Millions of people feel the need to escape, but from what?
By E.F Nicholson
Right now, throughout the western world and much of the developing world, there will be hundreds of millions of adults and children glued to some type of screen, be it a TV, tablet, mobile or laptop, as Alan Watts puts it “to watch an electronic reproduction of life”. It would be a weird sight for someone who lived 150 years ago to be transported to 2014 and to see how humans spend their time when not working or sleeping. It must look really odd see to all these people in a semi-hypnotic state, staring at a black box in a corner of a room or a black rectangular screen on their lap. “Remote Controlled: Why Television is bad for your health” pointed out in its introduction that, on average, people spend 12 years of their life in front of a TV. “Holy mindless zombie Batman!” was all I could think. Twelve years, not as a punishment but as a chosen use of time. So why do people, on average, sit in front of a screen for 7-8 hrs a day? A common response would be to relax and tune out. Yet a question we rarely see people being asked is “What are they tuning out from?”
The multitude of opportunities to escape
Yet being mesmerized by a screen is only one of the opportunities we have at our disposable to “tune out” and escape from how we are feeling. There’s also the ingesting of both legal and illegal substances that alter our experience of self and reality. The figures suggest that our need to “tune out” seems to be growing. It’s very easy to witness this destructive loop of supply driving demand, resulting in demand driving supply. But one way or another it appears that the need for something ‘other than what is’ is on the increase.
When you add the daily intake of 7-8 hours a day of screen time, then add anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, opiate painkillers, alcohol intake, cannabis and first class narcotics, the numbers start to stack up. Then there are more subtle and less obvious addictions like food, porn and a variety of other things to assist in “getting you away” that add to that even further. When you put them all together it then seems like the majority rather than the minority need something to escape from.
Asking the questions
Of course, these numbers will overlap to an extent, but I am not aiming to prove something statistically. I’m looking at what this means from a societal perspective, rather than each individual’s need to escape. These figures force us to ask the questions. What does it tell us about the way society is structured that this level of escape appears to be needed? What are people actually escaping from?
Our personal and shared pain
There is a colossal amount of people who are so unfulfilled with everyday life, that they need a way (seemingly any way) to escape from how they feel. At heart what drives any compulsive form of escapism is temporary relief from pain – be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. The many means of escape enable us to kick the can down the road a little longer and avoid what we don’t want to face, as the pain we try to escape from is complicated. On one hand it holds our personal stories, experiences and wounds. It also includes the pain of living within social structures that are designed to keep us stressed, docile and ignorant. Living in this kind of depersonalised and automated way, in its own right, creates pain that feeds into the collective pain that we are also tied into. There is an invisible force we are attuned to which connects us to the whole. As the collective suffers, we suffer. As we suffer, the collective suffers.
What is missing in how we currently approach our pain?
Much of the literature on “Why people need to escape” looks at it from very individual perspective: that is, how do you as an individual stop smoking pot? Or why do you feel the need to drink wine daily? Take a look in Amazon’s spirituality and self-help section and you will see thousands of books, all telling you how to change YOU. Never before in recorded human history have we had access to such a vast amount of knowledge as to what’s required for a person to be happy and fulfilled. Yet here we are: seemingly getting unhappier, more depressed, more stressed and more distracted. Looking at this exclusively as an individual problem fails to factor in the environmental context. Like throwing a seed on a slab of concrete and wondering what’s wrong with the seed when it fails to transform into a tree. Not many people come out and say “Being depressed is a perfectly natural response to living in such depressing, unfair and impersonal society”. Our wider social view doesn’t get discussed. The propaganda infrastructure allows thousands of books to be produced on what makes a good seed, in which we can debate, discuss or even argue. We can talk about the rights of seeds, how seeds need to be treated, how all seeds should be equal and so on. Yet books on what makes good soil are sadly hard to find.
The appropriate response and a signal of hope
People need to realise that much of the pain they continually attempt to lessen doesn’t disappear because it is not “themselves” that is the problem. It’s the way we are being treated, the environments we live within and the gross injustices and untold suffering spread across the world that we are intrinsically connected to. Society’s functional infrastructure, whether it be educational, economic or political, is not there to make people happy or fulfilled; it was established to make us compliant, frightened and powerless to the self-interest of those who rule. Yet it might sound strange, but there is hope in our pain. Although it may feel counter-intuitive, our pain and unwillingness to just “get on and be happy” is that deeper part of who we are, forever whispering to us that “This isn’t the way it should be; this isn’t right.” All the pain in the world is an expression of our collective dissent and discontent.
Feelings our feelings as a way to breach the pain
With that in mind, we need to know that the societal system is set up to encourage us to doubt how we feel, to make us numb to how we really feel. It then tells us what we should feel and pushes us to “think” over how we “feel”. All this isn’t merely an epiphenomenon of the social structure; rather it is a fundamental mechanism to ensure the status quo remains intact. So we are distracted, diverted and amused. The ‘outside’ bombards us with instructions on how we should feel on the inside. Schooling is an obvious example of how our view of life and ourselves come from the outside in, rather than the inside out.
The power of I feel
So feeling our feelings is act of rebellion against the status quo. Feelings have power, as they point us to our personal and collective truth. Despite the fact that we are indoctrinated to believe that “feelings” are soft and warm, fuzzy sentiments, they are in fact our compass guiding us toward what is real and true. Indeed, the only thing more powerful than knowing how we feel is when that feeling is shared, communicated and affirmed. Millions of people all feeling the same desire for change, feeling the same sense of unity and fellowship is a truly unstoppable force.
How we can heal the source of our shared pain by acknowledging the cause of pain.
One of the greatest illusions that underpins much of the human struggle is the illusion of separateness. Although many spiritual traditions speak about the “unity of all things” and the “oneness of life”, now science has caught up to confirm this is a concrete reality not just a metaphysical one. The air we breathe, the atoms that pass through us and thousands of other processes being exchanged between “us” and “other”, make it impossible to be seen as static separate identities. This allows me to see that it’s not just my pain I am trying to escape from but “our pain”; and it’s not me that will fix our pain, it is “all of us” together.
Together there is no need to escape!
Together is such a powerful word. As whatever we need to address, heal, fix or transform, together is the word that describe how that ends up happening. Together we can uncover the magic and mystery that lies beneath all the pain. Together we shall feel life as it is meant to be felt. Together we will come to the revelation that, far from something to escape from, our life is to be celebrated. Life is the ultimate gift to share, to treasure and to behold. Together.