Are we all mad? Or are we suffering from 'humania'?
Steve, who is based in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences at our University,argues that the psychological disorder, 'humania', is the root cause of all our dysfunctional behaviour, both as individuals and as a species. He uses the book to explore both the symptoms, including: the madness of constant wanting; our constant stream of thoughts that leave us feeling unsettled and take us away from the moment, known as 'thought chatter' and the collective madness of warfare, social oppression and environmental destruction, and he explains how we may be able to overcome this psychosocial discord.
Steve comments: "One of the main causes of humania is what I call 'cognitive discord' - the random thought-chatter that runs through our minds, creating disturbance inside us and triggering negative feelings like fear of the future, bitterness about the past, jealousy, guilt and so on. So one of the most important things we need to do is to quieten our minds a little, slow down the thought-chatter. There are a lot of activities we can use for this: sports like swimming and running have a mind-quietening effect, as does walking in nature. Mindfulness exercises help too - when we give full attention to our experiences and our surroundings, rather than being immersed in our own thoughts. And best of all is meditation, which really slows down our thoughts and stops us being overwhelmed with negative feelings.
"The other main cause of humania is our sense of separateness - the way we feel that we're 'in here', inside our own mental space, with the rest of the world - including all other people - 'out there', on the other side. This sense of separateness creates a sense of lack and incompleteness which we try to fill with materialism or status-seeking, or by clinging to belief systems or social identities which make us feel more significant e.g. fundamentalist religion, or ethnic or national groups (which usually means feeling antagonism towards other groups). One way to overcome this sense of separateness is through connection. One thing which helps is altruism - being of service to other people, without thinking of your own reward. Research has shown that, as well as making us happier, altruism makes us feel connected to something bigger than our own selves. Contact with nature helps establish this connection too -and again, practices like mindfulness and meditation can help us to feel ourselves as part of the world, rather than as separate entities."
Steve argues that our madness is so intrinsic to us that we are unaware of it, but when we start to examine our behaviour, it isn't hard to see evidence of insanity. Why, for example, are so many of us driven to accumulate more and more wealth, status and success without any evidence that they provide us with contentment and fulfilment? Why are we restless or uneasy when not occupied, and constantly looking for distraction, as if we are incapable of just 'being'? On a collective level, why is human history an endless, depressing saga of warfare, conflict and oppression? We now live in an age where the world's three richest people are wealthier than the 48 poorest countries combined, and where almost 800 million people are malnourished while millions of others are obese. "What could be more insane than this?" Steve asks in the first part of the book.
The second part of the book details suggestions of practices and ways of living - including practical exercises - which can help create a more harmonious inner state, so that we can begin to live inside ourselves, in the present, and attain a real state of sanity.