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Depression, anxiety and the grip of metaphysics

Reading | Editorial

The editors | 2021-08-09

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Metaphysical beliefs modulate our experience of all aspects of life. As such, explicitly assessing the metaphysics we internalize can be the difference between depression and contentment, anxiety and vibrant aliveness. In this brief editorial, we highlight the crucial importance of metaphysics to every facet of our lives.

Recently, one of us was talking to an acquaintance who has been battling stage-four colon cancer for almost five years. The person was struggling with the prospect of the end of life, mentally reliving and reviewing past actions, relationships, mistakes and unachieved dreams. At one point, he confessed to himself out loud: “I’m solely responsible for my loneliness. Socially awkward since childhood, graduating with honors transformed me into an insufferably arrogant over-achiever. I destroyed my engagement and career. Ultimately, cancer erased my hubris too late to mend bridges with family and friends.” That cancer had given him both the push and the time to mend himself—as evidenced by his very words—didn’t occur to him. And if it had occurred, he would still have dismissed it as irrelevant, for our private insights and inner maturity die with us; only what is ‘out there,’ outside our inner lives, counts. Or so we think.

At another point in the conversation, our acquaintance was reminiscing about what he did or failed to accomplish in the course of his life. He managed to find one thing he was proud of; a relatively minor technical achievement that constituted the thin thread of self-validation he was hanging on to. But, soon enough, it gave way: “I don’t feel worthy of the outrageous financial and expert resources expended in extending my life.” For him—as for the vast majority of us—only external accomplishments count as a measure of one’s life’s worth. Nothing that happens inside—insights, understandings, realizations—holds any meaning, for the mental is ephemeral and evanescent; only the material is concrete and substantial. Or so we think.

This person’s way of relating to himself, others and the world—the inner narrative setting the tone for his apprehension of meaning, worth and significance—is a direct implication of the physicalist metaphysics, according to which mind is an ephemeral and inconsequential side-effect of physical entities. Only the latter have true, standalone existence and endure—in different configurations—across time and space. In contrast, inner, mental events, for being destined to eventually vanish into oblivion, are ultimately pointless.

This is very important to realize, if one wants to avoid the fate of our acquaintance: belief in the metaphysics of physicalism is not merely conceptual; it’s not an abstract, academic thing; it is instead deeply internalized and, as such, orchestrates our emotional inner lives. Under most circumstances—not only terminal illness, but also many other aspects of life, such as career and relationship events—it determines whether we are content or dissatisfied, happy or depressed, comfortable or anxious, peaceful or restless, feel supported or lonely, and so on. Our emotional inner lives—our very happiness, contentment and sense of safety—are a direct function of our internalized metaphysical beliefs.

Clearly, thus, metaphysics is a matter of utmost importance. It is very personal, very close to us, very intimate, even if we think we are not ‘into it’ or ‘couldn’t care less.’ If asked, our cancer survivor acquaintance would deny having any affinity with metaphysical questions. Yet, his suffering is modulated by his unexamined metaphysical beliefs. Metaphysical questions are, arguably, the most important questions in life, for they determine whether any given life event will be experienced as positive or negative, constructive or destructive, meaningful or insignificant. We don’t experience objective events; we experience only our internalized apprehension of these events, as determined by the metaphysics we embody. Anyone who believes that what counts are the events themselves, not our embodied interpretation of them, has failed to cognize something vitally important about human nature.

As the material published by Essentia Foundation seeks to make clear, physicalism is not only just a hypothesis, but also a very problematic one at that, as far as coherence, explanatory power and empirical adequacy are concerned. The widespread belief that physicalism must be true—for most scientists and scholars seem to tacitly adopt it at an operational level—is not only unjustified by the facts but also dangerous, since it lies at the root of most existential suffering. It has made us blind to the numinous meaning, significance and immortality of our inner lives, to the universal service we render by achieving inner insight, and to the eternal light of inner growth. If this were understood by our cancer survivor acquaintance, his journey would be eased. To be sure, he would still suffer, but his suffering would be imbued with the grace of eternal meaning, for the mental is what truly has standalone existence. Objective events and external achievements are but means to an end, ephemeral representations without reality of their own.

This is why Essentia Foundation exists: not to engage in a merely abstract, conceptual game, but to change lives in all ways that truly count. Understanding and internalizing metaphysical idealism is literally life-changing: it opens a window to light and fresh air in the dark, moldy and claustrophobic room of physicalism. And so, we invite you to join us in this expansive journey towards true meaning; a journey through vast inner landscapes.

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