Saturday, August 18, 2012

Trapped by the mind: A portrait of human insanity

In the last post I spoke about how easy it is to be totally consumed by the mundane and to lose ourselves in an endless sea of trivia and pointlessness; distraction after distraction after distraction.

What is it with the human race and our distractions? Why do we so always feel the need to distract ourselves from ourselves?

Part of it is no doubt a response to the stressful, turbulent, unbalanced and dysfunctional society we live in, a society that's almost totally cut off from the natural balance of life. We're all victims of the capitalist/rampant consumerist agenda; brought up and conditioned to feel dissatisfied with ourselves, to feel that we're not good enough as we are, that we're not whole and complete and that in order to be happy we need to accrue as much money as we can in order to buy a whole lot of crap we don't really need in a world that's alarmingly being stripped of its resources.

We're programmed to be unhappy. Perhaps that's why we spend so much time trying to escape the basic unease we feel within. Most people simply aren't comfortable in their own skin and accordingly find it exceedingly difficult to sit alone in a room without things to occupy themselves. As Blaise Pascal noted, this is the source of all humanity's problems.

I believe this is because we don't like to be alone with our thoughts. Many of us aren't even consciously aware of our inner monologue -- the never-ending stream of thoughts constantly flowing through our minds -- even though, for most of us, it's present almost every moment of our waking lives. The funny thing is, it's not so much us that's thinking these thoughts, for they can be difficult to control and predict, rather it's more like the thoughts are thinking us. They arise and subside, constantly rumbling away like a talk radio station we're tuned into and can't switch off.

Although generally mundane, many people's inner monologue is not a pleasant one: it often comprises a torrent of abuse and negativity, focussing on the very worst in life, perceiving problems where none exist and generally creating a whole lot of needless upset. Life is actually very simple, but the mind makes it into something ridiculously complex, embellishing it with so much needless dramas and stress. The inability to disengage from the babble of the inner monologue is a dreaful affliction.

I wonder if this is a defect of sorts at our current stage of evolution. It seems to me that we're a species with minds so over-developed and out-of-control that it's causing wide-scale insanity.

Our education system fails us on so many levels, not least because we're not taught how to deal with our thoughts, emotions and the content of our psyche. We're taught just about everything except ourselves, so we're left without a clue as to who or what we are. Our understanding of ourselves is based wholly upon assumption and misidentification. We form an image of ourselves in our minds, one that is totally arbitrary and ever-changing and yet which we construe as being 'us'.  It's usually quite a distorted and negative image. Our entire experience of reality, ourselves and others, is utterly distorted by our uncontrolled minds, which run rampant, causing unaccountable misery and suffering for ourselves and others.

This insanity can be seen all around us. You need only switch on the evening news to be reminded of the devastating effect of our individual and collective dysfunction. On a small scale it's reflected in dysfunctional relationships and our personal miseries (depression and anxiety are now pandemic in our culture, as well as anger and aggression) and on a larger scale it's evident in the corruption that's evident in virtually every organisation and institution, and most dramatically in wars, conflicts, genocide and terrorism. It's not a pretty picture, and it all stems from the mind, and from believing certain thoughts and beliefs.

The dysfunctions of the human mind are destroying us.

So what is the way out of this?

First of all, we need to stop trying to simply drown out the mind by losing ourselves in mundane and mind-numbing activities or behaviours. I mean, getting drunk might have the desired effect for a short space of time (it dulls and numbs the mind, often making us feel good), but it's not exactly a long-term solution. It does nothing to address the underlying problem and when the hangover hits you'll feel ten times worse than before. We've been playing out our addictions and compulsive behaviours for what seems like lifetimes. Surely we can see by now that THEY DON'T WORK.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. That might very well be the human race's epitath. Waking up to reality means finally acknowledging that what we're doing isn't working and that we need to stop doing it. Instead we need to do something else, something that might be radically different to what we've been accustomed to in the past.

If the problem is our mind distorting our perception of reality, then surely the solution must involve taking control of the mind? Until we learn to control our mind, we are controlled by it, and this results in the succession of nightmares the human race has created throughout history. No other species is as inherently destructive and as pathologically insane as the human race, because no other species has such an over-developed cognitive faculty. The solution, according to one Zen Master could be concisely summed up as: "no mind, no problem."

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The first step is always simply being aware and seeing things as they are. We can't solve a problem until we've first clearly identified that it is a problem. Denial is another defining human characteristic and it's incredibly hard to do anything so long as we're intent on denying the reality of the situation. Denial keeps us entrapped in the mind-created prison of our personal and collective suffering.

When we're willing to look at the situation openly, honestly and without whatever old baggage, beliefs and dogmas we've been clinging onto, we can finally see things as they are, and only then are we in a position to do something about it. Freedom is then within our grasp.


The Crow said...

Almost nobody will understand what you mean by suggesting their minds are not them.
While those that do, have no need to be told it.
Haha :)
I finally removed my various websites the other day.
Long overdue, and part of the ongoing process that is my life.
I am the only message I wish to convey.
If I am not it, then there is no message.

Rory said...

Haha...totally. I try to make it understandable, but not many people get it...or are interested in it. Too many other tasty distractions I guess.

You make a v good point. Be the message. I sometimes wonder why I bother writing these words. But I think the help clarify things for me in my head. And I have a kind of dharma impulse to use words to express truth, to play with it and maybe even help share it. I don't know.

M.Wright said...

Collectively, as a species, we need the distractions, or we would all be in a permanent state of insanity.(Ye' I know that there will be those who comment that we already are) Most other species cope by having simpler aims in life, pure survival as an example. imagine then a species more advanced than us mere Humans. Particularly one with Telepathy in both active and subconscious states. What kind of distractions would be needed to alleviate their collective underlying thought trains! Makes us look humble by comparison, My advice is simply Don't think about it or you probably will go insane.