Friday, 22 June 2012

The Beauty of Clear Vision

Specky Four Eyes
I picked up my first pair of glasses today… well, as long as you don’t count glasses in a pub… and I have to admit I feel a little stupid that I haven’t sorted that out earlier in my life.

I had to get them for my impending driving lessons (yes, I’m 38… I should have sorted that out earlier, too), but have quickly realised that they’re a far greater benefit than I originally envisaged.

For more years than I can rightly remember, life has been a blur beyond middle distance, so, for example, I had problems reading street signs until I got close up to them, and the stars – which I’ve always loved - became a fuzzy soup of diffused light.

I went out the back of my office, earlier, with the glasses on, and nearly cried happy tears, just watching the clouds…

With a little help from modern science, my long-distance vision is now perfect; it’s like upgrading from watching television on a 1970s set, to a modern, widescreen HDTV system. Even the colours are brighter and more vivid through the lenses of these glasses.

The level of detail in the banks of clouds that I simply couldn’t see before is astonishing. It’s not that they didn’t look great before (I have a thing about cloud-watching), but the feathering and definition is so much clearer.

Yes, I am rambling, but really… if you were like me and dithered over whether glasses would improve your life, don’t hesitate.

Now, I’m waiting for the Sun to go down so I can see the stars clearly again! And I can’t wait to get back to the mountains, before too long.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Myths of Ego

I inadvertently caused a bit of a hoo-haa on Twitter, a few nights ago, after I posted a Tweet saying that depression was a ‘myth’ of the egoic mind.

The context of the statement was that I was comparing my life ‘before’ I found my way out of more than twenty years of nightmarish depression, to the peace and happiness that’s threaded through my enlightened existence, now.

I want to clear a few things up… and hopefully people can read to the end of this blog and fully understand my viewpoint, rather than reading the next few lines, getting riled up and blocking me.

This is the ‘offending’ Tweet:

“Depression is a terrible, clinging myth, created by the ego, in the minds of those who choose to suffer it.”

First of all, I fully understand – from long experience - that depression is a very real and very dangerous issue for many people, and it should never be dismissed as a nonsense.

At best, it’s debilitating, frightening and makes life a misery, and at its worst… it’s a killer – one of the most serious on the planet, taking the lives of around a million people each year.

It is an awful realisation to understand that, statistically, in the time it’s taken for you to read these words, so far, two people will have ended their life.

I’ve attempted suicide, quite a few times. I’ve been that low and lost. You can read about that in these two blogs:

I feel very fortunate that I made it through that darkness. I am a happy man and my life is brilliant. I could have been old bones or ash, by now, and would have missed out on this adventure… but, thankfully, that wasn’t my fate.

I don’t want it to be the fate of others, either, so I write about my experiences in the hope that my words may be just enough to guide someone back from the brink, or, better still, stop them approaching it in the first place.

My experience of those polar opposites – of being moments away from death, at my own hands, and, now, of living this life of happiness – affords me a perspective that I believe is useful to others who are still struggling, because it shows that, if you can just get through that moment of danger, then there’s the chance of a much brighter future, ahead.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt over the past two years is to recognise the ‘ego’ – the negative, destructive, ‘unconscious’ thought process that causes all our emotional pain.

I mean, what is the most dangerous aspect of depression? What is it that compels people to even contemplate suicide, let alone go through with it?

It’s not the lack of energy, ebbed motivation, or the host of other ‘physical’ symptoms.

It’s that the ego begins to attack us. Our own minds effectively turn against us.

Often, when I write about depression, I get comments along the lines of: “Everyone experiences depression in a different way.”

That is likely very true, but the common factor in every flavour of depression is this mental attack – this self-abusive part of the mind… the ego.

I’ve described this before as ‘compulsive, critical over-thinking’. It what keeps you awake at night, for hours on end; it’s why, when you look in the mirror, you think you’re ugly; it’s why you think people are talking about you, pointing fingers behind their curtains, and you don’t go out of your house for weeks or months on end; it’s what takes a person into the woods with a ligature, intending never to come out alive.

The ego causes you pain by concocting myths and repeating them, over and over again, in your mind.

Here’s an example:

You’re walking along the street and you see an old friend. You’re just about to open your mouth to say hello, but they walk right by you. You stop and turn, but they just keep walking, so you don’t say a word.

Your ego kicks in: “That’s so rude! How dare they ignore me! What a stuck-up moron!”

Then you’re searching your head, trying to recall something that could have inspired this ignorance – you look to arm yourself with some information that can be used to defend your sense of outrage, and you’ll probably find some almost insignificant detail… a mole-hill that you turn into a mountain… which shapes your opinion of them from thereon in.

This story plays out in your head and is repeated, possibly for the rest of your life.

But what if that person simply didn’t see you? Or they could have been daydreaming. They could have forgotten to put their contacts in that morning. Maybe a relative was ill, or, worse, they were grieving?

So, the ego doesn’t need facts to form an opinion, but once it does form an opinion, it can be very difficult to dissolve it.

We do this to ourselves, too.

If you’re thinking about suicide or are on the verge of committing it, it’s because your ego has been attacking you, ranting at you, repeatedly highlighting all of your perceived weaknesses and failures, to the point that you don’t see any worth in yourself at all and you feel certain the future is not worth living for.

The future is unwritten, for us all, so the decision to slaughter ourselves is not reached through evaluating the facts. It is reached through being so lost in the ego that you believe the myths and stories it tells you.

Yet, the ego is nothing but thoughts in your head – a dance of neurons in your brain. It’s a phantom.

Becoming aware of this dysfunctional facet of mind allows you to interrupt and silence the destructive inner-dialogue.

Consider how many victims of suicide (and they are victims - of intense psychological abuse) would still be alive if they had known how to silence that angry, internal voice?

The truth is, nearly all of them.

Through the practice of present awareness/mindfulness, you can learn to dismiss the ego and dissipate its power over you. When you stop listening to its stories, it becomes benign and won’t hurt you anymore.

If you defend the ego… if you defend and personalise ‘your’ depression… it gets more powerful and becomes more dangerous. It’s like keeping and feeding a dog that you know will bite you. The more energy you give it, the stronger it gets.

Although it may not seem clear to some, we do have a choice on where to invest our energy. I know (and have experienced) it may be difficult to see that, especially if you’re in the depths of another depressive bout, but that choice really does exist. Even in your darkest days, you can switch on that light of true consciousness and chase your shadow existence away.

If you learn present awareness and reject defending the ego, you can change your life, as I’ve done.

I really don’t possess extreme willpower.

Being happy and at peace is not a hard thing to achieve. That’s the secret.

What is much, much harder is being depressed.

Life is good and always worth living. Don't let anyone - especially yourself - convince you otherwise.

If you want to read more about my journey, check out this blog: