Humans have always sought out oblivion. We’re wired to push the limits, and then to pull back, to rest, to reflect, to restrain, to tune out. Even sleep is a result of that need, to function and process and then disintegrate into the ether of our subconscious dreams. Magic, ritual, and religion have been bound together by this primal urge since we began walking upright in the jungles and started trying out what nature had to offer. Psychotropic plants, for example. “This one made Mary see the heavens!” “Oh, this one killed Bill, better not.” You know, on repeat, for billions of years. It took our ancestral psychonauts a long time to get us here.
Since the evolution of consciousness, of deliberate thought, of awareness of the self, we’ve sought ways and means to escape ourselves and turn it off. Religion itself seems to have sprung from this mystical desire to know the beginning and end of everything, while still simultaneously holding the ripcord, hand hovering on the escape hatch lever. We want in and we want out, always. We want there to be a reason for this life, for yours and mine, for all the lives, for this planet, this space, this time. For us.
We want to know the why, and sometimes we can’t handle it. Sometimes the mundane, the repetition, the certain rush toward the inevitable end becomes too much. Ignorance IS bliss. What if there’s nothing else? What if there is? What if this is a dream? What if I missed my chance? What if my chance never comes? What if this barrage of self-doubt never ends? What if rejection keeps playing on repeat? What if this is me killing it and I don’t even know it? What if it never gets better? What if it does? What if I get everything I want? Then what? What if the best time in my life is over? What if it isn’t?
Luckily, modern life has an exceptional array of paths to escape the normal flow of consciousness, probably more are available now than ever at any other time in human history. Most of us use at least a few every day, and some days we use a lot of different ones. We use things like caffeine and music and food to comfort, stimulate, and satisfy every day. A lot of us use alcohol and drugs and sex and exercise to escape regularly, ideally occasionally, but honestly, often desperately. We do this, day in, day out, for years. This is where we start getting into that grey area where the things we use to soothe and salve can start making sores themselves. What felt fun and healing now feels like a scary, powerful vice we can’t get out from underneath. The problem solver becomes the problem.
Deep down we all know getting altered doesn’t solve anything but blacking you out of time. Everything is always right where you left it. Sometimes, often, bigger and blacker than before because you’ve got an addiction or a habitual ritual screaming in your ear as well. It’s a pause button at best. So you have to decide how many times you want to get kicked out of paradisaical bliss and back into your reality and problem mountain.
It’s okay to want to let go. It’s okay to want to check out. It’s okay to want relief and respite. It’s okay to crave silence and ego loss and the calm tranquility of ocean inside our heavy, bleeding hearts. So how can we achieve this release, this catharsis, with the least amount of permanent damage to ourselves? How can we build a reality that is wonderful and fulfilling so that we don’t need to run away from it or ourselves? How can we run into the feelings instead of away from them?
The short answer: Try a new drug.
Listen. You know what hurts you and what heals you. Chances are that when the escape you seek is causing pain and suffering, there’s another way to get what you want and need, a better way, a more natural way that brings out your best, highest self. Find what serves you, and jettison the rest.
This is where mindfulness comes into play. When I first started learning about it, I assumed it was solely about finding ways to be more present in the moment (it is), but my understanding has grown to include a much wider realm of what we are truly seeking when we talk about mindfulness.
That oblivion instinct kicks in for a lot of us when we are trying to cope with something painful or hard. Rejection, disappointment, loss, grief, sadness, stress. It doesn’t have to be a massive thing, and is often the habits of daily life that wear us down. Those scripts we run work on autopilot. So if you train your brain to seek solace in a bottle of whiskey or a fast food burger bag, and you do that enough times, you will automatically reach for those things in times of stress and trouble, without even thinking. This is mindless habit. We do this with food and booze and TV and life, we choose once and forget it and let the script run.
We give up everything to the bliss of forgetting. Because it seems easier. (It’s not. Not really.)
Eventually, some of these oblivious escapes become destructive to our health, our mental clarity, our physical well being, and our rich emotional lives. Being sedated hurts because we become unable to feel the wonder of our lives. Simple human connection becomes terrifying and we live inside a bubble of fear.
We want to stop, but we don’t know how because we are on autopilot. We feel stuck in a pattern of behavior that seems like we have no control over it. But we do. We always have a choice, and it just takes practice to retrain yourself to choose to run the program that heals instead of hurts. Our minds work best and we are most efficient when we don’t have to spend precious resources like willpower on making choices about whether or not we drink or eat or go to the gym. If you have to think about something all the time, you turn it over and over and examine every possibility, the chance of you getting to your desired behavior is much more difficult than if you take that choice away.
So what’s the trick? Well, add in little things. Instead of quitting bad behaviors, create some new good ones. Meditation and yoga and walking are all places where you can learn how to choose a different adventure. Choose once, and follow the script. Repeat. After a month or so, it becomes a new habit. Then, while you may sometimes try on that old set of clothes, it doesn’t feel right anymore. You have successfully created a new coping mechanism. This is especially effective with negative and habitual behaviors or ways of reacting to situations or people. You can learn to spend your time in more fulfilling ways. You can go deeper and try new things you’ve never experienced. This may mean facing pain and discomfort straight on, but it also means you’ll get that catharsis that comes from enduring something and growing. You just don’t walk out of a class at the gym full of regret.
For me, I got tired of fighting with myself and dulling out,so I decided to learn to own my intense ability to feel. Vulnerability is now my superpower. I had to process many old, lingering and painful realities to get through to the other side. Now, I am able to choose to open myself to feeling and connection and experience. I befriended my body and began to love it intensely, so that it offers me endless pleasure and capability, and enables me to be in the world in a way I am grateful for every day. I take care of it and I listen to it. I know when I’m straying outside of where I want to be and I adjust. I breathe. I am able to choose new edges to push and explore that awaken me rather than dull me to my life experience.
What else is out there to feel? What will I get to do next? Who will show me?
The best way to really lose your mind is by finding it.