Tuesday 9 January 2018

My Confusion with Religion

"I am not an atheist, thus I must be religious." This is the best way I can describe my position on the subject of religion, and what it means to me. In my late-teens (nearly two decades ago), I started using the term "spiritual" to better describe my position. "I am more spiritual than religious" was my go-to view on the subject. Obviously, I had no clue what these concepts meant...honestly, I still don't understand much about either concept.

Due to my upbringing, and my own life experiences and sensibilities, I do believe in a higher-power, which is superior to human comprehension and out of reach for human exploration.

Various groups (of people) have been formed basis a commonly-accepted view of this power, giving it a name and some sort of form - thus giving birth to concept of religion. As a simpleton on the subject - I take the liberty of being ignorant about details in general. I think of religion as a human creation - no divine power would want human animal to segregate its society, when no other animal group does the same.

Whatever be the need in past for humans to form religions - today, role of religion has to be re-examined and redefined. It is not my intent to question religion - any one religion, or even religion as concept. I, too, am a religious person - believing in my own way. It is my intent to question how human society is using religion.

At an individual level - religion does wonders. Religion provides a moral compass, a set of guidelines to live by, at times a few laws as well - all of this giving the individual a sense of purpose of life. More importantly, religion provides the individual a sense of belonging, a sense of being rooted & centred around something greater than self. Individuals can invest more time and effort in understanding their religion better, improving their own life in the process (as they, alone, see fit). So far - religion is a greatly positive power.

At a group level - religion becomes confusing to me. Where there is a group of people, there is a need for checks & balances, for order, for hierarchy, for laws, for guidelines of moral values...and more!

Since it is humans in the group that we call religion, and each group is managed by other humans - I cannot help, but think these humans are prone to human frailties. Hunger for power being one such human frailty that I feel is one of the greatest negatives of religion at a group level. The thought that one religion is superior to others, or that one religion got it right while others got it wrong, or that the more people one religion has (as followers - not believers) the stronger that religion becomes - is all human need for power, not divine need.

The more we use religion as an exclusive club, with rigid and strict set of rules (many of which are archaic), the more segregated society becomes. This exclusivity has already resulted in power-hungry people to create factions for themselves, becoming leader to followers (of a human and not of divine).

In my view - a new born is made to understand religious values much before the child has any understanding of law of the land. This can be through the diet provided (or not provided), through the cultural aspects (mannerisms / actions), and even through language(s) taught to the child. Religion, therefore, is quite a strong concept. This only means there is an enhanced need for people to understand religion - as a concept on the whole, and not just understand more about their own religion. 

With the sensitivities today, and a low threshold of being offended - I believe religion as a group function is failing the individuals. It may be time for individuals to wake up to this reality, and realise how they want to work within (and without) religion. To seek meaning and to question (not disregard) status-quo may be better for our times, than being blind believers. 

Do human leaders of religions allow seeking and questioning by individuals - if not, then why: my confusion with religion!

Friday 5 January 2018

Importance of Narrative We Tell Ourselves

Most of us are story tellers - good or not-so-good, having a conversation, making up reasons to satisfy children's curiosity, embellishing experiences (or achievements), or at times fabricating incidents that may never have happened. We share stories about our life with other people all the time - this post is for the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories shared with others are usually about past events, things that have already happened. The stories we tell ourselves are about future scenarios - all the various possibilities that can unfold and pan out. Future is inevitable - it will happen...something will happen. We can at times predict what's going to happen and at some other times are completely taken by surprise.

Our mind is capable to building multiple possible outcomes for almost every decision we take. Not only is our mind is capable of thinking of the good (desirable) outcomes, but also our mind is capable of thinking of the bad (undesirable) outcomes.

If it was just this, listing out various possible outcomes (good and bad), things would have been simpler. However, our mind is also inclined to attach itself with some possible outcomes by working out an equation of probability and desirability. For those who are pessimistic, their mind starts telling them a narrative that's more bad than good...and vice-a-versa for those who are optimistic. 

This is where we often fail to see an opportunity to take control of our own thoughts, we simply believe we are who we are - thus an optimist will continue being an optimist, and a pessimist will also continue being a pessimist. The opportunity is to start working with our mind, bringing our thoughts more in our control, and becoming more balanced in our approach towards future.

Fact of the matter is simple, none of us know the future. We can never be sure of how exactly future events will unfold, how exactly will results of our decisions of today pan out tomorrow, and how exactly will we feel about the outcome at that moment. But what we can definitely do today is to find a balanced view of our future - highly positive outlook could lead to feeling of failure if the positives don't come our way...and a highly negative outlook could make our present miserable even before the future events have a chance to do the same.

Just as we are convinced telling stories to others helps make our case, or helps others accept a reality better - we need to learn to believe in the power of narrative we tell ourselves. The more balanced we can get in the narrative, the more centred we will become. The more centred we become, the more capable will we be in accepting whatever future brings for us.

It is acceptable that this line of thought is seemingly for pessimists, so that they can find it in them to feel better about their future and in the process not make their present miserable. However, the idea presented here is two-fold: a) take control of the narrative we tell ourselves, which brings our thoughts under our control, and b) to use this control to build a balanced view of the future.

It is not that difficult to train, and control, our own mind. If we can, at times, convince others to see a scenario as we want them to - we sure can learn to convince ourselves!