Collective hallucinations and inner peace

When you hear predictions of the future, do not become fearful or excited—remember that future events are beyond your control. Keep the same serene mindset you had before hearing the prediction.

When you understand that outside events do not touch your deepest self—what matters is your interpretation and reaction—you can use any circumstance to your benefit.

The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide to Life (Stoic Philosophy Book 1), by Sam Torode. Chapter 32. (It is a rewrite of snippets of Epictetus).

People are consumed by doomsday thinking. Me, too.

When I was a kid there were two that I remember:

  • “Jesus is coming back to Earth to save the True Believers”, and
  • “The Russians are going to start a nuclear was and we are all going to die.”

Doomsday, inside and out.

Both had a definite and negative effect on my young mind. If Jesus is coming to take us to heaven, how do I know I will be among the saved? I had a constant feeling that I was a sinner and would be left behind. Imagine that! At age 10 or so I was a loser and a sinner and would be separated from my family by Jesus.

There were a couple of years that I distinctly remember thinking “Jesus will come this year”. Of course it didn’t happen. I’m pretty sure that even my young mind got a teeny bit jaded and skeptical about this Second Coming stuff from the preachers.

The fear of nuclear doom lasted into my 30s. I did not see the point of having children or thinking long term if the human race was doomed. Imagine that! Not to say that the military risk didn’t exist, but a collective hallucination affected me so deeply that I cut myself off from the most basic of evolutionary urges–to reproduce.

Epictetus, as usual, is on point.

Think of the application of this principle today. Let’s say you meet someone disagreeable. Or someone who expresses a negative opinion about you.

Or you see something in the news about someone who has an opinion that’s, well, self-evidently malignant. Or someone expresses the latest Global Fear du Jour about some happy horseshit or another. Because these pervasive, pessimistic beliefs cloud our life today. Or they can, if we let them.

None of these things are within my control. None of them harm me, unless I let them.

My personal practice, if I am aware enough to wake up from my sleep, is to ask myself a simple question:

“Yesterday I did not know this person existed, and so yesterday this person’s opinion didn’t exist for me. It simply didn’t matter.

“Why should this person’s opinion matter today, when I became aware of this person’s existence?”

The drill only takes a moment. If there is some truth there to be considered — consider it. Look for help in improving, even from the most obnoxious sources. And maybe especially from those sources.

Drop your ego and see if there is something to learn. Keep an open mind. Be willing to entertain ideas and perspectives from all sources.

Rarely is there anything useful to learn. Usually these people are merely loud, and a brief exposure to them reveals the existence of an incoherent mind. It’s all jumbled thinking, jumbled word salad.

Outrage and vitriol are a sign of a closed mind. Blocking these people entirely from your life has a high expected value, with a low probability of false positives.

Don’t bother to correct them. It’s a waste of time. They don’t want correction.

And anyway, their actions are flags, warnings. If you are playing poker and you notice another player has a tell, you don’t point it out. You keep quiet and make sure you learn to suppress your own tells.

“Danger! Stay away!” Let them keep flying the danger flags loudly for those who have eyes to see. You wouldn’t correct a clumsy thief. “You’re doing it all wrong. If you keep doing it that way you will be caught!” Then all you’re doing is helping to create a skillful thief.

Take the inner lessons for yourself. Remember — tattoo this on your brain — to first drop your arms, like a boxer, and be defenseless. What am I hearing? What lessons exist for me and the inside man?

If nothing is apparent, ignore the noise and the noisy messenger. Don’t make the mistake of imagining that a diamond is buried under a mountain of bullshit. Don’t waste your time. Diamonds are lying in front of you. Fish are jumping into your boat daily. 😀

I’m sure you can think if a couple of modern-day versions to the “nuclear holocaust / humankind is doomed” voluntary collective hallucinations:

  • Trump is a bad man and the country is going to hell.
  • Social media will rot the brain and we’re all going to die.
  • AI will take over and there will be no more jobs and we’re all going to die.
  • Global warming and we’re all going to die.
  • Video games are rotting the brains of Kids These Days and they are going to grab guns and kill everyone.
  • Lyrics in popular music are rotting the brains of Kids These Days and this insurmountable evil must be solved with stickers on CD cases.

I will stop there because this is too easy. And anyway, turn away from evil. Focus on what you wish to achieve or be. As the carpenter said, “Resist not evil.” See the hidden meaning of those words: by resisting evil you feed and strengthen evil. If you want to be fit, don’t focus on why you’re fat. Focus on being fit.

Ignore what is said. Work on the inner man. It will be a far more effective countermeasure to crazy than taking the opposite but equally crazy side of their arguments. Strive to be a man number seven even though that aim is unattainable.