as possible that’s not which part of their body aches today and how they slept). And I don’t need religion to be happy. I’m happy now than I’ve been for so long and it’s not dependant on what I believe about the work, the universe or about metaphysics. It’s dependant on what I do with my day. So it’s at my fingertips, so to speak. It’s not up in the sky, or after death, or subject to the biased opinions of a man in a dress standing in the front of a crusty old building reading dodgily translated words from a dusty old book. And it’s certainly not reliant on whether I believe in God. God doesn’t even factor into it. I don’t need half-baked platitudes anymore either.

Mad that. When I was so sure that I’d be happier than ever if I unlock the metaphysical mysteries of the universe if I kept my eyes closed long enough. Lol.

 

SJW – Some Jaundiced Words

 

The topics included under the umbrella of “social justice” have come up a lot in our house lately. From the Netflix show “Dear White People” to the discussion of “Gender Neutral” terms and other similar things regarding feminist-friendly terms. When Rosa and I were talking about it, we came back to a point that I think is really relevant to the issue at hand. Lemme share it. As always, if you like it or hate it, let me know. Interested to hear your thoughts.

[Disclaimer: I’m not having a go. I’m passionately looking at as many of the facts as I’ve seen. Know a fact I missed? Have your say. Gods, don’t let me be wrong.]

So, yeah. You can’t win an argument. Point blank, cannot be done. As soon as a conversation or debate becomes an argument, nobody is getting anywhere. It’s an issue of self-preservation. As soon as your identity, your view of who you are, or your “thing” come under fire, you don’t want to listen anymore. That’s just how it happens.

I think we’ve learned loads of our ideas on how to “Change The World™” from our fucking pets. Like, if a dog doesn’t like another dog, it barks. If a cat wants to show the others in the colony that they are the king or queen then they assert their dominance with a bit of a fight and some overwhelming behaviour that makes their position clear. And, if a dog had a weak baby or you take a kitten away from its mother too early, they fucking eat them.

8d40689b8e9de380cc231063886ae61cHumans aren’t like that though. We are a social species. We don’t respond like that. If we have a weak baby that won’t be much like anybody else, we love it anyway. We take it as our mission to give that kid the best life possible. Whatever their condition, whether they’ll be disabled for their whole life or whether they’ll not last a few years… We take that on, we rise to the challenge and we make it work.

That’s how we respond to the underdog/cat. We see them and we’re like “Awh so cute” and we lift them up and help them out.

Now imagine I’m a white male and someone comes at me like “White privilege nur”, they’re doing a number of terrible things if what they want is to get their point across, be heard and see some actual change.

First of all, they’ve made something that is clearly representative of me (from their point of view) a bad thing and therefore, I’m immediately going to get defensive. Preservation of self, right? They’ve also managed to make this thing – this trait/label/observation – the underdog/cat. And that means, because we’re not actually like dogs or cat – because we want the other members of our species to survive because, for us, that means we survive – we get all “awh, don’t be mean” about it and we try – even if that issue doesn’t directly apply to us – to find a way that it’s “not as bad as all that”.

Is this post stressing you out?

Here’s a mountain to help with that.

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Nice right?

Anyway, back to it.

Same with “don’t use that word it offends me” (get offended then, I don’t care) and stuff like that. The whole, let’s try to make other people change the words they use thing is actually pretty mad when you think about the fact that the words we use are a consequence of our state of mind and our values. LINGUISTIC CHANGE IS NOT CHANGE. IF IT LASTS & IS NOT THE RESULT OF WORD POLICING, LINGUISTIC CHANGE IS A CONSEQUENCE OF CHANGE. We’ve got this obsession with focusing on the symptom when the cause is so much more interesting; of focusing on the problem when the solution is right there.

There seems to be an as yet undeciphered formula which, when applied, would give somebody the ability to make someone else see things the way they see things. I haven’t cracked it yet. As I say, undeciphered. Probably won’t bother though. I do have a sense that some part of it relates very closely to not attacking the person you want to influence though…

Getting all worked up over the words people use is just a waste of time. Just like getting all worked up over how people act is a waste of time. WORDS ARE A CONSEQUENCE OF STATE OF MIND. ACTIONS ARE A CONSEQUENCE OF STATE OF MIND. If you’re not thinking for yourself, you live out your life like your parents did. With the same bias and prejudice. If we start thinking for ourselves then we do things differently. But at no point will getting wound up about what someone else is doing actually change what they’re doing.

Changing someone else is about the most loobycrust waste of time anybody can ever indulge in. What people really need is to be listened to. That’s why we shout over each other in arguments. Duh. It’s also like… that quote… I can’t remember where I heard it. It was in a series. Tell if you know. “There’s one problem with trying to change the world: Everybody else.”

JUST BECAUSE IT MAKES SENSE DOESN’T MEAN IT MATTERS.

At the end of the day, I think it’s not a question as to who is right. I don’t think any of us are as much as we all think we are and unless you’re into the idea of some supreme sense of moral justice that may/may not/should/shouldn’t guide our actions… Then well… I think, really, the issue isn’t one of feminism or racial prejudice or gender this or that (or whatever in between)…

I think the issue is that we’re still learning how to be around each other. HUMANS ARE SO ADVANCED BUT WE HAVEN’T LEARNED HOW TO CO-EXIST. LOL. If I had it my way, I’d make sure that everybody with a strong opinion about anything first had some knowledge of the anatomy of an argument. There’s no “Oh, I see what you mean. Fair enough. I was wrong. Sorry for being a total wanky cunt bollock. I didn’t mean it. You’re so wise and I was a stupid bumhole for thinking I was right.” organ.

Yeah, before we start getting all up in arms about how each other are wrong, shouldn’t we learn how to be around each other despite our opinions? Philosophy students, go.

[Disclaimer #2: I know this whole post is an oxymoron. But hey, I need to breathe.]

Yes, the words are yellow because their liver is failing.

Turning In A New Direction

In a society – a culture – where having an opinion is about as valuable as gold used to be, I find myself frequently without one. Or, at least, one I deem worth voicing. That’s why I write here so rarely now. It’s why I never liked Twitter, I just don’t have enough interesting thoughts often enough to warrant a social media app dedicated to voicing them.

The irony that I’m writing about how I haven’t got anything to say hasn’t escaped me. But bear with it. It might just go somewhere yet. We’ll see.

For such a long time, this blog was a way to chart my “spiritual journey” – a phrase which at various points has meant different things. Whether the blog was charting how convinced I was of my latest philosophical squeeze or of some psychological quip I’d come up with, it was always me documenting where I was at at that time. That’s still the same now. Only, the thing I noticed recently, when my wife – Rosa – and I sat down to talk about our Lifebook  (a thing that my Dad has been telling us about – it’s good, I recommend it) is that there is so little that spirituality and personal development as a field of study/interest has to offer me now.

Since 2010-2012 when I began to progressively take spirituality and personal development more seriously as a field of study (up until about 3 months or so ago, fading out in intensity much like it once came on), it was about all I thought about day and night. I had breaks, of course, where I’d play video games intensely, or get really into other things. But from about 2011/2012 until December 2016, 9 times out of 10, spirituality and personal development was on my mind all day every day. So, I’ve more or less done my 10,000 hours.

As I was talking to Rosa about this area of life, I realised that there was essentially nothing that those areas – in the the way I thinking about them and approaching them before – could possibly offer me now. So, instead of writing down any visions or goals that would lead me to another new level of enlightenment or whatever, I just wrote “My personal development and spirituality are honed to a tee, to such a point where I no longer need to concern myself with the semantics or daily up-keep of that part of my life. My spiritual values are so deeply ingrained in me that they are second nature – if not first – and so I can carry on as I am without much of a second thought about how this area should be. So, I carry on like I am, undisturbed, and enjoy myself in the way that I am now, knowing that I am supported in whatever way I am and need nothing to be close to the Gods/God.”

Quite freeing that. It’s possibly the most natural next step after realising that helping people isn’t as important to me as it once was. I think for a long time I gained my sense of importance/significance in the world through being a “helper” or a “fixer” whereas now, that’s not the case. Now, my entire focus has shifted. I’m more concerned about my home-life, the relationships I have with the people I love, how my wife and I can tweak the little things in our life together to live a quality of life even better than we are experience now and more than all of that, I think I’m most concerned with beauty.

Not beauty in the arty-farty modernist way but beauty in the eye of the beholder. I am fascinated by it. I think, in a way, it’s been a vein that has run through my entire interest in psychology and spirituality, why people do what they do as well as music, film and so on. To me, the human capacity to feel and endure the most intense and agonising emotions and come out the other end of it, is incredible. I won’t say it’s the most incredible thing ever or anything like that. Like I said, in the eye of the beholder.

Odd things move me, I think. Independent films made for art rather than for money (Clouds of Sils Maria, Like Crazy), music that manages to encapsulate such a mood that I can’t help but be moved by it (Jeremy Soule’s “TES IV: Oblivion” soundtrack – specifically the explore and public tracks, Chance Thomas’s Theme for Rohan for the Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG, Bon Iver’s latest album 22 A Million).

When I watched Sils, my mind was bent in a way I hadn’t felt before. It was so odd, so captivating, so… inherently real and true to life. The same, I’d say, is true of Like Crazy. The way it was done – with only 50 odd pages of notes and no script to speak of – made it all the more heart-wrenchingly immersive. Jeremy Soule’s work on both Oblivion and Skyrim have been two collections of music that have been the soundtrack to not only those games but to my life since I first discovered Oblivion in 2009/2010. Easily my favourite composer of all time. Bon Iver’s albums – all of them – have such a special way with me and can portray a feeling that is so human and yet so transcendent of personal circumstance that it speaks to not only me but so many others across the world. That’s truly incredible. And Chance Thomas’s Theme for Rohan is the piece that really brought all of this into focus for me.

Side note: Music like the Oblivion soundtrack and Bon Iver’s 22 A Million have the capacity to evoke tears in me, and have done so. Yet, each of these particular pieces of art mentioned above (among many more) are in themselves so moving for me that I can’t do them justice with words.

It was when I heard Chance Thomas’s Theme for Rohan that I had a moment of… dawning… In a way. I listened to it multiple times on the night it hit me. I had heard it before but that night it caught me in a different way. I listened to it in my headphones several times and then played it out loud to Rosa. And it was then that it sort of hit me: “In all my life, I think, all I’ve ever wanted to do is to be able to create something as beautiful as this.” And, retrospectively, I think that that’s what I have been trying to do. In writing here, in making videos, in ranting on Facebook, in writing folk music or trance music, through teaching and through coaching and so on… In all that, I think, what I’ve been trying to do has been to create something so beautiful that I am moved to tears.

But that’s one of those things, isn’t it, that I don’t think you can do just once? Would it ever be enough to create something that beautiful just once? I mean, in a way, we would all be blessed if we were able to do that just once in a lifetime. To be able to create something so moving would be a gift, surely. But if I could do it once, I would want to keep doing it, I think. That idea has a certain pull for me. So much so that, in the time of my life I’m in at the moment – the time wherein I’m leaving off from the spiritual and personal development business and looking for a new direction to turn in – I’ve turned to music again.

After studying music at college for (almost) 3 years and after growing up around musical people, it’s always been there for me as a “thing”. Picking up guitar at the age of… 12/13 I think… meant that I was able to channel some sense of music that I had into actual musical pieces. Most of which were shite at first, but that’s learning for you. And, after I moved here to Mexico and had to leave my music stuff behind because I couldn’t afford to get it on the plane with me, I barely wrote or played save for the odd tune on Rosa’s nylon string beginners guitar. Nevertheless, I’ve recently turned my hand to writing music again. But not folk music or trance music this time.

This time, I’ve begun to write orchestral music. Music for video games first and foremost and other short film pieces online secondarily. If you want to hear any of that, you can click here to see my portfolio/site. I think, it’s a quest of sorts, for that beauty that captivates me. To be able to understand it, to be able to know how it works and how to create it.

And in all these mediums of expression that we have available to us in our modern society – Facebook, blogs and so on – I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything that has really brought me to the place that film or music has brought me to. And, personally, I feel that comes down to the fact that so much of our media today is centred around export. Export of thoughts, export of ideas, export of personality, identity and individuality. Yet, it’s all of those things within a prescribed framework. So many of us are unique within a specific prescribed framework of what is “normal”. If you’re a teenage girl with drawn-on eyebrows, outlined lips in a push-up bra mouthing off to your parents, you’re normal. But if you’re all of that but you’ve pulled off your fingernails and you draw them on as well, you’re not normal.

And we’re supposed to have opinions about that. But I think, in my “journey” through the spiritual and personal development fields, I’ve become so disillusioned with the minutia and so acclimatised to feelings that are not just superficial momentary flings of feelings like, oh look at that cute dog or look that cat didn’t make that jump, that I’ve ended up looking for more. I’ve been looking for something that fills me up, something that moves me so intimately that I am amazed by my capacity as a human to feel that. And so, I’ve turned once again to music.

But, even with the extremes of beauty – which are really not readily available on social media because most of it’s just distracting nonsense – I don’t find myself with opinions. Or at least not ones that do the subject matter justice anyway. And that’s because, despite the value of opinions being so high in our society right now, having something to say is not nearly as substantial a quality or thing as the capacity to listen. And not to just listen with your ears but to listen deeply – to really pay attention to what’s going on in a given moment.

Where I might before have now gone into a thing about how most things people do are either an act of love or a cry for help and when someone’s being a twat then they’re in pain and we should be compassionate blah blah, I won’t do that now really. (That would suffice anyway, what I put there). What I’m getting at here, I think, is that the capacity to really notice the things that do garner my attention has been my through-way to actually finding a new direction in my life at point where I actually had no idea what I wanted to be doing and quite frankly could have become distressed by that fact.

That capacity to listen deeply to the music I was hearing and the films I was watching was the thing that gave me the insight into myself necessary to turn my hand once again to music and towards (hopefully) one day reaching a point where I am able to create something so beautiful that it moves me to tears.

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