"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A new study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") shows that approximately 25 per cent of Americans suffered from some form of mental illness last year, at a cost in terms of treatment and lost productivity in excess of $300 billion. Moreover, the CDC predicts that fully half of all Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness - ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression to suicide - at some point in their lifetimes. Indeed, 8.4 million Americans reported having suicidal thoughts in 2010, 2.2 million made plans to kill themselves, and 1 million attempted suicide.

Why, one asks, in a country devoted to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are Americans so evidently and profoundly unhappy?

The answer may be that the United States, more than nearly any other developed country, suffers from a common post-modern malaise, from a crisis of meaninglessness that only accentuates deeply flawed human thought structures. Alienated from their inner life and faced with the unraveling of a fictitious "American" dream, one wonders if Americans in the early 21st century are not suffering from the same sense of anomie that Emile Durckheim, the father of modern sociology, associated with increased suicide rates amongst nineteenth century Europeans citizens disaffected from their societies following epidemics and dislocations resulting from war.

"The achievements of humanity are impressive and undeniable," notes Eckhart Tolle in his best-seller, "A New Earth," observing that the human mind has proven itself to be "highly intelligent" particularly in the arts, technology, and science. "Yet," he notes, "its very intelligence is tainted by madness."

Moreover, he notes, "(s)cience and technology have magnified the destructive impact that the dysfunction of the human mind has upon the planet, other lifeforms, and upon humans themselves. That is why the history of the twentieth century is where that dysfunction, that collective insanity, can be most clearly recognized. A further factor," he points out, "is that this dysfunction is actually intensifying and accelerating."

"The collective manifestation of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition," writes Tolle, "constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness."

"If the history of humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being," Tolle points out, "the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived "enemies" - his own unconsciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals."

Such a collective diagnosis is far from exaggerated. If you do not recognize it, Tolle suggests that you watch the evening news, with its daily tales of war, terrorism, violence and mayhem, our collective madness is all too apparent.

With societies the world over hitting new lows in terms of their compassion for the individual, each other and the planet as a whole, is it any wonder that Americans mired in two apparently unresolvable wars, massive dislocations caused by financial hardship and unemployment, and with no end apparently in sight, are feeling blue? And yet, little or nothing is being done about it. If one in four Americans were suffering from an incurable and life threatening virus, one can assume that all the stops would be pulled out to find a cure. But is it possible, one wonders, to solve the problems of societal disintegration and looming crises portended by these skyrocketing rates of mental illness within the currently existing societal paradigms? Is time running out?

It was Einstein who famously said one cannot solve one's problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Tolle, too, clearly acknowledge that our current thinking is the problem, and that we cannot get to the solution utilizing that same mode of thinking that got us here.

(For more on Tolle's views on our "collective insanity" and the problems created by a strictly "consumer society", please listen to the audiobook readings from "A New Earth," below.)

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