What if everything that we call mental illness was really a reflection of an illness in the whole society?
And what if the people that we call mentally ill are actually the more sane ones – they are the super sensitive ones who cannot tolerate the status quo and so their souls rebel, and they develop coping mechanisms for surviving in mad world like dissociation, controlling behaviours, obsessive compulsive disorders.
What if these so called disorders and illnesses were actually a natural response to a disordered and ill society?
What if, they are actually – as believed in the indigenous communities of the Americas – more like the seers and the prophets, sent to show us where we have lost the way?
Our society is one where in school, children are encouraged to work out their future ‘job’ instead of their hearts deepest longing. (Because, Psst: actually, that’s the reason we are here). Where from our earliest days we are trained up to be a well functioning unit in a society built on ideas that are not ours (we have come for evolution!). Where careers counsellors present us with a spread sheet of all of the things you are allowed to do to earn the money which humans invented in order to live a life in this abundant planet that naturally provides for all of us but whose resources and gifts are not equally distributed.
Watching the documentary on SBS TV here in Australia recently, ‘Go back to where you came from’ I wondered: how is it that some of the longer term immigrants in Australia (ie: anyone who isn’t Aboriginal), think they have any more right to occupy this occupied and stolen land than any other person, a so-called ‘refugee’, who is seeking a better life for themselves away from war and devastation?
Are we not all refuge seekers at one time or another? We seek refuge through friends, through spiritual teachings, through community, through Sangha, through meaningful work. Others seek the refuge of a safe haven from all the ills of the world; war, poverty, natural disasters.
The original colonisers and squatters of Australia were a mixed bunch, some criminals, many petty thieves, having been arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families, and many others straight-out opportunists, seeking to make their fortunes from profiting from the land others occupied after first either killing or pacifying anyone who got in their way. My mother has recently written a book about some of these people. Are they all bad? No, but the grey areas need to been investigated. We need to dig them up and talk about what happened in order to heal our country and our world.
Why is it that non-aboriginal Australians think that just because they got here earlier than the current immigrants and refugees, that that means they have more of a right to benefit from living in a relatively safe and relatively peaceful territory than anyone else? Their ancestors were also boat people. The boats were different, yes, but if you look at it in strictly legal terms, they came without any visas and without permission or invitation from the original inhabitants of Australia. So the idea that those who have arrived more recently should ‘go back to where they came from’, and not those who have been here much longer but also came without permission / invitation is wrong thinking – based on the idea that ‘it’s my country cos we got here first. So there!‘
As the Buddhists would say, all problems come from the idea of me and mine. An idea based on the false notion of an individual ‘self’.
In my mindfulness classes I often quote Eckhart Tolle, who says,
Don’t let an insane world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.
I remember when I first read that statement, probably in the Power of Now, and breathed out a huge sigh of relief. Thank god, I thought, a sane person is speaking to me. I am not crazy, the world is crazy. I am just doing my best to maintain a modicum of equilibrium in this mad world.
This week I started teaching the first week of another Intro to Mindfulness course. I start each session by telling the students a bit of my own journey into mindfulness and meditation. I was studying for a Masters in International Relations at a university in Barcelona. I was studying International Politics, Economics and international diplomacy: the UN system, Nato, the EU, all these big bureaucracies charged with keeping order and managing conflict. I was supposedly living a good life, in this vibrant and amazing Spanish city, with friends from all the the world, learning interesting things. But I was not happy. Slowly I started not leaving the house for days. And instead of going to class I stayed home watching Mexican soap operas and drinking Jamesons straight form the bottle (I come from an Irish family background). I realised slowly that I was sinking into a cycle of depression that I had been in and out for for many years by that time in my life (I was 29). Slowly I came to see the pattern and something dawned on me: maybe this wasn’t the only way to live. Maybe periodic depression was not mandatory. Maybe there was something I had missed. This thought led me to do my first Vipassana retreat and was the beginning of my a deep spiritual journey of awakening.
After I tell this story, a short version, I ask the students to introduce themselves and say what brought them to the course and what they hope to get out of it.
And this week something just clicked and the floodgates opened.
People told stories of so-called mental illness (see first paragraph), of paralysing anxiety, and ongoing and debilitating depression. And though it was difficult to hear these stories and deep pain and suffering, it was also immensely freeing. By the time we got around to the second leg of the L shape set up of the desks, one woman had to pass for a moment because she was overflowing with emotion at witnessing such sharing. We eventually got back to her. By the end of the introduction, that room was full of love and caring. People who had never met each other until a half an hour previously, had connected on a deep level through sharing their truth, and through being witnessed for who they were. At the end of the class many people came up to talk to me and to each other. After just one hour. Love and bonds and friendship were forming.
The antidote to depression is expression.
The antidote to depression is expression. It’s showing the world who you really are. It’s being who you really are. It’s having your voice heard.
It’s sharing your real feelings and not being afraid to express. We live in a society that is more head-based than heart-based (as the ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’ show demonstrates – though there were a few people on it who were heart-ful and caring), so it is not always easy to connect into your heart and express what wants to be expressed.
It’s a society where from a young age we are taught to repress our negative emotions. We receive the message that it’s not OK to feel deeply sad, that it’s not OK to be angry, that it’s wrong to feel jealous or envious. That those emotions are a sign of ‘something wrong with us’ which is the beginning of the pathology process that is the underpinning of the mental health system.
Why are we so afraid to feel?
Feelings are not scary, they are just like the weather. They are our inner barometer and our inner compass. They show us where and how to tweak our course in life. They are essential information for us. They our higher guidance system if you like. And if we repress them, it’s like we are turning off our inner guidance, and then of course, it it very easy to become lost. Because where do we turn to when we have shut down our inner voice? We seek answers from outside of ourselves for what to do in life, for where to go, who to love, what career to follow. And if we stay on this externally sourced navigational system for too long, we can eventually completely lose ourselves.
And the result? Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsiveness, eating disorders substance abuse…… Anything to numb the pain that comes from not being our true selves.
The other day I felt very sad. Devastatingly sad. I felt as though the world would fall in on me. I was hungry but could not go shopping for food because – too sad. Perhaps it was remnants of the sadness and the suffering expressed by those in my class. I don’t know. But I allowed that sadness to be there. I cried a lot. I let it out. And then I did something unusual for me: I shared it. I told a few close people how I was feeling. ‘Feeling sad and lonely’, I said. I was able to be witnessed and held in love by these people, even though they were not physically present (thanks Mum and friends!). And I experienced the same thing as the people in my class. I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt loved. It was OK, I let the sadness in and we spent most of the day together. It was an intense day and we both learned a lot. Today is another day and sadness left my house this morning.. But what if I hadn’t it in? It would be like a part of myself that I was keeping stuck outside my door pleading to come in and talk to me. And if I continued to not let that part of me in, then I would need to start dissociating from that feeling. The beginning of dissociation. And if I got into the habit of doing this with a majority or all of my difficult emotions, then thins, my friends would be the beginning of so called mental illness.
It’s time for a R-Emotion-al-Lution!
We need to learn how to feel all of our feelings, name them, allow them in, listen to them, have tea with them, share them with others and then watch as they go on their smiling merry way once they have given us the message they were sent to give. Emotion is energy in motion. We are energy in motion. Energy wants expression. It wants release.
What would happen if en masse, people started to feel more deeply?
Would perhaps we find it in our hearts to rise up against a heartless government who is keeping innocent people in what amounts to prison with no hope of parole and no hope of release, for the heinous crime of seeking a peaceful place in which to live? What would happen if we made our government free these people and integrated them into our community in a positive and loving way. How many amazing gifts would we receive from all of these people?
Comments? I would love to hear from you. 🙂