We MUST Choose, Part 2: Conscience and Reality and the Dark Side of Daydreaming and Fantasy


We MUST Choose, Part 2: Conscience and Reality and the Dark Side of Daydreaming and Fantasy

The opposite of sanity is insanity.  The opposite of truth is falsehood, which includes self-deception, lying, half-truths, rationalizations, denial, scapegoating, transference, projection, i.e. the vast majority of our defense mechanisms. 

Truth—insight, self-knowledge, greater self-awareness, clarity—though perhaps very painful at first, will not only (eventually) make us free, it will make us sane, because the more we lie to ourselves and others and avoid reality, then the more mentally unhealthy or less sane we are.

Thus one of the best ways to become healthier and more sane, decent, and loving, is by beginning to nurture our conscience and to focus on developing our character and our reality principle (three very interrelated things).

Because one of the other marks of not very healthy or decent people is that they really don’t have a healthy and functioning conscience—or the conscience they have is very twisted and malignant—meaning, their sense of right and wrong is very twisted and subjective and not open to any real investigation and or scrutiny (what they say goes, just because they think or feel it, and without any real discussion or deliberation).  And thus they are able to freely warp and spin things and lie to themselves and con themselves into believing at some level that their maladaptive (bad) behavior is actually secretly really good or decent or noble.  (This is one of the things about mentally unwell people—they love their secrets and abhor accountability and transparency and honesty.  In order to maintain their self—their sick self and current level of mental unhealth—they need to live in the dark and avoid the light—the light of disclosure, openness, transparency, scrutiny, feedback, and critical thinking, questioning.)   What bad people and not very good people and unhealthy people share is that they are just not that dedicated to truth or reality—which is a large part of why their conscience continues to be skewed and warped, and which is why they prefer alternate fictional fantasy pseudo-realities to the real world—often elaborate fantasy worlds replete with intricate yet absurd and irrational metaphysics and beliefs.  They prefer to exist in these fantasy worlds because at some level they find the real world too demanding, difficult, stressful, painful, complicated.  The real world terrifies them, stresses them out, makes them anxious, makes them feel too vulnerable, makes them feel out of control, insecure, exposed, inadequate, inferior, insubstantial, without purpose or meaning.  The real world is not meeting their basic needs—their needs for survival, esteem, uniqueness/specialness, love, belonging, safety, security, meaning, purpose—and so they are faced with a choice—the choice to grow and become stronger and attune themselves and their thinking and their conscience to reality and to truth, or escape into denial and fantasy and in doing continue doing damage to their psyche/soul. 

And the vast majority of people opt for some degree of the latter—always have, and still are doing so. When reality becomes too painful or too demanding it is denied or otherwise avoided.

And the less mentally healthy and the more neurotic and less sane they or we are, the more we/they will opt for this solution—opt for escaping into a world of fantasy and unreality instead of attuning ourselves to reality—in order to survive and self-preservate. 

“I believe that the root of evil, in everybody perhaps, but certainly in those whom affliction has touched and above all if the affliction is [psychological], is day-dreaming. It is the sole consolation, the unique resource of the afflicted; the only solace to help them bear the fearful burden of time; and a very innocent one, besides being indispensable. So how could it be possible to renounce it? It has only one disadvantage, which is that it is unreal. To renounce it for the love of truth is really to abandon all one’s possessions in a mad excess of love and to follow him who is the personification of Truth. And it is really to bear the cross.

“[I]t is necessary to recognize day-dreaming for what it is. And even while one is sustained by it one must never forget for a moment that in all its forms—those that seem most inoffensive by their childishness, those that seem most respectable by their seriousness and their connection with art or love or friendship—in all its forms without exception, it is falsehood. It excludes love.  And only love is real.”

Simone Weil, from “The Simone Weil Reader, “ Letter to Joe Bousquet“, pg.90

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith, “Economics, Peace and Laughter” (1971), p. 50.

And this proof is often an escape into some alternate fantasy world/universe.  The proof that there’s no need to change one’s mind or to grow and mature psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, comes in the form of the false-growth of conspiracy theories and concocting elaborate new agey fantasy worlds to inhabit with one’s mind and to believe in.  And for the sake of these false-realities and in the name of these elaborate fantasy worlds—in the name of helping to build some imaginary fantasy utopia—all sorts of bad and even evil things can be perpetrated and rationalized (rational lies) away.

Why do sane people allow themselves to be duped like this—by their own least healthy thinking, by what’s weakest and worst in themselves?  Why do they actually opt to dupe themselves in this way and cooperate in pulling the wool over their own eyes?

Because of all of the pain, difficulty, suffering, complexity, and stress, of life in the real world—meaning the full intensity of life, the full intensity of truth and reality and the demands that true mental health and growth require and would make on us—and all of the ego-threatening negative and anxious feelings they (which is to say that many of us) are hoping to avoid and evade.

And because what’s best in them—their conscience, their reality principle, their inner truth-detector, their character, their core self, their capacity for reasoning and for looking at things (especially themselves and their own behavior!) fairly and objectively and impartially—is so weak, so malnourished and underdeveloped, that it doesn’t offer much in the way of protest or defense or objection (dialectical thinking), or its objections and protestations cannot be heard above and distinguished from of all of the internal blather and incessant inner chattiness and discursive thinking.  Their conscience is just a fleeting, unidentifiable voice or very occasional strand in their discursive, unorganized inner monologue.  They may have a very healthy or noble or sane thought here and there, but because there is so much falsity also zipping through and monopolizing their inner monologue, they no longer really notice it or pay attention to it.  It’s in one inner ear and out the other and quickly followed by something that is less demanding, less truthful, and makes them feel better, happier, or is more familiar, even if it is unhealthy and discursive and unrealistic.   

The Buddha said that most people’s eyes are so caked shut with the dust of denial and self-deception that they will never be able to awaken or grow.  Most people’s thinking—their inner monologue—is so cluttered with falsehoods, unexamined thoughts, escapist thoughts—that there’s no hope for them to ever wake up from that degree of sleepwalking or inner shame and denial.

We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts
With our thoughts we make the world
Speak or act with an impure mind, and trouble will follow you, as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart
We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts
With our thoughts we make the world
Speak or act with a pure mind, and Happiness will follow you, as your shadow, unshakable
How can a troubled mind understand the way?
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded and unexamined
But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother.

Buddha

Slowing down and really paying attention to and examining our own thoughts and thinking and really listening to what we’re saying to ourselves (the deeper implications, the underlying assumptions in our thoughts, the escapist/avoidant/self-numbing tendencies that are likely rife in it, et cetera) is one way of trying to break the cycle of mental unhealth.  (Why would anyone want to do that though!? Especially when it is paying off in some way for a person. . . . ) And consciously beginning to try to see at least two points of view with our own thinking—to begin thinking more dialectically and scientifically and logically—in terms of thesis on the one hand, and antithesis or what would disprove our thinking or prove it to be fallacious, on the other hand—and to begin playing devil’s (or God’s) advocate with our own pet theories and fantasies and start trying to see the other and less ego-flattering and more difficult to emotionally stomach side of things is another way of kick-starting our journey to sanity and mental health.

Peck defined mental health as “an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs” (“The Road Less Traveled,” pg. 51), meaning that in order to get healthy psychologically and truly grow we must start choosing truth over our own comfort, waking up over a comfortable life, the difficult rights over easy wrongs, reality over fantasy and daydreaming and other forms of escapism, and that we must doing so ever more consistently and heroically. 

Only truly mentally healthy individuals—or those truly on the path—can or will dare to do this.

Those of us who are not very healthy (and those of us with a lot of internal pain and wounds we’re trying to avoid dealing with and facing [because of shame]) will spend much of our free time avoiding reality instead of facing it.  And the more we do this, the more we make ourselves sick, or if you will, psychologically out of shape and gluttonous—it’s like doing to the mind what a steady diet of fantasy—cheeseburgers, chocolate, potato chips, fast food, French fried, friend foods, Twinkies, and a lot of time on the couch in front of the TV and no exercise—does to the body. 

Again, there’s no neutrality in life.  We must choose our allegiance—to one side or the other—to either growth and mental health and truth and reality, which apparently will set us free; or stagnation and regression and escape and avoidance—i.e. falsehoods, denial, self-deception, discursive thinking, the unexamined life, excessive daydreaming—which will put us more and more to sleep and make us less healthy, less sane, less fit for life, less good, less loving, and eventually may even seal our fate, damning us, making us unredeemable.

We must choose: sanity or insanity, truth or lies, mental health or pathology, growth or comfort, growth or familiarity, what’s best for us v what tastes/feels good right now.

There is no middle road in this; there may be a middle road once we choose one side or the other, but there is no middle road or balanced way beforehand.  There may be, and likely is, a way where we exercise our mind, stretch ourselves, and then gives ourselves some time to recover and lock in those gains, before once again stretching ourselves, growing, taking on more truth and reality, but doing so little by little, as we would if we were working out and slowly adding more weight or resistance to our work outs over the course of weeks, while cutting back on the fatty escapist comfort foods and not watching as many escapist TV shows, et cetera.

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Real Growth & “Making a Change”


The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your meditation has begun.” – Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation,” pg. 215

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Why aren’t more people truly “growth-oriented”?

Psychologists and psychiatrists estimate that about 4% of the population can be diagnosed as having Antisocial Personality Disorder (meaning a sociopath without a conscience, with no sense that other people exist and are “real”), and that another 3% are not just narcissistic but are so extreme in their narcissism that they have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that at least 2% of the population can be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. That’s about 8 – 9% of the population or about one in 12 people that you meet.

On the other hand, Maslow estimated that less than 2% (less than 1 in 50 people) are truly growth-oriented, meaning capable of not just making a change, but of making a healthy and sustained change. And that even fewer people are capable of carrying out that change and growth to the point where they “transcend” the confines of the self (“self-transcendence) and are actually able to be good to and for not just themselves but, but to and for the entire human race—think of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and lesser known everyday heroes and saint.

The Buddha said, “If it were not possible to free the heart and mind from entanglement in greed, hate, and fear, I would not teach you to do so.”

Which begs the question. For how many people is this possible? What percentage? What percentage are capable of what in Christianity is termed a true “metanoia”—a deep and radical change of heart and mind and life direction, from one of dishonesty and avoidance and rationalizations (rational lies), to one of honesty, integrity, goodness, growth, faith, and love?

If only 1% of the population is capable of self-transcendence, then is that also approximately the same percentage that is capable of a metanoia or of “waking up” (not dying asleep and full of self-deception)?

Maslow’s numbers are not very encouraging, but they sound about right to me. If 98% of people are “deficit and repair oriented” (meaning comfort- and safety-first, addicted to living life superficially and in the shallows, addicted to the path of least resistance, and thus fairly asleep and self-centered and immature, if not pathological) and only about 2% of the population is “growth-oriented,” then that would seem to mean that only about 2% of the population is capable of true mental health and the other 98% are either asleep, blind, fairly unhealthy or immature or even outright pathological psychologically and emotionally.

I don’t think there’s just one reason or just one cause for why these numbers/estimates are the way they are. There are multiple causes and reasons. As a person who is philosophical by nature and who is an armchair psychologist at heart, all of this is something that I think about fairly often—Why can’t or don’t more people push themselves to grow? Why are so many people willing to settle for so little out of themselves in terms of honesty, knowing themselves, seeing themselves as they are and for what they are? Is it a question of ability, capacity, will, want? How can more people truly and deeply and profoundly become more aware of their own lenses and blind spot and self-defeating and counterproductive (maladaptive, even pathological) patterns and tendencies?

I know I have fairly high standards for myself; I know that I am leading a very reflective and examined life—I sense myself to be more alive and awake and self-aware than the average bear.

And since I have these high standards out of myself and seem to think that for the most part I have met them, I also tend to have them for others and expect them of others—i.e., if I’m capable of this, then others should be as well, especially if they would do some of the same things that I did or had to do, expose and subject themselves to some of the same rigors and burdens—think more, work on their moral compass, face and acknowledge their own fears instead of habitually being dishonest about them by denying them or running from them or burying them, spend time reading decent books, and then writing or journaling about their own thoughts on these books (thus the rationale behind including the excerpt from Merton that I did at the head of this post) and thus learning to better observe and become more informed and objective about their own inner processes, spending more time trying to examine their own motivations and paradigm and programming and patterns. If I can do it, why can’t or won’t more others?

This is your one brief precious life. This is all we can actually know that we get—the rest is speculative at best and delusional and dishonest at worst. Do you want to go through this life asleep, blind, unaware of yourself and your own patterns and motivations? Or deep down do you really want to wake up and see yourself and your patterns for what they are, and thus not merely “make a change” but actually grow up and truly become a psychological and emotional and spiritual adult?

Every day, people get up and tell themselves they’re gonna change their lives, and they never do. Well I’m gonna change mine.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Doug MacRay: I’m thinking about, uhm, taking a trip . . . going out of town.
Stephen MacRay: Takin’ heat?
Doug MacRay: Just makin’ a change.
Stephen MacRay: Yeah, don’t tell me ‘making a change’. Either you got heat or you don’t.
– from the motion picture “The Town

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To awaken is difficult to do; homo sapiens are already submitted to a cosmic hypnotic influence (called survival and daily life); and if this were not enough, each individual, when he does not like the reality of life or is not satisfied with himself, dreams of himself and the world in a manner ideal for himself.” – John Baines

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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

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And faced with the choice between changing one’s way of thinking and living and proving there’s no need to, almost everyone get busy on the proof by trying to discredit the messenger if not psychologically killing him or walling him out. It’s easier to spin out and wall up and make excuses for it (tell ourselves and others rational sounding lies [rationalizations]) than it is to look very honestly and fairly and objectively at our own actions and patterns and how we have acted in ways that have bred distrust and suspicion and insecurity—both in ourselves and others. It’s easier to spin out and deal with that level of pain than it is to shed our many buffers and look honestly at ourselves and feel that pain and guilt and shame.

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Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” – Milton, “Paradise Lost,” book II, Line 432.

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If it were easy kid, everybody would do it.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Our life transformation will be in exact proportion to the amount of truth we can take without running away.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 13

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The process of self-development can be described as the stripping away of layer after layer after layer of all that is false.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 249

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What does every person want? . . . He wants to be free. But from what? He only senses vaguely what he really wants. So he spends his days anxiously seeking the wrong needles in the wrong haystacks, not realizing that he is seeking the wrong needle or searching in the wrong haystack. Human beings are frightened wanderers. And they wear a variety of mask to hide this fact from themselves and each other and convince themselves that their masks are real. They wear smiling masks, wise appearing ones, excited ones, masks of worldly success, all to convince themselves and others that the act is real. So what does every person most deeply want? To be free from himself—from his own fakery and falsity, from his ego-centered ways, from his heartache and suffering, from his compulsive desires and neurotic fears, from his secret shames and guilt carried over from past follies, to no longer be at the mercy of his moods and circumstances and other people’s opinions and approval. What every person wants most without realizing it is self-liberty—liberty from all that is ill and weak and wounded and biased and distorted and anxious and frightened within himself.” – Vernon Howard, adapted from “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pp. 9-10