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By Michael Goodspeed
"There is no anti-depressant that will cure a depression that's spiritually based, for the malaise doesn't originate from brain dysfunction, but from an accurate response to the desecration of life."
I recently read a news report stating that loneliness has become a serious health problem for millions of Americans. According to this report, we see emerging the paradox of an exploding population, and increased social isolation for many of us. The average American now has only two friends in whom to confide on important matters, and roughly a quarter of us have no such friend at all. The United States may still be perceived as the Land of Opportunity, but it is also increasingly the land of the depressed and alone.
The obvious irony is that more and more of us are isolated despite the total pervasiveness of electronic "communication." Cell phones, text messaging, email, and internet chat rooms have resoundingly failed as substitutes for actual human contact.
Why are we alone? Of course, the necessity of work, familial obligations, and the endless distractions of "entertainment" rob us of time that could be spent on socialization. But a more fundamental problem may be driving many of us into private worlds deprived of love and friendship.
From my perspective, depression and loneliness amongst Americans may be as inevitable as lung cancer for smokers. No culture that devalues life, love, and meaning as profoundly as ours can produce a happy or unified populace. From the day we are born, our ability to love our selves and connect with others is subverted by a thousand barriers emplaced by cultural conditioning.
What are these barriers? They are ways of seeing our selves, others, and the world that lead to a sense of separation and aloneness. One very large such barrier is the conditioned habit of judgment. The respective machineries of education, religion, and media in various ways program us to judge our selves and others in a profoundly limited light. When we ask our selves, "Who am I? Who are my neighbors?" the answers we get are hopelessly distorted.
"Judgment" implies knowledge of what is "right" and "wrong." When we stand in judgment of other people, we accept those who seem "good," and condemn those who seem "bad." But what is our basis for discerning "goodness" or "badness" in a person? Consider this example: When a man sees an attractive young lady in a provocative dress, he tends to feel "good." When he sees an elderly woman with no teeth and ragged clothes, he tends to feel "bad." He has accepted the attractive lady as "good," and condemned the elderly woman as "bad."
The above example demonstrates that our habitual judgments tend to be insane. The attractive woman is accepted as "good" even though she has presented nothing on the surface that is lasting, loving, meaningful, or helpful. The elderly woman is condemned as "bad" even though she is "guilty" of nothing other than the physical decline that inevitably touches us all. So why does the man believe the attractive lady offers him everything, and the elderly woman offers him nothing? His thinking is affected by something much deeper than mere biological urges. He can only see and feel as he has been programmed to for his entire life.
We all know what our culture values and rewards: physical attractiveness, stature, wealth, and power. Media so pervasive as to be almost unavoidable pummels us with images of "very special people" -- physically gorgeous actors, singers, models, and athletes. We are trained to value in our selves and others only that which is impermanent, transient, not helpful, and not loving.
The individual thought system that arises from these collective "values" could only be egotism. The proof of this is everywhere. If you've walked into a shopping mall or movie theater recently, you probably know this is so. Your fellow citizens probably did not greet you with eye contact and a warm and open smile. More likely, their eyes darted about -- challenging, judging, scoping for sexually attractive "scenery," and sizing up the "competition." Or perhaps they started blankly, oblivious of your presence. You probably felt no possibility of connection with them at all.
The problems with rampant egotism as I see them are 1) the ego cannot makes "judgments" based on truth; 2) the ego has no ability to love or be loved. The most an ego can ever hope for is to be an object of vicarious empowerment for other egos. Look at the way we worship professional athletes. When an athlete performs well, his fans experience an increased sense of self. When the athlete performs poorly, these same fans curse his name and go searching for another idol. For whom is that "loving," or even remotely satisfying? Where is the actual enhancement of self in that?
These horrific judgments we place on our selves and others are driving us into isolation and depression. Increasingly, we only want for our selves the impermanent surface qualities that the world defines as "special." And these are the only qualities we find desirable in others.
This pathological need for "specialness" is far more destructive than mere vanity or superficiality. It is the taproot of much of the mayhem, madness, and murder we see on the nightly news. The need for religious, racial, or nationalistic "specialness" has led to more death than any other force in history. Jews who hate Muslims and Muslims who hate Jews are both victims of the same pathology. Just like the person who has been programmed only to value physical attractiveness, religious and racial "warriors" cannot experience any true connection or love with another human being. Love has been strangled by judgments that are totally illusory and conditioned by culture.
But TRUE connection -- both with others, and with one's own true nature -- is possible, and it can be surprisingly easy. All one need do is recognize that he is totally insane, and choose not to accept the validity of his habitual judgments. This action is advised by all of history's great spiritual teachers. Jesus taught that one must love his neighbor as himself, and to love one's enemies and pray for those who persecute him. Buddha taught that perception can only see illusion, and thus all judgments must be fallacious. It is clearly not possible to really SEE another person from a position of judgment, which always arises from the ego.
I would not be writing this essay if I had not walked a country mile with sadness by my side. I am sad more often than I am happy. I yearn for connection with others more than anything on Earth. And I feel nothing but compassion for my many brothers and sisters who have lost the ability to love and loved. But I am hopeful because I have recognized that critical first step we all must take before real connection is possible.
I will never again be so foolish as to judge another -- or myself -- based on my habits of perception. I know very little, but one thing I do know is that all of God's creation is worthy of love. We habitually condemn others based on what we see on the surface, but all we CAN see is the impermanent body/brain/ego machinery that has been defiled and debased by cultural programming. That is not who a person really is. It is not who I am.
Maybe you've elected to read this essay because it's title resonated with you. Maybe sadness is your close companion, too. It is with no guile, strategy, or sentimentality that I tell you "I love you." It is a simple statement of fact. God created you as Love, as he made me. If I look into your eyes and really see you, I will only see myself reflected back. I love you. Whomever you are, whatever your story, no matter what. I've wasted years of my life trying the alternative, and it is too painful for me to bear any longer.
We can be friends again. We can end all suffering and sadness and violence and death. We can go home. Just take one little step. The first step. The final step.
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