Addled · Dharma Diary

From Atheist to Agnostic

There was a time when the idea of being a mystic would have rendered me insensible with cynical laughter. I still struggle not to snort in derision at the vapid pronouncements of many New Age gurus. I call it Bunnies and Cupcakes Spirituality – all wind chimes and scented candles, dream catchers, positive thinking and tree hugging.

Flatpac-Friday-Easter-Cupcakes-1024x967Hippies! Remember them?

Perhaps I’m the wrong generation. I was born in 1970, so I’m a daughter of the flower power generation. With my Pluto in Virgo I’m more likely to offer a stern lecture on selfless service than get off indulging myself in true Pluto in Leo style.

But enough generalising.

On the one hand, its good that so many people are interested in developing a spiritual practice and are incorporating spirituality into their busy lives. But on the other, the Bunnies and Cupcakes Brigade are in serious danger of missing the point; and of leading sincere seekers up the garden path in the process.

How did religion and spirituality get so screwed up?

We are suffering an epidemic of narcissism in every corner of our culture and spirituality is no exception. Ken Wilber has called it Boomeritis, fixing the blame squarely at the feet of the post-war generation. That may be unfair; narcissism afflicts everyone to some degree, regardless of when you were born or where your Pluto resides. It’s a disease of the ego, a natural (or unnatural) extension of our tendency to be relentlessly self-absorbed.

Spiritual Awakening is a process that dismantles the ego and all its games. Spiritual practice should make you less egotistical, and yet what we see happening is often the opposite. Enlightenment is about freeing yourself from your conditioning, not building yourself a bigger, fancier or more comfortable cage.

You start out playing ego games, like everyone else. You begin a spiritual practice and leave behind the old games, recognising they were driven by fear and insecurity. In time, you become calmer; you feel so much better now you’re less scared. But the ego is a wily old bugger. As you sit in meditation or prayer or whatever practice you’ve embraced, the ego repositions itself. It thinks to itself:

I can use this.

Before you know it, your spiritual practice has been ambushed. 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…

Watch this video for Alan Watts’ brilliant take on this

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.

Default: Atheist

I started life as an atheist. I never thought about it or questioned it. Atheism was my default setting. I emerged from the womb indifferent to God and the church. I wasn’t even baptised.

richard-dawkins_o_1738751Perhaps things would have been different if I’d grown up in America; the US is a more God-fearing country. The UK and Europe are mostly secular. Admit to believing in God, or even being mildly curious in this country and you’ll lose friends. People will take it upon themselves to explain to you, at length, why you’re an idiot, and plead with you to see the rational atheist light.

If someone had told me I was a mystic, I would have done my best Richard Dawkins impression.

*goes red, blinks rapidly, splutters: “It’s not rational!”*

The journey towards acceptance of my mystical nature was long and perilous. When the process began I had no idea what was happening to me. I had no context or language I could use to make sense of my experience. It took a long time to find out who I really was, and even now I’m still prone to the odd wobble.

Getting Over Yourself

My spiritual awakening began when I was 20, and I’m grateful it started when it did. Awakening can involve a lot of dredging and purging of the past, so the sooner you start that process, the better. Not that you 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!

My immediate reaction to the shift in my 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 or driven by the undercurrents of the sacred feminine.

For many years, I assumed I could control what was happening to me, plot out a five year plan and hit the targets. It was only after every single part of my life dissolved into entropy or anarchy, that I would even contemplate surrender.

And this is where I stand today: on the brink of a crumbling precipice.

I am 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.

Addled Header Adapt


To demonstrate my complete lack of knowledge about anything, I have just 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 is a work of fiction, not a memoir. The biographical details of Zoe Popper’s life are totally fictionalised, but the emotional journey she travels is mine. Some of what happens 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.

Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic can be downloaded here

If you enjoy the book (or if you don’t!), please write a review on Amazon – I’d be absurdly grateful 😉

(By the way, I promise to stop banging on about the book now – normal service will resume shortly…)

Image: Bunny & Cupcake

5 thoughts on “From Atheist to Agnostic

  1. I agree with what you say Eiruamun. Both exotericism and esotericism have their place.

    But the former loses its rationale and meaning without the latter, and maybe this is a reason why popular theism is not so popular where dogma becomes divorced from intuition and revelation and ‘dumbed down’. to become an unlikely story. By its refusal to recognise its roots the Church seems to be hell-bent on engineering its own obsolescence. This is, as you say, a tragedy for society. Now we regularly see local churches being sold off for flats and furniture depositories, and it is very sad.


  2. I think maybe you were lucky not be born into a culture dominated by popular exoteric theism. On the evidence the journey from dig-your-heels-in atheism to mysticism may be a lot easier than the journey from objective theism. One arrives with fewer pre-conceptions and other unhelpful baggage. Seems that way to me anyway.


    1. The lack of a popular theism is actually a bad sign in my view. It is symptomatic of deeper problems in our society as a whole. There is no longer any unifying principle which affects us and is able to penetrate into our being, particularly in the West anymore. This lack of meta physical understanding has led to a spiritual break-down of the people in this European and American secular region.

      The power of money rises to fill the void, and power politics for influence of the masses replaces the intellectual. Materialistic atheism, American evangelical ‘christianity’, technology-belief and forms of new-ageism might well considered the new theism if we look more carefully.

      The world-conditioning we see today is on a scale outpacing anything we can historically observe in my opinion. This has led to great pain and suffering, because when people no longer operate under a Unifier, they find no place in this world.

      Think of Plato’s noble lie. It’s better for people to have something that not exactly the most ideal form of ‘truth’ if at least some of them can rise up to surpass themselves and nullify the ego through nox profuna (as we know it in Christianity) – eventually to come to rest in the Infinite Godhead.

      “The lie that leads to enlightenment is preferable to the truth that leads to ruin.” – Zen teaching.

      Modernity is but another visiting dark-age. We are culturally and spiritually deracinated, trapped in the world of mind. A form of mysticism, within a religious tradition, is one way to escape the cogwheels of time. However, I don’t think it will appeal to more than a few people. This is why the quality level of exoteric theism is important.


      1. You can get to the truth with religion or without it. Perhaps without it people assume there is no truth worth seeking and so end up chasing their own tails. Interesting comment, thanks Eiruamun.


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