Life’s great challenge is understanding ourselves
Peter Durey says with much of our behaviour an unconscious reaction, it is one of life’s challenges to really understand ourselves.
I have to thank Mindful Margaret River for their focus on preventative mental wellbeing in our community and the talented and energetic people involved.
Many people have wondered about the reported increase in mental illness in our society and also question the biological causes and treatment of depression and anxiety.
So, with some extra time on my hands (it is called retirement!) I have had a chance to read about, talk about and ponder the issues and I’d like to offer a simplified explanation to help understand the processes and some of the solutions.
I have used the analogy of the car.
In this example the brain is the engine and all the mechanical bits.
The mind is all the connections, from electrical to fuel, that get it working.
The self is the driver that uses the controls and the soul or inner core is the map that gives the driver a sense of direction as to where he or she is going.
The self is the sum of all your previous generations of inherited information and patterns of behaviour, as well as all the influences in your present life, and is both conscious and unconscious.
With so much of our behaviour an unconscious reaction, it is one of life’s challenges to really understand ourselves.
I think the journey to self-awareness starts with a baby having to recognise that itself is separate from its mother.
And then accept that the self cannot exist without connection to another or others.
The soul or inner core, the map or instruction booklet, is that deep, ancient and personal wisdom that provides the self with those intrinsic values from within and connects the self to morals, and to meaning and purpose in your life.
Those connections that the self needs are firstly the connections to our own true self, one’s unique self-identity and the process of listening to one’s own intrinsic values.
The solutions to being disconnected are to make the effort to know yourself, and to be yourself and not someone else’s idea or image of yourself.
Also, there is the connection to family and friends which can lead to care and compassion and intimacy and love.
These relationships take effort and attention and honesty, and commitment to listen well and connect emotionally.
For over 2 million years humans have had the intrinsic need to connect to our community and have social interactions; it is important that we feel recognised, understood, listened to, and that our contribution is appreciated.
As the drivers, we have to sometimes make that effort to meet, contribute and volunteer (or Act, Belong Commit).
A lack of social interaction really is the main risk factor to a person’s health, and also leads to loneliness.
We also need connection in the workplace and to seek and encourage collaboration and cooperation.
What about connection to nature?
Humans were not designed for noisy concrete jungles.
We are more connected to the soft sounds and smells of the natural world; the silence, the time and rhythm of nature; touching the soil and the planting and nurturing; and the respect for animals to which we have been related to over millions of years.
This is where we find peace and wonder and awe.
And finally, and relevant to the anxieties of pandemics and climate change, a connection to the future, and a sense of security and optimism.
This is not a responsibility for the individual but a need to be involved in a local group or a bigger organisation and the hope to make even a small difference.
It is disturbance or loss of some of these connections that can cause confusion, loneliness, disillusionment, despair, and anxiety and depression.
All these connections help keep that driver on the road.
If you can stay on the road, there is still the problem of navigation and whether the driver will listen to the intrinsic values (feeling safe) or choose to listen to the extrinsic values (temptation to drive fast or have a fast car, but also speed limits!).
In modern society those extrinsic values and priorities can be wealth, fame, success, competition, and possession of material things amongst other things!
So sometimes the driver has to challenge those values and influences to get to the destination without being side-tracked.
And on top of all this is the complication of the Ego.
You can look at the ego as layers that have been chosen to cover the self, like clothes, to protect it, and these layers are based on significant experiences from childhood onwards, some of which can be traumatic.
The more layers, the more rigid and inflexible the ego.
Those layers can stop the true self connecting with others, or being true to one’s self and its potential.
The driver with layers of ego, finds it’s like driving wearing cumbersome armour and that it’s exhausting having to prove all the time that he or she is king of the road.
It helps to learn to recognise in yourself those views, and to confront and challenge some of your biases or opinions.
Much of this increasing “epidemic” of mental illness is not some failure of an individual’s mind or some unexplained change in brain chemicals.
It is a more likely to be, a not unreasonable response, to the failure of modern society to connect or relate to the individual in a meaningful way.
An example is grief which is an understandable and natural response to the loss, or disconnection, from a loved one.
It is not some medical illness.
There are lots of solutions to these issues that often start with re-connecting.
So, look after your car, be a good driver, know where you have chosen to travel and why, and respect all the other drivers on the road who are on their own journey.
Peter Durey is a retired General Practitioner who has lived and worked in Margaret River for 17 years. Peter is a volunteer taskforce member with Mindful Margaret River and is still passionate about the holistic health of his community.
Mindful Margaret River is funded by Lotterywest and supported by the Shire of Augusta Margaret River. You can find out more on our website mindfulmargarteriver.org.au and follow us on Facebook.
First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 6 January 2023.