Thursday, October 2, 2008

Atheist Alliance Convention 2008- and Guilt Lessons

This last weekend of September was spent in the harbor on The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Aside from a couple who took it upon themselves to try to convert all whom they saw wearing "Atheist" on badges, the event was quite lovely.

From Bobbie Kirkhart, to Ellen Johnson, I was fortunately surrounded by super-star women in the Atheist community, and at the helm was now retired Alliance President, Margaret Downey. At every turn, nothing but positive influence, and positive reinforcement that the freethinking community is alive, well, and filling up convention halls.

On Saturday, the 27th, I was even more honored to meet up with some people who wanted to participate in the Godless Grief workshop. There were some lovely people who had experiences to share, and on couple whose daughter even worked on making a film about their growth as Atheists much later in life.

An interesting comment was brought up during the workshop- it was about loss and guilt. We have to remember that guilt is one of the few emotions we feed to ourselves, and often rather than an emotion of conscience, and consciousness, it's an emotion of self-defeat. It's a natural response when we feel helpless, or at fault for an event, and it can be consuming if we don't realize there are lessons learned by it.

For example, if you have accidentally killed a person in a car wreck, the natural response is remorse, and a sense of guilt. It is also the only emotional response we seem to grab onto as a self-punishment, rather than one that teaches us about our own humanity. After time passes, and after you have confronted the people, or even yourself, about your feelings, you can either realize what lessons you have gained from the experience, seek some forgiveness - again from others, or within, and understand that your guilt is now something that has taught you that you have love for your fellow man, rather than apathy. That makes you a better person, a stronger person, a more HUMAN person.

Some people carry their guilt as a badge- like the great Scarlett Letter for all those around them to see. For years they struggle with the concept that they are to be punished for something they've done, and when others don't continually admonish them, they do it to themselves. In fact, that's a self-perpetuating form of guilt, and doesn't help you grow, or learn, or understand that even if you are at fault for something in someone else's life, you live a life of serendipity, and you aren't going to impress upon the world how much self-torture you are enduring. That's only something you understand. Only you can see your pain in this, and only you can decide if you deserve this.

You have the right to feel sadly, and to feel remorse, and you can know that if you at least acknowledge you were wrong, and can learn, you can help yourself learn forgiveness. It doesn't discount the event, and it doesn't mean you are no longer remorseful, or feel for those who have been directly affected. But it does mean you can give yourself enough kindness, and love, to say you are as human as the rest of us, and at some point EVERYONE hurts some one else. Maybe the events aren't as dramatic as causing someone else to die, but it can be just as painful for someone to lose a friendship, or a marriage, or even contact with family members, and all of these events bring guilt.

Others seem to discover that you can at some point take yourself from the equation, learn to forgive yourself, and start to see the event with objective eyes. For instance, in the car wreck example, if you realize the car had bad brakes, or your loved one didn't wear a seat belt, or there were underlying medical conditions you may not have known about, you can learn to readjust your thoughts to not fully bear the loss as entirely your fault. It isn't saying "it's someone's time" like the religious like to spout on about- it's saying, "I did what I could do at the time, with the amount of knowledge that I had....and did all I knew how to do." That's self-acceptance, and can be a form of forgiveness.

I am going to have a full chapter on this in the upcoming book, but the final guilt lesson- it's okay to feel GOOD after a loss. That seems to be a well of guilt for some. When a spouse dies, for example, and it's been the right amount of time- that only YOU will feel- and you're ready to date, or enjoy yourself with friends, or even laugh again, there's nothing to punish yourself for in doing so. You deserve to be happy. You are living, in the moment, in the now, and in the reality that you have the capacity to love, laugh, and be yourself. You, as a human, and as a living breathing person, have the right to enjoy moments. Maybe they are small at first, but you are entitled to them. And, you don't need to tell yourself that you don't get to have these moments simply because someone in your life is no longer there. They had time to laugh when they wanted to, and now they are gone. It's an honor of the memory of someone we cared about to laugh at what once made us happy.

And, you deserve to be in the now. The now is only guarantee we have. Enjoy the sound of the world behind you, the feel of the chair below you, and the smells, or textures around you. You are alive. Enjoy that. It's you being you, and no one can punish you for that except YOU. And why? Why punish yourself for being alive? It's something we have for such a short time. Guilt won't help you get through your day. It will only feed the idea that you don't deserve to live in the now. In fact, YOU DO. It may be painful some days, but that reminds us we are human.

And humanity is the power of free thinkers everywhere.


Marf said...

>>Enjoy the sound of the world behind you, the feel of the chair below you, and the smells, or textures around you. You are alive.

Maybe because I've been contemplating the virtues and vices of guilt lately, by the time I got to these two sentences, you had me completely hooked, and as I read these sentences I found myself noticing how the hard, wooden chair I'm sitting in actually feels, and the cool, autumn air around me, and then I placed both my hands on the underside of the tabletop I'm sitting at and slid them along, just noticing how it felt on my skin.

Why is it so hard to remain fully engaged with the world around us? Being alive is such a rich experience; why are we so often trying to escape it?

Author, Atheist, USN Veteran said...

Marf...I live with the very philosophy of knowing one minute I may not have that moment to touch, hear, feel, or think- and whatever is around me becomes almost part of me. I am wearing a fleece shirt, and I took time to really snuggle into it. I am sitting in a leather chair, and it's an awful lot of fun to wiggle it into a leather-squeak orchestration. Watch kids- they tend to be in the NOW all of the time. The future is a maybe to them not a reality. I think we lost much of that when we grew up... so I hope to remain more childlike in the idea that now is a great time. For something. Anything. Maybe the wind blows a flower by the window. maybe the texture of an orange is fascinating. But's the best moment you have. Somehow there's a way to be part of it.