Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"That doesn't sound very Atheist to me..."

That doesn’t sound ATHEIST to me....
When we're having our lowest times in life, there's nothing in the world, and in our entire human-being, that states, "Only those who believe in a god or religion needs to have assistance from psychologists, psyciatraists, or social workers." Yet, there are Atheists who prefer to SHAME people who seek out responsible medical help.

Some "bad neighbor Atheists", as James Randi calls them have sent me letters, or emails just refusing to believe that Atheists are supposed to grieve, and certainly shouldn't use, and I'll quote one letter because it is 180 degrees from the truth:

"Jones, we don't need any crutches. No pills, no prayers, no doctors giving a panacea and sending us off in a foggy mist of psycho-babble."

My first response was, "Who was the mental health professional assigned to him to make him so close minded to the idea that MEDICAL professionals are a crutch during times of loss?" But more so, I wondered, how many other people feel this way aren't getting help necessary to get through the really rough patches in life.

Many letters as of late are regarding the great "It's not a depression" scare that we're amidst. Retirees are writing that they are now supporting adult children, and cannot afford their own bills. Employees of long standing are now on the chopping block at places the family has worked in for generations. We're developing a shell-shocked generation of "NO one cares, I'm just a number, so let's have dessert first." Wreckless behavior is on the rise, and with that, tragic deaths. Banks are closing before people tap into their IRAs and force the closures. It's just sad. It's sad that the people who saw it coming were told, "that will never happen." And, these same people, despondent, confused, and bewildered, are being told, "Go to church and pray about it."

We'll stop at that first. No Atheist needs to PRAY to make the world's troubles go away. Talking to yourself is great at calming YOU down but it won't do anything to your neighbor, or your children's future other than keep you out of it for a few moments. STAY in the NOW. Simple neuro-lingistic programming DOES work at keeping us focused, and the mind/body response DOES work at keeping us focused on solutions. Prayer occupies the mind in the same way dreams and fairytales do- the outcomes are out there, unreal, and often just a random tangent of neurons firing based on the part of the brain most stressed at the moment. (ie. You spent the day worry about a car breaking down, and you later dream you own a car that has a flat tire.)

Meeting with groups of people to talk to an invisble entity doesn't help. Meeting with groups of people to form actions and plans will. Get with other people from your company and learn how to cut corners that will make the organization see the PEOPLE as valuable as long as there are ways to cut other things. (Do you really need a soda machine in the hall? Does it matter if the paper you print on is pulp stock or standard?) Start making a solution team, and cut expenses- car pool, offer prizes in gas cards to people who come up with the innovative ways to keep the company affloat.

Meditation and prayer are not the same. Meditation is a state of turning your mind into a calm place from the many thoughts bounced around and argued, events, calandars, bills due, children, illnesses- etc... When we meditate, we are taking moments in the NOW, and saying, "This is my time to NOT think of anything other than what calms me." (puppies, oceans, big sky, anything that puts you in a place of nothing matters for five minutes.) EMBRACE those quiet times. That is what meditation does.

As an animal trainer, I've noticed most of my animals will do just this. If there's a tassle, or one of the cagemates isn't feeling well, or they're waiting for foodtime, many will simply sit in one spot. They aren't causing another animal any stress, and they aren't falling asleep- they just sit, some brush their faces- and just wait. It lasts about a minute or two- then they're back to bouncing and begging for ratty-chow, but they take that time to go from 100% play to 100% calm. It's a forced moment to live in the now- without any interruptions- and can be as short as 30 seconds. Suddenly you'll find your energy easier to tap into for the things that are most pressing, and you'll do better at it.

I'll say this until I have eggplants growing from my ears- but it's more than true. ALL of the human species rely on ritual of some sort. There's no hoodoo juju, and there's not a single church involved. Ritual is merely a structured set of events, shared or not, that helps a person get through the acknowledgement of an event.

I repeat: Ritual is merely a structured set of events, shared or not, that helps a person get through the acknowledgement of an event.

Acknowledgement of something means you are at a point of understanding something better. If we get hired to a new job, a ritual could be decorating a cube so we feel the person who was there before no longer has a presence, and we now belong there. If someone we love is in ICU, we know that by visiting on specific times, and saying specific things, we have acknowledged s/he is in pain, and we have made a commitment to help ease that pain.

If someone we love dies, we may perform an act that would have made that person laugh in our time together. We do this to honor the memory, and to remind ourselves, our moments together did matter- and will always matter long after s/he is gone.

For instance, my foster mom died in 2001- Every Saturday night, I ensure I'm by the PBS station, watching "As Time Goes By", the show we would sit for hours watching in he home. It's a ritual I've maintained for most of the last seven years. During the time, I feel close to those memories, and the years we spent together. I don't hunt for her ghost, or do seances or other self-serving nonsense designed to make someone rich-- I just honor the person I miss by continuing a ritual of something we enjoyed together.

Medications are NOT designed to stop you from grieving loss. They're designed to help you get through anxiety, depression, and chemical imbalances that naturally occur when we are facing loss. Most people given medications for their response to grief have these as short-term solutions. You aren't "mental", nor are you "lazy" for taking them. We're well past the days when we'd jail a woman for having post-partum depression, PMS, or even FREE WILL. Doctors are trained in mental health at every teaching hospital in the world.

There IS a thing called post-traumatic stress disorder. It doesn't mean you were in a war zone. During the earthquakes in 1994 in Southern California, hundreds were suffereing the PTSD symptoms, afraid to leave homes, aftraid to drive highways as they watched the 14/I-5 interchange fall, afraid to leave their jobs because looting was everywhere. These all fall into post traumatic stress, and asking for help is by no means a religious right. It is a human right.

I can't emphasize- the five phases of grief so well touted by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross- simply don't exist for all people. Don't expect to have one response flow into another response, as you may only feel angry, then suddenly feel, hapiness. Or you may only feel numb, and then after a few months, go into crying fits. In her model-
Denial: Example - "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening."'Not to me!"

Anger: Example - "Why me? It's not fair!" "NO! NO! How can you accept this!"

Bargaining: Example - "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything, can't you stretch it out? A few more years."

Depression: Example - "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die . . . What's the point?"

Acceptance: "I get it now."

In fact there are at least thirty other responses the "average" person feels- including relief, which doesn't make you a bad person. Guilt- the disccusion I posted earlier- is a huge part of loss for some. And others will feel acceptance, and nothing more. NO one has to go through five stages of anything- it's not human nature, it's an observation made by one person. Human nature shows time and again that we're far more complex and far less likely to live in the NOW, thereby invalidating much of the work Ross did.

I'll close this long note on the letter I got that said, "That doesn't sound Atheist to me..." when I said being around friends and community is a good way to help heal." In fact, ATHEISTS have strong human bonding, and have strong, smart intelligent communities. They won't pray for you, but they'll make sure your bills are paid, or your face is clean. Pragmatic is the plan of the day- and that's a large part of what community does- it puts us in a state of self-acceptance. That's quite humanitarian based, and certainly deity-free.


Anonymous said...

I think you sound very atheist and that those other people must be very sad and lonely.

Your description of the animals pausing for a kind of communal moment of peace was a real needed read for me. I have a lot on my mind right now, I have always had a hard time relaxing and the fact that I do not believe in gods doesn't mean I cannot be still for a second. Thanks for bringing that up. I really needed to hear that right now.

Author, Atheist, USN Veteran said...

Thanks for your kinds words. Feel free to email me or visit GodlessGrief.com, and you may meet others who can help you feel relaxed with the chaos around you.