I grew up with religion. My dad was born into Islam. My mum was Catholic and converted after they met. This post is about a journey, pitted with guilt, shame and confusion, to finally uproot what wasn’t working for me.
Now. There is religion and then there is religion. And if you didn’t grow up with the latter, it may be impossible to grasp how all-encompassing it can be, especially when young - no less impenetrable a matrix than reality itself.
Hard to believe, I was once that five-year-old boy chirping long passages of the Quran in Arabic, memorised by sound with zero comprehension, to large audiences in a gold-domed London mosque. Being a good boy. Making my parents proud. Knowing nothing else.
For many years, I prayed five times per day, reciting words in a foreign language. I learned that I owed God and felt guilty if I didn’t pray, but also felt utterly uninspired going through the motions. I used to pretend I’d done it and lie to my parents. I readily confused them with God.
I learned that God was male and had many names, accounting for all of his virtuous qualities, kind and suchlike, but was haunted by stories of naughty humans burning in eternal hell and masturbators wandering purgatory with pregnant hands for all to see.
I remember excitedly approaching my dad with pen and paper, drawing two diagrams. In one there was a big circle labelled ‘God’ and little one labelled ‘me’, in the second there was just one big circle labelled ‘God’ with ‘me’ as a ruffle in its bounding line.
For me this was the crack in the matrix. The external Sky God versus the internal Soul God. One a ruler and punisher, the other simply my deepest essence. I don’t recall ever really buying into an atheistic science world, which simply felt asinine.
As the bubble burst, I was left only with old patterns animated by the avoidance of guilt. I remember feeling an incredible wave of peace and liberation the day I consciously and decisively quit praying, which had long become my soulless daily farce.
The next to fall was fasting dawn to dusk for one month of each year. I truly valued this ritual. It felt real and healthy on physical, emotional and spiritual levels. Some years I would fast something extra that I judged to have become too habituated - one year, guitar.
But ultimately I realised that my fasting practice was too entangled with guilt and shame. So I took my fasting to its completion and decided to fast fasting. Uprooting fasting, baby and bathwater. I missed it and it later re-surfaced in other forms such as raw veganism.
January of this year, I faced what was for the me the biggest taboo - alcohol. It was extremely deeply forbidden. Walled off with terrible consequences, cemented with guilt and shame.
I remember this sort of parable story that my dad told me. There was man given the choice of drinking the alcohol or raping a woman or killing her son. Of course he drank the alcohol, but then raped the woman and killed her son who tried to stop him.
So whilst friends and colleagues were busy suffering their dry January, detoxing festive excess, and others had long quit alcohol altogether, I was having my first drink. The massive, heart-pounding guilt trip came and went. A huge layer of conditioning was lifted.
Part of me says the journey is complete. Part of me says it has just begun.