Becoming a Preacher

So I gave a couple of lectures last week called "The Problem with Atheism'. It was pretty enlightening. I feel like I'm accidentally becoming some kind of advocate of religion. Some kind of weird, modern preacher. But not of any particular religion. Just not atheism. Because "religiousness" helped me come back from a very dark place. And now I see religion very differently to how I used to. It's a lot more complicated than I used to think. I don't care if God exists. I'm interested in it from a psychological perspective. In my experience religion is very good for you psychologically, irrespective of whether you believe in God. 

One of the lectures was in the Cotswolds and the other one was in Shoreditch. Very different crowds. But it showed that people everywhere, of all ages, are still really grappling with the whole God/religion/faith/science/atheism thing. We don't seem to get anywhere with it. But people feel very passionately about it.

I don't care if people are atheists. I can understand why they would be. I used to be one myself at some point I think. But what I'm trying to say in the lectures is that people don't look deeply enough at what religion is or why it exists. They over-simplify it and look at it through a filter and miss so much. It's not one thing. It's lots of things. And one of the things religions are are guide books of how to reach heaven. And heaven isn't one thing. It's lots of things. And one of the the things it is is a psychological state that you can reach right here on earth. I know because I've been there a couple of times. It's mind-blowingly amazing, and it's very hard to get to. It takes constant conscious effort and rigorous action, so most people don't bother. I don't bother most of the time. You don't really need to. You kind of have to have a reason to want to get there. Or sometimes you get there by accident. It's very hard to get there if you're an atheist because your mind is closed to the possibility. That's the problem with atheism: It's a belief structure that limits the psychological places you can reach. 

You have to have beliefs to operate in the world. But it's helpful to understand that while they are essential, beliefs are also a trap. A mental one. All beliefs in some sense constrain you because they are part of a system of beliefs, and systems constrain. In believing something you have to not believe other things and in doing that you can shut yourself off from psychological experiences.

I took my nephew to see an immersive theatre version of Alice in Wonderland the other day. It reminded me how much bigger, more magical and more exciting the world is when you're a kid because you haven't fixed your beliefs in place yet; your mind is open. But you can't be a child forever. You have to build a system of beliefs. But once you've got your shit together mentally, as an adult, and even if you haven't, you should spend the rest of your life trying to tear down the structures in your mind that are constraining your experience of the world. Get back some of the magical mental state of being a child. Not too much. But enough. You'll like it. You can go to new places.

You know roughly what I'm talking about if you've ever described yourself as being in a "good mood".  What do you mean when you say that? You're not in the same world when you're in a good mood as when you're in a bad mood. You don't just feel good. The whole world feels good. That's what I'm talking about. That's one of the things religion can do - get you to that place more frequently and consistently by instructing you how to live a more selfless, noble, honest life. But you have to have some kind of faith for it to work. It's harder if you're an atheist. Almost impossible. I feel sorry of atheists. They're missing out on reaching heaven on Earth. Bummer.

If you want to learn about the power of religion to change our brains I'd recommend you go watch Jordan Peterson's series of lectures on the Psychological Significance of Biblical Stories. They are pretty awesome.

The Problem with Atheists

So I think about God quite a lot these days. God is a complicated idea. People don't generally like complicated ideas. And it doesn't get much more complicated than God.

I think a good distinction to make is between God, as a thing, and the idea of God, like just the idea of the thing. I'm more into thinking about the idea of God. Like, why do so many people believe in God? That's a more interesting question whether or not there is a God. Whether or not God exists doesn't have much bearing on anything. It doesn't change anything. It's not the point. 

It's weird listening to people argue about whether God exists. It's usually some scientifically minded atheist like Richard Dawkins saying something along the lines of "why can't you silly people understand that there is no God and we don't need one because science can answer everything". I think what he's really saying is "why can't everyone see the world like I do, I don't like it when people don't think what I think it makes me feel weird". Then a very religious person says something like "science can't even understand the kind of stuff that God deals with, God is about faith, not science". And then they argue until one of them gets tired and goes to bed.

What's important to know about those two types of people is that it's not like those people just disagree. It's not like one is right and eventually the other one will see that the other one is right and say "oh yeah, I see now, you were right and I was wrong". That will never happen, because those people don't even live in the same universe. We don't live in an objective, material world. We live in a psychological world. We live inside our interpretation of the material world. We live inside our consciousness. And there's not just material in it. There's ideas. Beliefs. There's all kinds of weird stuff. We have no idea what consciousness is really. It's very very complicated. It's probably way outside of the realm of the word "complicated" because it can't be interpreted by our limited human concepts like words. But we live in our consciousness. So our world is psychological. And our individual psychological worlds are very similar to other people's psychological worlds in some ways and very different in others. Hardcore religious people and atheists don't live in the same world. It's not two people disagreeing on whether there is a God. It's two people from different worlds talking a completely different language in different dimensions. 

Even if we proved, beyond doubt, whether there was or wasn't a God, what difference would it make? Not much I don't think. If we proved there was no God the atheist would say "Ha, see, there is no God!". Then what? "Are you going to stop believing in God now?". "No". "Why?!". "I don't want to". "You have to". "No I don't". "You have too!! Look at the evidence!". "I don't care about the evidence". Etc etc. People are complicated. We like order. We like cooperating. But sometimes we like chaos and disagreeing with everything. If you believe too hard in one thing you find it difficult when people don't believe in the same thing because it messes with your beliefs that you hold so dear. It's better to hold beliefs lightly. To know that you're wrong about almost everything. 

That's the problem with some atheists. They believe too hard that there's no God. They're obsessed. They try to convert other people to their atheist ways. They want other people to believe in nothing with them.

I like science. It does amazing things. But is doesn't tell you anything about how to live. Who to be. That's one of the things that the idea of God is: An attempt to work out how to be. Who to be. How to live. What to do. It's not better or worse than science, it's a different tool altogether. 

I don't know what God is. But I'm much more into investigating what it is than joining those mad atheists in knowing for certain that it isn't something. They're too fundamentalist for me. 

No Complaints Fred

So I'm one week in to trying to give up complaining. It's hard. I don't just mean complaining out loud, but also on the inside, like basically getting angry at anything stupid that I can't do anything about. If I'm complaining about something, either in my head or out loud, then I'm wanting the the world to be different to how it is. But the world, the people, the places, the things, are all just how they are. It used to really drive me mad when people said "it is what it is mate". I'd be like "That doesn't fucking mean anything!!!". But is so true, that phrase. So clever. It is what it is. Deal with it.

If I want things to be different to how they are I'll always be in some kind of state of suffering. You can see that in toddlers when they go through that "terrible twos" stage. When they're told they can't have something they want in Sainsbury's they go mental and freak the fuck out and do shit like hold their breath until they go blue. It's like they're possessed. All because the world won't be how they want it to be. It's a tough time, because it's the first time they have to realise that there's other people in the world, and they want stuff too, which means the world doesn't revolve around them anymore and they can't have it all their own way. They struggle with that, understandably. They've been treated like some kind of ancient Egyptian queen up to that point. But then they have to adjust to being one of the common folk. Some adults struggle with that idea their whole lives and never really learn to cope with it. When you feel like that when you're an adult - like an angry toddler - it's the part of you that hasn't grown up yet who's taken control of you for a sec. Beware that part. The baby. Baby won't take you to good places. If I can learn to accept the world and people exactly how they are then I'll feel much better and will do less stupid shit. It's hard though. It takes practice. 

When I was young, on family holidays, my brother used to call me "No Complaints Fred". Obviously because I complained so much. I didn't think I complained. I thought I was right about stuff and was justifiably angry because things were wrong and it wasn't acceptable. But that's the story resentful people tell themselves. Complaints are born out of resentment. And resentment is the beginning of the decent into hell. Resentment is the most dangerous human emotion, both for the person who's resentful and those who come into contact with them. It starts as little gripes. Little complaints. But it grows over time. It feeds itself with supporting evidence. Before too long resentment can take people over altogether. Mass shootings are born out of resentment. Nazi Germany was born out of resentment, The Russian Revolution, revenge killings, drug addiction, domestic abuse, it's all from resentment. Left unchecked, or fuelled like a fire, resentment will always end badly. Sometimes in suicide. 

In some people resentment turns inwards. They turn it on themselves. That's what I think depression is. That's what happen to me. I hated myself. Sort of. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. A big part of me hated myself. I blamed myself for fucking my life up. I hadn't even fucked my life up. But resentment was in control by then. It had taken me. And it wanted me to die. But I kept going. And when I felt well enough someone helped me look at how resentment featured in my life. How it affected things without me knowing. I didn't think I was a resentful person, but we have no idea who we are really. But other people can help you learn about yourself. 

So now I try to deal with resentment as soon as it appears. I notice it. HA! I SEE YOU! UH UH UH. NOT THIS TIME BRO!  I feel it. I notice it. I watch it. Then let it go. And I don't do anything stoopid while it's there. It's really hard. I catch myself complaining all the time. But I'm practicing. And I'll get better. And soon I'll be No Complaints Fred for real. 

2017

It's easy to think "well not much happened this year....again. As usual. Well done. Ugh". But I'm slowly learning not to listen to my thoughts. I started Rebel Lectures and became a lecturer this year, without having to go to uni or anything. Boom. Just from listening to podcasts, watching youtube n that, and taking some risks. And it's gone pretty well so far. So that's pretty amazing really. And there's loads of other little things that have happened that are really positive. I've connected with my mum and dad more than ever. And I'm constantly getting better at managing myself, my emotions, my reactions, my perspective. There's been a couple of times when I nearly dragged myself back down into the darkness, but I managed to stop that from happening, using tools and techniques which I used to call "bollocks".

Of course I could paint myself a picture that it's been another terrible year and that I'm gonna die alone and nothing matters, but anyone can paint that picture. It doesn't matter if you're Richard Branson or Mother Theresa, if the part of you that wants to be miserable is in control, then it's very easy to make yourself miserable - anyone can do it. Misery doesn't like hearing that as everyone's misery thinks it's clever and unique. But it's not. Misery has been around for ages and the stories misery tells have been heard a million times by a million different people.

Someone asked a question at one of my depression lectures recently. She asked whether I thought that the reason people get depressed is because what they actually see is the truth - that the world is a dark and hopeless place and that anyone who doesn't think that is just kidding themselves. I think I used to think that. But I don't anymore. The world is lots of things. Sometimes it's evil. Sometimes it's awesome. But more than anything, it's whatever you experience it as at any given time. And you can change the way you experience it, in the moment or in general. Like you can experience exactly the same situation a million different ways. The outside world is a reflection of your inside world. You know that already if you've ever described yourself as being in a "good mood" or a "bad mood". What do we actually mean when we say that? When you're in a good mood the world seems like a much better place than it does when you're in a bad mood. All the silly worries you had yesterday aren't there anymore. Things you were angry about don't bother you anymore. But the world hasn't changed. You've changed. 

I can change my mood. It's hard work. But it's more than worth it. It doesn't always work. It's not an exact science. But I'm getting better at it. Next year I'm going to allocate a specific amount of time per week to changing my mood. Which usually just means thinking about other people and being nice to them. And I'll try to do it all day every day if I can, but that's hard.

My new year's resolution is to try to completely give up complaining, externally and internally. If I really think something should change then I have to do something about it, not complain about it. Complaining is for pussies and leads nowhere. Standing up for what you believe in isn't complaining. Complaining is complaining. 2018 is a year of action. Put up or shut up. That doesn't mean I'm going to run around trying to change the world all the time. Most of the time I'm just going to shut up, accept the world how it is, wait for my silly emotions to pass, then carry on with whatever I was doing. 

Happy New Year. x

Let It Go

There's a lot of talk about "attachment" when you're trying to find your way out of depression. It's a Buddhist thing, and those guys have a lot of amazing stuff to say about life n that. Attachment, so the Buddhists say, is one of the roots of all our suffering. And the solution is non-attachment. To everything. Which isn't the same as being detached, which is bad. At first I had trouble with the non-attachment idea because I thought it was kind of a cop out - like if you don't want anything or you're not attached to anything then you're just floating around on your own being all zen but not doing anything meaningful or exciting. But I don't think that's really what they're saying. It took me a while to get my head round it. Now I'm really on board with the whole thing. I've got to be careful how much I attach to things. But, like everything with the mind, it's complicated.  

When I say "attachment" I'm talking about anything we kind of mentally or emotionally hold on to. Could be an idea, a person, a possession, an image of ourselves, a vision of our future, a football team, anything. The more I emotionally or mentally cling to anything the more painful it's going to be if I lose it or never get it.

I spent a lot of my life attaching to fantasies. Fantasies of what I thought my life should be like. Fantasies of who I should be. Fantasies of how my relationships should be. Fantasies of how Christmas should be. I think I watched too many films as a kid or something because I really thought my like would turn out like a film. The film always changed, but I just expected everything to eventually be awesome, even though life never felt that way. I just thought, if I could just get X, Y, Z in place, then everything would be awesome and I'd feel ok. If I could just have the perfect Christmas; if Arsenal could just win the Champions League; if I could just get a girlfriend; then I'd be happy. 

Christmas makes make me sad sometimes because my Christmas never feels like Christmas in the John Lewis advert. But now I've learned to try to not attach so much emotion or longing to stuff. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy them. I love pigs in blankets. I love Christmas trees. I love Christmas get togethers. The difference these days is that deep down I know that if I didn't have any of those, it wouldn't really matter. I used to be a highly emotional Arsenal fan. Over the last few years I just stopped caring. It wasn't a specific decision. I think I just let go of the attachment. I don't care about football anymore, but I still like watching it sometimes. I don't care about Christmas, but I still like pigs in blankets. 

The general message is something like: Don't attach to anything. The attachment will only hurt you. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't love things. I just shouldn't attach too much to the love. Everything changes. Everything comes and goes. Enjoy it while it's there. But be ready to let it go. It's really hard to learn to do it. I still attach to things all the time. These days I generally know when I'm doing it, but it doesn't stop it happening. Letting go is hard. I guess I have to train myself to do it, over and over again. And maybe listen to that Frozen song more. Ugh.

CBT

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a therapeutic technique that's based on the idea that thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all interconnected. Thoughts feed our feelings, which in turn influence our behaviour, which in turn affects our thoughts and round and round it goes. So, if any of our thoughts/feelings/behaviours are negative, you can get trapped in a negative spiral that's self perpetuating. It makes sense. 

I think one of the reasons it got popular is because it fits with our modern desire to "fix" things in a strategic and practical way. When it works, it can get quick results. So some people report feeling better more quickly than with, say, psychodynamic approaches. Critics say it only deals with surface shit so isn't as effective long-term. 

I remember, when I used to think more scientifically about life, that if I ever did therapy then CBT looked like the right one for me. I used to think psychoanalytic therapy sounded ridiculous. Why would you want to drag up old crap from your past - it will just create more problems that didn't even exist before. I don't think like that anymore though. 

When I was deep in the darkness, like properly mad, I went to see a CBT practitioner off my own back. I was desperate at the time. She was slightly odd. I made her cry, but not on purpose. I just said something that made her cry, which felt a bit weird. I thought I was supposed to be crying. The session started and she was kind of saying "when you think something bad, don't think that, think this". I was so crazy at the time. Like possessed by the devil. I had no control over my mind. And my mind listened to what the therapist was suggesting and said to me..... "are you fucking joking. This isn't gonna do shit. You. Are. Fucked.". It was like trying to stop Hitler and his armies by just asking them nicely to stop being mean and killing everyone.

I don't mean to sound critical of CBT. It works for lots of people and it works for me today. It was just that at that time, the way my mind was, it just wasn't an option. There was a tornado of evil ripping through my soul. Trying to get my brain to do anything was futile.

But nowadays, now that I'm not so mad and my mind is a bit calmer, I try to use CBT-style techniques all the time. It's probably more "Third Wave" or Mindfulness stuff too, but there's bits of CBT in there. And I believe in the cyclical nature of our thoughts/feeling/actions. My thoughts aren't me. They're not real. They're just things my mind throws up. I can choose which ones to engage with and which to let go. I can unhook myself from downward spirals. 

So, CBT seemed lame to me at first. And, as with all therapies, whether it's going to be effective or not is complicated. It's about who the patient is. Who's the therapist is. How good they are. How well you fit together. How much you commit to it. A million things. But eventually I managed to see the positives rather than the negatives. In CBT, and in everything. And now I use it all the time, and everything's a bit better. 

 

 

Tricks of the Mood

I'm a bit sad today. When that happens, being massively overly-emotional and all that, my mind really quickly starts throwing up thoughts that fit with that feeling. Before I know it I'm suddenly thinking I've fucked up my life and everything is terrible and hopeless. The feeling triggers the thoughts and the thoughts feed the feeling and down I spiral.

But these days, most of the time, I can get off that pesky train of doom before it runs away with itself. If I'm lucky I'll think "oh here's that thing my brain does when I feel sad". And I can tell myself that the thoughts aren't true, I'm just sad today, and I might not be sad tomorrow. Then I just sit in the sadness and try to keep moving forwards and get shit done.

I used to think my thoughts were real. I thought I made them. I thought I was my thoughts. But that's not how I see them anymore. They're just thoughts. Just things my brain throws up in given states or situations to try to help me navigate the world. But sometimes they really don't help. They do the opposite. But it's just my stupid monkey brain doing it's best to deal with a world it hasn't had time to evolve for. Poor little monkey brain. 

It was bit scary realising that my thoughts aren't me, but ultimately very helpful. It means I don't always have to go along with them when they're not helping me.

I heard someone say something brilliant in a 12 Step meeting once - he said "I must not confuse how I feel with how my life is going". That's so clever. Sadness tricks my mind into thinking sad things. But I don't confuse that with what's actually happening anymore. I just feel sad sometimes. But it always goes away eventually. So I just try to ignore the thoughts until it does. When I'm happier my brain gives me much nicer thoughts. Like my dad always said, you gotta take the rough with the smooth..

Angry Baby

Recently I've found myself getting angry about stupid shit like why noone's working at roadworks or how ugly all the new blocks of "luxury" flats look and the economic and social travesty they represent. When I'm in the grip of anger these seem like justified things to get angry about. But these days I'm better at catching myself. It's not really about the roadworks. When I'm getting angry about stuff it might be because my insides are starting to rot. Resentment is infiltrating my brain. And then I start confusing how I feel with how the world is. It's the beginning of a decent into hell. That sounds quite dramatic, but if you visit hell you'll see it's no picnic. I've got to keep an eye on these things. Panic early. It's important to never forget how bad hell is. Humans have adapted over millions of years to forget bad shit. It probably helps with being able to pass on my genes to not be thinking about hell all the time. That's one of the the reasons humans make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. We forget. It's important I don't forget. It's why I need other people around to get better. They help to remind me. Left to its own devices my brain can do all sorts of little adjustments about what the past was like.

So the decent to hell starts with anger. Resentment is the tour guide to hell. It can get me there faster than I think. The anger builds, until there's noone left to get angry at, and then it switches its target. Someone once told me that depression is anger turned inwards. I didn't get it at first, but now I think that's the best description of depression I've heard. So I've got to watch out for anger; resentment; the little baby in me who wants everything to be how he wants it and not how it is. Stupid angry baby. When the baby surfaces I know it's time to think like an adult. Think how I can be useful to other people. If I'm thinking about other people I'm not feeding the angry baby. He soon goes away and I'm all zen and shit again. Or at least not as angry about the roadworks. And not on the way to hell.