Okay, so my first day of proceeding about my business as if there is no God/Spirit/The Universe and there never has been a God/Spirit/The Universe...
Interesting and weird. But not in a bad way.
The first thing I noticed the night before my first full day of being an atheist was the feeling of liberation. The minute I told myself that there is not a God or a Spiritual Entity (which is more in keeping with how I've seen it all these years) the more I was able to say, "Okay, so I was never rejected into the poverty pile where my life is meant to be hard and filled with struggle because there is not a God or Spiritual Entity that exists who rejected me in the first place. So there is no longer any need to believe that that is my lot in life. There is no one out there deciding for me when I catch a break and when I don't. This is all me."
That felt liberating. Strangely so. I really had to walk the house with it. ("Wow. I don't have to fret about what will work out or what will not? No "one" and no "thing" are pre-deciding for me?") Pretty interesting way of looking at things. There were some goosebumps, some crazy good meatballs (recipe to follow at a later date) and inevitably some questions.
The questions mostly revolved around previously held thought patterns. Can I really do this? Can I really think this way? Can I say goodbye to thirty some odd years of thinking? Yes. That's the plan for this week, anyway.
Okay. Now on with the day.
I got up, wrote, had breakfast, did laundry, played with the kids, went to the gym - basically went about my daily minutia. I found a few moments of mental stress building about some logistical things before I had to remind myself that there was no need to get so worked up. No need to fall back into old thinking. Just move forward. None of this has been pre-ordained, after all. Just relax and remember that I can do whatever I set my mind to. (My brain needs constant reminders. Gah.)
A couple habitual things happened which I had to switch up. For example, when I was driving to the gym, I had a Reverend Michael Beckwith CD playing in the car, which I have always loved to listen to for both the message and the music. But today I turned it off. Because listening to a Reverend preach on a Sunday morning is not in keeping with being an atheist for a week. And that is one of the disappointing aspects about this experiment. The giving up factor. Letting go of the lovely things I enjoy because they have a form of Spirituality attached to them.
I also found myself on the verge of saying, "Oh, I'll just trust in the Universe" about something I had put effort into and hoped would work out in my favor. But the Atheist Me gently tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, "NaGa-Da, lady. We don't put our wishes out there anymore. We don't believe in that stuff right now, remember?"
(Of course there was no imaginary atheist tapping me gently on the shoulder, whispering softly in my ear. Because that would be the supernatural. The Great Gazoo. And in practicing this mindset, I have to completely believe that I am all there is. That will take some work. I am quite fond of the Great Gazoo and I will miss his ass this week.)
I also had a conversation with my sister about a new book by Robert Kiyosaki in which he talks about an individual raising his/her level of financial IQ. In it, he advises people to take 30% of their income and set it aside for investing. And if you can't afford 30% of your income for this purpose, according to Mr. Kiyosaki, you just need to find a way to earn more money. Well, I had instant resistance to this idea. I told my sister that not everyone could just go out, snap their fingers and earn more money. "This is an expensive place to live. Have you seen the gas prices out here? Food prices are about to go up 7% in this province. Coffee prices have already risen. You have to have a friggon six figure income to afford a townhouse an hour outside of the city. Some people already have two or three jobs just to make ends meet." And so on and so forth. I stopped myself in the midst of this litany of evidential burden to remind myself that in succumbing to this line of thinking I was operating from the old belief that my destiny with struggle had been pre-ordained by a God who favored some and not others, or by a Spiritual Entity with which I had not yet come into alignment, and as a result my good was being kept from me because I had never adequately raised my vibration in order to collect it. But this week is not about that. This week is about proceeding with the mentality that none of that has actually happened because those forces don't exist.
I know I'm repeating myself here but that is part of the process for me. I need to repeat to myself over and over again that this is a fresh, clean slate and that I am more than capable of achieving my goals myself. There is simply no one else tripping me up.
But I did find myself wondering, what about the magic? If I do go about my business with the intention of making a success of myself and, if in fact I'm the only one responsible for creating my success, if it's all me, and therefore all the outcome will occur as a result of my efforts alone, where is there room in that equation for the magic to happen?
Do atheists believe in magic?
As we hit the hay for the night, my mind was spinning a little and I launched a handful of other questions on the subject at my husband to see what his perspective on this might be:
"Can I read "Choosing Easy World" before bed (it's too Spiritual, right)?
Who do I say Thank You to for the day?
So much of my thinking is oriented to the Spiritual Entity side of things. If I don't think about that, what the heck do I think again?"
My husband is a spiritual kinda guy. But at bedtime, he's a tired kinda guy and a man of few words. So in support of my atheism experiment, he turned out the light and replied, "No. No one. Think good thoughts. Good night."
And that was Day 1. Many questions, many reminders, and many opportunities to stretch my mind.
We'll see what happens on Day 2...
Thank you for joining me in my quest for bliss.
The Happiness Detective
Here's another layer to what's problematic about "just earn more money." One's financial position is only in part determined by the individual (how hard you work, who you know, where you live, etc.); the other part is structural.
Our earning power is partially predetermined by
-our class (working class begets working class)
-our race/gender/sexual orientation/ability (being a non-disabled, straight, white, male is the *best*!)
-our upbringing (both consciously by our parents/family and unconsciously by our social context)
-our inheritances (both direct [eg. property] and indirect [eg. genetics]
-the way all of these factors 'fit together' to make up the material of our lives
On top of that, our ability to 'move up' through hard work and stick-to-it-tivness is also partially determined by these structural realities (i.e. it's a lot easier to "pull up your bootstraps" if you've inherited property from your family or if your parents were able to pay for your tuition).
That's not to say that folks who've achieved financial success in spite of their circumstances don't deserve praise. But their experience is not the norm. Most folks who grow up poor, who are dealt a raw deal, can't magically "earn more" by changing their attitudes towards money, by praying more, by working harder. It's not rational, but it's true.
I have two points in all this:
-I don't believe in God either, but I do think that predestination (of the social kind) exists; the way to overcome it--and I'm still working on this one--is complicated and individual.
-the key, from my perspective, is community; financial success is a means to an end, but what really makes things 'work' in my own life is having a community that supports me and helps me.
That's the kind of 'success' I'm seeking--in spite of the cards that God (or the system) dealt me.
I "became" an atheist a couple years back in a similar fashion... after many many years the evidence seemed overwhelming to me against the divine or supernatural BUT I still had to do the first day... I gave it two weeks of being an atheist to see what that was like. Perhaps I honestly thought I'd get struck by lightning or something. But really it was trying it on, seeing what it was like as you ate, as you went about your business, and you thought...
Similarly there was a lightness, a feeling of being free from a great burden... if I wasn't blessed, hey, I couldn't also be cursed, right? That was a pretty fair trade. Plus, all the things I had to do to stay "in the light" and all the crazy thinking I had to do to figure out why I was "out of favor" when shit hit the fan. Well, truth is, sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down and sometimes you can do stuff about it and other times you can't. Don't be so hard on yourself. And more importantly, get off your ass or don't, whatever. It's all you baby.
It's like when your folks drop you off and you have to do first day of college. It's scary but you can do it.
The thanks issue is an important one. I also learned how much misplaced thanks I had been practicing. You want to thank someone before bed? Thank yourself, thank your fella, thank those that helped you, thanks Ben Franklin, thanks Louis Pasteur, thanks Marie Curie. It has become one of my deepest objections to religious thought... misplaced thanks.
Wow. Or yikes. Or something.
Funnily enough, when I first set out to respond to your original post in this series, my intention was to try to instill a little skepticism in you regarding things like "The Law of Attraction" and the self-help industry in general, and not your general spiritual beliefs. I couldn't get the tone right, though - it sounded unnecessarily mean which was never my intention - so that's one of the things that got edited out.
My initial response to this experiment was the thought that atheism didn't really lend itself to "dabbling" but rereading led me to assume that you've never felt the "experience" (more on that later) and maybe you are exactly right to investigate for yourself, now. I don't know that it can lead to happiness on its own, though.
My story so far (briefly). I have very dim memories of attending Sunday school as a child and stronger ones later of church on Sunday with the family unit. At about the age of 12 or 13, upon beginning to experience the world outside the pool of campfire light that was my family, the answers to my questions stopped making sense. I never had an epiphany and don't recall any mentors, but I must have discussed it with my friends of the time. At 14 or 15 I announced that I would no longer be joining the family at church of a Sunday. I seem to remember some ... unpleasantness as a result (it *was* [mumble] years ago), but nothing has been said of it since. I think I probably never really believed - just acting the dutiful child 'til then.
More recent (15 yrs ago) contact with the online atheist community led me to understand that my story is actually pretty typical, and that's probably what leads many believers to write it off as teenage rebellion, given the time frame. This community (we'll call them OAC) also clarified many other things for me. Can you believe in magic? You can believe in anything you want, but I found that the reading list I acquired over the years has disabused me of many misconceptions about reality. Atheism is, at its core, skepticism and I found it spreading throughout my worldview wherever extraordinary claims are concerned. Extraordinary evidence, and all that.
And besides, if it's all you, isn't that magic enough? I'd say.
Speaking of reading, I'm sure, in your situation with 2 children running around you at almost all times, you're up to your armpits in free time. If you could find time to read just one book I'd recommend "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. The "Official Atheist Reading List" [koff] contains a boatload of dry (and not so dry) skeptical, scientific and philosophical tomes as well as the angry diatribes, but this one is very accessible.
This recent journey of discovery has led me to be more interested in the universe in general and I've learned more in the last 15 years than I did in the [mumble] years up til then. I'm presently reading "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre (also highly recommended - will make anyone a much better informed consumer and citizen - it's dead funny, too) and the hilariously titled "How To Teach Physics To Your Dog"
Lastly, don't deny yourself experiences you love. Your emotional being is not going to disappear. Love and creativity are deeply human attributes as are their enjoyment and appreciation.
About the religious experience of connectedness to the god: several members of the OAC told of it before losing their faith later in life and a couple claimed that they could reproduce it at will. They called it "tickling the godspot". Also, a researcher in Ontario has recently had success inducing it with electromagnetic stimulation. This goes nowhere; I just thought it was interesting.
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