Humans are a troubled lot. Inundated by waves of fear and uncertainty, we welcome pain into our lives and needlessly suffer. Like psychotic shape shifters, we revisit the ugly past and daunting future, gradually driven insane by our own dark thoughts.
The cause of this insanity resides in our egoic monkey mind, a toxic creature feasting on conflict and disorder. It poisons our world view, antagonizes us, and makes our lives unbearable. Drowning ourselves in a sea of madness, we vacillate between yesterday and tomorrow, forcing some to the point of desperation. In her article, ‘Sobriety, Depression and Suicide,’ psychologist Deborah Serani documents the rampant enormity of the problem:
Though suicide is the most preventable kind of death, over 3000 people die by suicide each day. Mathematically measured another way, 1 million people each year die by suicide.
It is estimated that there are more suicide deaths worldwide then all deaths caused by accidents, natural disasters, wars and homicides combined. Serani, whose clinical specialty is depression, concluded that someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds.
The reasons for this terrible crisis represent an innate part of the human condition. A war is being waged inside our minds with competing forces, both extreme opposites, fighting for total dominance. On one side is our true or spiritual self. It resides at our center, realized only through courage and self-awareness. On the other side lurks the false self, the waste product of a toxic ego and chattering monkey mind.
The false self, created by an ego that demands rigorous comparison and competition, is a role used to survive in a hostile world. The ego compels us to join the “rat race” driving many individuals to the zenith of competition, spinning on that never-ending hamster wheel, and working themselves to death. The ego controls the false self, instructing that we are better than others, dictating that we acquire materialistic goods, worn like military insignias, and deceptively greet the world with false pride. Tormented by its nagging and seductive voice, we are prevented from enjoying the bliss of the moment.
Our egoic mind thrives in the knowledge that misery loves company, and far too many suffer of this human plight. Depressed and angry, like charging stormtroopers, we view the world in warlike terms. We attack fear through anger. Feeling victimized, we blame others and seek retribution. Consumed with bitter resentment, we list everyone believed to have harmed us and mentally hurt them back. This weapon of righteous revenge, a churlish fantasy replayed over and over again, destroys our inner peace, while pleasing our monkey mind.
The biggest mistake we make is looking for answers outside ourselves. Because we feel flawed and empty, we look externally for completeness. Although happiness has been defined as intimacy with God and the experience of God’s loving presence, we devalue our sacred self by wandering elsewhere for such blessings. Theologian Thomas Keating writes about how we search erroneously for that elusive key:
“Everybody is looking for this key and nobody knows where to find it. The human condition is thus poignant in the extreme. If you want help as you look for the key in the wrong place, you can get plenty of it, because everyone is looking in the wrong place, too: where there is more light, pleasure, security, power, acceptance by others. We have a sense of solidarity in the search without any possibility of finding what we are looking for.”
“Know thyself,” Greek philosopher Socrates (470 – 399 BC), advised his students. Socrates’ instruction was not intended to be an easy task, but an arduous lifelong quest, searching for our sacred self. Another reference appeared during the 17th Century, when Shakespeare’s Polonius Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
Author Shannon L. Alder was correct when she said, “One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.” Since birth, we are bombarded with messages that shape and define us. We want to please and be accepted by others, and place significance on what they think and say. Assuming behaviors which reflect the beliefs, superstitions, and values in our environment, we gradually adopt some or all of these variables, wrapped in our own unique cloak of experience and perception. Like mindless stick figures, we abdicate our power and willingly conform.
Conformity preaches that one should be like their peers, following rules, coloring inside the lines, being obedient, and not rocking the boat. But, being exactly like others is not being true to ourselves and, as we sink into the quagmire of conformity, we lose sight of who we are.
It takes courage to march against the maddening crowd and it is difficult to raise our voice in protest, especially when we are outshouted by the masses. Individuals like Copernicus, Gandhi, and Jesus Christ faced ostracism and death because of their non-conformity, yet, remained steadfast in their beliefs. American clergyman Ralph W. Sockman (1889-1970) stated it this way, “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”
Inspirational writer Madisyn Taylor believes that in order to remain true to ourselves, detachment is a necessary step to self-awareness. She wrote:
Cutting the cord can help you separate yourself from old baggage, unnecessary attachments, and release you from connections that are no longer serving you… By cutting the cords that no longer need to be there, you are setting yourself and others free from the ties that bind.
The incessant blathering from our egoic monkey brain can be abolished, but only through self-control. We have the ability to control our thoughts and silence the voice of the false self. The Buddha taught that the source of this background chatter comes from the delusions of an uncontrolled mind. Buddha, the Able One, said, “It is not possible to control all external events; but, if I simply control my mind, what need is there to control other things?”
Lao Tzu (601 BC – unknown) understood the importance of self-control and inner strength. As the first philosopher of Chinese Daoism, he observed, “Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” That same message, revealing profound words of empowerment, has been passed down throughout the ages. These important reminders instruct us that we have the ability to control our thoughts, behaviors, and destiny. Psychiatrist Gerald G. Jampolsky emphasizes these sentiments in his book Love is Letting Go of Fear. He believes that instead of attempting to control the external world:
…we can control our inner world by choosing what thoughts we want to have in our mind. We all have the power to direct our minds to replace feelings of being upset, depressed and fearful with the feelings of inner peace.
Finding our way out of the confusing maze of the false self requires that we sever the cords that bind us and make an intentional break from the endless noise and competition. We need to stop being self-centered, and instead be centered in the self. Complete detachment is the road to enlightenment.
Ancient scholars knew that our lifetime journey encompasses one of transformation and self-discovery. It will be the most important calling we will undertake as we honor our Higher Power and discover our spiritual self. The Beatitudes, delivered in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, instruct, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Such spiritual vision allows us to revel in the peace dwelling within us and savor the bouquet of stillness.
We can replace the world’s madness with the love that dwells within. As we embrace our spirituality and breathe in the present moment, forgiveness and acceptance will fill our lives. We alone can make this journey and effect this change. Perhaps not today, and perhaps not tomorrow—but when the time is right, when we are ready, and Deo juvante (with God’s help).
Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin explores the dark marriage between grunge music and the beginning of the opioid crisis. Learn more at www.shepptonmyth.com