Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

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Gonna Lay Down my Sword
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A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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of all talks

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Delusions

by Victor MacGill, Author of When the Dragon Stirs: Healing our Wounded Lives through fairy Stories, Myths and Legends from a talk to the Dunedin Spiritualist Church May 2006


We all know positive thinking works. If we have a positive expectation of our future, we will tend to do better than if we have a negative view. If we expect we will do well, we are more likely to put in our best effort to achieve a better outcome. If, on the other hand we expect to fail or not to do well, we will be less enthusiastic about putting in that energy. By thinking positively, we are more prepared to give it a go and less likely to be put off by obstacles, because it will feel worthwhile to keep on trying in spite of adversity. A less positive person will give up earlier.

There are many examples to prove that positive thinking works. In one research study cancer patients were divided into three groups. One group was made up of the people who were adamant that they would be healed, the second group accepted that they had a real risk of dying and the third group denied that they had cancer at all.

The three groups were followed to see how long they each survived. What they found was the group that was positive about being healed survived the best, those that denied having cancer at all survived the next best, and the group that accepted that they had a life threatening illness died the soonest. So, positive thinking does work.

But did you notice something strange happening in there? The people who most accurately assessed their situation and saw the world as it really is died first and those who were deluded about their situation or were totally unable to face their reality survived the longest. Why on earth might this strange contradiction exist?

Let’s take our minds back to our early human ancestors and imagine how life was for them. Life was a matter of survival.  Not doing well didn’t missing out on a job, earning less money, failing in exams, or living in a poorer part of town. It meant starving to death, drowning in a river or being eaten by lions. Those who found more efficient ways of meeting their needs survived, while those who did not died.

Our more optimistic ancestors survived. They were the ones who were willing to give things a go, the ones who didn’t give up. They survived while the more ones pessimistic died. Since optimistic parents are more likely to have optimistic children, over many generations the whole population grew more optimistic. The advantages of being positive outweighed the disadvantages for them just as it does for us. If this was not so, then the pessimistic people would have taken over the population then instead. We have all become more optimistic over time because it works

Obviously being too optimistic doesn’t work. I can be as optimistic as I like about being able to walk on water, but it isn’t going to happen. The right amount of optimism works. President Kennedy made a speech dreaming of getting a man on the moon within ten years. His optimistic attitude spread to others so it happened.

Being optimistic has advantages and disadvantages. We can’t just take the advantages, we have to have both. For tonight’s talk I would like to focus more on how we have handled the disadvantages of being optimistic because it teaches us much about ourselves.

Firstly, we are not psychologically equipped to take in everything about the world all at once.  When we take in too much we feel experience trauma. We would literally go mad if we took on everything at once. We have to choose what to be aware of in the world about us. Being human we cannot do it without making mistakes. We can not help but form delusions. We can not live without creating delusions.

Living in today’s world is not easy, We struggle to achieve our goals, and often fail, we get hurt in so many ways, we get rejected, we get sick, and of course we die. It would be easy to become pessimistic about life. One way to stay positive in such a dark and harrowing world is choose to not see things we don’t want to and delude ourselves about what the world is like.
 
We delude ourselves in so many ways. At an individual level we hide things from our selves. People will often specifically not go to see a doctor when they suspect they may have a life threatening illness. Even though they know they really need to go and find the truth, they avoid it because they cannot handle hearing the bad news. They are fully aware that their actions are illogical and that they are denying reality, but they carry on all the same. Our delusions allow us, in the short term at least, to avoid facing up to difficult situations in our lives.

We tend to hide our weaknesses from ourselves. We make excuses for our failures, we find reasons to blame others, justify our actions, or play down the seriousness of our actions so we can still feel good about ourselves. When we have done something shameful, it can be too difficult to accept ourselves as we really are. When we feel put down or shown up by others, we often try to bolster ourselves up or put other people down so we don’t seem as bad. All too often rather than learn to accept ourselves as we are, we create a deluded image of ourselves we feel we can live with.

We like to keep a positive view of other people, thinking that people are generally trustworthy. If we were to find we could not trust other people, the world becomes a darker, more dangerous place. It also means we have to consider how trustworthy we are and we are scared that we may not be as good as we think we are. We want to believe in people because it makes the world feel better.

Usually our trust is well founded, but there are people out there who deliberately set out to cause harm to us. There are people who would steal and burgle, swindle, beat, rob, rape or kill us. While we delude ourselves by being too optimistic about human nature, we make it easier for others to trick us and cause harm. We tend to look for the good, and miss or ignore the real signs they give that would warn of their harmful intentions.

Those who would harm us must delude themselves about the harm they are causing. They must make us less than human in their mind to deny the harm they are causing. When we live below our expectations of ourselves and do things we know we should not be doing, we feel stress. Alcohol, drugs and other addictions are all ways we often use to reduce stress. Addictions allow us to continue in our delusions rather than facing up to reality. That’s why so many criminals have addictions. You and I are more likely to indulge in addictions such as chocolate, shopping, or working long hours. Anything we use to maintain our delusions are addictions.

I believe there is a power in the world that links all things into one unity and when we align ourselves with that power, miracles happen that can dramatically change our lives for the better. But, all that may be just part of my delusion. So many people use God as a delusion; as yet another addiction to avoid taking personal responsibility for their situation. God is expected to make everything right. We can too easily dismiss our own faults and errors as, “God must have meant it to be” or “I’ve been saved and all my sins are washed away” can just be a way to avoid facing up to what we have done.
 
We create shared delusions with other people. In relationships and families we often share unspoken delusions to avoid seeing the relationship as it really is. Some relationships have physical violence, but there are so many other ways to violate the other person’s right to be a full person, such as coercion, emotional blackmail, financial control, and keeping secrets.

A family might have a secret, such as a family member who drinks too much alcohol. In spite of the obvious harm, it is denied, excused and ignored. It is sometimes called “the elephant in the kitchen”. Has anyone heard of this? It’s like there is an elephant in the kitchen that everybody pretends isn’t there. Everyone knows the person is alcoholic and it is destroying the family, but nobody has the courage to face it and risk breaking up the whole family. The alcohol just becomes excused and integrated into “normal” life. You can’t do anything without the elephant getting in the road, but everyone just works around it, pretending everything is normal and making excuses for why they have to do things in odd ways.

Rather than do the hard work to fix the relationship or family, which can mean risking the end of the relationship, the violations become a normal part of life and don’t get talked about. We delude ourselves that they don’t exist. The rules of what can be talked about are never discussed or ever spoken about, but they are known and obeyed just the same.
There are even rules that say you can’t admit there are any rules.

We hide and suppress so much of what we observe about the world around us, but here’s another paradox. We must first being aware of an event before we can decide to suppress it. We become not aware of something we are already aware of. We know and we don’t know all at the same time. Now that’s weird, but that’s what we are like.

So many people living next to the Nazi death camps knew very well what was going on around them. They saw the trains arrive full of people and none taking them out. The air smelled of the stench of human flesh and they saw human hair falling in the streets. It was their elephant and they found ways to not “see” what was obviously going on. Some people managed to remain totally “unaware”, some were afraid to be aware because of the repercussions which would have been real, some made token gestures of protest so they didn’t have to feel that guilty.

How would we react? Would you and I have had the courage to stand up against such evil or would we, like most people, just find our own level of unawareness to live at.

In fact there are plenty situations in our everyday lives today where we know things are not right, but choose to not know. When we see George Bush on the television talking about the noble reasons for being in Iraq, we all know he is lying. We all know it’s about maintaining cheap supplies of oil. You and I are fully awareness that the price for you and I to be able to drive our cars here tonight to hear me talk, was innocent people in places like Iraq being shot, maimed, bombed, starved, persecuted and oppressed. It fills me with huge humility as I hope my talk tonight is deserving of the sacrifice that has been made for me to be able to do this talk.

The implications of living our life without oil is so scary to contemplate we would prefer to turn a blind eye to the obscene levels of violence required to maintain our lifestyle. Even though we see through the lies, we choose to not take it in. We choose to live in a delusion instead.

Many millions live in poverty, so we can live in wealth. Workers live in abject conditions in third world countries so we can keep buying our cheap TVs, computers, cars, stereos, toasters, shoes etc. We know that whole Pacific atolls will sink beneath the sea because of our pollution, that Brazilian rainforests will continue to disappear to make beef for MacDonalds, Burger King and similar companies. We know cyclones like Katrina will keep coming, and that our increasing use of electricity is going to destroy our lakes and rivers. There will always be the few who stand and speak, but the vast majority of us will pretend nothing has changed until it becomes utterly unavoidable. It is not until the elephant has trampled on us that we will admit that it exists.

We know exactly what we are doing, but you and I are not going to stop. We will drive home tonight and turn on our televisions and our computers, we will eat fast food and continue “as normal” maintaining our deadly delusions.

So, how should we address these horrible realities. To shun modern life and live off on a commune or in the bush is only to hide away and become more deluded. We really cannot play our role in today’s society without bring a part of the delusion. We should do what we can to stand up to those like George Bush, who lie for their own benefit. Equally, we should realise that it is also true that they are only the actors in the unfolding drama of human nature, who only hold those roles, only because we continue to play our role in the theatre of delusion. If we get rid of them there will be other people and companies to take over their lead roles.

We also have to ask whether we are just blaming George Bush and his cronies to let ourselves off the hook, because we do not want to face how much greed and violence is within us.

To live in delusion is to live in darkness. To live with awareness is to grow in consciousness.

The Buddhist view of life also tells us everything in this life is illusion. Every time we examine something, we see its real nature to be a delusion. We must then create a new truth to replace the delusion. Alas, this new truth always turns out to be just another level of delusion. Spiritual development can be viewed as moving from one delusion to another. Buddhism also says there is a state that exists beyond the worlds of illusion they call “nirvana”. Buddhists say, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him”. In other words whenever you think you have seen the Buddha, that is perfection, you think you have seen the truth, but it is just another delusion to be killed.

So, where does that leave us? We need delusions to be optimistic and positive about our future, but those very delusions keep us from experiencing the world as it is right now. There is no easy answer, we each find the level of awareness we can cope with. For some it might mean social action, for others it might mean a spiritual path. The more courage we have to see the world as it is without flinching from the truth, in a way that still allows us to remain positive and optimistic about life, the more effective we can be as human beings. Then we can tear down the delusions, which perpetuate enormous levels of suffering and keep us from the true awareness of who we truly are. Delusions, We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them!

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