Just choosing a title for an essay can sometimes present a challenge. The title when chosen can in turn influence the content. As humanity travels down the Yellow Brick Road, we all want to get back to Kansas—but how? Or on the other hand perhaps the Land of Oz is where we are supposed to be and we will just have to make the best of it. Or perhaps we are lost and have wandered off into the dark and scary forest and need to find our way back to the Yellow Brick Road.
The answers to these and other questions related to what is “real” and what is an “illusion” are vitally important to humanity at this time in our history, but of course, they have always been important. First, we are not denizens—strangers in a strange land—we belong here.
A denizen is an animal or plant naturalized in a region to which it is not indigenous, or a foreigner permitted certain rights and privileges of citizenship. We can harvest some ripe and tasty fruit from this “denizen” tree although some may find that fruit slightly or more than slightly bitter. Humanity does not think of itself as “denizens” on this planet. We think of ourselves as “natural” as any other animal or plant. But in a sense we are wrong about that; at least in a relative sense. Alas, now we have wandered off into the forest of paradox, i.e., we belong here and we don’t. Whether we feel natural or “at home” in the Land of Oz depends on our behavior. Let’s take a look at that. Be forewarned! Crazed and scary flying monkeys are nothing compared to dealing with our own demented human behavior.
We can see that other plants and animals do not struggle on our planet (remember the lilies of the field) in resistance to their unfolding destiny. But we humans put up a mighty fight, always at war with our own deeper nature as though we were strangers in a strange land. We could also be at peace on earth with our experience being like lilies dancing and waving in the breeze but only if we finally decide exactly what type of flower we are and exactly the nature of our “field.” Until we can overcome our existential anxiety occasioned by our delusional identity (unwelcome weeds) in a dangerous field (unfriendly universe), then we will suffer as though we were denizens, aliens on the wrong planet.
Back to our Oz metaphor! We have not lost track of the Yellow Brick Road, we are asleep on it. We do not lack either a brain or a heart but we are having a hard time finding our courage. We have grown comfortable with our unconscious experience, our “Ozian” nightmare and are afraid to wake up. Falling unconscious we have fled into a dark forest surrounded by the demons of our own imagination.
We have come to believe that our current story peopled by witches and demons is reality. Some of us believe that our much-admired intellect will lead us back to the Yellow Brick Road and on to Emerald City where the Wizard will demonstrate the technology that will transport us to Kansas, which will transform the human condition and free us from the torment of our self-destructive behavior. Well, as we shall see, the Wizard is exactly as Dorothy found him—a fraud—all smoke and mirrors.
That’s the bad news! Now for the good news, that might at first sound like more bad news, so be patient. Humanity has long known, but has been loath to admit it, that life is suffering. But why do we suffer? Today’s “head people,” our pundits, philosophers, theologians, sociologists, scientists, psychologists, historians, etc. all have their answers.
In other words, the human intellect has been answering the theodicy question (why do bad things happen to good people?) for thousands of years. Or has it? With the cascade of all these answers do we suffer less? Is our much-vaunted intellect leading us out of the thicket of our existential nightmare? Is humanity making any progress?
Maybe our natural destiny has always been and will always be to wander along the Yellow Brick Road without ever reaching the Emerald City, to be forever asleep in a perpetual Ozian nightmare. Let’s take a brief look at our history and hear from some of our “head people” who think they have some important conclusions about the human condition.
We are well aware of the fact that we can be repetitious and are at this point risking the tedium warned of in Shakespeare’s:
Twice told tale,
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
But you were forewarned that the process of behavior modification involves the repetition of the profound principles necessary to create a transformed, an awakened person. It is worth a little tedium and vexation.
Before that tedium, however, we should again make our case that life is suffering. Who says things need to change? Don’t take our word for humanity’s proclivity for self-destruction and ennui. There is no shortage of eloquence in those who are writing about the human condition from their own personal experience. In her book Homeward Bound, Emily Matchar senses the collapse of our P-B-based culture. Her book reviewer, Amanda Fortini’s encapsulation of Matchar’s outlook is revealing. “To wit: the abysmal state of the economy; environmental concerns; a mistrust of government, business and the industrial food system; disenchantment with the contemporary workplace and its lack of family-friendly policies and creatively satisfying jobs.”
Mardi Jo Link tries the idealist’s approach of “dropping out” of the unhealthy mainstream culture described in Matchar’s book and relates her experience in her own book entitled From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm. What we will all learn no matter what our avoidance strategy may be is that there is no escape from the reality of our misguided paradigm. “Link reveals the dreary underside of the domestic fantasy; running a self-sustaining farm, even a small one, is costly, unpredictable, backbreakingly laborious—and nearly impossible to do alone.”
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer reviewed by David Brooks gives us a more detailed description of an imploding society and we can watch the falling pieces in slow motion as the dust rises in an ominous cloud that too many of us pretend we don’t see.
Neither Packer nor Brooks understand that the problems they describe are symptoms of a more profound underlying set of causes. “The first is the stagnation of middle-class wages and widening inequality. Depending on which analyst you read, this has to do with the changing nature of the information-age labor market, changing family structures, rising health care costs, the decline of unions or the failure of education levels to keep up with technology.” Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Why wrong? First, an “analyst” is by definition using his intellect to “analyze” which is one of the three higher-level human thinking skills along with synthesis and evaluation. In the context of P-B, analysis is clouded by an inability to understand why humans behave the way they do, hence, their behaviors are attributed to causes which are in fact symptoms.
“The second [set of causes] is the crushing recession that began in 2008. Depending on which analyst you read, this was caused by global capital imbalances, bad Federal Reserve policy, greed on Wall Street, faulty risk-assessment models or the insane belief that housing prices would go on rising forever.” We have many insane beliefs in P-B along with some pretty scary attitudes and values but they have nothing to do with house prices.
“The third transformation is the unraveling of the national fabric. Depending on which analyst you read, this is either a gigantic problem (marriage rates are collapsing; some measures of social connection are on the decline) or not a gigantic problem (crime rates are plummeting, some measure of social connection are improving).” The intellect-driven analysts can come up with endless and very complex reasons for human behavior but they will all be wrong; they will all be symptoms not causes seen from the context of P-B. We cannot see what’s going on in the chicken coup if we are milking cows in the barn.
Let’s take a peek in the chicken coup and see if we can determine what all of the racket is about. We will not blame a fox unless we see one or a weasel unless we catch it in the act of chicken-napping or egg-sucking. In short, we will rely on our actual experience but this time we will do our analysis from within the coup, from within P-A in the present moment. But first, a time-out for a deep breath and some perspective!
So there we have it so far. We are self destructing and our intellects can come up with endless pseudo-explanations for our suffering. Contrast those intellect-derived explanations with the following people who relied more upon their inner wisdom encountered in the present moment trusting their intuitive insights. We can clearly see the distinction between the illusion found in the world of form and the Truth found in Simple Reality. The discipline of psychology will be represented by Rollo May and Sigmund Freud (not a mystical bone in his body but with key insights nevertheless); philosophy by Friedrich Nietzche and Soren Kierkegaard; and religion by Ernest Holmes.
Starting back during the Victorian period in western history we see science in league with the intellect engaging in the ongoing reductionism, the continued shattering of Oneness that had escalated during the Enlightenment. In his Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud worried that “the compartmentalization of the culture had its ‘psychological parallel in radical repression within the individual personality.’ Freud’s genius was in developing scientific techniques for understanding, and mayhap curing, this fragmentized individual personality; but he did not see—until much later, when he reacted to the fact with pessimism and some detached despair—that the neurotic illness in the individual was only one side of the disintegrating forces which affected the whole society.” Those disintegrating forces had been inherent in the unconscious human from the beginning but the expression of the false-self reactions began to intensify in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Nietzsche, a 19th century philosopher also saw problems for western society as it celebrated the intellect and abandoned the simpler version of P-B. “Religious faith had been transformed into resentment, vitality into sexual repression, and a general hypocrisy marked the condition of man at that time.”
Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were concerned with the human repression that they saw becoming more common because they knew it meant a lack of courage to face reality and a deepening unconsciousness. “Kierkegaard, for his part, foresaw the results of this disintegration upon the inner emotional and spiritual life of the individual: endemic anxiety, loneliness, estrangement of one man from another, and finally the condition that would lead to ultimate despair, man’s alienation from himself.”
Copernicus believed that nature can be separated from man. We recognize this as the first of those splits in the human fall into unconsciousness achieved by being mesmerized by the “knowledge” of dualism. Coming down on the side of a radically different perspective, Kierkegaard challenged the fundamental paradigm of modern science. Defending the alternative context of P-A he said: “It opens up the vast provinces of inner, subjective reality and indicates that such reality may be true even though it contradicts objective fact.” Kierkegaard was an advocate of human intuition defending our ability to be guided by our inner wisdom.
Our challenge today, both East and West is finding a way to come together as one human community. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard revealed that two sources of Western man’s suffering are the loss of a sense of community and fleeing from our existential anxiety into the intellect as a distraction from our suffering. “Some psychotherapists have pointed out that more and more patients exhibit schizoid features and that the “typical” kind of psychic problem in our day is not hysteria, as it was in Freud’s time, but the schizoid type—that is to say, problems of persons who are detached, unrelated, lacking in affect, tending toward depersonalization, and covering up their problems by means of intellectualization and technical formulations.”
Existential psychoanalysts, like Rollo May, believe that the individual and his world are “… a unitary and structural whole.” To treat a patient effectively they must be made to understand The Great Insight, the experiential component of Einstein’s intuitive insight that “the universe is friendly.” Indeed, for humanity as a whole as well as for each of us as individuals we would do well to understand and make a part of our belief system the profound truth that we are an integral part of nature, interconnected and interdependent upon the rest of the human community. Our natural destiny is that of creative expression which does not depend on conforming to societal norms nor does it need the sanction of any human institution or group.
Can we anticipate that our mental health professionals can help us heal our existential “splits,” the fragmentation of our psyches? Rollo May holds out no hope on that score observing that “… therapy itself is often an expression of the fragmentation of our age rather than an enterprise for overcoming it.”
For those of us who put our faith in faith, we must remember that religion must overcome the same mesmerizing context that has rendered all of our institutions impotent in recognizing what the problems are that constitute the human condition let alone offering strategies for transcendence. The mystic Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science, understood that the principles of Simple Reality applied across all of human cultures and ages and that none was more important than the realization of Oneness. “When we know our Oneness with God and the Law, what a great burden is removed. Any sense of opposition is removed from the consciousness which perceives Unity.”
Humanity is proud of its progress from cave to condo, from horseback to Humvee but we dare not assume that our brain is capable of enabling us to avoid the last chapter of the story we are choosing to inscribe on the walls of history. Evolution and awakening to Simple Reality is not the same thing. Human intelligence can produce many impressive trinkets and complete many dazzling adventures. Survival of the species is not one of them. For that we must transcend the organism and yes even our highly vaunted intellect.
Both the demise and the bright future of humanity have been revealed by our philosophers, our religions, psychology and our history. If we can only rouse ourselves from our ill-fated slumber, our experience of life would not be that of a denizen, an uncomfortable and unsuccessful interloper. Let us weave all the threads together that we have just learned about into a revealing and inspiring tapestry. For those with the courage to gaze upon it and internalize the beauty of the Truth long expressed by the lilies of the field, we too will also be free to dance upon the soft, warm breeze of a friendly universe.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival