Are we still sane?

Sometimes you get pretty annoyed by the behaviour of people around you, no matter what they do, because it doesn’t suit you. It can be justified displeasure because people are acting particularly petulant, self-centred, and clumsy, or because they don’t notice that there’s a long tailback behind them. Sometimes it’s simply because they can’t help it, for whatever reason. We are all a bit particular in our habits and take liberties with some things that are not ours to take.

To be sane means to be of clear mind, good memory and good sense: compos mentis. It also means being capable of moderation and self-control, which we only sometimes show. Recently we experienced panic buying and people hoarding things like toilet paper and noodles, which seemed strange at the time. In fact, panic and anxiety can be a major contributor to strange behaviours, and we don’t always see the connection because we are not aware of why the anxiety arises. Rationally, many of us live in circumstances that do not warrant panic, but many people have an essential anxiety that is not always associated with an underlying condition. The cause may be:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Stress from work, school, personal relationships
  • Financial worries
  • Stress from a chronic or serious illness
  • An important event or achievement

But also

  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Alcohol use, drugs such as cocaine
  • Lack of oxygen

Under such circumstances, it is pretentious to call people to be “cool” or tell them to relax. However, our basic concept of life may be that which is causing the problems, and the inability to rise above it, to take a look at the situation from above, so to speak, the reason why we feel trapped. Idealists tend to have this problem, because the world doesn’t conform with our ideals, which we attempt to project onto existence.

But it may be that a situation in which a person lands is traumatic, stressful, or worrying, and they are unable to change it. People in the wars and conflicts on our planet are in such a situation, mostly without any fault of their own, suffering under existential anxiety or fear. Referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need to satisfy physiological needs and ensure safety and security, before people can experience love or belonging and self-esteem, and advance to self-realization.

It would seem to me that sanity would attempt to guarantee these basic needs, but since a huge number of people are not living in safety, have no security of resources, and cannot do everything to guarantee the health or well-being of the family, there is reason to doubt this. This is especially true because in most cases we are not suffering under a natural catastrophe, but many men-made ones. The economic order of our planet makes competition the basis of life, instead of sustainability, which is known to cause a disproportionate spread of wealth, with great numbers starving or just above starvation, and relatively few in abundance.

The fact that all known teachings of wisdom in the world promote generosity and compassion, and love is a sympathy towards others, shows us that we know better. It is just that we only help ourselves, and at the utmost, those that we deem to be like us. We even have societies with abundance that see their advantage as a sign of their moral superiority, and the suffering of others as self-inflicted. The fact that we, the rule makers in this economic system, make borders, restrict movement, support despotism, and channel wealth away from those in need, is not only a sign of the depravity of our economic system, but the moral corruption of our political systems. It is insane!

Albert Einstein famously said: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

The idea of Unity is widespread in religions. Some speak of “oneness with God,” “oneness in the Godhead,” “oneness with all beings or existence,” “God is one and all are in God,” and the pantheistic Advaitic theory: “God is in everyone, in everything” and “everything is God.” Nowadays, this has warped into the name of a Nike athletic shoe.

“So now we see the Many, but no longer the One. In Eastern thought (and the same can be found in Hegel, Heidegger and other thinkers of the Western tradition), there has always been an important dialectic between the figure and the ground in which it is set, between the distinguishable and the whole of which it is one element, between the specifiable (because limited) and the unspecifiable (because infinite) context which qualifies it. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna:

When one sees Eternity in things that pass away and Infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge. But if one merely sees the diversity of things, with their divisions and limitations, then one has impure knowledge.’”

McGilchrist, Iain. The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World (S.1339). Perspectiva Press. Kindle-Version.

We seem to have impure knowledge, only able to see the diversity of things, their divisions and limitations, and fail to realise that we are altogether in this strange existence, and at the end of it all, this will become apparent. I just hope that at the end there will not be exclusively a “gnashing of teeth,” as the Bible figuratively describes the sudden awareness of the reality of it all, but that the valley of tears will be transformed “… and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

But if there are so many people who profess their faith in these things, why do we see so little of it in action? Perhaps because we project it into an imagined future, rather than attempt to do our small amount today. Perhaps because it is pushed away into the realm of religion, instead of into political policies. Perhaps, if we could show ourselves to be of clear mind, good memory and good sense (compos mentis) but also capable of moderation and self-control, we could start drying tears in this life …

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