Here are five chapters of my debut novel, ‘The Religion of Self-Enlightenment’. You can purchase the novel on Amazon now: http://www.amazon.com/The-Religion-Self-Enlightenment-Emily-Scialom/dp/1481181289.
He was the kind of person who has forgotten why he is here. He was boring, and proudly so. Every ounce of ingredients the world had thrown at Carrick Ares had been thrown onwards into his life’s oven. The result was horrific, of course – just not to Other People. Yet because this was a segment of Carrick’s reality whose opinions he courted fiercely, he almost managed to sustain the impression that he was that death-of-all-deaths: okay. “How are you?” they would say. “I’m okay”, he would reply. But there was no reason for this, because in Carrick’s truest form there was no way that he could never be anything other than extraordinary. And there was never a single, dreary, rain-soaked moment of his life in which he could possibly reduce himself to the depths of being merely ‘okay’.
If Carrick had his way with how you saw him, if he could really orchestrate your mind, he would make you believe the idea of understanding him to be something of excruciating pain. This was a measure to prevent people from being close to his true self. For when the sun rose, he would make a conscious decision to reveal nothing that it could not shine upon. He sometimes lost himself in sadness, but aside from these lapses of raw, choking sorrow, he was fine – drained of emotion and devoid of desire, but fine. He understood that this is how you should live. He had seen it in the newspaper and in the eyes and words of the people he met: images of war and rape, violent condemnation for violent acts, the hatred of who we are.
As a result he had grown afraid and learned to disdain and strongly doubt anything besides that which he had been told by everyone he encountered. Acquiescence was his shield against the violence he felt surrounded by. If ever a situation arose, complex and nuanced, which required more of him than to be an incarnate reiteration, he simply inquired from Other People and learned more things to repeat. And did so with an added passion: he had no idea of what it was to be original, to exist.
Yet like most of Carrick’s highest dreams about himself, the desire to be impenetrable to others was a hopeless self-deceit: for Carrick Ares was a total phenomenon. In truth, he could be anything at all that he chose to be.
Yet he pretended not to know this.
It became clear, after a while, that courting ignorance was not clever. He reached the point in early adulthood by which the buried accumulation of thoughts he’d been unwilling to think about had gathered and joined into vast tectonic plates deep beneath the surface of his world. They grew steadily and rubbed against each another daily. And without heed of his desire or any warning provided, they would erupt. He would be out in the most peaceful of settings and it would happen: that which he was seeing, hearing, touching or tasting would suddenly dissolve into the background, while to the foreground burst screaming, violent visions of what he wanted to be, what was unfulfilled in himself, and how far he was from these things. He would cry and tell himself, “It’s natural to feel this way”. Yet it was a lie he could barely contain along with all the others – it was just something he had heard and repeated without hesitation. He cried again at what he had been given to quieten himself with, because yes, it was clear to all who knew him that the soul within him had much emotion. He just did not know how to express it, had not been told how.
In contrast to what might be expected in such circumstances, Carrick was no man of faith (thank God). Yet neither was he a man of no faith (poor souls). No. He was a man of the curiously strange times in which he was living; he had simply never really thought about being either.
He would say that his total lack of convictions was a terrible consequence of the way he was never allowed time to discern his beliefs in the mad rush for money and power…to some people. To others, he would expatiate heartily about how anyone who believes that they can use recycled, disingenuous beliefs that have no doubt been held by millions of others throughout history is severely delusional. You see, that was his way. He was neither liberal nor conservative, a paper-chaser or a charity-giver, a good man or a bad man: he was all of them, and would decide which part of his wondrous personality to show according to whom he was with and what they would approve of most.
You may find this appalling, yet Carrick knew it was inevitable: the value the world places on truth is the most hypocritical of all human ideals. People make it very clear, even to each other, that they do not value truth: they just claim to. In Carrick’s playful, blindfolded way, he was therefore practising a very high degree of awareness. For taken at their root source, these attitudes postulated a much higher ideal: to be everything was their ultimate aim – and that means lies, and lots of them. The truth was that Carrick spent his whole life trying to avoid looking his opinions in the face – just in case he recognised one that someone might disapprove of. Again, one is taught to disapprove of such attitudes. But the young man was a very wise and aware being. He had a strong sense that in life, merely by breathing, it is often the case that one incites enough hatred to break a heart in two. And therefore it is somehow unwise to provoke any more antagonism through the incubation of the still-born opinions of people who, if they should have ever met, would have hated him in their turn.
But do not take all this at face value. It is the portrait of a man of deception, and who knows what you will see in Carrick by the end. The question to be asked at the beginning, however, is not what he had become by the time of his death but what he was in spite of death. And the point to be seen clearest of all is that whatever anyone else saw in the Carrick of that time, Carrick himself could never see his true self.
As for the company he kept, in terms of unconditional love, Carrick’s girlfriend Beth – who claimed the affections of many others – was the proud, sole flower in a bed of weeds. They had been together for almost two years, a long time for Carrick, who had treated his previous partners badly. At twenty-nine years old, he was past the confusion of youth, but still felt its lingering consequences. In his younger days, he had gotten himself into quite a muddle over the basics of his genitals and where to put them, as most do – “It looks wrong, it is uncontrollable; it wants men, it wants women, it wants nothing; what is going on?” – and walked around with a cyclone in his head for years. Family, friends and lovers were bruised and contorted inside it.
Beth, however, had a mental biography which read not at all like his. She was a lot more stable and single-minded, and the power she had over her thoughts was a gift which Carrick knelt before, as at a secret inner altar, longing as he was for such a blessing in his own life. They had met in a park on one of those sunny days that never draws breath, and her smile had been silly as she kept kicking a football against a hedge when she had been aiming for a lamppost. Three weeks later, Beth and Carrick were lovers, and two days after that Carrick found himself having his inane post-sex banter rudely disturbed by Beth’s Serious Questions. She actually wanted to know Carrick. Really know him. This scared Carrick immediately, for he knew he had no answers to the question of who he really was.
One night, she lay beside him and asked in his ear if he would tell her an interesting thought he’d had recently. It took Carrick a long, long time to realise just why he became so flustered in trying to reply – why her question had moved him. He went through every conceivable explanation after she left: it was because most of his friends were very business-orientated and merely talked money and girls and maybe some sport, as you do. It was because his girlfriends before her – without exception – had been absurdly un-engaging. It was because there were boundaries, for crying out loud, and just because he slept with you that did not mean you could ask whatever you wanted – the physical and the mental worlds were separate until stated otherwise!
But no, he finally struck it: it was because she had passed the towering watch-guards of his privacy, and stolen from his prison the idea that there was anything interesting about him at all.
All his life Carrick Ares had been ordinary. He had a mother who cooked well, a father who worked well, and a sister who studied well. He got along with them fairly well, as did they with one another.
As a child he had always got what he wanted for Christmas, and was especially fond of the flame-coloured Mustang which he rode everywhere, and his puppy, Prince. (If Heaven were a person, and so happy that she cried, the teardrop shed would encapsulate the spirit of that dog).
His favourite cartoon was Spiderman, which was brave because he was scared of spiders and would always get someone else to do the jar thing whilst he cuddled his mother’s skirt. His favourite food was fish fingers, mash and beans. He would awake when his alarm clock told him to, walk to school slightly late, and happily play with his best friends Martin Jenkins and Lucy Payne at break time. They were nice people who drifted away when the spots grew too frequent, but by then he had new groups of friends, armed as he was with a humour that belied his confidence.
For some reason, virtually all the world’s population became a spider during the years after his childhood, and the jar-holders were too often girls with good hearts. They would do his nasty work for him, protect him, and then he would run to mother and offer them no gratitude for their effort. Not that he talked to his mother about any of that; his family were rarely communicative about anything as troublesome as trouble with relationships. Having learnt these lessons at home, he never really felt safe to talk to people about how he was scared of those girls in his late childhood, how they had wanted things from him that he didn’t have, and didn’t understand why they even asked.
Years later, his first sexual girlfriend was Moira Lindsay, a stupid girl whose unattractiveness made him slightly nauseous when she had her clothes on. It was a horrible first experience: overwhelmed as he was, he swore he would never do it again, which was when he first learned to separate his mental perception from his body. ‘Children have it so easy’, his teenage mind concluded, ‘they want to play, they play; they want to eat, they eat. When you become an adult you want an awful lot of things you cannot have’. Freedom from the madness of his own sexual desire was one thing the teenage Carrick wanted to have but could not. He found it tormenting, embarrassing, and utterly bizarre not to be in control of his self, and to be increasingly told to find ways to be that which he simply could not be.
The only person to rescue Carrick from his own self-alienation was George. George was a handsome boy at school; he was caring, he was deep. He also had a touch that Carrick felt on many of his nights, until he awoke, disarmed, warm and repulsed at who he had become again.
So confused was he by these dreams that his visits to George’s house were an adventure playground for his neuroses, and he drew up several behavioural rule lists which were completely arbitrary.
One of these rules was not to sit on George’s bed – only the chair, just the chair – and this became de rigeur. He would go around George’s house, sit on the chair, talk to him a bit about everything that meant anything to him, and then leave. “Phew. What was wrong with that?” he would say to himself, shutting the door with inner and outer exhalations: “I didn’t even sit on the bed!”
The unfulfilled desire was what was wrong with that: the torturous, hungry maggot which gnaws its way to the centre of every being had pierced his skin. His suspected homosexuality then became segregated and denied, a whole other part of Carrick’s personality now distorted from its original shape. His emotional world was fragmenting like a melting sheet of ice, its pieces drifting apart with slow yet unstoppable certainty.
He noticed of course, and wondered why, but with the final blow of his eventual George-less-ness due to an argument, he lost his ability to talk to the one person who both spoke and listened in his life. He stopped talking to other people and even stopped talking to himself. Instead, he ate his father’s Shepherd’s Pie, spent his mother’s money and argued affectionately with his annoying sister. But the silence crept on like winter into his young heart: depression, suicide, ice.
It was a teenage winter, however, and the season soon changed. He stayed alive. Relationships came and went; he just couldn’t cope with them. He hurt people tremendously and felt nothing, never explained why this was the case even though they pleaded with him to. He laughed at the care they had for him to their faces and then hid his insecurities behind a mask of sexual animalism and recognized the same in everyone and in everything he saw. Sometimes he was unsure which was hiding which, the animalism or the innocence, and what there was to be ashamed of.
He thought of his primal self with disgust at times, of the number of people he had slept with, and how he had lowered himself. At other times, he would feel an inexperience that would, he felt, destroy him should it be revealed and made open, and so he had to destroy this side of himself before it could have the chance to.
Eventually, he became so insistent on denying his desires that the child within him shrivelled and shed like a skin. Seeing only the human world, he unconsciously filtered every street and sky into categories of ‘There’ and ‘Not There’, and nature was alien, only the human world belonged. He would walk down a street and could no longer see trees to be climbed, the daisies ripe for chaining, or feel the wind begging for kites. For he busied himself with the maelstrom of influences from the world around him: scattered, bedraggled signs pointing this way and that, but none of them inwards. His inside, however, was where everything communicated to Carrick that was true and relevant, and so Carrick became untrue and irrelevant to the only judge that counts: himself. He no longer cared who he was, what he said, the acts he was responsible for or the jobs that he took. He just was, and made sure he was not even that so far as he could.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to his conscious self, Carrick’s time was up. The hands of his life’s clock had turned their final circle, and in planning a dull, savage slide into old age and pointless extinction, he had unwittingly wasted his final hour in a bored contemplation of nihilism and some obligatory intentions for future wives and children which he could not bring himself to want and would not have to pretend to anyway.
One night in the autumn of his twenty-ninth year, as Carrick was driving home from work on a picturesque summer’s day, he was aggressively introduced to the car that would kill him. There was not enough time between life and death to contemplate the journey, to bask in his successes or failures, to reminisce of childhood sweethearts un-kissed or to forgive and forget. He simply died.
“My heart was gone by the time I died – I know that now. When I felt myself have no heartbeat, however, it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I was not drunk, I was doing nothing wrong. A man drove into my car, and I tried to get out of the way but then all of a sudden I was lying in the middle of the motorway, feeling my pulse slow and stop in my own veins while crying out for my mother, for Beth, for somebody.
I felt the presence of angels, and light; I felt loved, and then someone said that I should never worry again, and I was taken somewhere beautiful.
It was not a human place, definitely not – all species go to that place, or so it appeared when I was there. There were people moving towards an area with a huge floor. Everything was turquoise, and there were statues on either side. They were as big as the tallest skyscrapers. The statues seemed to depict Holy people, though I didn’t know who. I could see this place further away from where I was but I had to pass through a checkpoint before I could go there. Light wasn’t running straight, and it was not like Earth in terms of skin and rock and solidity.
There was a…another angel type of being there before me. It seemed like a living person, yet it had no body and was made of light, emotion and perception, and I was looked through as if I were the same. It spoke through some kind of telepathy and asked: “What is your name?”
It was a question which had deep importance and resonance, because the answer was definitely not ‘Carrick’. I could not remember that name right then, but looking back subsequently I realise that it would have been an inadequate reply. The name ‘Carrick’ had been a temporary, vulgar label. It was not the name I needed to remember – it wanted the name of my eternal self. I could not remember at all!
Then it sent me away. When I awoke from the experience every inch of my body was in pain. I couldn’t have imagined it was possible to feel such a sense of shock at what had happened. Now I am here, Doctor Turnstone, and this really happened. But you won’t believe me, will you?”
“Thank you, Carrick. That was highly moving,” Doctor Turnstone said, unemotionally. He reached over to his desk to get a piece of paper from another file. “We can talk more about this next time when I will tell you about research that has been done in the field of Near Death Experiences, so that hopefully we will find a way for you to re-adjust after having had such a traumatic experience.”
“It wasn’t only traumatic, Doctor”, Carrick corrected him confusedly.
“Oh, I know. Yet it also cannot have been incredibly relaxing for you to have had everything that you know challenged so dramatically and emphatically as you say. Am I correct in thinking you are angry that you were never informed about this place?”
“Yes – very angry indeed”.
“I get the impression, then, that along with the happiness of having had the sensations you describe, you also hold resentment towards people and ideas which led you down other pathways than the one which leads to what you have felt and seen after dying.”
“All pathways lead to the same place, I just need to see the path as I tread it to walk with sureness.”
“But on a more specific point – for such quests as those of which you speak take a lifetime, if they are ever fulfilled at all – you must realise that the words you say affect others. Your sense now of having understood nothing prior to this experience of death, and that you had achieved nothing in life as you misunderstood its purpose, is a profound thing to say to people who care about you and who were probably there for you when you first had those experiences which you now dismiss so readily.”
“I understand; I just can’t seem to stop anymore.”
“I would quietly advise you to try. Try to refrain from speaking about such things outside of this room until we have addressed them here – please?”
“But Doctor, how could I have achieved anything when I did not know why I was here?”
This angered the Doctor a little, for he was impatient, always wanting to have all the answers in no time, and he lost his temper, which was unlike him. “In some ways, you give the distinct impression that the experience has led you to conclude that this life is not right for you anymore-”
“No, it’s not that-”
Carrick was interrupted.
“-but you are missing the point: we all achieve something, Carrick, that is life. It is a matter of opinion though, Carrick, as to what one has achieved. Of course, we would all like to be Gandhi or Einstein or whomever, but we can’t all be such people. The most important thing is to care for the people around you, to enjoy yourself, and to pursue those experiences which bring you happiness. When you are alienating people and will not see yourself for what you are – which is a perfectly normal and healthy young man who has had a very traumatic experience – you become detached from reality and others. You cannot see clearly what you are doing or the impact of your actions on people who care about you for who you are, not for who you would like to be. So please don’t talk like this anymore outside of this room.”
“Doctor Turnstone, I am not saying that I would like to be anything or anyone that I am not. On the contrary, I am saying that I was not who I really am beforehand, and that I would like to be who I am and not keep lying to everyone, which, yes, will perhaps make people happy for now but not in the long run. I do not have to be Einstein or Buddha or anyone else, because I am me. The only reason I speak of my life as I do is because I have seen the truth. I have, I swear it, Doctor. I have seen the truth and now all previous truth is redundant.”
“Well, can you at least refrain from speaking about it until we have addressed the issue?”
Doctor Turnstone was angry. He had wanted to give an impression of ‘immediate difference’ to Carrick’s family, who were paying him a lot of money to make him stop saying things that broke his mother’s heart. Carrick had been a likeable young man up until his accident from what the Doctor had heard, but was seemingly determined to upset people these days. The Doctor was well-trained in the art of verbal restraint but his eyes spoke in sentences full of insults.
“I would advise you to re-think that, Mister Ares. See you next week.”
Carrick hated Doctor Turnstone. He had never been to a psychiatrist when he had lived in a dark world, feeling small and full of fear. But now that he was awake and alive and that same dark world glowed, apparently there was a problem. Sometimes he thought it was all he could do not to laugh at the soothing ironies of life in a medicinal way.
It was now seven months after his Near Death Experience and he was almost entirely healed from his wounds, which could be well-hidden under a nice shirt and tie. In every way he had been re-born (or born, depending on your perspective).
Carrick had had a problem with mental digestion prior to his accident. Unquestioningly he would translate his experience of the world about him into the way in which others had presented it. Now he engaged with the world but, disappointingly, he found as a result that he didn’t actually want a relationship with any of the things he had done in the past. Almost everything seemed less crucial to him, from the films he once loved to the drinks he once craved to the people he considered truly pleasant. The vivid dreams he had consistently bled dry held no worth.
Since that morning when Carrick awoke from surgery, the first and only point to his life as soon as he was able to wobble his lips again was to question what had happened to him. What a revelation, he thought! But what would stay with him more than even the sensation of speaking from his heart for the first time was the reaction of his closest friends and family. His childlike exclamations that he now knew the details of the heavenly afterlife were greeted with shrieked cries for assistance and an increase in his drug dosages. ‘How confusing’, he thought, when his veins were clean long enough to permit assessment with any clarity. ‘This must be what it’s like to be born,’ he said to himself, ‘which makes me a conscious baby’.
He was right! He WAS a conscious baby! Oh, the pain the child felt when he re-learnt his life with awareness.
Now – consider the book so far to be the conclusion to the last part of your life. Everything you have ever regretted can be forgotten. All the pain, humiliation, reckless wastefulness of the beauty that is within you and all around you: all is gone if you do one simple thing. Kindly switch off your past-receptors and realise you were wrong. Once more, kindly, SWITCH OFF ALL YOUR PAST-RECEPTORS AND REALISE YOU WERE WRONG!
No, it is not that simple, is it? For all of you, these words will simply be some more words and not an introduction at all.
There is an up-side to our habitual clinging to pasts, which is the assurance of people’s company and empathy: most people hold the past far too close to their present, bringing pictures and letters and nicotine stains on their teeth with them everywhere they go. In going along with this idea, we hold the like-minded around us like stitches in a warm, woollen coat, in the winter of ignorance and distress currently engulfing the entire human race, with very few exceptions.
The warmth of the past provides reassurance of the existence of a future and reduces, therefore, the importance of the now. This warmth was no longer felt by Carrick, who had been inadvertently torn from the stitching by whomever had been driving the car which caused his life to end. That man seemingly had no such punishment, though, for physical punishment is so very different to the intangible suffering of desire: did he experience revelations, or confusion of the kind which might end his life were he not strong enough to deny its power? Carrick would wonder about such things.
Carrick had been stripped bare. This was an easy thing to sense both within him and without him and a much harder thing for him to convey in words; hard to discuss with oneself, hard to communicate to the outer world: ‘I just don’t understand you anymore’.
There had been a number of shifts in his sphere of acquaintance brought on by the upheaval of these events. For Carrick this meant his friends Peter and Stuart remaining close friends and his family remaining family members of one kind or another, whilst everyone else ran, or hid, or both.
Peter was Carrick’s Sixth-Form friend, who lived on the same street as him and very seldom made a comment about anything, which was why Carrick’s had previously got on so well with him. Stuart was a different type of person altogether. He broke the mould for Carrick’s usual choice of friend. Stuart Randall had a brain, a heart and a spiritual side. The trouble was, at least two of these were pumped full of the most atrocious poison; they were full of rubbish! Carrick did not care for either of these people anymore, in truth. He also questioned seriously if he ever had. He looked at them carefully when they visited, and decided that although he had a new-found respect and love for all people, it did not mean he wanted to be around them. He did not care for the way Peter acted as if nothing had happened, and he did not care for Stuart telling him what had happened according to theories he had read in the books of strangers, without ever really having a clue how the experience had changed Carrick. Mostly though, Carrick just did not care.
He was fixated on how he could have ended up so blind in the first place. He would endure the sleeplessness of the adrift, of those who had lost their grip on life’s meaning and purpose and were now floating in the grey areas between worlds of black and white, here and there, dead and, well, almost-dead. It was here which beings skulked who had lost their belief in what they are told is real and have found it to be a house that shares a garden fence with the entirely imagined.
The friends who ran from Carrick and his ideas would gossip about him among themselves. They would often talk of how they would hate to be as he was now, so changed, so different. They looked at each other over their biscuits or their beer, and all agreed, with whispers and wincing faces, that it must be a fate worse than death!