I started life as a default atheist. My family weren’t religious and spirituality wasn’t part of my daily life. I never thought about it or questioned it. Unlike America, the UK and Europe are mostly secular. In the UK, if you admit to believing in God, or even being mildly curious, people tend to assume you’re soft in the head. You’ll lose friends. People will go to great lengths to help you see the rational atheist light. If someone had told me that I was a mystic, I would have done my best Richard Dawkins impression:
*goes red, blinks rapidly, and splutters*:
“It’s not rational!”
It’s taken a long time for me to accept my mystical nature. When the process of awakening began in my 20s, I had no idea what was happening. I had no context or language I could use to make sense of my experience. My immediate reaction to the shift in consciousness was to assume I was going crazy. This isn’t surprising in the context of a culture that has such a poisonous attitude towards anything subjective, especially when it’s driven by the undercurrents of the sacred feminine.
During the early years on my spiritual path, I assumed I could control what was happening to me, that I could plot out a five year plan and hit the targets. It was only after every part of my life dissolved into entropy or anarchy, that I would even contemplate surrender.
Spiritual awakening is a process that dismantles the ego and all its games, and frees you from your conditioning. Before awakening, you play your little games, like everyone else. Then you begin a spiritual practice and the old games fall away as you recognise they were driven by fear and insecurity. In time, you become calmer. You feel so much better now you’re less scared of your own shadow.
But the ego is a wily old bugger.
As you sit in meditation or prayer, or whatever practice you’ve embraced, the ego subtly repositions itself. It begins to think:
“I can use this.”
Before you know it, your spiritual practice has been ambushed and you begin to play a whole new set of ego games called things like:
I can meditate for longer than you, or
My meditation practice is more profound, my understanding is deeper, I’m more pious than you, I’ve been chosen…
blah, blah, blah…
In fact, all you’re doing is building yourself a bigger, fancier and more comfortable cage. Awakening is about breaking out of the cage altogether.
Atheism is a cage.
Theism is also a cage.
The truth? Enlightenment is terrifying and if you really understood what you were letting yourself in for, you would never begin the process of spiritual awakening. Not in a million years. So it’s a good job it’s not up to you.
Awakening tends to run to its own timetable and grace plays a huge part. You don’t have much control over when it starts or what happens. The only thing you can control is your attitude, and my goodness, it took me a long time to learn that!
And this is where I stand today: a reluctant mystic standing on the brink of a crumbling precipice.
I’m no longer an atheist. I can’t not believe. There have been too many ‘incidents’ – too many divine interventions, too many synchronicities, too many answered prayers, too much joy, too much, too much…
But I don’t believe in God.
I don’t know what to believe. The word ‘God’ (or as I prefer to call it: the G-word) seems inadequate. How can you name something so utterly incomprehensible and ungraspable? I don’t know what ‘it’ is, or isn’t. Whether you call it God, or the Tao, or Luminous Emptiness – it is unknowable, unspeakable, and inherently mysterious. I cannot name it.
I know nothing.
I am addled.
To demonstrate my complete lack of knowledge about anything, I published my first novel. I wrote Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic because I wanted to tell the story of my awakening. I wanted to write about what it’s really like to live through this kind of ‘life-apocalypse’. Not the Bunnies and Cupcakes version, but the real, heart crushing, illusion shattering truth of it.
Addled contains autobiographical elements but it’s not a memoir. It’s a work of fiction. The biography of Zoe Popper’s life is totally fictionalised, but the emotional journey she travels is mine. Some of what happens in the story is real, in the sense that it happened. Some of it is exaggerated, and some of it is made up. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which is which.
Read more about the process of writing the book: A History of Addled