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Dan L. Edmunds Ed.D., B.C.S.A.

Distress and the Breakdown of Community

The breakdown of a sense of community often lies at the root of distress.

One of the most destructive problems is the breakdown of community, and it is this breakdown that has often led to the breakdown of persons. Though we may put many around us, we are alone. Relationships have become superficial, there is no longer concern for the other, and we are pressed by societal and financial pressures to focus on our own survival. We do not concern ourselves much with the plight of others except a few we may call family or friends, and even then, our concern and attention is waning.

It is this which is leading to numerous dilemmas for our children and the diagnosis of a gamut of so-called mental disorders and the mass drugging to subdue them and force their conformity to a system of madness, a system they and most despise but which continues to perpetuate itself. Today, do we even know our neighbor; do we even care to know our neighbor?

And so we go along wearing masks throughout the day, playing the game, taking upon us the various roles. I see the impact of this upon our children, who become torn when made a pawn in this game. Families seek to project the goodly image to the outside while the reality is that there is immense turmoil and conflict. For some of these children, they begin to become part of the masking reality as well. I recall a young man I worked with whose family life was strained and there had been a lot of traumatic events and harshness. In the beginning, he presented his family as ‘golden’, and denied that anything anyone had noted was of truth. But fortunately over time, he came to grasp the courage and ability to think critically to challenge the way things were and to present reality to the family. And it certainly did require immense courage as in these situations the secrets are safely guarded and no one wants them exposed for what they are. The reaction was to be expected, the blame was shifted, and the young man was made to be the scapegoat and threats issued as to what would happen if he did not change his thinking and accept the myth the family held to. The only way that the young man was able to finally come to the point of challenging the family system and surviving the verbal assaults was by having one from the outside who had been able to forge a connection with both him and the family. In this, it was possible to advocate for the young man and also challenge the other family members but in a diplomatic way. This tactic worked and it was agreed upon that certain ways of interacting would need to be worked upon. They left behind the myth and came to face reality.

So if we are to truly be alive, to truly move beyond surviving to thriving, if we are to truly be human beings rather than alienated beings or drugged zombies, then we are going to need to return to the sense of community, to lay aside the barriers, and to be able to realize our common humanity. We are going to have to abandon the myths and the games we are often so entrenched within, and accept truth, even when painful.

There are powerful forces at work which pull us to and fro and infect us with ideas of who we are what we should be, and often block us from becoming. These forces arise within our social and familial structures. We are sent repetitive messages and they become deeply engrained. We may have been told we are not attractive or too attractive, not motivated or too achieving, etc. And we enter the social sphere having absorbed these messages. As we do so we begin a painful process of comparisons. There becomes a striving for something or sometimes nothing at all. But if there is striving, it is for what and for whom? Some sadly seek only to survive; it is all they can do. But if we can realize that no matter what has been dumped upon us and what the conditions are, we retain the choice to become! We have the choice to allow these powerful forces to consume us or to be defiant in the face of them and develop a process of unlearning. In this unlearning, we may be able to break free and emerge into a new world of being.

Life is to be lived compassionately. Life is to enjoy and behold each moment as precious. We should look upon all occurrences as part of the nature of things. All things change, nothing is permanent. The cause of emotional distress and turmoil lies in this desire to make things permanent that are impermanent and changing. If we understand that all is changing, and we see our experiences for what they are, we can attain peace and tranquility. We can transcend struggles and sufferings for we will understand the nature of existence. We should seek to master our minds to understanding that each moment in which we exist can be lived joyfully. Troubles that befall us and sufferings arise because we live in a world that has not understood how to live compassionately; a world that seeks to fulfill only the desires of the self and does not realize that all things exist in a unified web of being. We should seek to walk a path towards compassion, to live rightfully and joyfully. We should not hold hatreds or be bound to rigid laws. We will not gain from externals and ritual, but from what exists in the heart. We should seek transformation and insight and mastery of ourselves. We must come to know that we are of the human family; the sufferings of one are the sufferings of all. Truth does not exist in excess and glamorous trappings; it exists neither in an institution nor in a singular person or authority. Truth is something that is created in our hearts when we seek to put aside our attachments, when we seek to understand reality. Within humanity lies the innate nature and ability to do that which is benevolent. This spark of benevolence remains with every being, though it may be covered by the filth of greed, aggression, animosity, and other impure thought. We are like a mirror that will reflect this benevolent image fully only after we have been able to clean away these things that cause the reflection to be dimmed. Truth does not exist in the arrogance that only a singular path or a singular entity or authority is the guardian of Truth. Truth manifests in many ways, and there have been throughout the ages and cultures, many who have manifested Truth as it would be understood to the people of that age and culture. The truth was given as the mirror reflecting a radiant image, but it has always been that through the addition of dogmas, through the quest for power, through greed and avarice, which the Truth manifested has not remained in the hearts of some. The unifying message of all those who have brought these messages of truth, lies in compassion and removing selfish aims. The disunity arises out of what has been added to the message not from the message itself. When we become dogmatic and we hold to irrational ideas, we are bound to create barriers to love.

I have offered an alternative to persons undergoing extreme states of mind, persons who have received labels of 'schizophrenia', 'schizoaffective', or 'bipolar'. Many of these persons sought help within the psychiatric system but found that the 'treatments' only squashed their creativity, did not respect their experience, and in many circumstances, did them great harm and was traumatizing not to mention insulting to their dignity and autonomy. What is unfortunate is that because of the current bio-psychiatric paradigm, it is difficult to maintain this work. It has been my desire to expand this work of creating 'sanctuary' and a center for persons undergoing 'spiritual emergency'.

Often times in the various crises, persons come into conflict with the dominant worldview, and they begin to feel alienated and isolated. There are some who respond to crisis through excessive worry and others who develop apathy, or complete despair. I have argued that people do not need drugs, rather people need people. It is necessary for there to exist a supportive network to help the person through the crisis so it may reach a transformative ending. It is possible after undergoing such a crisis to emerge with new insights, to develop new meanings, a renewed sense of purpose. But, it is necessary for there to be a journey, a journey in togetherness, where the person can feel safe and supported in conquering fears, to be able to face the intrusive thoughts and feelings of dread that haunt them. In this journey is the process of being able to shed the false self, to actually be able to be a human being with another human being, and to no longer feel that they must repress their feelings or must 'play the games' or wear the masks that society imposes upon us. To be able to come to a radical authenticity, a mastery of past traumas where we make the choice to live and be rather than merely react.

These crises can be challenging, and often painful. The person may have to journey through dark imagery and confront many obstacles, but with support and the proper conditions to facilitate the journey, it can lead to an awakening, it can be breakthrough rather than breakdown.

About the Author

Dan Edmunds, Ed.D., D.D., B.C.S.A., is affiliated with the International Center for Humane Psychiatry and the European-American University.