Updated: Jan 5
By Ella Watson, guest writer
The Human Spirit - Does it Exist?
This and other related questions point towards something people struggle with their entire lives. Most, however, given the option, would rather do away with the whole thing. It's understandable; most times it can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. But even then such people, more often than not, have a nagging emptiness they just can't put a finger on.
It then becomes a question of either finding the truth or being stubborn and sticking to the old and well-trodden path. And, let's be honest, without this deep inner work, one can feign success, happiness and transformation all they want. They can throw themselves into whatever centre for their life they deem worthy enough, be it family, work, money, friends or a combination of these. But the emptiness stays. You may forget about it for a while, but it almost feels like it never forgets you. (The more damaged you have been, the deeper the emptiness is.)
Some decide to take the step TOWARDS rather than away from this emptiness when their stubbornness finally gives in. I fall in this category.
How My Upbringing Shaped My Belief System Or Lack Thereof
It's hard to describe my upbringing as I'm still working through it but in a nutshell, it was controlling and manipulative. There was and still is a huge discrepancy between the way my parents act and what they say. I'm not saying I didn't get my basic needs of food, a roof over my head and an education, but my parents' inability to accommodate me as an individual and as a grown woman became more and more apparent as I entered my teen age. Both my parents come from Muslim families (yes my name here is a pseudonym), and I spent the majority of my teenage years in Pakistan before moving with my family to the UK. My dad, though he had renounced Islam and spoke against it at length, was actually more misogynistic and controlling towards my mom and later me as I reached my teenage years, compared with my Pakistani friends' families. This is a reality I find hard to grasp but it explains far too much in terms of my dad's behaviour and actions. It also helps answer a lot of questions I had such as, 'Why did I still feel suffocated and oppressed when my dad insisted he did not impose Islamic rules such as prayers and fasting on his kids?'. My mom, on the other hand, was the silent enabler, letting me and almost expecting me, to take my dad's emotional abuse and coercive behaviour, just as she had over the years.
After moving to the UK, I suffered a breakdown when I started my undergraduate degree. I was made to believe there was something wrong in me that was leading to this, with little attention paid to actually try and understand what was going on. What was interesting was how my parents' narcissism really showed up during this time; all their prejudices, mental strongholds and fears they had tried to impose on me. In other words, they didn't know or, probably, didn't want to hold space for me.
Soon enough, everything was pushed under the rug, so that everyone in my family could resume their usual lives while I was left with a gaping hole in my soul and spirit. As the years went on, this gaping hole became larger and larger as the mask I showed the world became thicker and thicker. All this time it was ok for my dad to continue his controlling and misogynistic dynamics. It was ok to make me feel worse because of the resentment and anger he had towards his mother, sisters and ex-lovers, the anger his ego would never let go of.
Throughout this time, I felt like I had left a part of myself back in Pakistan. I was later to learn that in actuality, my deep connection to the Source of all love, kindness and compassion had been weakened over time, which is why I felt so lost. Though my time in Pakistan had been spent with this idea of a Creator, after my first breakdown, I essentially spent life as an atheist. The idea of connecting with God or there being a Creator was something I didn't want to entertain.
How I Took On The New Age Concept 'A Course in Miracles'
I had my second breakdown a bit more than a year ago, during which I confronted my dad for the unfair and unjust attitude he had towards his wife and kids all these years. During that time I also had a very acute realisation of the insensitive ways I had acted towards my siblings and friends, consciously or unconsciously. And I apologised to them for it. It was either the process of finally letting out my anger towards my oppressor or a reconnection with my conscience or both, that kick-started my search for a deeper meaning in life; I wanted to explore the possibility of a connection with something bigger than myself, than my life. What I didn't realise was that there are a plethora of beliefs out there that purport to help one in that respect, only to lead to something entirely different. Via the MeetUp app, I got involved in a couple of different New Age concepts and also came across my current mentor, Daniel Schmitz.
The main New Age concept I was exploring was A Course In Miracles (ACIM). The concept centres around a book that was supposedly 'channelled' (this is when a person acts as a medium for a spirit or immaterial entity) to Dr Helen Schuckman, an Associate Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University between 1965-1972. The book claimed to be from Jesus Christ. I had no prior knowledge of Christianity to be able to make a connection as to how the concept of ACIM was vastly different to that of the teachings of Christ. Looking back at it now, I think I was at a point in life where it was easy for me to take up such a concept. What drew me to it was the focus of letting go of guilt. At the time I had just finished reading a book called 'Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions' by Peter R Breggin, because I had struggled with this deep sense of guilt for the past many years. However, I hadn't realised that the reason I had this intense guilt was the direct result of emotional abuse and gaslighting (this is when someone manipulates you to doubt your own reality) from my parents, especially my dad. I mistook this intense guilt as something emanating from my own self (for whatever reason) and I held onto the next thing that would help me get rid of it i.e. ACIM.
My stubbornness led me to not look into the premise of this concept. If I had, I would've realised that channelling is not something unique and is practised by people across the world and there are many many books that have been written via this method. And if you were to analyse these books from a logical point of view, they would not make sense and have very little evidence for their claims. A book I came across later, called 'The Magdalene Manuscript' by Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion, another channelled book, started with the person who received this information saying that he/she had come across many such 'voices' so to speak and had come to a point of not writing any more books that were channelled. He said that after many years, he has come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to tell who is at the other end of this voice. This voice could purport to be anything it liked and so he cautioned while reading this book and to practice one's own judgement. This book also started with the voice, saying stuff like its aim was to help usher in a New Earth where people had no remorse. This message can be taken in a positive sense to mean people wouldn't be plagued by excessive guilt as I was. But it can also mean that people are not held accountable for their misdeeds, which is a very dangerous concept. This combined with the core concept in ACIM being to let go of guilt does not make for a very good message the New Age is ushering if one really thinks about it.
Sticking to the idea of ignorance is bliss, I started the daily lessons of ACIM which helped placate my racing thoughts, the first lesson being, 'Nothing I see means anything'. In other words, this world is a dream. Imagine coming to believe that. Though this might help one distance themselves from their own pain, they distance themselves from other people's pain as well. And with time you end up becoming this puppet that follows a book that has no logical or practical basis, that is so far from reality yet you believe you are the closest to reality than you ever were. That's what started to happen to me. It had been about a year since I had started my PhD and all the time I was practising ACIM, and attending their evening sessions, the more I felt like the PhD was slipping away from my hands. At the same time, I had moved back to my parents' home over the second lockdown, and without realising it, had come under their manipulative dynamics, yet again! I was literally throwing all the effort I had put in confronting my dad during my last breakdown, down the drain and was sending the message that I had gone back to the role my parents always expected of me.
Getting Back To Reality
Luckily, however, I met Daniel during this time. I was also engaged in reading a number of other books I was interested in and loved having someone to speak to at length about all that had intrigued me in the past week. Daniel was careful in challenging me on ACIM, though he was very aware of the reality of being involved in such a concept. He took the time to focus on developing my ability to reason and philosophise about life, to put past experiences into a more coherent perspective and to build our relationship as a mentor and mentee.
Previously, I had tried therapy and counselling. But it was focused on using specific techniques like CBT which I felt really didn't get to the root cause of what I was suffering with. It was a lot like putting a band-aid over a wound that needed a lot more attention and care to understand and look deeper into. Moreover, to the therapists and counsellors, my sessions with them were more about approaching the sessions in a more or less robotic and scripted way. It wasn't like that in my sessions with Daniel. I could talk to him not only about personal issues but deep issues plaguing humanity and we could have such a deep discussion on it. His level of care was (and still is!) way beyond anyone might encounter in therapy/counselling. That perfect combination of counsellor, coach and mentor.
It took two months for me to open up to Daniel about the reality of my dad's abusive nature and my last breakdown in which I confronted him. And this was when my dad had left for Pakistan for a few weeks. I guess my inner child finally got the courage to speak the truth that I had again deluded myself into thinking was not as severe as it actually was. Daniel seemed a bit taken aback considering I had been so cheery in all the sessions we had so far and appreciated my strength to keep moving forward and look for possible avenues to work on myself. He recommended the book called 'Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life' by Dr Susan Forward and Craig Buck.
Now the issue with working on yourself, especially when you have been through so much pain, is that you block things out. I was exploring a lot of things at the time I met Daniel: spirituality, human psychology, self-development etc. But the one thing that I needed to work on, the one thing without which no growth was possible, I was not facing in myself.
So it was that when I did read the toxic parents book, I was so triggered by it, that I couldn't sleep for the next few days. All the pain, all the anxiety, all the paranoia I had been suppressing and hiding by immersing myself in ACIM came rushing forth. At the same time, my dad was, as usual, calling me almost every day from Pakistan, to reaffirm himself by talking about the same things and expecting nothing but a consistent yes from my side. Reading the toxic parents book, meant I wasn't prepared to deal with this anymore. My dad wasn't too happy when I confronted him over the phone and realising nothing had changed after my last breakdown, I moved back out of my parents' place to the city I was doing my PhD in.
Extirpating Myself From Spirituality
The next few months were hard. I realised I couldn't use ACIM anymore to escape from the harsh reality of the excessive damage to my being from my parent's emotional abuse; that I had to do the hard work of facing this damage, realise the extent of it and work at it, bit by bit. So, with time, I decided, if I'm going to deal with it anyway, I might as well do it head-on rather than waste time with it.
With the help of Daniel, who amazingly was an expert at this, I looked more into the concept of narcissism (this is when people use the people around them, those closest to them, to boost their sense of self. Narcissists as parents consider their children as extensions of themselves, projecting their fears and aspirations on them rather than ever seeing them as individuals with their own personality, thoughts and life. As such, narcissists are adept at emotional abuse, gaslighting and playing the victim.)
At the same time, I had to slowly but surely remove myself from my family's influence. I realised the damage I had suffered and the way it was interfering with my health and life was so immense that even speaking to or texting either of my parents would leave me unable to do anything else for the rest of the day or even days. This was because I wasn't hiding away from reality anymore using spirituality and my tendency for avoidance. As the days were getting closer towards the end of the first year of my PhD, I realised this wasn't something I could afford anymore. So I decided to write a detailed letter to my parents to elaborate clearly where they had gone wrong in my upbringing and then to stop being in touch. It was only then that I began to feel a sense of peace.
Despite this, it was a long journey of several months to completely remove myself from some other New Age practices, besides ACIM, that I thought were actually helping me. Interestingly, the more I went into more depth into narcissism and how it had damaged me so deeply, the less of a need I felt to engage with these concepts. As time went on, it became clear to me that the spiritual concepts I had been immersing myself in were not integrating much with what I was learning from my mentor (i.e. building my ability to think rationally, philosophically and critically in all areas of my life). In fact, it appeared like these two avenues I was working on, were actually moving farther and farther away from each other as the weeks went by, with the work I was doing with Daniel overshadowing whatever I was learning from these spiritual concepts. I also felt like I had to switch off parts of my logical mind to continue with these practices, the logical mind I had worked so hard on with Daniel to develop and hone. As such, I became less and less interested in continuing with spirituality.
Towards A Logical And Deeper Connection With God
I remember distinctly this period of time where I actually believed all the New Age stuff about the Earth ascending, there being various spiritual guides that were helping this process etc. I also remember how I would weigh all that Daniel said against what I had learned from the New Age. Yes, with time I was doubting all the New Age stuff but for a good while, I believed it to be true. And now that I look back at it, it was exactly this reason that was holding me back from looking deeper into myself. For months Daniel kept mentioning people like Jordan B Peterson to me, a Canadian psychologist who wrote the book '12 Rules For Life', but I was averse to looking at their work because I was so into something so out of touch with reality. I was prejudiced against listening to certain people for odd reasons. In an attempt to get away from the pain of my upbringing, I had created a bigger neurosis in myself, that of New Age deception.
This rather common tactic to avoid legitimate suffering is described well in M. Scott Peck's book, 'The Road Less Travelled':
“This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health. Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
What was the catalyst in helping me finally break through was when I came across the online abuse against Lighthouse International Group, details of which are in a previous post. This was not a good time for me as I was already struggling with now seeing the narcissism in my brother after having thought it was only my parents whom I needed to avoid. Spirituality had done nothing to work on my unhealthy ego; it only helped to hide it until a very critical moment, where instead of seeing the online abuse against Lighthouse for what it was, I assumed the exact opposite. I went through a whole painful experience of my over-reaction to this abuse, another form of familial narcissism, and trying to re-establish my connection with Daniel. As painstaking as this process was, I emerged from it as a different person, like a wall between me and Daniel had melted away.
It was not long after this that I spoke to Chris Nash, who helped me look and move past my experience of spirituality towards reaching God from a more logical and philosophical point of view. This was something I couldn't believe. I thought reaching God was only possible via these odd spiritual practices. Developing a deeper relationship with the Source of all creation through logical and critical analyses?! You must be kidding me!
However, I took on Chris' suggestion to look at how some current theologians, professors and psychologists analysed the concept of a Creator. And how they reached such a conclusion.
I'll be honest, I was blown away by the way people like Prof. John Lennox, Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Jordan B Peterson reached the conclusion of a Creator behind all creation. More specifically, what really piqued my interest was the explanation on The fine-tuning of the universe by Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. John Lennox's explanation of How we expect in the sciences and mathematics for things to be in a specific order. Science itself is based on the presumption that what is being investigated has an underlying complex system to it.
Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, described the process of scientific ideas, research and discovery as 'thinking God's thoughts after Him'. This is further corroborated by the work of a cold-case homicide detective turned Christian Apologist, J. Warner Wallace, who looked into the life of Jesus Christ from the same investigative angle he approaches his cold-cases. His findings show some astonishing aspects of the events leading to, during and after the life of Jesus. And, dare I say it, The catalyst he was in leading to the era of scientific research and discovery we so heavily rely on today, almost as if all the miracles Jesus did during his life were a precursor to the potential lying within humans to be discovered and looked into, by thinking the thoughts of the Source of all love, life and compassion after Him.
What's more astonishing is how Christians were at the core of all major developments in the sciences and mathematics that we see today; the fathers of all scientific disciplines were Christians and more than half of all Nobel Prize winners are Christians. The work by another Atheist turned Christian Apologist, Lee Strobel, also showed how mounting historic evidence points to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, more so than many other historic events we are told definitively happened in history, for example, the events of the life of Alexander the Great.
This is a very short overview of what I've looked into over the past few months to develop my own logical thinking, to reach back to this connection with Source that I had as a child but slowly moved away from (due to a mix of familial narcissism and the choices I made as a result of this). I realised how the immense feeling of love I felt I was surrounded by as a kid was this connection with Source, propagated by the understanding and care I got from my parents at the time (which, however, became more and more manipulative as I grew older).
At the moment I am looking further into the life, teachings and impact of Jesus Christ on the world today, especially how his teachings are as relevant to humanity as they were two millennia ago. What intrigues me is how non-Christians approach the teachings of Jesus and use the expertise they have developed in their respective fields to do so. Jordan B Peterson, for example, has so much to say about The bible and all that primarily from a psychological angle, which I find absolutely fascinating!
An astounding consequence of all this deep work has been that I now approach my PhD from a completely different perspective. Previously, studying and having a career was a matter of competition for me. But now, realising how much scientific research is valued by Christ and how he encouraged his followers to explore the world around them, I have renewed vigour and excitement about my field as it is one of the utmost forms of showing reverence and worship to God.
One more thing that stands out to me in my journey so far is how consciously or unconsciously we move towards and away from our connection with Source. Some of us are sensitive enough to feel in their heart how their choices and what's going on around them is wrong on some inexplicable level, but their programming, mind and unhealthy ego lead them another way. A Native American saying goes like this:
'The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart'
This reconnection back with one's conscience is so vital to our humanness, to our humanity; to be sensitive enough to recognise the hidden suffering of those close to us as well as the suffering in the world around us today, and to act in a manner that is in line with the highest good:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well
Matthew 6:31-33 (New International Version)
I've also come to realise that the pioneering and intense research focus of Lighthouse International Group on the obstacles to human potential and how to optimise it, is yet another way of showing reverence to God. Actually, it's one of the highest forms of worship, aimed towards the highest good for mankind.
Here is Lighthouse Head Mentor, Paul Waugh, on building family relationships through difficulty...
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