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Where does mental illness come from and what is it?
What is mental illness? Where does it come from? How we do we cure it? There are so many questions around mental illness today but not enough answers in mainstream society. With so many sufferers across the planet, the need for clear thinking on the subject is greater than it has ever been. I hope, that through my life experience and these blog posts I can offer some of this clear thinking on mental illness and its causes.
Those of you who read my previous post, Living in Our Heads, will recall how I spoke about the head as a mental prison in which life doesn’t feel real. In this post, I would like to talk about the relationship between this metaphorical prison in our heads and our mental health, about how this prison is the home of mental illness and the only place it can exist.
We live today in a society that can promote unconsciousness. Choice, technology and media are abundant, giving us endless entertainment but unlimited distractions. Combine this with pressure and stress from education, work, responsibility and perhaps, emotional trauma, then the world can begin to feel dizzy. It can feel like a place that is uncomforting, unsafe and unappealing, an environment that we wish to be away from, that we seek to hide from. So, unconsciously, we retreat into ourselves, into what we believe to be a safe space. Into our own heads. We build up mentally protective walls, to keep out the ‘bad’ bits of life, but these walls end up trapping us away from everything life has to offer. Emotion becomes numbed, senses become dulled and life becomes a haze. Years pass by and we take no notice, isolated within our walls, we feel little and think a lot. It is here where mental illness begins to birth and to breed. It is here where depression is born, here where anxiety festers and here where they both linger.
The time we spend behind these walls is always unconscious and unaware, therefore, it is a place where we mentally run rampant, thoughts, thoughts and more thoughts, multiplying beyond our control, and because we built this place out of negatives, out of fear, stress and worry, the thoughts we have here are of the same breed, worry, fear, stress. These thoughts are tiring, heavy and draining, they sap our energy. Each single thought births another and that new thought births two more, as negativity multiplies like a bacteria in our mind. We become tired as our thoughts turn low, down and depressive. We spend so much time here, that these thoughts consume us, taking over our very being as we become, in body and mind, low, down and depressive.
Before we know it, we have spent so much time in this place that it feels natural and comfortable to be there but if we wish to alleviate mental illness, to be healthy, to be happy, then we must leave. Mental illness can exist solely in only one place, the head, this prison that I have been talking about. Leave the prison and we leave behind mental illness, we cannot carry it with us into reality. (Yes we may feel the symptoms in our bodies but the actual illness is by definition, mental)There is no place for mental illness to exist in the real, physical world, it’s impossible. Get out of our prison and we escape the haze of mental illness. Get out of our heads and we can begin to live freely, with more passion, more joy and more purpose. With less thought and more feeling. But how exactly do we do that? How can we escape this prison? In Living in Our Heads I spoke about the first step in freeing ourselves, which was awareness. Realising that you are trapping yourself in your own haze of negative thinking, is the key that unlocks the door to real-life, letting you step into the world. This is no guarantee, however, that you won’t walk yourself right back into that cell the very next day, or even the next hour.
It takes practise and training of the mind to maintain awareness, to ensure that, not only are we able to get out of mental prison but that we are also able to stay in the beautiful world around us. So that we are able to taste life, to smell the scent of flowers, to hear the songs of birds, to see the beauty in nature and to feel the warmth of the sun. The world truly is a beautiful place if we allow ourselves to experience it. We have six tools at our disposal to practice this, one is our minds and the other five are more physical. Our senses hold the map to reality, yet so many of us pay no attention to them. By focusing our minds on the experience of our physical senses we begin to anchor ourselves into reality, and reality is sweet when truly experienced. Look for the beauty, inhale the smells, listen to the sounds, let the taste linger and feel the earth beneath your feet. You will feel not only more present but be happier, more joyful and more content.
This state of awareness is truly our natural state of being. We are not born in our heads, we live through our childhood in blissful awareness, where we think little and feel a lot. We taste each meal, feel the bark of each tree and are joyful. We must seek to return back to this state that we have lost through the years, that we lost through ‘growing up’. To find our way back we must heal and we must do this at the source.
“ If you want the tree to grow, it won’t help to water the leaves. You have to water the roots. “
Thich Nhat Hanh
The roots to our mental illness are in the mind and as such must be healed there. External solutions may offer temporary fixes but will not solve the issue. Meditation and mindfulness, done right, will allow us to maintain our natural state of awareness, giving our minds time to rest, to clear and to heal. Our minds can only ever truly focus on one thing at a time, meditation and mindfulness re-teaches us how to live in the world, by dragging our focus from our heads to the reality around us. It is this focus that determines where we are living our lives and how much we are truly experiencing. Through this mental healing, in time and with practise, living in the world, in awareness, will feel natural again. It will feel normal and come with ease, with little or no effort at all, presence will return as our default state. We will have left the prison and in doing so it will slowly fade from existence and memory. With the passing of the prison, comes the passing of mental illness. Our thoughts will return simply to being thoughts, rather than a home that we live in. We will be conscious of them, in control of them and able to think clearly, brightly and lightly. As the prison fades and mental illness disperses, we awaken from a dark sleep to a bright new sunrise and our lives can begin again.
So, I hope this helps anyone struggling with mental health and at least offers a pathway to travel down. Mindfulness, meditation and practises like it are one of the best ways to clear out our minds and just as with any mental problem, they truly will make the difference, they did for me and I’m sure they can for you. Meditation, in particular, done well and regularly over time, can help us to heal even the most serious emotional traumas. The practice is much more than a relaxation tool, meditation can unravel our minds into clarity, peace and wisdom, allowing us a true and beautiful perspective on life. A perspective that perhaps, one day, we can all share.
If you are interested in trying meditation or mindfulness check out our page on how to meditate and our mindfulness exercises page. There are also plenty of books and websites that can offer guidance. Headspace is a good site and a book that I have found particularly helpful is The Little Book of Mindfulness by Tiddy Rowan, it offers wisdom as well as practical advice on how to be more present and is easy for anyone to follow. And finally, if you want to learn more about mental illness, check out these posts. (What is depression? & What is anxiety?)
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