Our Lives Are Deep And Wide
The psychologist Erik Erikson literally wrote the book on childhood and human development. A towering figure of modern mental health study, his writings on the stages of human development were a watershed moment for understanding our human psychology.
In his book, Childhood and Society, he says something incredibly profound in a mere sentence. It should make us all think deeply about the goals and purpose of modern psychology, especially in a culture where it seems that every day a new drug is being approved for “mental health”. It should also remind us of what a deep and wide existential path we have been allowed to live and create for ourselves.
Life’s Journey Is An Introspection
Erik says on page 424 of my copy of Childhood and Society: “The “psychoanalytic situation” is a Western and modern contribution to man’s age-old attempts at systematic introspection.”
What truth that is. We should all be aware that the journey toward mental health is one of introspection. It is an age-old principle at the core of understanding our identity. What do we find when we look inside? Poor/Incomplete/Tragic/etc. answers to the following questions and others like them are what lead to most mental health issues of depression, anxiety, and damaged emotional intelligence:
Where did I come from?
What happened to me as a child that influences my thinking today?
Why do I process thoughts and information the way I do?
Why do I do things I don’t want to do?
What is my purpose?
Why am I anxious?
Does my life matter?
Am I alone?
Look For The Cause Of The Symptoms
“Systematic Introspection” is not something we should leave to the field of psychology. Especially since the modern practice of psychology has continued to move away from deep, long-term introspection and more towards symptomatic treatment, i.e. drugs and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy type tools. Tools for treating the symptoms of psychopathology in themselves aren’t bad and are in fact incredibly useful for many people, but we must not let tools blur our vision in regard to the root causes of our mental pathologies. Critical introspection is a necessary part of any healthy, individualized life.
Individualization, as the psychologist Carl Jung would say, is the process in which we develop from the soup of the collective into a healthy “individuated” human-being. It is a life long process whereby we understand our place and purpose in this world and constantly search for the path of meaning. Jung influenced Joseph Campbell whose writings influenced George Lucas to create the mythic Star Wars film series, more specifically, Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Like it or not, in a world that always ends in death, we are all on that hero’s journey. When we face the truth and wonder of that fact, we are empowered to look at ourselves critically and introspectively. Here, searching within, with wisdom and guidance, the answers to our mental condition are found.
Look Within And Journey Forward
There is more I could say on this and I will in the future, but for now, I encourage you to begin and continue the process of thoughtful introspection. It can take place anywhere — alone at home or at your favorite park, in church, in a counselor’s office, with a good book, coffee with a friend or even a friendly looking stranger. You might allow the works of Carl Jung or Erik Erikson to guide you, or heck, even me, that is what my book, Who Am I?, is all about — introspection, the journey, answering the question “Who am I?”
Life surrounds us with pain, grief, and death. The meaning we find in the midst of these is what allows us to grow and become fully realized. This cannot be done by merely treating symptoms. We must look inside, explore, and give ourselves the gift of embarking on our own heroic journey, the great expedition to know one’s self.
Search for Humility
You go to the church where you find humility. It’s that simple. Religion that feeds our ego is like sugar, it will eventually eat you up and leave you hollow. Healing only takes place when we are able to look squarely in the mirror and make the decision to repent, to heal ourselves because we know we need healing.
“Church doesn’t make me happy.” (Note, this usually means church does not affirm me.)
I hear that a lot. Well then, why do want it happy? So you can feel good about your unfulfilling journey? So you can feel good about letting schools and technology raise your children? So you can feel good about muddling through life? So you can feel good about a lack of moral courage? So you can feel good about pointing your fingers at other people without looking in the mirror at yourself? So you can feel good about putting career and upward mobility ahead of family and community?
Read that last paragraph again. Alone, looking in the mirror, that is usually the truth about statements like, “Church doesn’t make me happy.”
Church should be honest and hopeful
Church should be sobering. Church should evoke humility in ourselves and those that lead it. Church should be hopeful because it is honest about our condition and offers us direction in overcoming the things we do that we know we shouldn’t do. A church that exists to entertain you is not church, it is a self-congratulatory ego club for the wanna-be hip. The flashier the church, the higher percentage of members who used to belong to other churches and are now on their way to leaving. Feed someone’s pride, and eventually the only thing they will humble themselves to is the vanity of their own ego.
You will find joy, something better than happy, when you humble yourself.
Humble is not judgmental
This is important. Humble church is not judgmental church. Humble church doesn’t focus us on the splinters in other’s eyes, it focuses us on the logs in our own eyes. As life passes by and we draw nearer to the abyss of death, it becomes easier to avoid self-analysis encouraged by the desperation of regret. This is sad. It is by facing our regret and using that as fuel to repent and be an example for others that we can experience joy and come to peace with our past while finding hope in our future.
Anyone can be humble and kind
And finally, if you are someone who would never step foot in church. You think it’s foolish and silly. Well, I can understand how you got there. Veneered teeth in an expensive suit preaching the “gospel” makes me puke. Hypocrites and self-possessed faith clubs turn people away. But don’t kid yourself, you can still look in the mirror. You can still hold yourself accountable and strive to do the hardest thing in the world, be consistently good and true, humble and kind.
Have I been harsh? Or even a little judgmental(yikes, I shouldn’t do that)! Probably. But look around your church this Sunday. Where are the homeless and poor, the single moms who were brought in to sit with you? How many of your congregants were culled from other churches for a more agreeable service or message or better Sunday school? Compare that to how many first learned about the almighty from you after a life spent in the wilderness with no church. Is your church judged by its faith and humility, or its attendance, structures, and checking account?
Look in the mirror. Be humble. Help the “least of these” while examining the many splinters we all have. There you will find God.
Devastation could not extinguish our spirit
Devastation was left in its path. Hurricane Harvey covered up cities with a biblical deluge of water, debris, and filth. Nature was unleashed causing enormous death and destruction, yet the human spirit could not be extinguished.
Even as the winds tore, the rain fell and the waters rose, people helped each other with the necessities — shelter, food, clean water, a hug, survival. When life is broken down to its fundamental elements, we are left with what matters — the human relationships and community we need in order to survive and thrive as human beings.
Struggle is part of our existence
This struggle against brokenness is not new. Our communities were slogging through devastation long before Hurricane Harvey. We have allowed our nation to become ravaged by broken families, drugs, loss of faith, lack of commitments, and a manic drive allowing technology to turn us into lemmings. Harvey, with all its devastation, showed us another way. It is the way of touch, skin to skin and human to human. A hand into and out of a boat. Loading boxes on pallets for those in need and then distributing the desperately needed supplies one human to another. Shared silence, looking across the destruction with an inner assurance of, “We survived and we will survive again.” Picking ourselves up when life is broken down to its most basic elements is a haunting, glorious thing to behold.
How will we continue to rise up from Harvey? Will it be nothing but new concrete and steel and then back to isolation, separation, and the dehumanization that plagues our culture? Maybe we’ll learn something. Hopefully we will continue to hold on and build each other up. What would that look like? Here are a few ideas:
- Invite the poor and homeless into your home for a meal and encouragement. Walk with them. Do it consistently and often.
- Commit yourself to family and growing that family, encouraging those walking alone to join you.
- Journey toward deep faith that compels you to look in the mirror and place no blame on others until you have repented yourself.
- Create a simpler life judged by the quality of your human interactions.
- Acknowledge that real change begins with you and takes action toward your immediate family and community.
Learn the lessons of Harvey or live in the hollows
Challenge yourself to find a new way. 70% of people hate or can’t stand their jobs. 38% of people took prescribed painkillers last year. Opioids are plaguing across cultural lines — black and white, rich and poor. People live with little purpose and even less meaning. We are too busy to raise our children and then we rush to get them out of the house on their own. We are left with hollows.
Why? What’s wrong with building families and local communities that support each other across generations? If you are a victim of our disposable culture who has been left alone with no family or healthy community to speak of, begin your own traditions while looking for a tribe to call home. Learn from those who love and support each other, reach out for those who value the timeless things that allow us to survive horrors like Hurricane Harvey.
When the waters recede, may we continue to hold hands and journey forward.
Fulton County, Pennsylvania lies in a lush valley surrounded by hills and picture perfect hollows. While a large county geographically speaking, 438 square miles, the population is only a little under 15,000. For many, it is a slice of heaven. For others, a living hell. You see, a 2016 University of Pittsburgh study showed that Fulton County has the highest overdose death rate of any county in the state of Pennsylvania.
The opioid crisis is a plague and looking close one uncovers a myriad of factors devastating our families and communities.
A Community Heals
Although initiated because of tragedy, it was a great honor to help this community heal by working with a task force created to combat this horror, Project SAAFE. The plan was to spend a day with the Chamber of Commerce, an addiction recovery art group, and then a community town hall to help kick off an initiative to engage the pillars of the community in the lives of those suffering.
Battling addiction is more than just finding the right treatment program or hoping for some magic pill. It requires a holistic response. In order to stay clean, one must rebuild their life and discover the kind of meaning and purpose that drives us to move forward amidst struggles. Planning for the event, I recalled a group I led with young women battling heroin addiction. A young lady, about 20, spoke of her heart breaking journey. She had been abused since 3 or 4, her family was completely broken and separated, all her friends used drugs, she was poor, and had been kicked out of High School before graduating. She ached for hope and a future, but the reality of her situation was sobering.
“The problem is, my life has been a wreck since I started being abused when I was little. I’m happier when I’m high. I can escape. And honestly, I think I’d rather die getting high than live with nothing to be happy about.”
Truth there folks. We tell a young woman traumatized in the worst ways, “hang in there honey, it’ll get better, don’t do drugs.” For all practical purposes we walk away. Then we point fingers when we should be looking in the mirror. When was the last time you engaged “the least of these” and responded to their needs in a one-on-one personal way? And then did it consistently.
We must look in the mirror
Fulton County was able to look in the mirror. We started that day with the Chamber of Commerce. It was a packed house at lunch to hear my talk and begin the discussion on how the business community could better respond to this epidemic. The message was simple, you must give them an alternative. You must invest in your community by taking a chance on the most vulnerable. True living is the only alternative to the temporal escapes that keep people laboring with their demons. Living begins with housing and employment. We need more individuals and businesses willing to take a chance on people and make that crucial investment in the human spirit.
The talk was well received and multiple businesses on the spot agreed to do more to hire those in recovery.
After the Chamber of Commerce event, I spoke to a group of recovering addicts who use art as a means to heal. What a great tool. When we see that something good can be created using the pain of our brokenness, it reveals the hope we all desire to live by. We want our lives to matter and hopefully leave a legacy of something bigger than ourselves. In their art, you can see through the scarred faces of damaged lives and see people wanting to take the necessary steps to heal and create something new and good.
Building community synergy
Finally, in the evening I spoke at the local United Methodist Church for a live-streamed town hall. This was intended to create synergy in the community and reinforce the need for a holistic response. We must help people change their lives, not just give them a few tools and a pat on the back. That doesn’t work. It takes a committed community to help someone who has faced continual life trauma rebuild their lives economically, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Broken communities, separated families, and poor relationships create an environment where the broken don’t have a landing pad of social support. As many studies have shown, nothing puts a human being at higher risk than poor social support.
The true plague of our world today? Not drugs. That is a symptom. No, it’s the breaking apart of our social fabric, an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. In the dark, the demons come and despair grows. What will you do?
Join us and make a stand in your community. We must rebuild the relationships and communities that have eroded and left us with a devastation that is only getting worse.