What would it make of our love of television – a love that takes up 28 hours of the average person’s week? What would it make of our extensive use of new gadgets – our obsession with things like tablets, laptops and smart phones?
This is the question University lecturer and author of multiple psychology books Steve Taylor poses in his new book ‘Back to Sanity – Healing the Madness of our Minds’.
He concludes that the alien would in fact think we are all mad.
He says: “This madness is the reason we focus our attention outside ourselves, and fill our lives with constant activity and distraction, like addicts who need a constant supply of a drug. It makes it impossible for us to find contentment. It causes discord in relationships. It impels us to search for wellbeing and fulfilment outside ourselves, in wealth, success and power.”
This madness, or ‘humania’, is manifest in our apparent mission to distract ourselves as often as possible from our real lives with things like the television, the Internet, drugs, alcohol, hobbies and dreams about lives we would like to live.
By immersing ourselves in these forms of make-believe, we are essentially trying to blot out the reality of our ‘selves’, or our ‘humania’.
We spend our weeks looking forward to the weekend, we dream of wealth and success, we save up for material objects like cars, clothes and holidays – we spend sleepless nights worrying about things that might or might not happen, or irreversible things that have already happened.
Taylor argues that by doing this, we are forcibly transporting ourselves into other dimensions of thought and experience and therefore never truly living in the present. He warns us that by doing this we are wishing our lives away, living in a dream that will only leave us feeling perpetually unsatisfied with our lives.
He uses the example of a bride who spends much of her wedding day posing for photographs. Photographs are taken as mementos, preserved moments in time that we keep so that we can relive those moments again sometime in the future. By spending so much time creating mementos for her future self, is the bride not missing out on her immediate experience?
Taylor calls this ‘chronic elsewhere-ness’: a way of living our lives by imagining what they will look like in retrospect. How many of us go to see something amazing – like the Grand Canyon, or the Eiffel Tower – and spend more time looking at it through a view-finder than looking at it with our own eyes?
To overcome humania, Taylor argues that we need to stop wanting things and stop distracting ourselves. His rules for overcoming humania include:
- Turn off the TV.
- Take a shower and think of the feeling of water on your body.
- Stop reading or watching TV when you eat. Concentrate on the tastes and textures and temperatures of your food.
- Meditate for 20 to 30 minute a day using deep relaxation techniques.
- Connect to yourself, the world and other people by helping others. Volunteer for a local project and reclaim a sense of interconnectedness.
More often than not, life goes by in a flurry of events that we never truly engage with. Sometimes taking time out to ‘get back in touch’ with ourselves can help us to enjoy those events so much more.
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