“If there’s no sense of rejoicing
and magical practice,
you find yourself simply
driving into the high wall of insanity.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa
“Sanity rarely sounds an alarm.” ~ Mark Brady
In my mid-30s I voluntarily committed myself into a mental hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. I was there for two months receiving treatment for “Extreme Grief Reaction.” The thing that was most scary to me (besides the freedom granted obvious psychopaths to roam the halls unmedicated and unsupervised at 3AM) was the difficulty I had making clear distinctions between the patients and staff. Too often, the doctors and nurses seemed as loose in the marbles department as the patients.
When I was released from that hospital, I had the good fortune to find a paying job almost immediately – working as a staff member in another mental hospital! In the span of a single day I went from being a patient to being a staff member. Needless to say, this added further evidence to my growing Wariness Hypothesis. As you might expect, my relationships on the job at the new hospital never grew especially strong. I just couldn’t relate very well to staff members who proclaimed things like, “I can’t really trust you until I make you angry with me,” or “In order to become healthy, you should join me for chanting at 4AM every morning. We all bow and kiss the feet of Baba (Muktananda).”
Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
My job at this Hospital was Work Program Coordinator and Social Director. I was responsible for evening and weekend social activities for the patients. Or, as one patient pointed out to me – I was in charge of “forced fun.” Which may have been true from their perspective, but from mine, it was real fun – I got to take trips anywhere I wanted to so long as I brought a few patients with me. Here’s a picture a patient took of me early one morning out in a barn on a Rudolf Steiner Biodynamic Farm. I also took them to first-run movies, museums and the Peter Paul Candy Company, makers of Mounds Bars and Almond Joys (I was curious to find out how they got the chocolate to cover the bottom of those candies, since in the commercials, all you ever saw was chocolate pouring all over the top of a coconut patty; “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t!“).
That Peter Paul candy jingle pretty much summarizes my first-hand experience with mental health – sometimes I’m much more mentally healthy than I am at others. Up to that point no one had ever really explained to me what mental health actually was; but I had a LOT of direct experience knowing what it wasn’t. I could deliver personal, direct accounts of many conditions described in the DSM. It wasn’t until the mid-oughts that I heard Dan Siegel offer the first definition of the mind and what a mentally healthy mind actually might be: “The mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information in the body and brain, and between bodies and brains.” That seems to match my experience if I want to think in terms of energy and information theory.
But A Mind is a Sketchy Thing to Trust
While there’s no foolproof test for making a dead-certain accurate sanity assessment, I will argue here that most of us are out of our minds more often than not. And that we don’t often recognize when we are – not only does sanity rarely sound an alarm, but insanity mostly reports its presence after the fact. French mathematician, Blaise Pascal would very likely wager that we’re better off operating under the assumption that temporary insanity is our predominant default mode and work forward from there.
Below are 7 reasons in support of this argument. I could easily have come up with seven thousand, I suspect, perhaps starting with all the known cognitive biases. But before you look at them, consider:
- 200 million people in this country obviously go temporarily insane every day. How? Their brain makes an “executive” motor decision to have their hands put bad medicine in their mouths (in the form of too much unhealthy, fake food).
- We elect political representatives who rarely, truly represent us. And we do it decade after decade after decade.
- We deny global warming and then, when hurricanes, tornadoes and floods destroy our homes and businesses, we rebuild them in the very same place.
- We discover that a preponderance of the cells in our brain are dedicated to physical movement. Then we sit still while teachers and school admins systematically do away with recess and physical education in our public schools.
- We operate daily giving little thought to living with the “end in mind.” While death denial is understandable for brains tasked primarily with doing everything they can to keep us alive, we may be more sanely serving ourselves if we actually give greater deliberate thought to our dying. We might start with The Nine Contemplations of Atisha.
- Many of us want to be rich and only have to work on what we want when we want with whom we want, but how many of us actually meet, learn about, hang out with and/or study with people who have actually accomplished that goal?
- We unfailingly believe what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell when the evidence is overwhelming that our brains only consciously process tiny increments of sensory input.
P.S. The Judge’s Votes in the Creative Book ReTitling Crowdsourcing Experiment are in. You can view the results: HERE. Many thanks to all who gave time and energy to the effort.