Self-deception is a defining part of our human nature. By recognizing its various forms in ourselves and reflecting upon them, we may be able to disarm them and even, in some cases, to employ and enjoy them. This self-knowledge opens up a whole new world before us, rich in beauty and subtlety, and frees us not only to take the best out of it, but also to give it back the best of ourselves, and, in so doing, to fulfil our potential as human beings. I don't really think it's a choice.
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The notion of dream interpretation far antedates the birth of psychoanalysis, and probably served an important function in most, if not all, historical societies. In having lost this function, modern man has also lost the best part of his nature, which he obliviously passes on to the next generation of dreamers.
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There are a great number of ego defenses, and the combinations and circumstances in which we use them reflect on our personality. Indeed, one could go so far as to argue that the self is nothing but the sum of its ego defenses, which are constantly shaping, upholding, protecting, and repairing it. The self is like a cracked mask that is in constant need of being pieced together. But behind the mask there is nobody at home.
According to the Buddha, the failure to recognize the illusion of the self is the source of all ignorance and unhappiness. It is only by renouncing the self, that is, by dropping his ego defences and committing metaphorical suicide, that a person can open up to different modes of being and relating and thereby transform himself into a pure essence of humanity. In so doing, he becomes free to recast himself as a much more joyful and productive person, and attains the only species of transcendence and immortality that is open to man.
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Now, it so happens that our culture-or lack of it, for our culture is in a state of flux and crisis-places a high value on materialism, and, by extension, greed. Our culture's emphasis on greed is such that people have become immune to satisfaction. Having acquired one thing, they are immediately ready to desire the next thing that might suggest itself. Today, the object of desire is no longer satisfaction, but desire itself.
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If two people with no symptoms in common can both receive the same diagnosis of schizophrenia, then what is the value of that label in describing their symptoms, deciding their treatment, or predicting their outcome, and would it not be more useful simply to describe their problems as they actually are? And if schizophrenia does not exist in nature, then how can researchers possibly find its cause or correlates? If psychiatric research has made so little progress in recent decades, it is in large part because everyone has been barking up the wrong tree. It is not a question of getting a bigger and better scanner, but of going right back to the drawing board. What's more, medical-type labels can be as harmful as they are hollow. By reducing rich, varied, and complex human experiences to nothing more than a mental disorder, they not only sideline and trivialize those experiences but also imply an underlying defect that then serves as a pseudo-explanation for the person's disturbed behaviour. This demeans and disempowers the person, who is deterred from identifying and addressing the important life problems that underlie his distress.
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Other pressing problems with the current medical model [of mental disorder] is that it encourages false epidemics, most glaringly in bipolar disorder and ADHD, and the wholesale exportation of Western mental disorders and Western accounts of mental disorder. Taken together, this is leading to a pandemic of Western disease categories and treatments, while undermining the variety and richness of the human experience.
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Philosophy is a bitter medicine with many fearsome side effects, but if you are able to stomach it, it can cure your soul of the many ills and infirmities of ignorance. Given the choice, most men prefer not to take it, and many of those who do soon find that they cannot carry on with it. In the end, they choose what is more pleasant over what is more wholesome, and prefer the society of those who encourage them in their follies to that of those who admonish and improve them. You, on the other hand, appear to be minded otherwise, for when a young men sets for himself the highest standards of education and conduct, he naturally shuns the company of mindless nobodies and boldly seeks out that of the singular men who are prepared to teach him and challenge him and exhort him to virtue. In time, by his strivings, he will come to realize that it is from the hardest toil and noblest deeds that the purest and most persisting pleasures are to be had, and, taking pity on other men, and thinking also of the gods, he will do everything in his power to share this precious secret.
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When you uncork a bottle of mature fine wine, what you are drinking is the product of a particular culture and tradition, a particular soil, a particular climate, the weather in that year, and the love and labour of people who may since have died. The wine is still changing, still evolving, so much so that no two bottles can ever be quite the same. By now, the stuff has become incredibly complex, almost ethereal. Without seeking to blaspheme, it has become something like the smell and taste of God. Do you drink it alone? Never. The better a bottle, the more you want to share it with others... and that is the other incredible thing about wine, that it brings people together, makes them share with one another, laugh with one another, fall in love with one another and with the world around them.
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While conversion of sugars to ethanol is the predominant reaction, it is only one of potentially thousands of biochemical reactions taking place during fermentation. As a result, wine contains trace amounts of a large number of organic acids, esters, sugars, alcohols, and other molecules. Wine is, in fact, one of the most complex of all beverages: the fruit of a soil, climate, and vintage, digested by a fungus through a process guided by the culture, vision, and skill of an individual man or woman.
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In refining their senses and aesthetic judgement, blind tasters become much more conscious of the richness not only of wine but also of other potentially complex beverages such as tea, coffee, and spirits, and, by extension, the flavours in food, the scents in the air, and the play of light in the world. For life is consciousness, and consciousness is life.
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The disease of the soul is both more common and more deadly than the disease of the body. Just as medicine is the art devoted to healing the body, so philosophy is the art devoted to healing the soul, curing it of improper emotions, false beliefs, and faulty judgments, which are the causes of so much hardship and handicap. To heal the body one turns to the practitioner of the art of healing the body, but to heal the soul there is no doctor to turn to, and each of us is left to become that doctor unto himself. Yet, this need not stop us from exhorting others to imitate us in the godly art, in the forlorn hope that they might transform themselves into better citizens for Athens and better companions for us.
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Facing up to non-being enables us to put our life into perspective, see it in its entirety, and thereby lend it a sense of direction and unity. If the ultimate source of anxiety is fear of the future, the future ends in death; and if the ultimate source of anxiety is uncertainty, death is the only certainty. It is only by facing up to death, accepting its inevitability, and integrating it into life that we can escape from the pettiness and paralysis of anxiety, and, in so doing, free ourselves to make the most out of our lives and out of ourselves.
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A more fundamental problem with labelling human distress and deviance as mental disorder is that it reduces a complex, important, and distinct part of human life to nothing more than a biological illness or defect, not to be processed or understood, or in some cases even embraced, but to be 'treated' and 'cured' by any means possible-often with drugs that may be doing much more harm than good. This biological reductiveness, along with the stigma that it attracts, shapes the person's interpretation and experience of his distress or deviance, and, ultimately, his relation to himself, to others, and to the world. Moreover, to call out every difference and deviance as mental disorder is also to circumscribe normality and define sanity, not as tranquillity or possibility, which are the products of the wisdom that is being denied, but as conformity, placidity, and a kind of mediocrity.
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My cough is much worse at night and often prevents me from sleeping. It is not so much the daytime tiredness that I resent, but the inability to proceed uninter- rupted with my dreams, to run and play with my fancies, and, at last, in the early hours of the morning, to be visited with visions like a holy madman. The dreamer is like a Delian diver, fishing for pearls from the depths of our inner sea of knowledge; and I must have solved, or rather resolved, many more problems in my sleep than in my conscious hours.
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One of the central tenets of the Western worldview is that one should always be engaged in some kind of outward task. Thus, the Westerner structures his time-including, sometimes, even his leisure time-as a series of discrete programmed activities which he must submit to in order to tick off from an actual or virtual list. One need only observe the expression on his face as he ploughs through yet another family outing, cultural event, or gruelling exercise routine to realise that his aim in life is not so much to live in the present moment as it is to work down a never-ending list. If one asks him how he is doing, he is most likely to respond with an artificial smile, and something along the lines of, 'Fine, thank you - very busy of course!' In many cases, he is not fine at all, but confused, exhausted, and fundamentally unhappy. In contrast, most people living in a country such as Kenya in Africa do not share in the Western worldview that it is noble or worthwhile to spend all of one's time rushing around from one task to the next. When Westerners go to Kenya and do as they are wont to do, they are met with peels of laughter and cries of 'mzungu', which is Swahili for 'Westerner'. The literal translation of 'mzungu' is 'one who moves around', 'to go round and round', or 'to turn around in circles'.
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It seems to me that there are three principal scales of time, the present moment, a human lifetime, and the eternal. The problem with modern man is not so much that he situates himself in the future of a human lifetime, since he fears death far too much to do that, but rather than he does not situate himself in any of these three scales of time. Instead, he is forever stuck somewhere in-between, this evening, tomorrow morning, next week, next Christmas, in five years' time. As a result, he has neither the joy of the present moment, nor the satisfied accomplishments of a human lifetime, nor the perspective and immortality of the eternal.
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You see, people in the depressive position are often stigmatised as 'failures' or 'losers'. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If these people are in the depressive position, it is most probably because they have tried too hard or taken on too much, so hard and so much that they have made themselves 'ill with depression'. In other words, if these people are in the depressive position, it is because their world was simply not good enough for them. They wanted more, they wanted better, and they wanted different, not just for themselves, but for all those around them. So if they are failures or losers, this is only because they set the bar far too high. They could have swept everything under the carpet and pretended, as many people do, that all is for the best in the best of possible worlds. But unlike many people, they had the honesty and the strength to admit that something was amiss, that something was not quite right. So rather than being failures or losers, they are just the opposite: they are ambitious, they are truthful, and they are courageous. And that is precisely why they got 'ill'. To make them believe that they are suffering from some chemical imbalance in the brain and that their recovery depends solely or even mostly on popping pills is to do them a great disfavour: it is to deny them the precious opportunity not only to identify and address important life problems, but also to develop a deeper and more refined appreciation of themselves and of the world around them-and therefore to deny them the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential as human beings.
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As it stands, the diagnostic criteria for depression are so loose that two people with absolutely no symptoms in common can both end up with the same unitary diagnosis of depression. For this reason especially, the concept of depression as a mental disorder has been charged with being little more than a socially constructed dustbin for all manner of human suffering.
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In 1949, neurologist Egas Moniz (1874-1955) received a Nobel Prize for his discovery of 'the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses'. Today, prefrontal leucotomy is derided as a barbaric treatment from a much darker age, and it is to be hoped that, one day, so too might antipsychotic drugs.
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Rather than being medicalized or romanticized, mental disorders, or mental dis-eases, should be understood as nothing less or more than what they are, an expression of our deepest human nature. By recognizing their traits in ourselves and reflecting upon them, we may be able both to contain them and to put them to good use. This is, no doubt, the highest form of genius.