Balancing Life In a World Gone Mad

Balancing Life In a World Gone Mad December 28, 2020

Note: This is part three of a four-part series called Finding Our Mental Sweet Spot. To Read the entire series visit my Publications link.

I backpacked a lot in southern Arizona when I was in high school. I’d disappear with a couple of friends on the backside of Mt. Lemmon or hike deep into the high desert above Sabino Canyon. I’d be gone from 4-7 days and lived completely off the grid. No music, no timekeeper, and certainly no phone. On some trips we never saw another soul.

View of Mt. Lemmon from south Tucson. / Image by Kieran MacAuliffe from Pixabay

Even as a kid, these excursions helped me to appreciate how wonderful life can be living unencumbered by technology and possessions, with little more than the natural beauty of nature to enjoy. I even recall telling myself at some point, that I never want more possessions than I can throw in a backpack!

The worst part of my ventures came during the end of the hike while preparing to return back to civilization. The morning was usually spent eating everything I could to lighten my load. Then an uneasy anxiety would set in as I thought about the stresses of returning back to the pressures of life as a sixteen-year-old. I could feel these stresses building with each step on the way down. Eventually, we would start passing other hikers coming up the trail, and the sprawling expanse of the city of Tucson came into view. By the time we’d reached the parking lot, the metallic drone of the urban had slain the sounds of nature behind me.

I envy the caveman of yesteryear

Finding balance in life must have been so easy for them. For if I was a caveman who lived 20,000 years ago in the same mountains I hiked in as a kid, I could see myself being plenty content just sitting by a warm crackling fire chomping on a coyote thigh with a good woman by my side. Good in the sense that she could de-thorn a prickly pear cactus, dress a carcass, and tend to the children. (It’d call this achieving equanimity the primal – chauvinist – way!)

But if by chance I ate the wrong colored mushrooms one evening, traveled forward in time, and gazed at the city lights of Tucson twinkling far below my perch in the mountains, I would have been terrified. Because lurking in that city virtually everything happening in modern life would have ruined my peace of mind. Stuff like car payments, taxes, Covid-19, rent due, poverty, traffic, angry people waving signs, racial discrimination, late school busses, police brutality, people living in makeshift blue vinyl caves on city streets, dog licensing fees, water shortages, and . . . well, these are just the little factors.

Here’s a few of the major factors which prevent us from achieving balance in life:

  • the demands placed upon us by our culture
  • the pressures of conforming to social norms
  • engaging in the political process and our civic obligations
  • dealing with work related issues, colleagues and coworkers
  • finding a religion or belief system we can trust – or not!

What I’m getting at is that finding the sweet spot in life is extremely difficult these days. Knowing what you want out of life (as discussed in the opening post to this series) is only a part of the challenge. We also have to “factor in” all these other factors.

Speaking of modern life … don’t we live in fantastic times!? Relative to our cavemen ancestors, there are so many more ways for people to live exciting and engaging lives. Unfortunately, while modern life does offer many options which inspire us to dream big, this exponentially increases the potential for suffering.

On a personal level, the potential for suffering is increased because having more options to succeed equates to having more options to fail. But we also have to consider the vast array of institutions, organizations, businesses, agencies, systems and-the-like that enhance – and to an extent control – much of what we can or cannot do in life. While these organizations enhance our well-being, they also come with their share of ills. More importantly, these organizations are run by people, and people are prone to being human. Which means, that not only do most organized systems run imperfectly, but we may also discover the people who run them to be corrupt, incompetent, greedy, unqualified, insensitive – or possess one of a hundred other undesirable human traits.

It would be too boring to go into all the ways that these minor and major factors cause an imbalance in our lives. We all understand that all of these factors demand our attention in their own, annoying ways. Given that these factors also involve people, well … then we should hope for the best but expect the worst. This may sound defeatist but having this kind of an attitude has a lot to do with achieving balance.

But there is one particular factor that at least deserves an honorable mention. This would be religion, and in particular Christianity. As with the other organized systems mentioned above, it wouldn’t be beneficial to highlight all the pros and cons of Christianity, but it’s important to mention one notable way in which it causes imbalance in the world.

How religious beliefs cause an imbalance in our minds

The beliefs I’m speaking about involve Christianity’s teachings regarding human nature, which in my view are filled with a lot of doom and gloom. Basically, Christianity teaches that human beings are born evil, that we can do little to make life better; and this is because the earth itself has been cursed. This worldview drives the impetus of the faith, which is to encourage disciples to purge themselves of their natural human traits and ways.

The problem with this view of human nature is that it conflicts with the way our brains naturally function. As I talked about in a previous post, we all have needs and wants, which trigger our brains to think in “selfish” ways in order to survive. In addition, our minds have also advanced beyond merely providing for our needs. We now possess wonderful mental qualities (such as desire, motivation, creativity, and many more skills) that permit us to maximize our potential. We use these evolved capabilities not only for selfish reasons that only benefit us personally, but to make life better for everyone.

What Christianity is attempting to do, is purge the brain of its carnal and natural ways and to replace it with a modified view of human nature. This causes a profound conflict of interest, in which disciples attempt to free their brains of their own humanity and replace it with thoughts and mental processes deemed to be more divine. In effect what is really happening, is that the religious mind is trying to convince its own brain that it’s defective. Engaging in this mental futility can cause a severe “imbalance” within the mind.

There is a similar dynamic happening in philosophies such as Buddhism. Whereas Christianity attempts to purge people of selfishness, Buddhism (and other sources of mystical thought) are working hard to prove that the “self” is merely an illusion. These kinds of teachings can also cause a great imbalance in the brain because of the obvious: How can we understand ourselves – who and what we are as individuals– while being taught that our “self” is irrelevant or non-existent?

For me, this represents one of the greatest inexplicable mysteries of life… Why do so many religions and philosophies teach that our own species is fundamentally flawed, and that the only way we can be “enlightened” or “saved” is to escape our own humanity?

Finding balance as a freethinker

As a freethinker, the best way for us to establish balance in our minds is by learning to understand and value human nature. This would include appreciating all of our seemingly, undesirable traits. This can only be achieved by fully embracing our natural or primal desires, if for no other reason than these desires play a key role in our survival.

Using myself as an example … I know that as a human being I am prone to having many faults and deficiencies. I also know I’ve misspoken and said things some found offensive. I may have even done some bad things. (Okay once: I got caught for shoplifting in the 5th grade.) The point is, I expect to screwup many more times for being human, but I just accept these mental glitches as a natural quality of being human. So, I do not require intervention by a religious system to purge me of my own humanity. Having this kind of an attitude about oneself is just one of the things that keeps me in my comfort zone.

I also extend this courtesy to others. I don’t fault people for making mistakes in the past, and I expect people to make just as many mistakes as I will make in the future. We’re all even-Steven in this regard. Accepting my own humanity and extending this curtesy to others gives me a great sense of comfort and balance. I can be less judgmental and more forgiving. Pathways of empathy and compassion can be forged. All this frees me from experiencing much social anxiety, and this contributes to my overall sense of balance.

Yet there is one more way to achieve balance …

If we are willing to accept our own humanity and let others be human too; then we can easily apply this attitude to all the organizations, institutions and systems which seek to rob us of our inner peace every day.

The trick is to keep in mind that all these organizations are run by people, and usually in service to others. Which means, that so much of what happens in life is really beyond our control. It’s not up to us to change the way people act; we can only change the way we act. It’s not up to us to correct how a business operates, how the U.S. Congress should work, or even the price of tax on a gallon of gas. We can do what we can –and should – but we are not responsible for how the world works. Accepting this reality of how life works refines your rational thinking skills, and provides yet another opportunity to feel equanimity when life is not going the way you expect it to go.

In the final post in the series I will look into how we can use meditation to achieve balance in our lives.

About Scott Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of several books, as well as the previous owner of several hospice agencies. You can read more about the author here.

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14 responses to “Balancing Life In a World Gone Mad”

  1. Scott, did you ever go camping at Bellows Beach when you were in Hawaii? Either by the ocean or back in the trees? The big nighttime excitement was the weekly movie, but mostly in the evenings, people sat by their campfires and told stories.

    A couple of weeks ago in my area, there was a huge outage of one particular cable/internet provider. Since our phone, tv, and internet were all through that company, we had no electronics. I took the dog and went out on a long hike in the bright sun and reflected on how much of my life is ruled by electric gadgets. I also reflected on when I “play farm” at my friend’s farm; we’re busy all day, but almost none of it requires electricity.

  2. I don’t remember camping there, but I remember swimming there and getting stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War. The trees were different there. I can still hear the wind passing through them, and stepping on their seeds with bare feet.

    I spend a lot of time on the computer for work and such, so I can’t be too judgmental. But the young adults sure spend too much time on gadgets don’t they? I try and completely shut down on Sundays. Doesn’t always happen though!

  3. Irony is this: for years, I subscribed to a magazine that offered up ideas for healthy living. They discussed meditation, but also healthy eating, physical movement/exercises, and especially getting outside and off-the-grid to reset your mind and body.

    I’m not a huge camper, but on any sort of vacation, I’d pack a couple of issues to read. Recently, however, they made the decision to go online only. This was the complete opposite of their stated purpose and I had no interest in fighting to get enough bars to read from a teeny screen (my eyes are no longer 20 years old…) and wondering where I’m going to recharge my phone in the wilderness when I have several years’ worth of magazines I can hold in my hands and flip through at my leisure under natural sunlight or by campfire or lanternlight (or even floating around in an innertube in a pool).

    I found when I’ve discussed this with people younger than I am, they think I’m crazy for not reading on my screen.

  4. The internet is huge, and recently I read (and then promptly forgot to bookmark) an article about kids and outside time. Our generation and our subset of kids (military kids, moving around a lot) spent a lot of time outside without adult supervision. My childhood was usually spent near an ocean to surf and usually in some rural places, so there were no end of flat stretches of roads to bike ride, roller, skate, and skateboard. In tween life I discovered how much fun horses were and I went on long trail rides and competed in horse-based sports.

    None of that involved electronics–I was in junior high before the electronic football game came on the scene, and in high school when PacMan hit. That meant my childhood consisted of a lot of make-your-own-fun and imaginative play. I tried to give that to my own children when they were young but I wasn’t as successful because electronics are everywhere and I live in an area with 4 seasons. When it’s 20 degrees and sleeting outside, nobody wants to go out for a 2-hour hike.

  5. Hey, Scott, please let me know if I’m monopolizing the comments. You offer so much to comment on.

    This post involves religion vs. human nature. My take? The Abrahamic religions (the Big Three we in the west are most aware of) emphasize the idea that humans are broken and horrible and only (insert religion) can save them. Growing up in Christianity, I was always skeptical of the idea that an all-powerful and all-knowing God created me to be broken and therefore my only hope of salvation was complete dependence on that God. Didn’t seem psychologically healthy–for me or for God, who was supposedly perfect.

    I dipped my toe in various non-Abrahamic religions and they were less toxic but also not a good fit. Eventually I concluded it was all silly and made up.

    Humor: when we got to Hawaii and I was in the car with a friend, I was informed that it was absolutely forbidden to eat pork while crossing over a particular bridge, because that was the bridge of the goddess Pele. Since women were not allowed to eat pork, risking it would risk Pele’s wrath. Nobody in the car was eating (this was the 1970s) and I thought how ridiculous and bizarre this rule was…and then I thought about similarly ridiculous and bizarre rules in the flavor of Christianity I was going to Sunday School for.

  6. That’s funny. For a while there I was downloading my new books on my iPad. It’s actually pretty cool. I especially like the feature that you can look words up in a dictionary that you don’t know. But you can also highlight things and leave notes. But it doesn’t replace the tactile sensation of having a good book in your hands, a book that you can take with you and you don’t need wifi or good batteries to read. I also like seeing books on a shelf. For some odd reason, they give me a sense of accomplishment when I’ve read them. In a way they also become a part of you.

  7. I remember buying my first calculator. It was the first electronic gadget I ever bought. Not sure why I bought it though, because I couldn’t use it in school like kids can do now. I think it cost about $35.00 dollars, which was really expensive back in the 70’s. I bought it at a strip mall in Pearl City. Did you get the chance to surf in Hawaii? I was young when I first gave it a try. I had an older brother who used to take me to surf out in front of Diamond Head. I did much more body surfing. You may remember the area, Nanakuli, or what we called the “electric beach” across the street from the power plant.

  8. No, and I appreciate your comments. I can tell by my blog statistics that a lot of people visit and read what I post on Thinkadelics, but for many reasons people don’t comment. That’s all good, but it’s nice to get feedback.

    I agree with your take on religion. I think it’s wonderful that people want to become better people and use religions to help them become better. But I find it quite ironic that many religions and philosophies teach that the path to happiness is achieved by helping people to overcome their own humanity. It’s non-sensical. People, and society, would be much better off if they just learned to embrace their humanity.

    My parents were separated when I was a kid. I lived in Pearl City with my mother, and my father lived at the foot of the mountains on the Kaneohe side by the military base and the large cemetery there. Problem is, you have to cross over the Pali, and taking pork through that tunnel is forbidden. Maybe this is the period in my life when I became a skeptic. I’ve driven a lot of pork through that tunnel (usually hiding in delicious manapua) and I’m still alive to talk about it!

  9. Laughing because you got the “no pork through the Pali” talk, too. The person who told me was very serious about it, even though it’s utterly ridiculous.

    You lived in Pearl City with the Checkers and Pogo Sky Slide and the bumper cars? I am now super-jealous of you! I learned to surf in Ewa Beach (I was 10) and I carried my surfboard to the beach myself. When I could get a ride (no surfboard on Da Bus!), I’d surf Waianae and Barbers Point (where I also worked at the horse stables) once or twice surfed Da Nort’ Shoa, but never those huge waves you see surfers on.

    Pearl City also had The Monkey Bar (a restaurant with real monkeys scampering around behind a glass wall) and a drug store, which Ewa Beach lacked at that time.

  10. Regarding reading: it may be a generational thing, but I read better with a physical book in my hands. Also, if the entire point of getting away is to rid yourself of electronics, then why lug them around just to read a magazine? Also, I must admit, I’m at that point in my life where sometimes I want glasses to read things onscreen. I can still read books and magazines just fine. Finally, if you lose a magazine to rain or leave it behind while camping, it’s not a big deal. Lose your phone? Bigger deal. I’ve also left magazines and paperbacks on the seat of my car and nobody is going to break in and take them. There’s not much of a black market for 10-year-old non-bestseller paperbacks. 🙂

  11. I remember that Sky Slide. At the time I think it was 10 cents a ride. And the monkey bar, which I think also had bonsais on the roof. I went to Pearl City elem. just across the street. I got real good at body surfing, but not surfing. I actually surprised I survived childhood, since I have some wild memories about my days at the beach. Sandy beach, out past Hanauma bay had the roughest surf as I recall.

  12. This site wasnt working yesterday. i tried accesing it but it timed out 3-4 times now but i will access it now. Why did this occur? Am i the only one having this error?

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