It’s easy to get wrapped up in the endless problems of the world; things always seem to be in turmoil. War, hunger, bigotry, Fascism, economic collapse, political extremism, lethal pandemics, over-population, artificial intelligence; the list goes on and on. Most of the world’s problems are far beyond the ability of any single individual to solve them, yet all these events and situations exact a steep, individual psychological price: anxiety, worry, anger, sadness, hope and fear.
Individual psychology contributes to social psychology; worry about the problems of the world resonate from person to person, which in turn resonates with the world at large through cable news, social media, newspapers, magazines, and just plain gossip, which then generates more individual stress. So it goes, round and round and round, until everyone is dizzy and exhausted.
As intelligent, thinking beings, people constantly struggle emotionally; it seems life has always been this way. The Buddha identified our dissatisfaction as suffering, which he taught is central to the human experiences of desire, forming attachments, and grasping at feelings, objects, and ideas. And all too often, our response to the experience of suffering is to suffer even more, the “why me?” of suffering.
Knowledge of growing rates of depression, teen suicide, gun violence, social unrest, political confusion, social hostility, and a sense of widespread dissatisfaction is part of our daily experience. Tragically, the most wounded among us, the broken ones, commit terrible acts of cruelty to others to regain their lost sense of personal power, spreading great suffering far and wide.
Suffering, of course, is also a creative, generative force, which is to say, our pursuit of relief from suffering produces myriad forms of entertainment and distraction. Books, movies, theatre, television, music, art of all types; these provide some temporary relief from suffering, as well as turbocharging our economy.
Moment-to-moment, accounts of the effects of our individual and social psychology, what we commonly call “news,” feels supremely important. And yet, and yet, amid it all the Andromeda Galaxy hurtles toward a collision with our Milky Way at 250,000 miles per hour while massive black holes devour entire star systems. The universe and everything in it continuously becoming, that becoming necessarily includes both integration and disintegration, transformations we perceive as coming and going, beginnings and ends, birth and death. This is the deep truth of our situation.
Strangely emotional bundles of energy swirling in space-time, we rush towards oblivion in the ever-changing expanse of the cosmos. However important, substantial, or momentous the problems of the world may appear, all will be gone, gone – gone beyond – completely gone beyond.
Admittedly, I am using cognitive thinking to sublimate my emotional discomfort with becoming. It’s what most of us do, i.e., use our minds to tell ourselves a story that eases suffering a bit. Entire religions are built upon this principle of sublimation, filling us with hopeful stories intended to make us feel better and reduce our suffering.
Science does this as well by wielding the idea that by using empirical methods we can find truth, and that the truth will set us free. Our suffering, however, is irritatingly persistent; cognitive truth simply is not enough. Psychologically, we need more, because emotions are at the core of being human; it’s where our suffering begins and, alas, never ends.
So there you have it. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. I feel much better now.