A couple of years ago, I was profoundly depressed, inching closer to suicide and utterly lost. So I started looking for something. I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was not God.

Brexit and the Sick Soul of Britain

The technicalities of Brexit are lost on many people, some of them influential members of backbench MP groups. There’s no shame if the ins and outs of a customs union elude you, or a backstop is someone who tried to prevent the ball rolling into the road in rounders. I understand a sense of ennui has settled over large swathes of the nation. It’s been dragging on forever, nothing seems to change, why can’t we all just move on?

But, fundamentally, I think Brexit has damaged us, as a nation and as individuals. I don’t mean financially, although that may happen. I’m concerned for us spiritually; the part of us that is essential and shared. The religious could call it the soul. I fear that the hurt to our spirit, while not terminal, may take a long time to heal.

Before we get too focused on Brexit, let me explain. Over the past year, I’ve come to know that’s there’s a part of every living thing that is eternal and irreducible. Yes, I’ve had all kinds of spiritual experiences through ayahuasca and meditation, but I promise this idea actually scores quite low on the weird hippy shit scale. If I was going to go full-on bonkers, I’d tell you about the talking snake in chains, or how you’re a piece of a vast jigsaw that forms the universe. But this idea is much simpler. It’s a version of what many religions offer, only without the single God figure (you can use Him / Her if it helps, but you don’t need to and no-one will judge, I promise).

Everyone carries a light – I see mine as the blue rainbow candle, but you’re free to improvise – which sits at their core. Animals, plants, everything that forms part of the living universe has one. All the same size, all entirely pure. Even nasty shitweasels like Boris Johnson have them. His is buried under his ego, so he won’t know it’s there, but it is. There’s no sense of right or wrong about it. You can’t lose it and it doesn’t go out when you die. Now, once you know you have this light, lots of things happen. You want to protect it and nurture it, for starters. Because if you do, the light that streams out of it is extraordinary. You could call it happiness, which is better than sadness (and I’m on safe ground talking about sadness, trust me). And you want to look after other people’s candles, because that makes them happy and since we’re all connected in a vast jigsaw that comprises the universe, that’ll make you happy too.

At this point, I’m going to assume that you are with me on this. That you sneakily knew there was something like this going on. That when you spend time with your kids and see genuine, unfiltered joy in their faces, you feel your candle send out a little burst of rainbows. The same when you apply yourself to something worthwhile, or make a choice that leads to the increased happiness of others. That feeling is real. There’s a barrier between you and your candle, though. Although I accept the possibility of confusion, I’ll call it the ego. It’s the bit of you that you often identify as ‘you’. In fact, it’s just something constructed to get you through the day. It lets you prioritise the selfish acts that keep us alive, like eating. No point staring in unbridled ecstasy at your candle all day if you then starve to death. The trouble is, the ego is only your friend up to a point. It likes very much to be the centre of attention. It’s the critical voice telling you you’re not good enough, haven’t achieved enough. It demands that you need more of whatever short-term fillip will give you brief respite from its endless nagging. It hides your candle, because it knows the candle is more permanent, more important and more beautiful than it can ever be.

And here’s the thing. You can’t change your candle, but you can decide how to act and whether your acts give oxygen to the candle, or dampen it. These choices are conscious and they belong to you and you are responsible for them. Just because you don’t go to heaven or hell at the end of it, doesn’t remove your responsibility for caring for your candle and, more importantly, the candle of other people. I spent time recently with people who had suffered extraordinary abuse as children. They were trying to find a way to repair the damage to their souls that happened twenty or thirty years ago. Someone tried to extinguish their candle, and although that’s not possible, they had barely a flicker left burning. If you ever think your selfish acts – driven by the choices you and your ego are making – don’t have consequences, then spend some time seeing the acute pain of those who have genuinely suffered at the hands of others.

Which brings me back to Brexit. Brexit makes absolutely nobody happy. Either it’s too soft or too hard or too slow or too fast or just simply happening when it shouldn’t. There’s a deep, profound, careless cruelty in the way Brexit has been thrust onto the nation. Under the guise of offering control, it has sown division and hurt. On a national scale, we’ve had a blanket thrown over the light of our souls. I don’t even particularly care whether the idea of being in or out of the EU is better – the process has damaged us all. There should be no greater responsibility on people with influence over the lives of millions than to consider each of our candles. Will this action allow the candles to burn more brightly, or to shrink? In a rush of selfish, ego-driven thoughtlessness, we had this idea thrust upon us. No-one asked the people who turned to ‘leave’ what their underlying concerns were. And then leaving the EU became a panacea for all ills. In truth, it’s a cruel distraction. I don’t doubt that many people genuinely saw the EU as a barrier to their own fulfilment, and voted honestly and reasonably. But how many of them had that thought before the idea of Brexit was concocted by selfish egotists with ulterior motives? Why was no attempt made to address people’s concerns on an individual level before a bucket of sand was dumped on the country’s spirit?

And now we find ourselves with a Prime Minister who is so rigid and narrow-minded, so fixed in her thinking, that she can’t see the damage the process is doing to the country. Suddenly, the views of 16 million people count for nothing. The country is now labelled ‘the people’ as if we’re a collective morass of similarly-minded rocks, instead of individuals with our own candles to protect. Cancelling the whole thing, while appealing on some level, would also be squeezing a wet finger and thumb on the flame of many decent people who were given this unnecessary choice and expect action.

So, sorry, I don’t have the answer to what we do next. But I do have a lesson. The actions of people in power have consequences. Whether it’s parents or governments, teachers or friends. If you’re not thinking – above everything else – about whether your decision nourishes or diminishes the spirits of those impacted by it, then you shouldn’t be making it. All we can do now is look to other ways to feed our flames: connect to and care for the planet, come to know your own ego and when to ignore it. And to let love guide you. I managed to keep it hidden, right until the end, but eventually it always comes back to love. In times of confusion, disappointment and fear, try to remember – love is the candle. Let it burn bright and radiate. And maybe for a few hours, try not to think about bloody Brexit.

Looking for Not God

An Ayahuasca Journey