The recent article by Josh Ellis ‘Everyone I Know Is Brokenhearted which has apparently gone viral, seems to have struck a chord among large numbers of people seriously disaffected by the current state of affairs in which we find ourselves. I also read a moving companion piece in A counterpoint for the brokenhearted in which the author provides pays tribute to a friend who did everything he could to relieve the suffering of desperate people.
I am sure everyone has found themselves, as I have, looking at images of the carnage in Gaza – a father cradling his dead son in his arms, his face just starting to register a tidal wave of shock and grief, and there have been many others even more graphic and horrifying. We ask ourselves ‘How did we get here, how can this sort of thing still happen, after all the progress we’ve made? How can humanity do this to itself?’ I don’t plan to go into the political and religious underpinning of this conflict right now and I’m not sure I’m qualified to do so anyway, but tragedy this obvious, injustice and cruelty this blatant, simply stops us in our tracks.
Every day we read that more species are becoming extinct… we scroll down, turn the page, switch the channel, knowing there’s nothing we can do. Water and air are poisoned; every time we fill up the car with fuel we are subsidising corporations which have only profit as their aim – they are apparently utterly indifferent to the effects they are having on the biosphere, you know, the only one we have to live within and as part of… and to get the rent or mortgage paid at the end of the month, we have to go to work, have to fill the car up, have to support a system we know in our heart of hearts, even if we don’t admit it even to ourselves, is broken, is a lie, is literally killing our children and their children, is supporting colonialism, whether it be in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Brazil or wherever … and again, on some level we know it is wrong, but there seems to be no choice. All of this affects us – the falseness of almost everything we look at in a city, the fake smile plastered over everyone on tv telling us everything is fine, the self-help books promoting ‘positive thinking’, just so you can go on for one more day, tolerating what should not be tolerated… but again, there seems to be no choice.
We have reached the end of the line – we have tried capitalism, communism, atheism, religions of all varieties, technology, monstrous wars of conquest, non-violent resistance, colonial expansion, grand utopian ‘ends justify the means’ projects too numerous to mention, every healing modality possible, every spiritual technology, every form of intellectualism and complicated theories-of-everything… and yet all the knowledge in all universities, all the history we should have learned from, all the scientific progress and discoveries, have not prevented the utterly cruel exploitation of our planet and the most vulnerable beings upon it, which is still going on right now, as you are reading this, in ways too barbaric for us to even imagine. And we know we are in some sense complicit, or at least powerless to stop it. All of this makes a difference, forms the psychic background to our oh-so-humdrum everyday lives. We probably don’t like our job, but even if we do we probably feel we could be doing more to help, and the reality is that most jobs in the industrialised parts of the world are probably not doing anyone any good; many of them only existing so that we can claim that employment has been created. Think of the jobs lost if we scrapped Trident! Think of the employment opportunities lost to our country if the multinational banks decide somewhere else is cheaper and leave us! How will we survive in today’s competitive marketplace if we don’t give corporations the tax breaks they are demanding?!
So far, so depressing, right? We are stuck on an endless hamster wheel, and not only that, the energy of the wheel is destroying the very ground we stand on, the very air we breathe. Ok so I get all that, so what?
About four years ago I spilt up with my girlfriend and subsequently became rather ill – I was eventually hospitalised and on admission the first nurse who saw me in a hospital gown assumed I had been burnt in a house fire, so badly destroyed was the weeping, bleeding skin all over my body. I took the drugs they gave me and the skin got better quickly. The drugs eventually weakened my teeth to the point that I broke three in just a couple of weeks so I stopped taking them. Within about a week the skin was really bad again. I tried every therapy, alternative or otherwise I could find, changed my diet completely. Nothing really worked. One night, unable to sleep for the pain, I was reading Caroline Myss’ book ‘Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can’. She said something about ‘surrender completely and stop trying to fix things’ (this is what I understood her to have said, although you might not find that exact phrase in the book). Having tried everything and nothing had worked, I just gave up. This was the equivalent of the alcoholic hitting ‘rock bottom’, I think. I completely gave up, not in a defeatist or nihilistic way, not in a way that has any kind of identity attached to it, not in a way which hopes that if I give up things will be better in the future… I gave up the idea of ‘me’ as someone who could do something about this, I gave up the idea of a future where I might get better, I gave up any belief or faith I might have had in anything. It was a big relief, actually.
Somehow soon after I found a therapy which required a much greater sacrifice than the ones I had previously tried, one where I had to put myself on the line, come right out of my comfort zone, face some stuff which I had assumed could never be faced, let go of who I thought I was – of course this was the therapy which actually made a real difference. From there on I have made a full recovery, and learned a hell of a lot in the process, much of it about hell itself in fact, but that’s another story.
I feel that humanity has reached, or is now at least well on the way to reaching, rock bottom. We have tried everything our clever and self-righteous minds could come up with, and nothing has worked, the dead children still pile up, the multitudes of oil-covered sea birds are a regular sight, the tar sands, the coral reefs destroyed, ancient forests cut down, the pointless land grabs or resource wars, all cleverly justified with professional infographics, slogans and ‘laws’.
So there is nothing to do but give up… give up our idea of ourselves as the ones who know – yes, sure we know the precise distance to Jupiter or the exact chemical composition of our bodies, but obviously I don’t mean go back to some Stone Age utopia where we all shit in the woods again. I mean give up our idea of ourselves as the ones in charge, the ones who can manage all this – I for one have seen enough evidence that we can’t – we are clever but not intelligent, powerful but not humble, capable of doing everything under the Sun but incapable of leaving well alone.
And do you know what? Things may roll along just fine without subscribing to some grand theory and then trying to persuade everyone else to believe it. They may not, but the important thing is just for once, to get over ourselves, to accept that WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. That there are limits to our technology and our knowledge, that we are not in charge. This is not to say that some external supreme being is in charge, or that aliens or the Lords of Light are going to swoop in and save the day – they may do, I actually wouldn’t bet on it, but the point is, I don’t know and I rejoice in being able to say that. I don’t know and all I do know is we need to let go of our self-importance… not let go of our feeling of empowerment within spheres where we actually can make a difference and know we can, not wallow in misery and victimhood, but just look at ourselves, as in some cosmic mirror, and admit things have got out of hand and we are not as all-powerful as we thought we were. God may be dead but I really don’t think we need to try and take his place, or put our technological dreams of salvation in his place, or create a Big Brother spy-state in his stead.
Paradoxically, on giving up these inflated delusions of grandeur, we may find ourselves more able to get along with each other and more able to solve problems that formerly seemed intractable. I don’t know. I do know we shouldn’t ‘give up’ in order to get something in return, as that’s just more of the same old same old that got us here among the growing piles of rubble in the first place. Just give up, and feel the relief of finally, after millennia, reaching rock bottom. Let our hearts break, allow ourselves to finally feel something and stop running away. Then maybe the insane momentum of going in to work every day, or searching for that elusive job or relationship that will solve all our problems, will begin to relax and the spring that drives our little clockwork-soldier world may lose some of its tension. We may, individually and collectively, start to really make new decisions, to not just repeat the same mistakes in lieu of having any other idea of what to do. We may finally start to wake from (as Joyce famously called it), the nightmare of history.