When I went through some of the toughest times of my life, I was a believer of God. I don’t know how much difference that made to anything that happened but there was a moment when I went alone to the nearest temple and prayed. I felt uplifted, like I was on a parallel plane. Everything took on a different light: I was right where I had been but I could believe something, somewhere would make everything all right. Nearly three years have passed since then and throughout my transformation, I have kept asking myself one question: what would happen when the next crisis hits me? I have realized one thing so far: most of my crises are more or less in my head. If I can conquer my thoughts, my emotions, my need to not hurt other people (who made me Queen of the World, anyway?), my constant struggle with putting myself FIRST, I wouldn’t have any crises. I won’t be in any mess, ever. But the price to pay is very high for me: loss of my ‘humanism’. I cannot be selective in showering my emotions. The trade-off is normally all or nothing. I am either capable of shutting up my system (at a huge loss of personal energy) or of feeling so much that I cannot get out of bed, let alone talk to other people or do any of the normal things that need to be done. The worst thing is that this is all in my head. I am stunted by my experiences, narrowed by my fears, defined by the things and people I have chosen to value right here in this life. So what happens the next time I feel trapped? What or who do I turn to? Here is an exercise in trying to find out that very answer.
There is only one struggle at the heart of it all
My personal struggle is that what I want and what the world expects are in an almost-constant clash. The worst thing is that I cannot predict with any sensible scale of measure, what it actually is that I want. I have accepted that human beings are fickle, there is no way for any of us to predict with any certainty where we are headed, let alone have any control over anything but our response to what hits us, cuts us, beats us. Perhaps the one answer is to have no expectations, to want nothing out of life, to maintain a complacency with everything we have. Some people can live in a small town forever and not want anything else at all. Some people can be content with a house and a family and never think why anything should be missing.
But me? I embrace my one life with in contradictory terms: I want everything and I can lost nothing. Devastation is perhaps inevitable when I don’t know what that everything is that I want. Some would say that it is the transcendence of God’s love and power pulling me towards itself, that my feeling of incompletion is the absence of God from my life, or the presence of the desire to be in touch with all the answers of the world. A friend and I spent hours one day exploring the psyche of Buddha’s enlightenment. For a few seconds that day, we were so completely in sync beyond the walls of the room in which we sat, we felt we had never been closer to understanding Buddha. It seemed clear to us in those few powerful seconds what ‘enlightenment’ really was. The catch? We were both atheists already.
As a disbeliever, I do not think anyone is beckoning to me from beyond. Hell, I am finding it harder to accept if there even is a beyond to be in after we die. I do not know, of course. I don’t have the answers to ‘ghosts’ that people see or my own experience of waking up alone in the middle of a night once: the night when my grandmother died miles away from me in New Delhi almost six years ago, with my name on the lips of something that wasn’t there.
I sound like a confused atheist but I think that is the best way to be. I need to be a confused atheist or I would be a foolish atheist. I do not think that the limited reach of my senses and my tiny nerve cell connections are capable of ever reaching the ultimate answer. Once I thought the final answer would come to me, perhaps on the moment of my death, if not earlier. Now I do not think there is a final answer to be reached.
Just a blob of random organic matter coming together and arranging itself into more and more complex creatures and then turning around and wondering why. The universe, if it is a conscience, has a very weird sense of humour. But how can I deny how funny it is?
Believing how rudderless life really is, I still desire things, experiences, people, a weird sense of belonging. Perhaps one of the biggest gaps that need filling is the desire to have people I can spend hours talking about these things with. Another one is the desire to read everything that I can ever manage to read. Strange desires and strange expectations. Over the course of these three years, I have found myself a handful of people I can talk this way with, without feeling like an alien.
How can an atheist suffer from a case of humanitarianism?
How indeed. I don’t think I need a guidebook to teach me my morals. This isn’t a debate I am raging because I know people do good or bad despite their personal beliefs in the Guy in the Clouds (or in an idol or in the wings of a butterfly or in their mother or in their lover or in themselves or anywhere or nowhere at all). What they do, how they perceive good and bad and how they deal with it on a day-to-day basis is dependent on a variety of circumstances: how they grew up, what they were taught, what they observed, what they were exposed to, what their genetic makeup is and how all of this comes together to make them a unique individual.
I have recently made a wonderful friend, Muslim by birth, she is a disbeliever of God and a nonconformist but talking to her is a liberation. Because for the first time in a long time, I am beginning to understand how I can balance the struggle and my love of peace.
Today she told me to go and have an adventure all by myself, an experience that would enrich me, free me of my thousand-and-one chains for a little while, put me in touch with my own slowly beating heart, my insides, my very core. I am ashamed to admit that I did not have the guts to follow her wonderful advice. I am hopeful though, that someday I will. Someday soon, I’ll make a breakthrough in my own head.
But there is a balance. There is an answer. There is something that can be done, even without God.
Yesterday night I found myself hoping there was a God to talk to. I started a dialogue in my head, cut it after one sentence. Half an hour later I unconsciously started it again and stopped the moment I realized how stupid it all was. Today I spent so much time with myself that I am beginning to see how something beautiful can spring out of my despair and desperation as an atheist.
It is all about me, whether I want to believe it or not.
I have been the monster and the hero of my own story. It is funny that I don’t always know when I am being which. I will just have to hope for the best in that regard because I wouldn’t know until I am way past that moment of truth. That being said, I can always find an answer to my own happiness. On a small, immediate scale there are a dozen things to be happy about right this moment. It is the darkly gathered cloud of my own personal struggle that is preventing me from seeing it. I cannot expect the clouds to blow away with one single breath but I can still see through the haze. I can see what I want to reach out to but more importantly I can see what I can already touch.
I wish I knew how to hurt other people. Out of that hurt something good does emerge. I have the strength to live with my own hurt but not enough to inflict it and live with that. While I struggle to find an answer to this very pressing and urgent problem, I still need something to hold on to. The reason this post is coming out of me is because I needed to sort through my own issues and get the clarity that will help me know what I want. I don’t know how successful it has been. But the purpose was to find ways to hope without God and I think I have managed to do that.
If you want to hope without God just look at the things you care about, the ones you want to grasp. Ask if you would rather see the change in this life or a next life which may or may not be there. If you want to hope without God, take care of your own body: both mentally and physically. Don’t punish yourself ever. No matter what. Steer clear of people who want to pile guilt, hate and anger onto you. Don’t let your frail shoulders carry the pain of the entire world. Don’t be Atlas. Be with people who are positive, even when you aren’t on the same page as they were. Get rid of the toxicity that is being fed into you. Recognize it when you see it.
I don’t know how I am going to achieve thes objectives. Sometimes things are just too ambiguous to have straight answers. I know life is a complex struggle. I don’t want to make the mistake of over-simplifying that complexity. But somehow, finding a path through is possible as long as my heart is beating and that last ounce of blood still flows through my veins.
Note: I need to clarify that I did not become a disbeliever out of personal pain/loss/sadness/unhappiness. I did not become a disbeliever out of hate or anger or hurt but out of a careful examination of the beliefs I held. I felt this needed to be stated.