Saturday, December 1, 2007

Insane? Of course we're not insane! Are we?

"The Insanity of Psychological Time
You will not have any doubt that psychological time is a mental disease if you look at its collective manifestations. They occur, for example, in the form of ideologies such as communism, national socialism or any nationalism, or rigid religious belief systems, which operate under the implicit assumption that the highest good lies in the future and that therefore the end justifies the means. The end is an idea, a point in the mind-projected future, when salvation in whatever form - happiness, fulfillment, equality, liberation, and so on - will be attained. Not infrequently, the means of getting there are the enslavement, torture, and murder of people in the present."
-Eckhart Tolle, from The Power of Now

What is "psychological time" then? From Tolle's perspective, it is an illusion that persistently pulls us away from the truth of our reality - that "time" consists of one and only one moment: NOW. "The present moment is all you ever have," Tolle says. "There is never a time when your life is not 'this moment'. Is this not a fact?"

To spend all of our time (as we do) in an imaginary "future" or dwelling on an illusionary "past" when the truth of our lives exists in this present moment, and only in this moment, with the result the we are chronically incapable of grasping the truth and the beauty and the grace of the present moment and all that is in it, how can that be called "sane"?

This is part of what I'm talking about when I say we are insane monkeys. We don't mean to be. With very few exceptions, we don't realize we are and most of us vehemently resist the idea, and reject it as a ridiculous conceit.

I'll bet you do too, unless you're one of the few. If you've read this much, then you may be curious, or interested, you may wonder what I could mean. But I'll hazard a guess that you think I'm using the phrase "insane monkey" in a metaphorical sense, or an allegorical sense, or in some round about way, trying to create an image that's merely dramatic and over the top so I can get you to think about something else.

It's not going to fly. I am being terribly, painfully literal here: we, you and I, are monkeys, and we are insane in a classic, medical sense. What's a definition of insanity? There are probably a lot of definitions, but here's one: a persistent disorder of the mind resulting in mistaking an internal perception of reality for the real thing, often resulting in asocial or antisocial behavior, including episodes of unreasoning violence.

Let me ask you to do a very brief exercise: sit down and listen to the evening news. Any station, take your pick. Radio, TV, doesn't matter. What is being reported? If you step back just a hair and imagine you are an alien encountering these reports of humans mistreating and killing other humans on a massive scale, day after day, what impression do you get?

I'll tell you. Insane monkeys. Monkeys who happen to be good at technology, and who apply it against ourselves in the most dreadful and painful and useless ways, day after day.

Of course it's those other monkeys who must be insane, you say. The ones over there or the ones in the White House or the Kremlin, or the ones who don't pay you enough, or the ones living on the street, or maybe even the ones living next door to you. But not you! Not your family, right?

Yes, there are degrees of insanity. But you're not off the hook. You may not be as insane as some others, but you haven't escaped the disease. Nor have your wife or husband or boy or girl friend or your children. And you probably think you managed to be so much saner than your parents, who are or were clearly insane in some way, right?. Got news for you. You are still monkeys. And until you learn to dwell on the knife-edge of reality called NOW, and live in the joy that surrounds and infuses us when we connect with the power running through us like high volt electricity, until then, you are also insane.

So, just for a moment, accept the possibility. Suppose, hypothetically, we are really insane. What can we do about it? Is there some way to step out of insanity and into the clear air of the truth of this moment?

Obviously I think so. Let's explore that next week.

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