By Dr David Laing Dawson
Someone asked Eckhart during one of his Youtube performances, “What is the purpose of mental illness?” Now to understand the question we first have to accept the guru’s premise that there is “purpose” in everything. And his answer was something to the effect that mental illnesses were aberrations in consciousness, blockages to achieving true consciousness. And to understand this we need to accept the premise of collective consciousness seeking to be both one and enlightened. But he couldn’t help himself from commenting that someone in India going through and achieving this level of consciousness might be revered as a spiritual teacher while the same person in the Western world might be locked up in a “Mental Home”. Then he back-tracked a little on that one, but continued his basic premise that all this suffering (he brought in the millions killed by other humans in the past hundred years) was, collectively, just part of the human struggle to full collective enlightened consciousness.
The news today and last night was all about the Coronavirus, Covid – 19. Calming words, frightening words, cautionary words, conspiracy words. And I am struck by the fact we know, can know, almost instantly, the number of new cases reported overnight in countries all over the world, along with the opinions of both the informed and uninformed. I am struck with the fact that this information being available to us, along with ice melting in Antarctica, deserted streets in Wuhan, Turkey unleashing killer drones in Syria, the words of the Ayatollah in Iran, in such breadth and volume, is a new thing. Not new to the kids born after 1990 perhaps but new within my life time, and very new in the evolution of Homo Sapiens.
My dogs and all other animals are programmed to recognize danger and to react. If they see, smell, or hear it coming, they can communicate this to their immediate pack. Perhaps a whale can warn distant pods, and birds pass the warning along.
But we humans are the only species that evolved to the point we can imagine and anticipate danger in the much larger environment, explain it in words, spend much time thinking about it, planning or worrying about it, and communicating these facts and fears widely and quickly. Obviously this has provided us with a great evolutionary advantage, as well as the tragic opportunity for those fears being exploited or misdirected.
And only in the last 50 years or so our imagination, our awareness, has expanded to the point of truly being conscious of our world as but a fragile ball orbiting a burning sun within a galaxy, within an unfathomable universe, and then suddenly this: – instant unfiltered communication between all humans on this planet no matter the distance.
I’m sitting in a clinic waiting room now and a large screen TV is scrolling stock market reports. But along with the market prices I count seven distinct areas of rapidly changing news being covered in separate boxes on this screen. These include the coronavirus and Super Tuesday.
Eckhart would have us give up the egoic mind as he calls it, to settle into a here and now collective, passive, and enlightened consciousness. And no doubt a little mindfulness practiced now and then can be a calming influence. But that is really not the problem.
Every advantage evolution has given us has come with a cost and a danger. The ability to imagine threat in our near and far environment has, along with our need for organization and predictability, in extreme, brought us anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. The ability to imagine threat combined with mass communication has brought us confusion, more anxiety, conspiracy, misplaced fears, panic, and a petri dish for delusions. The ability to imagine threat combined with mass communication and an unscrupulous leader has brought us war and genocide.
So here’s the deal: Yes, Eckhart, it would be good for each of us to achieve the ability, now and again, to allow our minds to give up the worry narrative, the egoic as he calls it, and enjoy only the moment, the beauty of the sunset or a streetlamp and the person (or dog) by our side. To give up, for that moment at least, our striving to control.
Still, our greater task is to ensure our evolutionary advantages and our clever inventions are used, at least mostly, to improve our lives and the life of the small planet we share, with the occasional time-out to enjoy the sunset and the sunrise.
And then this moment in time: Our “new” ability to imagine the world as a single eco system, coupled with our evolved ability to imagine threat, coupled with our amazing scientific advances, coupled with instant mass communication, means we can follow the spread of a virus around the world in real time, do everything reasonable to prevent further spread and ameliorate the consequences, especially for the vulnerable, while waiting for this pandemic to run its course and waiting the requisite year or so to develop a vaccine, or, or, or, we can panic and make matters much worse. And this current pandemic could turn out to be an excellent wake-up call for global preparedness for the next one.