For the most part, Western psychology is focused on treating what is considered ‘abnormal’ in order to help an individual fit into society and act ‘normally’. Much focus is put on external causes of various forms of disturbance and how the individual can adjust, adapt or respond to those disturbances. The approach leads to a constant need for ‘therapy sessions’ as there are countless causes of disturbance, looked at from an external standpoint, all the time in everyone’s life. If an individual can be made basically content with the coping mechanisms and can be supported to ‘fit in’ to the life of society, the therapy is considered to be successful.
Missing from this approach, however, is any attempt to understand the deeper drives and issues that create these fluctuations, the methods of solving the underlying concerns, and motivations, that drive people into negative reactions in the first place. Few ask the question about the status of “normality” in a world that, to many, has gone absolutely mad.
What if the entire approach is missing the significance of human life and the aspiration that drives humanity forward? What if the process of trying to help people ‘fit in’ to a world of misplaced focus and values is actually creating more internal stress? When individuals self-medicate with various drugs or alcohol, they are trying to cope with the mismatch between their inner sense and the demands of the society outside. Is it possible that a re-evaluation of the objectives, goals and forms of the society is what is really required here? When we look around at human-caused mass suffering, war, mass migration, mass extinctions due to climate change, income inequality that is caused by fictitious modes of action in our economic models and the vast dislocations in our society evidenced by homelessness, drug dependency, alcoholism, bullying,, racism, misogyny, violence, and poverty, etc. it becomes quite clear that much of the mental health of individuals must relate to the context they find themselves in within the society. Self-worth is evaluated, not on intrinsic values of one’s life and aspirations, but on external factors such as wealth, status, social position, physical appearance, etc. As long as they try to frame their lives and response within the context of the society, they clearly have no way out and succumb to mental disturbances.
What if there is a way out of the prison of the mind within which everyone seems to operate? This is the proposition put forward by practitioners of yoga who set forth a goal aligned with the deepest aspirations of humanity, for meaning in their lives, for exercising the drive for growth and fulfillment, for attaining to peace and building a social order that is based on peace, harmony and good will.
Dr. Dalal writes: “Our psychological state is normally characterized by continual disturbances of varying degrees of severity. some of the common disturbances are fear, anxiety, depression, insecurity, restlessness, anger, jealousy, suspicion, etc. Up to a certain degree, such disturbances are considered ‘normal’. When the disturbances experienced by an individual exceed what is regarded as normal, the person is said to be suffering from a lack of ‘mental health’. When disturbances reach extreme proportions and significantly disable an individual, the person is deemed to be suffering from mental illness. Thus mental health is generally understood as absence of marked psychological disturbances.”
“An increasing number of people, however, find such a view of mental health unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, it is felt that mental health should consist in certain positive characteristics which impart a positive sense of psychological well-being, such as peace, inner security, confidence, a sense of mastery, etc.; the mere absence of significant disturbances does not constitute mental health. Secondly, people are beginning to realize that it is not only the more acute disturbances such as anxiety, depression, agitation, etc. that impair mental health; even such things as the constant chatter and distractibility of the mind, the perpetual hankering for different objects of desire, the recurrent pull of inertia, etc. — which few look upon as psychological disturbances — are felt by more and more people as states that mar inner well-being and therefore denote a lack of mental health.”
“To such people, yoga may have something valuable to offer. For yoga is a psychological approach which aims at a radical change of consciousness so as to lead to a state of immutable and unconditioned peace, freedom and joy. The perfect yogic state has been described as not only free from all disturbances, but also immune to them by virtue of its positive characteristics.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction
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