Within the last months, so many lost young people suffering madness, addiction, rage, fear, so many variations on breakdown, have come into the field of our families and communities. Every small circle of people that happens to come together in our country has children suffering in one way or another. Our family secrets.
Today, a colleague wrote: “In the latest edition of Harper’s they list in their Harper’s Index the chance that an American teen suffers from a severe emotional or mental disorder is one in five! It’s too bad it has to show up as a one-liner in Harper’s.”
Desperate, lost, hungry, abused, anorexic, autistic, suicidal, paranoid, violent against themselves or others, environmentally poisoned and injured, drugged by doctors or dealers, unable to find work, meaningful labor or education, alienated from their families and communities, often without any alternative but going to war, they are the ones, by their very conditions, who are speaking truth to power.
In the last week, a young man has been writing to me of his uncontainable anguish, pain, overwhelm, anger and confusion. His letters could have come from any one of dozens of young people I know of, or know. He was writing of his great fear of the world. Of the ultimate uselessness of hospitals, pharmaceuticals, therapists, police and healers. Of his failure to find anyone to help him.
He is desperate. He is angry. He is overwhelmed. He is hearing a multitude of voices and they are driving him mad. He does not know if he is hearing Spirit or if Spirit is attacking him. He is out of control. He is lashing out.
His inner state is not unlike the nation states on the planet: Suspicion. Fear. Strike.
He has to heal as we have to heal.
This is a letter I wrote to him with the hope that he will find his way to sanity.
Psyche lost Eros because she was incapable of believing in, having faith in, the Divine that must remain invisible and because her jealous sisters insisted she challenge what appears only in the dark. Recognizing the Divine in the moment of loss, she had to engage in different tasks to restore her relationship with the face of God that had appeared to her.
The first task was to separate the beans from the peas from the lentils.
We are called to separate the destructive voices of the sisters, from our true internal understanding. We have to be willing to discern and trust the Divine when It appears.
We are called to separate the true voices of spirit from our own internal voices and from the external voices that are imposters. To separate the trustworthy internal voices from the internalized destructive voices. To separate the internal voice purporting to be, let’s say, the Dalai Lama, from the teachings of the Dalai Lama, from the spirit of the Dalai Lama who may also be speaking to you. Let each stand on its own and respond to each as it its due.
Sometimes the animals come to us, or the trees, or the wind. Learn to distinguish these spirit beings, from the embodied animals, trees, elementals that may also come and speak, and differentiate these from your fantasies or wild imaginings. This task, like Psyche’s original task, requires discernment and faith. If you have grounded faith in the existence of the spirits, it will be easier, ironically, to recognize the phantoms of your mind and others’ minds.
Sometimes the dead come to us with their agonies and demands. The dead want to be heard. They want us to help them cross the river, to transform, as the I Ching speaks about it, from ghost to ancestor. We do our best to meet their call, to distinguish the hungry ghosts from those who can and will transform. The dead come in great waves. Not only our dead. Not only the dead our ancestors may have injured or allied with, but all the dead, of all the races, of all of history.
These days, there are so many, we feel we are drowning too. It is true; there are too many of the anguished dead. Too many died in the most horrible ways in the last decades, in the last centuries. There are too many to acknowledge, hold, console, cross and mourn. Tell them this. There is no choice but to share the truth with them. You cannot do it all. Nor can we, your elders. But you can be aware of them, here, among us, clamoring and suffering. Tell them we know and this knowledge will have to be sufficient. And also, whether they are ready or not, you can insist they help us, just as you have to assist in healing the world. You are not ready, but you have to be.
How do we do this? Each person, like Psyche, must find his/her way.
You have to separate the dissonant voices you hear, whatever names they bear, from the real voices of spirit and health. You are called to differentiate between those who speak on behalf of your healing and those who are not committed to your healing.
I am not your enemy nor are any of those alongside you that you are ranting against. If you rant against those you are hoping will help you, you are creating the loneliness you are in.
Something inside you is no longer able to differentiate. Everything becomes everything. You are losing the ability to distinguish the beans from the peas from the lentils.
There is a healthy, strong self within you. Find that one. You can.
There is turmoil in the world. Yes. There is danger in the world. Yes. There are assaults on innocence and goodness everywhere. Yes.
We all know this. We are all concerned. We are each trying to find each of our distinct ways to meet the different crisis. We cannot respond to them all in all ways. No one can. We each work in different ways. This implies a council of response. You will find your ways as we have found ours.
If you continue to lash out at anything that moves, especially those who you think can help you, you will be part of the pattern of destruction that is driving you crazy
Though you don’t know this yet, you can chose to extricate yourself from the crisis, to find balance and insight inside yourself and so differentiate between what is no longer able to align with goodness and what is determined to align with goodness for all beings.
It is not your task to try to educate, to issue alarms or to rant now. We are not innocent or ignorant. We know the dangers, are bearing witness, are acting accordingly. Each, we hope, in our own, thoughtful, ways. Each, we hope, as careful as we can be.
It is your task to differentiate what is wise and kind, to support it and let its light reach you even from afar. If you do this, you will not feel so alone or endangered
Also you can’t use up all the space with your agony. We are all trying to meet the overwhelming anguish of the times. Take your formidable intellect and your love for the earth in hand. Focus the light of these into your psyche and find the sanity in the swirl.
Like Psyche, no one can do it for you.
When I was young, I once told a dear friend that I couldn’t bear a certain situation. I was afraid I would break entirely under the weight and anguish of it.
She responded, wisely: “Who asked you if you can bear it? Bear it!”
I learned to bear it. It doesn’t mean, I didn’t break from time to time. There is no way to do this easily. No one can be safe or comfortable in a world that is not safe.
I wish we could provide you with a safer world. But, alas, it is your task to do your part to make it safe. Start with yourself. This is the work for which your entire life’s suffering qualifies you.
I hope this letter helps you set out on what is for everyone a solitary journey. I believe you will find your own sanity as you search for it as Diogenes searched for truth.
When you return to the world having found the strength, sanity and healing that is indigenous to you, you will have proved to all of us that sanity is possible. I will look forward to hearing from you and learning of your ways.