When you are drowning, you will grab hold of any broken, rusty-nail-spiked piece of wood you possibly can in order to stay afloat. All that is going through your mind at that moment is “I have to survive.” The higher thought processes are grayed out. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter that you, in your panicked state, could grip the wrong thing tightly enough to draw blood. It doesn’t matter that what you are taking hold of is quite possible the single most efficient mechanism ever constructed for the communication of tetanus or some other horrifying pathogen. The scope of your mental process is limited to “The water is killing me. I have to stop the water from killing me.”
Now, as long as a person is actually floundering around in the middle of the ocean, and the dangerous piece of wood is actually the only thing keeping them from dying, there is really nothing more that can be done. It’s a good thing that they are not dying, even though what they are doing to survive is very dangerous in and of itself.
If, however, such a person were to drift up alongside a luxury ocean liner, and if people were casting out life preservers and calling to them and offering help, and the person refused all of these overtures, preferring rather to remain in such a precarious state…well, then, we must conclude that something is seriously wrong.
For me, that jagged piece of wood was alcohol. I used it to make the broken record stop spinning so that I could continue living without going crazy immediately, or killing myself (both of which actions are…I mean…avoiding them by absolutely any means necessary is always a good thing, no matter what.) There came a point, though, very early on in that relapse (I call it a relapse because that is what it was — the alcohol started happening in my mid twenties, and I had been in recovery from chemical dependency since my late teens) when help was offered in the form of a warm and loving network of supportive people who reached out to me, and who really did care about me and want to see me succeed. Rather than accept this help, I just covered up my behavior. I flew under the radar. I learned to lie better. It is to my everlasting shame and regret that I chose this path. Had I chosen the other, my children would have grown up under entirely different circumstances, the hurtful effects of the destructive cult upon my family and my marriage would have been properly addressed and, in time, healed.
In short, a lot of things went from bad to worse because I did not choose to let go of the jagged piece of wood and climb aboard the ship.
There is a lot of jagged wood floating around out there on the ocean of the world’s pain and confusion, and not all of it is as obviously ugly and damaging as drugs and alcohol. Much of it offers a counterfeit healing and therapeutic effect that will string the user on for years, and perhaps decades, before they realize themselves to be just as empty and destitute as the day they took hold of it. From legalistic, cult-like religion to the soft, peaceful poison of pop spirituality, there are just so, so many different ways for the soul to languish and atrophy under the anesthesia of delusion while believing itself to be liberated and enlightened. It makes my head spin. And it makes me very sad, because I know what it’s like.
Again, though, there is a very simple litmus test that can be used to determine whether something is genuinely good or bad, regardless of what it pretends to be.
You shall know a tree by its fruit.
At the risk of sounding like the guy from Donny Darko, I would just like to put forth that I believe every philosophy has, at its core, either love or fear. By this I mean to assert that every set of philosophical ideas can be mathematically simplified and analytically distilled into one of these two basic, primal things. This is just my opinion, and I am, after all, just a dude, but I think I’m right.
Fear lies at the root of every basic mental dysfunction there is, and fear begins to happen in us by our having experienced an unmet basic human need, like unconditional love and acceptance. Human history is positively rife with cultural situations where the denial of basic human needs comes part and parcel with membership, so circumstances like these are not difficult to come by, and as a result we basically all have to learn how to deal with fear just by virtue of the fact that we exist here. Without any real means of defeating fear, though, or of living above its reach, it becomes necessary to simply accept it, and where concessions of this kind are made there can be no overcoming spiritual experience. Rather, the lack thereof becomes set up in its place, and worshiped as the pinnacle of achievement.
I would like to submit to you that there are very real means by which you and I have free and open access to perfect love, which removes all fear, and that these means are actually so simple, so basic, and so absolutely intrinsic to who you are as a person, that they have been overlooked entirely throughout all of time.
The point, though, is that temporary means of survival should only be relied upon for as long as they are absolutely necessary (that is, until an actual solution becomes available.) Simply surviving is not what we were put here to do. We were put here not to survive, but to thrive. A survivor is someone who will do absolutely anything in order to keep from dying. A survivor will eat you if they have to. And we, my dearly beloved fellow humans, are well able to be so, so much more than simply that.