Tag Archives: escapism

Reality Tightens its Noose on Trump.

I kick the subject of mental illness around a lot in this venue due to my career as a clinician which has given me a perspective to “sniff out” madness pretty readily.  Oh, we are all “mad” to some degree but then there are times when one’s madness goes beyond the pale and then the Shakespearean question is relevant, “What’s mad but to be anything else but mad.”  There are times when the ordinary madness of day to day life approaches the pale and threatens to go beyond it and enter the realm of “nothing else but mad.”

Trump is demonstrating this.  Here and in my other blogs I have noted often of his need to isolate himself in a private world, to cut off any criticism from those who see the world differently than he does, best illustrated with his hatred of, “fake news.”  But now as his “fake news,” known by most of us as “reality,” continues to tighten its noose on him, he is taking even more desperate moves.  The news about the non-disclosure agreements with his advisers and now the “cleaning house” with his staff and cabinet reveal a heightened need to cut off feedback from the outside.  Like Hamlet, overwhelmed with the duress of everyday life, expressed a desire to, “flee to a nutshell and there be the king of infinite spaces,” revealing Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human need to occasionally want a complete escape, even that of lunacy.


“Like Kittens Given Their Own Tails to Tease”

Vaclav Havel was a playwright, poet, and artist who became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1992 after helping lead a successful revolution against the Communists.  His involvement in politics was not the route that most men of his artistic persuasion would follow but his voracious reading in religion and the arts led him to action, not idle thought, or as pointed out recently in the Times Literary Supplement, “working for social and political improvement, not for glory, but to put his soul in order.”  Havel had a hunger in the heart that led him into the ethereal, even the occult, but he also was grounded in reality and recognized that the lure of intellectual and spiritual escapism must not be allowed to capture him.  He recognized that passion, that as Hamlet put it, “the native hue of resolution, sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…(would)…lose the name of action.”  Or, to put it in New Testament words, “Faith without action is dead.” (This was from a book review of “Vaclav Havel” by Kieran Williams.)

Havel lived through social and political turmoil in his youth during the Communist Revolution when his comfortably ensconced family suffered loss of wealth and status making the young Havel “self-conscious about his social origin.”  This “self-consciousness” produced what the book reviewer, Lesley Chamberlain, described as “productive friction” in his soul which simultaneously created or affirmed a belief in a soul and the insight that engagement in the human endeavor was an important part of “putting his soul in order.”  This “productive friction” will not take place in anyone’s life without some unsettling experience at some point in life as otherwise one will just bumble along life’s way comfortably ensconced in one’s view of the world, like “kittens given their tail to tease,” as Goethe put it.


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:




Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

Danger of “Thinking Outside of the Box”

As one who “thinks outside of the box,” I must admit that it is not necessarily a virtue.  I’ve had that aptitude since early youth and since my late teens I’ve been exploring its riches.  So, in a way, it is my “comfy zone” and at times I demonstrate my obnoxiousness and arrogance, those very qualities which I see residing in “box dwellers.”  As one dares to venture “outside of the box,” it is always very tempting to ensconce oneself in still another “box’ and there demonstrate the same arrogance that one is deriding with great contempt from his/her “comfy zone” outside of the box.

For, “the box” that I’m referring to is not merely a conceptual formulation but it is the gut-level orientation to take one’s view of the world as primary to the exclusion of others.  And those of us with “enlightened” and “noble” ideas are often the ones who pose the greatest challenges for civilization, witness The Crusades and Isis.  In each of these instances, they are whole-heartedly intoxicated with their world view and are willing to bring to those who disagree with them great displeasure, even death.  That is because those who are “intoxicated” with this delectable nectar of the gods (even though they are dark gods) cannot see beyond their limited perspective.  They have taken an “idea” and run it into the ground even to the point where they are willing to kill for it and to die for it themselves.  When you have reached this point, you are approaching the dark, demonic depths of being an “ideologue” regardless of how noble your idea might appear to be.

And ideologue always seeks to escape his own emptiness by glomming onto some “idea” which he naively thinks is “the answer.”  Been there, done that.  Now I realize that this obsession, even with an idea as noble as Jesus Christ, was just an escape from reality and an escape from my own spiritual depths just to hang on desperately to my illusion of reality and my illusion of myself.  As Jesus, and many other spiritually enlightened men and women have tried to teach us, there is a “spiritual” dimension to life which lies beyond the grasp of our finite, conscious mind.  But that “finite, conscious mind,” being an ego contrivance, resists this awareness and insists that we hang onto the world of appearance, the shadow world of Plato’s famous cave analogy.  And Jesus provided us a vivid example of just how gut-wrenchingly painful it is to give up this world of illusions and “climb the rugged cross of the moment and let our illusions die.” (Leonard Cohen)

Halloween Thought: Consciousness is Scary!!!

As Hamlet is drawing his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy to a close, he declares. “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all and the native hue of resolution is sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…”

Shakespeare knew that most people opt to never become conscious because it is just too painful.  He knew that regardless of out lot in life, be it immense pain or the mute pain of tedium, we would prefer to keep it that way, to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  Each of us prefers seeing the world through a narrow little prism, a citadel of unquestioned premises.  We obstinately cling to our narrow world view, opting to not challenge the comfy set of premises in which we are ensconced.  The price tag for this comfort is that we never become conscious, never escape the herd mentality into which each of us is born;  for, as T.S. Eliot has put it, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

Hamlet recognized that the “native hue of resolution”, or innate desire to exercise mature will in the world, is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”  Shakespeare presented this tragic character as stymied by thought, given to “thinking too much” which gave him wisdom, “which, if quartered would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.”  Hamlet recognized that hiding beneath that “pale cast of thought”,  that myriad of sterile ideas, was merely cowardice.  He knew that all ideologues are merely cowards, not willing to challenge their basic assumptions and tippy-toe into “reality.”

But W. H. Auden has the most vivid poetic description of our innate preference for this escapism:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny, and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie.





Make the World Go Away

Make the world go away

And get it off my shoulders

Say the things you used to say

And make the world go away.


These words from Eddy Arnold, an old country-western great, really speak to me from time to time. Everyone feels from time to time that they wish to “check out,” perhaps using the old line from Star Trek, “Beam me up Scotty. There is no intelligent life down here.” The need to escape is part of being human and requires us to find appropriate ways of making the escape. For, there are many “escapes” that are costly or devastating in the long-run such as addiction, or fanatical beliefs…of any sort… or insanity, or even at an extreme suicide. These are all merely ways of saying, “I hurt too much! Stop it! Give me an escape! I can’t take this anymore.”

Shakespeare had insight regarding the escape into insanity and btw, all of these “escapes” carried to an extreme become insanity. For example, Hamlet pined re his desire to, “Flee to a nutshell and there be the king of infinite spaces.” This brilliant image of retreating to a private world is an astute description of insanity, which is always a retreat to a private reference system where one is freed….at least in his mind…from the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” There, the assault of reality might continue, but the individual ensconced in his private prison will be oblivious to the “assault.” “Free at last! Free at last! Praise God, I’m free at last,” he might say. But this “freedom” is an ugly escape from reality, for actually it is the antithesis of freedom as one is then in the bondage of his own whims and fancies. Paul Tillich called it “an empty world of self-relatedness.”

And all escapes have some risk for if they become too much a preference over reality, they can devolve into insanity. Religion is such a classic example of how a valid “escape” can become a prison. And a glass of wine or shot of bourbon can become such a delightful escape, or release, that addiction sets in and one disappears into the bottle. (And I admit, I have some experience with this “disappearance.”)

Arnold’s lovely tune also offered a marvelous escape…of the adaptive variety…as it was a love song and he was pining for the solace of relationship when his lover would again, “Say the things you used to say, and make the world go away.”