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For much of my childhood I lived in a small town in the most northern part of Greece, close to the Turkish border. As kids we would play out in the streets without a care in the world, often until it was dark.

Back then it was a safe place for us to roam until the evening hours; crime rates were very low and there was no such phenomenon as young children being lured away never to be seen again. But by virtue of the fact that there was a large proportion of Turkish Muslims also residing in town, and the perceived threat of an invasion from the nearby Turkish border always the looming concern, every Greek household had a legal obligation to own a gun, and have it loaded at the ready.

One day my sister and I came across our father’s gun, hiding in the wardrobe amidst a plethora of suits and coats. We were intrigued and wanted to hear stories about the gun, but my dad ushered us away firmly and quickly – from the gun and all that it represented.

What I still remember to this day more than anything else about that incident was the look on his face.

It was a look filled with sadness and the longing to protect his children from a world gone crazy with religious factions, the staunch stance of right and wrong and the ethnic hatred synonymous with one religious group charged up over another.

I remember walking past the derelict Turkish neighbourhoods every day on my way to school. The children from those neighbourhoods would look at me, vacantly, defensively, with a mixture of fear and aggression in their young faces. Their eyes were wide but without the childhood innocence that should have been there at that age.

Often we would be the same age – the same in so many ways in fact. They were children I would have wanted to play with. But due to our differing religious origins, beliefs and backgrounds, tainted by the history of religious war between our two nations, we were deemed to be very different. Playing together was not an option.

This was the legacy of institutionalised religion.

The legacy, if you will, of the pledge for God’s name to be written and sealed in one statute book over another. My story is not an unusual one; God’s name has been defended, uttered and used as an excuse to separate as well as slay millions over the centuries, and it continues to this day.

Shutting the door on God and religion would seem like the sensible thing to do. But in doing so, we’re shutting the door on ourselves and all that religion, in its pure untainted meaning, is here to remind us of.

The pillaging and raping throughout the centuries in the name of religion is symbolic of another heinous crime we don’t often consider. It is not just the lives that are lost, the families that are torn apart, and the tremendous suffering that ensues. Something else is also lost, just as devastating, if not more so.

It is the pillaging of our very own connection with ourselves, with our inner most being.

In slandering the name of religion, there has been an institutionalised orchestration to annihilate something very sacred within each and every one of us. And this stands at the core of the brutality we have witnessed in the past and in the present.

Remove a man, woman or child from their connection and they are no longer themselves. Hurts pile up. Resentment builds. Blame is expected. There is anger, aggression – and whether on a macro scale or a micro scale, we have a world gone crazy with conflict occurring somewhere, everywhere every single day.

The tragic irony is that it is religion, un-bastardised, untainted, that offers the ticket back to the connection lost. For if we do away with all the concepts, interpretations, ideas and perceptions that we have about religion, we might just see that being religious can be the most natural and normal thing in the world to be.

It is the ceremony, the ritual, the devotion to what is at the deepest core of our being, in the realisation that this connection within is in union with so much more than this plane of life on its own can reveal.

It’s in this devotion to deepening our connection with ourselves that we know another is of the same pristine essence, regardless of what they portray and what they do and say. By being deeply religious with ourselves, we open the doors to humanity at large, and there is no way that we can go into conflict, aggression or indeed separation. We are in deep communion, we know God is within us, not separate, not better and certainly not judgmental.

With true religion we can open ourselves up to brotherhood, which is at the core of how we are truly meant to relate with each other. We reconnect to the fact that the outer differences we bear such as skin colour, body shape and size, cultural nuances and the variety of opinions and ideas we often so proudly hold, are mere superficial crusts over the magnificent sameness we all are within.

In times past we knew this, and in fact, we even lived it.

We knew and lived in the knowing that the stars above were not separate to the magnitude we could feel inside of us. We knew and lived in the knowing that the entire universe was held within the particles of our own bodies. And somewhere in our cellular memory we know this still because it can never actually leave us. Perhaps if we were to sift through the assault of painful memories, images and interpretations of institutionalised religion that we have taken on, this inner-most knowing can be ignited once again.

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    By Katerina Nikolaidis, MA Hons PG Dip

    Change management professional and health & well-being practitioner, with a love for people and a fascination about life. There is so much more to us than we realise.

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    Photography: Matt Paul