When It Gets Worse

“Of comfort no man speak.
Let’s talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow  on the bosom of the earth.”
Richard II (III.ii.144-7)

My thoughts get darker. I dwell on death, and the more-or-less imminent deaths of those I love. I feel ridiculous, like somehow I postponed that moment in early adolescence where mortality sidles up next to your thoughts, becoming your lifelong companion; it never really mattered much to me before. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of watching everyone around me die and never feeling any sense of what we are all doing here. I’m afraid of having lost forever any faith in the comforting notions I was raised with, that reincarnation is really only an extension of the first law of thermodynamics, that we’ve all spent eternity dancing together and will, in some way, continue to do so. I grew up believing that I have a soul, that it is immortal and infinite, the unfathomable egoless animating principle of this personality I know as “me”; I have never really given much thought to the possibility of there being only this and then Nothing, Void, Abyss and Oblivion. To die, to sleep, no more.

So why can’t I stop thinking about it now?

I suppose I take things to extremes. Having no guru, does it then follow that I must abandon all former notions of god, of spirit, of something that lasts beyond this life? And what need have we for that beyond beyond, for the faith in something more? What is it in me that has suddenly begun to feel that this isn’t enough? 

I am not enjoying life the way I used to. I am not finding it meaningful, or even so exciting and sweet as it was wont to seem before. Is this some flaw in me, some essential lack? Perhaps I need something to worship. Perhaps I need something to love and call my god. Perhaps I just need someone to hold onto so I don’t choke and drown in this thickening mist.

I am told this is normal. I frighten myself with thoughts of my own death, of causing it or simply letting it happen. I feel lost and adrift and then out of nowhere some stranger’s kindness or a beautiful story hits me in the gut and I can almost taste life again. Laughter is soaked into my soul like rain on desert sand– needed, but not enough.

I will get through this.

 

 

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About theartofleaving

Former devotee and member of The Art of Living organization reflecting on the process of joining and leaving cults, abusive relationships, and sundry obsessions. Trying to draw the line by connecting the dots.
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13 Responses to When It Gets Worse

  1. The Doctor says:

    Having no guru, does it then follow that I must abandon all former notions of god, of spirit, of something that lasts beyond this life?

    Logically, no. But the mind more often than not has a tendency to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, especially when people leave cults.

    At one point you may have accepted the worldview espoused by AoL/SSRS as truth, and incorporated it into your own belief system, maybe because it was comforting or maybe because it was compatible with your previous belief system. But along the way you will doubtless have associated that belief system with AoL/SSRS, even though you are fully aware that it originates several millenia ago, and as such losing all faith and trust in SSRS will naturally lead you to question many of the beliefs you learnt during your time with AoL.

    The bottom line as far as death is concerned is that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, when we die, we die. This life as we know it will be over, and this is true under all belief systems. For the rationalists, total annihilation, for those who believe in heaven or hell, eternity in one or other of those places depending on how piously we have lived our lives, and for the “reincarnationists”, and endless cycles of death then rebirth coming back to “higher” or to “lower” forms of life depending on our behaviour during the previous cycle, with the possibility of escaping that cycle by attaining “enlightenment”, whatever that is .

    But in all honesty none of it really matters. You can see it as one big game, with a lot of rules you have to figure out along the way, and some which you may never figure out at all. You can either play the game seriously, maybe trying to discover the ultimate meaning of it all, and that you yourself need a purpose or some meaning in order to live your life fully, but if you may also realize that a good way to play this game of life is to just have as much fun as you can along the way, and enjoy all the beauty that life has to offer.

  2. Peaceful Warrior says:

    Awareness of death and body’s finite nature always makes life better, and makes you shift your priorities in life.
    I too feel the need to worship and connect with something that is bigger than finite nature – infinity, god, whatever you call it. If it is natural, why suppress it, or try to fit it into the narrow confines of logic and rationality.

  3. anonymous says:

    Dear Art of Leaving,

    My take is simpler than “the Doctor”‘s: I believed in God, Reincarnation, and my own direct experiences which were a glimpse into ‘something more’ that I had long before I met Ravi Shankar. So why should my leaving him change those things? He is a man. He is not God. Why should my faith, based on my own direct perceptions, change because of his absence in my life? And so it didn’t change. But the fake ‘high’ that he produces when you are around him did go away. So what? I can now think clearly, sort things through, decide for myself, go inside and examine myself more critically. What matters is not whether or not some cult or it’s leader is in your life. What matters is what you have perceived on your own. From my point of view, if a person has not had such a perception (of something more, of something Divine) I can see absolutely no reason for them to believe in it. Others would say otherwise, perhaps. But why should anyone have ‘faith’ in something they don’t know anything about at all? Read everything, meditate deeply, find out for yourself. Dark thoughts are part of this process. You can know, after some time, that the thoughts pass away (just like the high from being around Ravi Shankar always did) and some other thoughts replace them, some other feelings. What does that mean? Keep asking these questions quietly to yourself. Worship if it makes you happy and makes you feel settled. What is wrong in that? But worship a person? I’ve learned my lesson the hard way on that subject — no way! Never again!!

    • I understand very much what you mean here. I think I am at a disadvantage when it comes to *simply* discarding SSRS as Guru and letting everything else remain as it was– he and AoL were instrumental in my own development of describable and thought-out “beliefs”, whereas before I simply had never formed them, nor been raised with them. So, letting him go and recognizing his failings as a man and elevated archetype is not easily divorced from a complete upending of my relatively underdeveloped belief system.

      what I’m experiencing might be described as a surgical removal of a parasite which had become symbiotically interconnected to my entire psyche, my sense of meaning in the world, my sense of myself, my sense of the spiritual–my spiritual skeleton, really. So, the disorientation isn’t easily…fixed.

      I haven’t had what I would call an experience of god absent some reference that was given to me. I want to seek an independent relationship to That, but for now I’m just trying to stay alive, to willingly choose life day after day. That’s hard enough sometimes, in the face of the Absurdity Monster.

      I think there’s no way out but through. Oddly, after about a week and a half of morbid fixation, depression, and hopelessness– this week I’m angry! I’m pissed off! I’m ready to pick a fight with *anyone* that tries to manipulate me and I’m seriously edgy. I kind of prefer it to depression though. So I guess all these “negative” feelings will be having their way with me for a while. I know all this will pass– but it is strange, very strange, in the meanwhile.

  4. 2bit says:

    I think you are right about worship..I’ve often observed that.reverence is the source all that is uplifting,…doesn’t matter what and why you revere something.

    But many of us also have doubts, contempt, and sometimes a sustained hatred (bloggers know that too well). But cumulatively what overtakes you, is what defines your general sense of well being. I tried to post something earlier about your eating binge, but I was censored…but again I would say one needs to watch the “intake”, not just the food, but that thoughts and emotions one is feeding on…

    • Gosh– I don’t know why you would hae been censored! I promise I haven’t deleted a single comment here, so I really don’t know what that should have happened…?

      I want something to worship, to adore– I crave that, and I suppose I always have. But I’m wary now, completely suspicious of anyone who volunteers for the role of object of worship. I think perhaps a good thing would be to go back to what always moved me as a child–time in nature was enough to have a spiritual experience back then. I don’t trust people, even less systems of thought– but the trees put out new leaves this spring as they always have and the rain tingles as it drips down my neck and i think that’s something i could worship for a while…

      yes, intake is very important. The bingeing stopped after a week or two– now I find I indulge in alcohol a bit too much still, but the horrible anxiety that led to the bingeing has eased. That was a violent feeling of dislocation– now I’m just generally disoriented.

      Leaving a cult is a very strange process indeed!

      best

      BW

      • 2bit says:

        Well, it was a little poem about how bingeing is perhaps mere side effect of a compulsion to connect dots with a brush of bitterness.

        Glad to know at least eating binge is under control for now. I love the rain, the way it blossoms the earth. My best wishes.

  5. Peaceful Warrior says:

    “Having no guru, does it then follow that I must abandon all former notions of god, of spirit, of something that lasts beyond this life?”

    We become so attached to these beliefs – really they are like soap – once relevant but no longer required. Letting go of beliefs can be scary, but exhilarating at the same time. One does not even have to let them go conciously – they leave when their purpose has been served. I think it’s good to move from dogma to reality. To see things as they are and live life as it is. It’s tough, but very rewarding to live like that.

    • I understand what you mean, but “letting go” of beliefs really isn’t like washing off in the shower. It absolutely affects your entire life if you believe a specific eschatology, or have a framework of an afterlife built into your assumptions.

      What do you mean, “reality”? How do you define it, and experience it? What can you possibly say is “life as it is?”

      If I became a total rationalist (which is, I believe, another form of dogma, impossible to be “true” in a finished way) I’d be in far more danger of committing suicide or turning to total nihilism. I’m not saying I “need” the beliefs I had, but a complete lack of ideological framework for living simply isn’t an option for me. I require a sense of meaning and meaning require context. My reality differs from your reality and from everyone else’s. How can I possibly believe in “reality” rather than in a “dogma”, and that I am only *now* living life “as it is”, whereas I wasn’t before? All of this sounds terrifically vague and absolutist to me and I don’t really see what it means in terms of how we face life and how we face death.

      • Peaceful Warrior says:

        What do you mean, “reality”? How do you define it, and experience it? What can you possibly say is “life as it is?”

        Reality is what is not captured by theory, concepts, dogma. These words are but approximations if you will, yet we hold on to them like ultimate truths. At least for me, reality dawns when I set aside these fixed notions and silently witness. Truly those moments are rare when mind is completely in the zone, in silence amidst activity. It is difficult to stay there and one “needs” some beliefs to not fall into depression.

        In my experience, these belifs are sutras – you need them to take you back to yourself, but you cannot keep holding on to them. You have to let go of them when they are no longer of any use. It is not about whether to hold beliefs or not – but rather how they must be held.

  6. Peaceful Warrior says:

    The other thing about dogma, especially when it comes to life and death issues – is that so many times these words are uttered to comfort the bereaved. Soon, they become part of accepted wisdom of religion. And people believe it is true because they have read it in a book. Rarely does it come from insight/realization/experience. If it does then it is in the realm of your reality, and not dogma. Even then, at least in my experience, one’s insight is usually just a glimpse not the whole thing. One just has to accept the fact that one does not know, and will never know. I don’t think even the most adept of masters really know – it’s just that they live in a state of beautiful I don’t know.

  7. Blossom says:

    Dear B.W,
    You are young and doing TTC would have pushed you to conform to a lifestyle and values you were probably not ready to accept. So, change stepped in and your reality is now totally different from what it was .
    Stay with this period of confusion, contemplation, frustration, depression, suicidal thoughts, occasional indulgences, search for meaning of life…as long as it suits you – it will crystallise your beliefs. Then realise that you can create another reality for yourself when you want to.
    If you feel pissed off, that too is life. Don’t you think that after this period you will empathise and intuitively understand better someone going through a tough time – a loss of job/ relation/ death/ trust/ wealth…. As what you are facing are not “leaving cult” specific emotions.
    Don’t be scared of freedom. It is good to face situations directly than escape by focussing on something else – like seva.If you still want someone or something to believe in – you will soon find it – unless you don’t want to. Both ways its OK. There’s no right or wrong. It’s a matter of perspective.
    I love the “Conversation with God” series of books by Neale Donald Walsch and would recommend them. Just hang on Beatrice, you will do fine.

    • I love everything about this comment 🙂 So much of what you’ve said is precisely what I’ve been telling myself, that this feeling of gaping emptiness is actually a space where something beautiful will come in, in time. And meanwhile keeping the empty rather than desperately trying to fill it is like sweeping out an empty temple, knowing someday an altar will be built there.

      I’m more grateful than ever that I didn’t do TTC, that rather than surrendering to that rendering, letting my psyche become a pliant piece of pork, I chose to run away from the set of “answers” and instead elope with impossible questions. I know this is the harder way, and also the worthier, the more rewarding– the way that will lead to some sort of maturity, a self-sought adulthood, and not a received dictate to remain enwombed forever.

      the side-effects are wacky sometimes though!

      and yes, I realize now (this is perhaps a topic for a larger post) that whilst in art of living, i developed a shockingly UN-sympathetic attitude towards others’ “emotional storms”, acting as though they ought to be able to control themselves better, to discipline their feelings better, that if they were “truly spiritual” they would see the “truth” of these experiences and not be at their mercy. I hid this under a sympathetic “compassion”, but deep inside I couldn’t reconcile my inability to accept my emotions on their own terms with others being weak in the same way– I became an inner totalist, trying to eradicate the undesirable elements in my psyche, and believing those elements to be undesirable in everyone. That’s pretty twisted, and I don’t blame AoL for giving me these notions– only for subtly encouraging them, letting them take over until I believed they were True.

      I think the more I develop an equanimity within an honest self-relationship, I’ll be more truly compassionate with others’ difficulties and feelings. This is, in theory, what AoL seems to profess, but then the community is so results oriented that when one feels judgement for “still having negative feelings”, the feelings become the enemy rather than a necessary messenger. We become actors, playing at enlightenment and trying to convince, rather than going within and truly evolving. This is one of those subtle differences between what AoL says, and what the community truly does that gives it away in the end. xx

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