By the time I was 18, I was working full time, earning my own money, and meeting lots of different people. It was around this time that I made my first muslim friends. It is also around this time that I first really got into conspiracy theories; and what a wild ride that was.
It began with conversations about God and Religion with my new muslim friends. At the time I was a staunch atheist who considered religion to be a control mechanism for the powerful, and would usually say “but yeah science!”. I was a witty lad, but hardly a genius. I was young, naive, and thought I knew way more than I did. I would ask my new friends questions about Islam, and the conversations were incredibly engaging to say the least. Previous experiences of talking religion with people were usually characterised by an intense atmosphere, flaring emotions, and a lot of ego on both sides of the conversation. My new friends, in stark contrast to this, were patient with me. They allowed me to ask awkward and controversial questions; and if they didn’t know the answer, they didn’t pretend they did. They would just outright say: “Good question, I don’t know. Leave it with me and when I get a good enough answer I’ll come back to you.” I would say ok and move on to my next questions. In future meetings, low and behold, my friends would have done their research, and we would continue the conversation where we left of. I would ask more questions, and we would stumble further down the rabbit hole together. I loved this kind of conversation, and it was great that I had people who were patient enough with me to venture out into the void, beyond the realms of the known to where nerves can be rattled.
They introduced me to a set of videos called The Arrivals. To summarise this as best as possible, it was a youtube series which “explores the revelations in world religions regarding the arrivals of the Dajjal (Antichrist), Imam Al-Mahdi, and The Second Coming of The Christ” and was “inspired by the words of The Noble Quran, The Holy Bible, and The Torah”. It explored ideas concerning the illuminati, and their influence on society. At the time, as I said, I wasn’t religious, so I didn’t buy much into the religious aspects it was putting forward. But I could easily get on board with the idea that powerful people were manipulating the world from behind the scenes. In hindsight, this probably resonated with my experience of my dad’s death – as I outlined in part I – where his death caused the illusions of my childhood to collapse. I could all to easily relate to the idea that the public were being made to think one thing, when the reality was something else. To further the fuel of the conspiracy fire that was burning in my heart, the videos kept getting taken down and de-platformed, which led us to believe that the powers that be were working hard to hide this message from us. Looking back though, it was probably because of their blatant violations of copyright law. The soundtrack to the (amazing) film The Fountain with Hugh Jackman, was for me heavily associated to The Arrivals series because they made constant use of it in their videos. This was way before I had even seen The Fountain; and in fact, the only reason I came to know of this films existence was because of my love for its soundtrack. However, apart from its use of copyrighted music, there were a number of problems that came to light about the “facts” the series puts forward, which undermined its credibility as a reliable source of information.
Despite all this however, The Arrivals began my taste for conspiracy, and deep conversations surrounding the nature of life, existence, and the universe. My friends and I spoke of the possibility of a creator, and of life after death. We spoke throughout the night and into the morning. We would drive to places that would instil us with awe so we could collectively hack into the feelings of wonder that complimented such profound conversations. In time, I conceded that my position of “knowing” that there was no God, and that religion was man-made, was dogmatic. It was not knowledge that I held, but a belief. I couldn’t possibly know the things I claimed to know, and ironically I was more religious than the religious people that I often ridiculed for having faith; all the while I was sat their with boat loads of it myself.
On the 18th of June 2007, Zeitgeist The Movie was released, and it was not long after that I saw the movie. This film spoke of issues with Christianity, the official 9-11 story, and it gave an in-depth account of the current monetary system. I was enthralled by it. In hindsight, these movies made great use of aesthetics and audio which really pulled you along their narrative. I was already distrusting enough of government authority to be inclined towards conversations which unveiled their corruption to me. And so it began, one after another I watched documentary after documentary. I became more and more annoyed at the state of the world, and in time I began to resent everything. I started to feel out of place; as I mentioned earlier, I was a bit of a social chameleon, and had many different types of friends that I would make an effort to see. Eventually, I even began to resent myself. I was becoming addicted to weed, and materialism in general. I began to reflect on myself and didn’t like what I was finding. I could see that the world I was embedded within had a massive effect on me, how I acted, behaved, etc. I became depressed, and decided I wanted to run away.
For a long time I had played with the idea of travelling the world, of selling all my things, packing a bag and just leaving the country; no plan; no commitments; no obligations. This idea became more and more appetising. Eventually I had a break up with a girl I was living with at the time, and that was the last straw. I decided that I would buy my ticket to Asia now and give myself 9 months to save up as much money as possible to sustain my trip. I moved back into my mums house, worked all the overtime I could, sold all my things and off I went. I started in South Korea, then went to Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar. I spent a total of 18 months away, and did every from living in Buddhist temples, to working on farms, couch-surfing, sleeping rough, working with animals, living on an island, running my own bar and becoming a fire poi entertainer.
For the entire time I was gone I lived a dream life. I experienced intense ups and downs, made friends from all over the world, made enemies, and did crazy things I could never have imagined I would do. My favourite place was Malaysia. Having spent collectively around 8 months there, it has a special place in my heart. I have some of my fondest memories there, but also many which are bitter sweet, and many which bring my heart great pain thinking about them.
In writing this, one of the things that stands out to me the most is the memory of hearing the call to prayer early in the morning, on Tioman Island. The only time I would hear it would be when I’d spent a long night partying with people, a lifestyle that I was quickly becoming tired of. The call would be played over the speakers and was surprisingly tranquil. It would bring me to ease. But when it finished, all that was left was me, and the things that I was doing that were always unfulfilling. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the adhan. I had been on a short holiday to Turkey when I was 18 and had a similar experience; it always had the ability to strike me with awe and contemplate existence. Going out and getting drunk was always something that made me anxious, and I could never really get comfortable doing it. However, I would be with friends, and we would all be obligated to try and make sure we had “a good time”. This meant acting excited, hyping each other up, and not being a fun sponge, party pooper, or a killjoy. This isn’t to say that I never had fun, or never enjoyed myself; I did. However, what I am saying is that the air of unease about what we were doing was always present; and if it was ever forgotten, it would always return. This feeling always led me to become self-reflective and question the way I was living, or what it meant to be alive at all.
My habit of constantly being struck by awe at what I was experiencing (that is, LIFE) would just increase in frequency as time passed. It was a paradoxical feeling, because it felt like the greatest and worst thing ever simultaneously. It was characterised by a severe melancholy and bittersweet ambivalence. It would make me want to cry and it would draw something from my depths that would be so cathartic that I wouldn’t want it to stop, despite how distressing it felt. I would be struck by absolute significance through an awareness of my insignificance. Make of that as you will, I don’t expect something that sounds so strange to necessarily make sense; but it is what it is.
In time I became very nostalgic. After 18 months away, my heart had grown fond of the idea of seeing my family. I missed my mother, my brother and my sister a great deal. I had been thinking a lot about all of the things we had experienced together as a family, and my heart was in pieces. I wanted to go home and embrace them all. I wanted to see them face to face. By the end of my 18 months, I had experienced something which felt like several life times. I had changed so dramatically as the result of my experiences that I no longer felt like the same person anymore. I felt less naive and more awake. I wanted to return to where I came from and see those I loved. I wanted to tell everyone – my family, my friends – about what I had experienced, and try to convince them all to take a similar journey. I wanted them to leave the bubble that was Manchester and experience the chaos like I had. I wanted them to embrace the uncertainty and let it change them.
However, thinking I was no longer naive was an incredibly naive assumption. I booked my ticket home to England and kept it secret. I flew from Bangkok to Sweden, to Manchester. I knocked on my mums door and surprised them all with my presence. I hugged them all, and realised my 18 month adventure was over; I was home.
Well done to those of you who have gotten this far! This part of the Introducing Myself series has been a long one. I did emit a lot of information because it would have turned into a book otherwise. Despite this, it still turned out a little lengthier than I was hoping it would. But please, if you liked it, leave a like and a comment. What do you think of my story so far? Have you ever been travelling? What’s your favourite country? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share with me? Last of all, please help me out by SUBSCRIBING and giving me a follow on Twitter 🙂