I often recommend to others who seek to do what I tried, DON’T! It is too dangerous – you are taking an awful risk. It is not wise to isolate yourself for twelve months and spend hour upon hour peering inside, facing your worst pains and fears, trying to see beyond them for answers that might not even exist. And yet, if I hadn’t taken that gamble, I would have never understood today just how imperative friendship is in improving our lives and initiating positive, potentially global, change.
Let me clarify early. What I did, I did out of necessity.
I was a naïve twenty-four-year-old who had just entered a medical specialist training program with a promising future before me. Yet my heart and mind were emotionally tearing themselves apart. I knew if I followed this path, I would suffer years of emotional misery – I wasn’t doing it for me. I didn’t know who ‘me’ was, let alone what ‘I’ actually wanted.
Yes, I really thought of ending it all.
This was a culmination of years of depression; being ostracised, bullied, and psychological abused, mostly in my high school years. To cope I read books outside the mainstream and began to believe we suffer to become purer, so we never have to come back to this lowly, poorly spiritually advanced, world again. I also believed in the idea of a state of all-knowing – seeing beyond oneself to finally see a liberating ‘truth’.
My choices were stark: I could end it all, continue to be miserable, or finally journey inside to find what I intuitively knew would give me salvation. I would find what I wanted or die trying. I was prepared to end it all anyway, what did I have to lose?
So, having resigned from medical training, and living off savings, I sat on a bed in my rental unit in Sydney for almost a year, only venturing out twice a week for shopping. I remembered it rained a lot over those initial months. Day in, day out, I closed my eyes and forced myself to see deeper and deeper, to feel beyond. All too quickly I was being stopped by my worst fears and deepest emotional pains.
I cried for many days at the sadness I saw of personal traumas and disappointments – it all felt so unfair. Eventually much of the pain passed. But not the fears.
Growing up Catholic I believed in many evils and all of them came to face me. I was threatened with damnation, pain, suffering – how dare you do this? I was faced with the prospect that I might not just die, but my soul, if there was one, would become wiped out – I would no longer exist; no afterlife, nothing!
So be it.
Give it your best shot, I told these fears.
I let the terrors envelope me in their completeness, every worst possible case. Then, surprisingly, instead of me fading away, or ending in some extreme torment, the fears dissolved. Better still, I could see where they came from – I could now explore the depths of the feelings, what other fears and images were behind them – the layers and depths that made them as they appeared.
As I lingered, exploring, I also experienced that evil isn’t evil at all – it is something we are taught, an expression of fears and misery triggered by events that threaten our humanity. Hence, the evil people or evil forces are those that intentionally kill or torture without apparent reason. If it threatens the basics of who we are it becomes ‘evil’, when, ultimately, it is closer to being just a set of predictable reactions to recognisable events.
Onward I went. At times experiencing great joy, a sense of greater awareness and insight. But I had learnt early, if the emotion is great it is a deception – don’t stop there, it isn’t what you are after.
So, I continued further.
Eventually I could begin to hold the feeling of a sense of awareness of all things, but also of nothingness. It seemed the two were linked. To experience all things from all times – simultaneously – seemed like experiencing nothing at all – they felt similar.
So, I tried to see if I could experience nothingness, and ‘be’ it – I was curious. As I took myself deeper into something beyond feeling, and even thought, an idea suddenly came to me. Yes, suppose I did become nothing, but then I wouldn’t exist. If that was true, then what would be the point in me doing any of this?
It was then I began to see steps of how perception comes into being. And how to perceive, by its nature, is to observe from a distorted perspective. Without a distorted point of view we do not notice anything.
Then I began to see the unique distortions of the human point of view. How we attach feelings and meaning to all things, how our senses are tuned to only notice what is relevant to us as human beings in nature. We see visible light, for instance, rather than infrared (as cats do), because it is all that is needed for us to survive in the natural world. We hear, smell, touch, and taste as we do because it fits in with who we are, here on Earth. We create interpretations and explanations based on what is relevant, and might affect us, as human beings.
Why try to understand the stars? They don’t just look pretty, but could there be something there that might harm us, something we need to watch out for?
I had a new appreciation for the unique wonder of being human.
I kept exploring, asking questions, trying to make a practical sense of what it is to be of human form. Along the way I wondered if there were some minimal feelings we might have that would explain everything we feel – like the primary colours of red, blue, and yellow – that when mixed make up every colour we see.
I thought if we could understand feelings we could find what is needed to give us our greatest and most fulfilling experiences as humans.
Soon I was able to isolate two groups, fear and desires.
Fears, I initially saw, were often to prevent us doing damage – an avoidance for the most part. If I’m afraid of spiders, I will avoid them. But that didn’t drive us to do what is necessary to survive – to be human.
That is where desires come in.
Desires are ways of driving us to eat, drink, sleep, have sex, and so on. They are associated with motivations that ensure we do the minimum necessary to survive as human beings.
Many years later, after having returned to medicine as a GP, I would refine these understandings and create practical models to help patients overcome and prevent depression and better master their anxieties and fears. It was here that ten desires of friendship would appear and offer a completely new appreciation for me for what friendship represents and what happens when it is neglected.
It also uncovered a malevolence I had no idea existed.
Seeing our actions in terms of the desires that drive us helped reveal how we maladapted to becoming farmers in tragic and destructive ways.
For millennia humans roamed the world as hunter gathers. We found safety and security in numbers. Among others of our kind we could better protect each other and feel safe. We could also know the security of having enough food – we can gather more food more easily as a group.
What kept us together, safe and secure, was friendship. More specifically, meeting each other’s desires for friendship – later I would recognise ten of them, to keep them practical and easy to use.
‘OF ALL THE THINGS WHICH WISDOM PROVIDES TO MAKE US ENTIRELY HAPPY, MUCH THE GREATEST IS THE POSSESSION OF FRIENDSHIP’
When we became farmers three desires other than those of friendship began to take hold.
As farmers we find security in food by growing excess in case of bad seasons. In terms of desires this a desire for wealth, a desire we hardly would have known as hunter-gathers. Who’s going to carry enough to last out a season when we can find it as we went?
With desires for wealth come desires for status and power. If people are important to our community, we don’t mind them having more to help ensure they survive. If we have no status, we can always buy influence, or create it with threats and force – power.
Create farming and we create powerful desires for wealth, power, and status – often insatiable.
What do these desires do to those of friendship?
They suppress them.
The stronger our desires for wealth and power the less we will want – or desire – true friends. Friends share. To share would threaten our wealth and power. Better to have compatriots or allies. If they can’t help us build our wealth and power why would we need them? We can call them friends, but they aren’t really, not in the hunter-gatherer sense.
And so it was, on learning this, I decided to share these ideas in a book. To help others see just how damaging simple decisions we make every day to put our drives for wealth, power, and status higher than our desires for friendship damage our world and our lives. How this priority has been destroying communities, families, relationships, leading to wars, environmental damage, and massive inequality – the dominance of greed. To introduce simple steps we can each take every day to change this – some of what nature asks of us to be friends.
Human beings are not randomly driven biological organism – we don’t do things for no reason; we react in predictable ways. Neither are we slaves to whims of some superior being/s. We have recognizable and understandable desires that drive us and seek fulfillment daily. Satisfy them and we have the potential to live peaceful, satisfying, meaningful, lives.
I grew up taught to believe that study and career came first. I wasn’t taught how to make friends or how critical friendships were. This helped trigger a journey I don’t recommend anyone else take. It isn’t just the emotional trauma I wouldn’t wish on anybody, it is also the risk of taking a journey inside our mind. It can result in us losing focus and struggling to know what is real – it comes with significant risks.
It has been over thirty years since I decided to journey inside. I no longer suffer depression.
Since exploring friendship, its role in our lives and how that impacts globally, I have come to believe in a new hope for humanity and the world. As greed, inequality, loneliness, and general sadness and dissatisfaction, dominate our lives it can be easy to feel there is no way out, that there is nothing we can do, as individuals, to make a real difference.
What learning about friendship has taught me is we can each be more influential towards creating positive change than we might imagine.
I am not claiming to have all the answers. What I would like to do is to is help those who are open to the notion to begin to become more aware of the connection between how what we feel relates to what we do, and vice versa. To help us take responsibility for our happiness and the state of our world.
Perhaps what nearly killed me can help, in a small way, others create a better life.