Stepping out of the comfort zone

04/11/2017 01:30 pm ET Updated Apr 11, 2017

One in ten people in the world suffers from depression or severe anxiety, according to the World Health Organization.

It is also well known that almost half of the population, at least once in a lifetime, suffers from mental illness. The pressures in working world, the loads we carry and the quick pace of life have increased massively. We have fewer buffer zones, less quiet time; everything is accelerated. Performance pressure is even transferred into the leisure time, so the gym and sports, for example, become “must-do” activities to survive. Severe sleep disturbances make us unable to switch off, so the swallowing of large quantities of sleeping pills and other medicines, and increased alcohol and drug use, are severe problems. The addictive potential is great and highly dangerous.

We believe it brings comfort to follow within our social and corporate circles, but the more we follow such a path, the more this following turns out to be a severe illusion, and we are trapped in believing this is the normality of comfort. In the lives we typically lead, there is very little solitude. Even when we are alone, our lives are overcrowded by so many external influences, including anxieties, fears, miseries and conflicts, that our mind becomes duller and duller. We become less sensitive from functioning in a monotonous day-to-day routine.

We are never alone, because we are full of memories; all the conditioning and all the mutterings of past moments encroach upon us. Our mind is never clear, never conscious, never compassionate, and never courageous – because we are constantly accumulating. This accumulation becomes the foundation for making decisions, for the way we the see the world.

When we are totally alone, without belonging or any bonding to groups, friends, family, environment, work, or culture, there is a sense of being a total outsider, which, as social humans, we cannot deal with. That’s why we can’t summon the confidence to step out of the comfort zone.

What has happened to us? How far did we reach this current state of unease and ‘dis-ease’?

By nature, our minds want to acquire – that is survival. Interest and curiosity are the very beginning of acquisition, which then leads to escapism and then boredom and then the urge to be truly free from boredom is yet another form of possession. Is it perhaps possible that the mind cycles from boredom to interest to boredom to interest over and over again, until we feel absolutely discontented? At the end of the day we call these successive waves of interest overload and this we then call existence.

So what is truly possible under such circumstances? The truth is that we never want to be alone; we are surrounded by people and by our own thoughts. Even when the people are distant, we see things and screen our thoughts. There is no moment – or at least it is exceptionally rare – when there is no thought. We do not know how to be alone, to be free of all association, of all continuity, of all words and images. We are lonely but we do not know what it feels to be alone. The ache of loneliness fills our hearts and our mind covers it with fear and anxiety, which we fight to overcome with possession and attachment. Loneliness leads to deep isolation. So we do everything possible to escape from what is, not wanting to be confronted. Isolation is the way of our lives; we rarely fuse with another because we are broken, torn apart and bitter within ourselves. We are lacking the ability to keep ourselves in balance. This is why we must learn how to learn differently, to fuse with one other and empower and integrate.

As long as we follow, loneliness travels with us. But why are we so frightened of being alone? Is it possible to speculate that we are scared to face ourselves as we are, scared to find ourselves empty, dull, not intelligent enough, not attractive enough, guilty and even anxious. When we start running away, we are overwhelmed by fear. And this fear convinces us that we must increase possession and attachments to rid ourselves of this fear. It’s all a convoluted circle.

We are all going through a mental malaise, and we seem blind to it. In today’s complex, fast and result-driven world we are used to excelling, expecting and striving for the impossible. It is certainly not surprising that more and more executives suffer from mental disorders. Mental distress or mental illnesses are often well-hidden because people feel shame from this and don’t want to be excluded from their respected circles. So we create a suppressive survival strategy to overcome mental distress and ostensibly ‘deal with’ day-to-day routines, as if everything is going fine. But underneath lies a tremendous level of helplessness, hopelessness and even a lack of orientation that leads to total blindness.

Many are convinced that they have caused their own depression. Behind a facade of professional success sometimes hides great suffering, of which no one is aware. We are afraid of solitude which actually opens the gate to our inner insufficiency, the poorness of our inner being. But the irony is that it is only solitude that heals us from the deepening wound of loneliness – not any form of possession or attachments. It is the mind that isolates, separates and cuts off unity and togetherness. Because the mind can’t be made whole, it can’t make itself obsolete.

For that very effort, a profound process of isolation is required to become comprehensive; it is simply part of loneliness that nothing can be covered and put together solely alone. Aloneness is not the result of thought. Only when thought is utterly and completely still can we attain a state of being alone. This is nurturing the good within us. In fact, our thought is made of a bundle of influences. This means we are made of all kinds of influences: social, economic, hereditary and climatic. Through all those, we try to find something beyond, which, ironically, can only be reached once we cultivate stillness. If we can’t find it, we simply think we can invent it and cling to those inventions. Because we don’t understand the relationship of influences within the different levels of consciousness, we become free. That is why our aloneness is uninfluenced, because the mind and the heart are no longer formed by external influences such as image, reputation, position, title, status quo, authority or internal experiences. Only when we cultivate aloneness we see what the real feels like.

But because our mind is constantly isolated and driven by fear and anxiety, it is unlikely that our mind can ever go beyond that point, so we continue to accept ourselves as followers. The lack of compassion, clarity, consciousness and courage conditions us to our accustomed habits so that we are constantly choosing to escape from ‘the true real’ of which we are frightened. We therefore accept the manipulation of reality, tweaking reality so that we like the comfort of our inner balance. But this is a fatal illusion. Sooner or later we will have to look deeply inward to realise how very deep and extraordinary lonely and empty we have allowed ourselves to become, living under superficiality, covering our escape.

In becoming aware of our emptiness, we are constantly discovering through a range of sensationalism, euphoria and exaggerations, that real emptiness never can actually be covered. To understand this, we must be aware of those escapes, and when we understand them, we can face our emptiness and will suddenly realise that our emptiness is not different from ourselves. During this experience, while being the thinker, thought, loneliness and anguish dissolve and we attain true inner balance. To have inward solitude is crucially important because it implies freedom to be, to go and to be resilient. Space and stillness are necessary, not held captive by infinite varieties of experience that must come upon something totally new.

Everything is available almost everywhere and always. Previously, it was thought that knowledge brings certainty and security. For some time now, the opposite has been true: digitisation makes knowledge practically always accessible. At the same time, however, many insights are short-lived rather than enduring, so even though momentarily assured, tomorrow might not be the same. This results in uncertainty. We are saved from having to think about what is going on inside us. Unpleasant feelings can so easily be dodged. We can no longer hold the emptiness, the slowness, the impotence.

That is why it is only the time when the mind is capable of shedding all external influences, all interferences driven out by thought, only then we experience purpose-oriented creativeness. However in the 21st century we have entered a century where more and more people accept being manipulated by artificial intelligence (AI) that is exhibited by machines mimicking cognitive functions that humans associate with other human minds; such learning and problem solving will entirely change the life of our global population as it intensifies the influence through profound propaganda, compulsion and imitation, dictating to us how we have to think efficiently, how to solve problems rationally, how to conform and to imitate. But when we allow ourselves to be influenced and to be persuaded, our attitude creates resistance because it is not intuitive, as if we must revolt to understand these influences that are always impinging, interfering and controlling and shaping an entire global society. One of the factors of the mediocre mind is that it is always fearful and essentially frozen in a state of confusion; we require order to feel safe, secure and consistent, but this is now increasingly being influenced and controlled externally. Any choices between influences is surely still a state of mediocrity – that is why we must question if the mind has the capacity to fathom not to imitate and not to be shaped with fear.

We seek significance in life. But loneliness remains. We can’t and don’t want to acknowledge that we are lonely, so we keep escaping and keep comparing. The fact is, most of us are never alone – and this is one of the major problems today. We may withdraw and retreat into nature or live as a recluse, but we are barely physically by ourselves where we are totally free and unencumbered from the past; and only such a mind is virtuous when we are in aloneness – a moment we see something as it is, and not as we are told or wish it should be. What truly matters is that we cultivate and savour this feeling of complete aloneness.

Because we are conditioned since birth to be alone, this very process of our mind is ‘separative’ which knows loneliness, but this kind of loneliness is not ‘separative’, because the mind is not the entity of alone as a mind can never be alone. That is why our mind can never know aloneness, which explains why most of us seek dependency and living in a state of separation leading to conflicts which we believe drive imagination and innovation. But our mind can never perceive that, can never understand such complexity, as it only knows loneliness. Attachment and possessions are an escape from loneliness.

We have never been concerned much with dependency, because we can’t deal with the fact that we are lonely and isolated; instead we attach ourselves to people, prostitution, narcotics, possessions, material attachments and other sorts of escapes. Any form of attachment is an escape from loneliness. Can we cognitively understand this deep sense of loneliness and emptiness? Any movement at all away from loneliness strengthens loneliness as there is more need than ever before to get away from it. The conflict of attachment occupies our mind so much that we lose sight of that kind of loneliness and disregard it and over-occupy ourselves with the effect. But subconsciously, loneliness is acting all the time because there is no difference between cause and effect. There is only what is. Only when it turns into a cause it moves away from itself. Most of us can’t see or understand this because we keep clinging to the effect. So we cultivate deep loneliness within ourselves and continue moving away from this kind of loneliness to attachment, as it is this sort of attachment that becomes crucially important and dominating, preventing us from looking at what is. Escaping from it is real fear; we try to resolve it by continuously escaping, by accepting partial problem solutions that are not purpose-oriented.

The only way we can end this cycle is when we are in solitude – alone but not in loneliness. That requires clarity, courage, compassion and consciousness. Instead we are carrying our burdens from one day to another, never leaving them behind us. Only when we give complete attention to solve a problem entirely can we let it go and continue on with a fresh open mind. The only way out of this misery, not to hinder the development of human kind, is to cultivate solitude. Sooner or later this will become a necessity for survival.

We need to understand once more how to know what it is to be alone, what it is to be in stillness and the implications of solitude and emptiness. We can teach; we must learn and cultivate this. To experience solitude, emptiness and being in stillness we must be in a state of inquiry to learn the unknown. If we suppress this inquiry by previous knowledge, experience and assumptions, the learning is limited and we revert to imitation, causing repetition of what we learn without experience.

We have built walls between ourselves and our neighbours that lead to nationalism, racism, classism, caste, and finally to isolation and loneliness. A mind that is caught in loneliness is isolated and possibly never understands why we cultivate to be separated. But only when the mind is entirely alone and empty do we comprehend. That is why aloneness does not lead to isolation; it leads to intellect, intelligence, understanding and togetherness. Therefore aloneness can’t be cultivated – it is true humility. It is this deep aloneness that comes through self-knowledge, understanding the importance of compassion, togetherness, bonding and belonging.

To be alone is truly essential for becoming more empathetic. To learn to be quiet and to rest is necessary for us in the 21st century within any sort of relationship, whether at school, work, family, friendships, or acquaintances. To ignore true quietness will have significant consequences for the entire global population.

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