If you’re anything like me, you find the idea of a deterministic God completely atrocious. This type of imagined deity gives me no peace. We’re asked to accept unquestioningly and unconditionally, ‘its will.’
‘God has a plan for you! God loves you!’ Yes, God loves you no matter if you’re raped brutally, or a witness to your family being murdered. God particularly loves you, if you’re a member of royalty and can legitimately live off the labour and taxes of others. Meanwhile, society’s love is limited if you’re actually born poor, and attempt to imitate this pampered lifestyle–on a less grand scale, of course. (Think welfare benefits) Then you’re a bloody leech! God ESPECIALLY loves you, if you tap into your simian impulses, whilst shunning the traditional hirsuteness of this condition, in order to become a reality TV star. For those of you who don’t know what this means, it means behaving like a total ape whilst being immaculately waxed.
If I sound like the fox who has no grapes, trust me–I don’t want those grapes! I don’t want the spoils of those conditions, and I use that word purposefully: I consider them spoilt.
*Spoilt: to be excessively damaged, decayed or ruined.*
I possess elevated principles and egalitarian tendencies. This does not make me a communist, socialist, or any definitions which are now widely used in a pejorative sense. It simply makes me caring. No more, no less.
The reason I am writing this article, is that conscientious people have a difficult time dealing with injustice. Like most people, we seek spiritual solace and salvation. We wonder about the origins of the universe. We wonder about our animating principles: Our thoughts and our feelings, which shape our experience of the universe. We wonder why this all exists! And if, there’s any point to it.
We seek answers. We seek philosophies that make sense. But we do so using our own filters, and those are personal and environmental.
My parents do not worship the same God, if we consider their beliefs at face-value. My mother is an Evangelical Christian and my father is a Sanatanist (not Satanist!) Hindu. For some Christians, he might as well be a devil-worshipper, although I’ve never heard him profess a love for Beelzebub. Satan is bad in his metaphorical book too.
Anyhow, I had no choice. I went to both the church and mandir, which deprived me of precious and never-to-be-retrieved time with Sunday morning cartoons. I went to religious ceremonies in Hindu, Christian and Muslim homes, since we had Muslims in the family too. I grew up thinking that God was one entity, and everybody just worshipped God differently.
I read the Bible, Quran, Ramayana and Mahabharata, but not simply because I was curious: My primordial egalitarian instincts had made me distrustful of priests. (And this was way before the Catholic church scandals) I simply did not think that I was less capable of interpreting the word of God, than some priest.
I was literate and progressively being educated. I was neither daft nor inferior. (And with that one sentence, I can see why certain males, religious and non-religious, are opposed to women and girls being educated and empowered)
After reading Kissing Hank’s Ass, I embraced atheism. I became a skeptic who repudiated religion. My education gave me a world-view which I have not shed to this day. As part of my Public Affairs and Policy Management program, I studied History, Economics, Politics, and the constituents of Canadian and global policy processes. In addition to this, I became familiar with alternative societal discourses. Thus, myth and tradition lost their literal power. They retained a psychic allure, but facts and reality were what interested me most.
“The Secret” and all of that bullshit!
We live in an age where fraudulent Science is being peddled as the secret to success and happiness. In Dumbination not Domination: Why ‘the secret’ is just stupid, I explain very clearly why I don’t believe in the ‘Law’ of Attraction. In her book, “Bright-Sided: How positive thinking is undermining America,” intellectual and writer Barbara Ehrenreich, writes about how the focus on our personal dispositions, is undermining our ability to have informed economic, political and social analyses. By shifting this focus, the real culprits of our unsustainable world-order are not held accountable. Julie Gray wrote a brilliant article for the Huffington Post, showing the links between positive thinking, New-Age thought, and ‘practical’ applicability.
“Lost your job? You manifested that. Ugly divorce? Soul agreement from another lifetime. Terrible economy? Collective manifestation. Broke? Because you don’t believe you deserve money.”
By insisting that people take “100% responsibility” for their thoughts, and allow zero-negativity to accumulate or be expressed, people are then ENTIRELY responsible for all events that happen to them. It sounds like a whole lot of bullshit to me!
This is not to say, that even the most skeptical amongst us, have not had our share of mystical experiences, which challenge our rational orthodoxies. Take for example, this news-report about a boy who remembered eerily accurate details about a past-life.
Even Ms. Ehrenreich herself, who has been a life-long atheist, has detailed her spiritual questions after a preternatural experience when she was a teenager. I personally don’t dismiss ideas once they are backed up by proof. I have done research into this issue, and while I can accept at face-value that reincarnation possibly happens, I CANNOT and WILL NOT accept the idea, that we CHOOSE these incarnations. For the simple reason that this idea does not bring me any peace.
If we chose our lives, it would mean that collective racial suffering is CHOSEN. (Bullshit!) Rape is chosen. (Bullshit!) Poverty and economic disparity are chosen. (Double, double bullshit!) War is chosen. (Overflowing, eternal bullshit!) I see our world as a manifestation of unequal power and desires. People have been and are dominated by elites. They have been suppressed and conquered. Some lives (arbitrarily) matter more than others. The world is like a large chess-game, and the majority of us are pawns.
Artist and activist Stephen Fry, who also happens to be an atheist, stirred some controversy recently. When asked what he would say to God after his death, if God did exist, he stated:
I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?
How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.
Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God, who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?…
We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?
The entire video (2 mins 25 secs) is worth watching.
I love Stephen. I really get him. I love him a lot more than I did our last Prime Minister, another Stephen. I couldn’t wait to see him voted out of office.
ON THAT EUPHORIC aria, I’d like to launch into what can actually help you achieve peace, if you don’t believe in God or the “Law” of attraction bullshit.
Please note: I am aware that I am writing this for an audience, which must be reasonably educated or affluent. You may not be rich, but you’re able to access the internet and a computer. That’s some kind of privilege.
I am fully aware that because of the nature of many people’s lives, they don’t have the privilege of introspection. I am writing this for those who do.
Being Honest: ‘Honesty’ can be such a lonely word, but mostly what YOU need, from YOU. (Credit to Billy Joel for writing that beautiful song. Go have a listen) But honestly expressing your feelings will empty what’s really inside of you–no matter how toxic, poisonous or painful it is.
Imagine if it’s that virulent or agonizing coming out, how horrible it would be to have that remain inside of you. Feelings need to surface and be acknowledged. Once they’ve run their course, you can analyse them and make decisions from a place of truth.
Acceptance: After recognizing the truth both internally and externally, you have to accept it. Mentally and emotionally resisting what is, just delays your agony. It does not mean that you accept the situation as right, fair or comforting. It just means that you accept the situation for what it is, and surrender trying to control the uncontrollable. You are not all-powerful and you do not have to be. Humility becomes more potent in achieving internal peace than rebelling against facts.
Unlimited exploration of thoughts and ideas: You cannot feel as though you have limits put on your thinking. Realistically, none of us knows everything, and our supplies of knowledge can be limited. But not feeling free to explore ideas and options, can feel like a prison. For instance, during my training at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa, we were shown a video of a woman testifying about her healing. She had been raped by her father as a teenager, and went for help from her Catholic priest. The priest was adamant that she should forgive her father and not make an ‘unnecessary’ fuss! She became ‘the problem’, for in his mind, ‘God’s’ message of forgiveness and the family unit were of paramount importance!
Thank heavens for atheism, agnosticism, feminism and secularism, which has led to the diminished power of organized religion in most Western countries. I encourage people to explore their ideas without boundaries, as well as those of others. The process is certainly freeing in and of itself.
Gratitude: When we concentrate on what we have and enjoy, we avoid fixating upon what we don’t have and lack. It’s not rocket-science: By acknowledging what we do have, we can use that appreciation to propel us even further, mentally, emotionally or physically.
For instance, let’s say you’re unemployed. Joblessness can be extremely frustrating. However, if you’ve got skills, food and shelter–You have resources. If you’ve got friends and family who love and support you–that feeds you. By focusing on what you do have instead of what you don’t, you learn to value positives in your life, instead of ruminating upon negativity.
Self-discipline: This involves taking control of your thoughts and your actions. For me, meditation is integrated into this. Why Tantra succinctly explains why I chose to have a Tantrik spirituality. Shiva and Kali (the god and goddess) simply denote consciousness and energy. They personify the source of life, but do not possess the controlling and interventionist characteristics of the Abrahamic God. On a micro-level, they personify aspects of our mental being.
For instance, Kali can be compared to raw emotion: The raw energy of our feelings, no matter what they are. Shiva personifies the observer function, that part of us that can be aware of our emotions without being controlled by them.
Shiva personifies the consciousness which can shape our perspectives, inform our judgment and direct our course of action. In other words, Shiva is our will.
For instance, you may be going through a horrible divorce, and have feelings of hatred towards your ex. It’s only natural; these things can get bitter. However, you may have property issues to sort through, children to co-parent and court-matters to attend to. No matter what your feelings are, you have to apply your will to this situation, and create functional and positive outcomes in an atmosphere of civility. That involves strengthening your will by being committed to the results that you want.
Meditation: A quick google search will lead you to all manner of websites, prescribing techniques for stress-relief and peacefulness. Like every idea, it becomes infused with the culture it is trying to penetrate. How to benefit from meditation in 3 minutes or less , was clearly written for busy Westerners. It sounds like a time-out from a busy life, which is perhaps what some people need. I’ve never been able to quiet my mind in 3 minutes, unless it was already mostly tranquil to begin with.
Jiddu Krishnamurti makes infinite sense when he speaks about meditation thusly:
There are various schools, in India and further East, where they teach methods of meditation -it is really most appalling. It means training the mind mechanically; it therefore ceases to be free and does not understand the problem.
So when we use the word ‘meditation’ we do not mean something that is practiced. We have no method. Meditation means awareness: to be aware of what you are doing, what you are thinking, what you are feeling, aware without any choice, to observe, to learn. Meditation is to be aware of one’s conditioning, how one is conditioned by the society in which one lives, in which one has been brought up, by the religious propaganda -aware without any choice, without distortion, without wishing it were different. Out of this awareness comes attention, the capacity to be completely attentive. Then there is freedom to see things as they actually are, without distortion. The mind becomes unconfused, clear, sensitive. Such meditation brings about a quality of mind that is completely silent of which quality one can go on talking, but it will have no meaning unless it exists.
Additionally he counsels:
Do not make meditation a complicated affair; it is really very simple and because it is simple it is very subtle. Its subtlety will escape the mind if the mind approaches it with all kinds of fanciful and romantic ideas. Meditation, really, is a penetration into the unknown, and so the known, the memory, the experience, the knowledge which it has acquired during the day, or during a thousand days, must end. For it is only a free mind that can penetrate into the very heart of the immeasurable. So meditation is both the penetration and the ending of the yesterday.
For me, mantras work. Here’s an article describing the effects of mantras on the mind. I have definitely changed since I commenced meditating in 2007. I am more focused, able to control my emotions and reactions. I can concentrate for very long periods of time and I have extraordinary bursts of creativity. During a neurological experiment for which I’d volunteered, the grad student remarked that she had never seen anyone as still as me: I appeared like a corpse, not even breathing, and was phenomenally focused. That is entirely due to meditation.
This practice has enabled me to remain calm, in the midst of many storms. You can also cultivate your intentions with this practice. I urge you to try it.
Music and movement: I linked these two together, even though they’re now regarded as separate. In her book “Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy”, Barbara Ehrenreich details how traditionally, humans would come together to sing, dance and celebrate life. This resulted in communal states of joy and ecstatic connections with our life-source. It enabled people to return to their work, invigorated.
Then, that unholy alliance of European monarchs and Christian churches, instituted a mix of capitalism and puritanism. It suppressed the joy and primal connections of those who were dominated. Literally, White people could not dance! (OMG! The tragedy!)
Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, I am often accused of being ‘ridiculously happy’ and ‘hyper-active’ by Anglo-Canadians. I am continually asked “How come you’re so happy? Where do you get your energy from?” In addition to the climate, I believe it’s the fact that our culture revolves around having a good time! Joy is a birthright, and life is to be lived to the fullest.
Latin Americans and Caribbean people in general, are like that. No matter the social, economic or political problems, the party never stops! And nor should it. If you waited around for reasons to become happy in this life, well, perhaps you’d be waiting forever!
The effects of music on the brain, are progressively being researched. “This is your brain on music” by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin is a book I highly recommend. No one here can dispute the therapeutic effects of music. When I couldn’t work for 19 months due to my immigration situation in Canada, Sting’s music was the only thing that could comfort me. This quote by Bob Marley sums it up:
One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.
And from Billy Joel:
I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music
Love and support from others: This is critical. No person is an island. Everyone needs a person or people to love them. I am not referring to romantic love here: I am speaking about the type of love that is given, when another person truly knows you. When your soul has been paraded naked and you are your honest self. As John Lennon said:
Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.
Love and be loved.
Have a purpose: Life has to be meaningful, for you. Not for anyone else. This quote from fictional MTV character Daria Morgendorffer, sums up my approach to life thusly:
My goal is not to wake up at 40 with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life on a job that I hate because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.
Choosing one’s vocation is a SUPREME privilege. Most people in the world do not have this choice: They are stuck trying to survive life, because of our vicious capitalist system. However, if you are empowered to have some sort of choice–Take it! It doesn’t follow that we should all live in communal misery, and foster an attitude of depressed tolerance. Find your passion and never give it up.
In “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines ‘flow’ as:
…A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. (p. 4)
He identifies the following as essential elements involved in achieving flow:
- Having clear goals every step of the way
- Having immediate feedback available, to measure the results of one’s actions
- Having a balance between challenge and feasibility. That is, the activity must be challenging but within one’s range of abilities
- Fear of failure disappears
- Actions and awareness become merged, so that one’s self-consciousness disappears
- The perception of time is distorted, so that time is forgotten and irrelevant
- The activity is so enjoyable, that one does it for the sake of doing it
I would urge you to find a flow activity, even if you do have to work at a job you don’t really like. You do it for its own sake, and that is sure to guarantee you happiness.
Spending time in Nature: Numerous studies have demonstrated the uplifting effects of nature on our psyches. It boosts energy, reduces stress, lifts depression, fosters peacefulness and encourages positive attitudes. I personally count the hours spent in nature, amongst my happiest on our planet. There is so much beauty and symmetry to behold.
I do not consider nature to be separate from myself. There is a Native American saying:
Respect the land that you stand on for it, too, is your body.
It is now commonplace to hear this statement, repeated by many including David Suzuki:
What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
Yes, it may be excruciating to live on this planet sometimes. But we are our only hope. We have to manufacture compassionate action: It’s not coming from the sky. It takes dedication and diligence. Let’s try to cultivate those things.
I’ll end with a quote from my good friend Mike Standup:
Expectations are like piss in your cornflakes. Don’t go getting attached to them.
Yes, you can remain in the present moment, and try to be positive. But don’t expect your thoughts to control all outcomes. I’ve already established that I don’t believe in an Abrahamic God. What makes you feel you’re one?
Flickr Photo Credits:
Peace, Dave Hogg and Meditation, June Yarham.