Can you tell us a little bit about what your new book is about?
It’s based on the idea that madness is human beings’ normal state, and that’s why so many of us find it hard to be content, or suffer from anxiety and a feeling that ‘something’s not quite right.’ Our normal state is to suffer from a psychological disorder, which I call ‘humania.’ That’s also why, on a global level, human beings have always found it hard to live in harmony with each other – societies have always been full of war, conflict and oppression. In my book, I examine the different characteristics of ‘humania’, the problems it causes in our lives, and how we can go about healing it, and so become truly sane.
Where did the concept of 'humania' arise from?
I imagined I was an alien who came to our planet to write a study of human beings, in the same way that an anthropologist studies a remote tribe and writes a study of them. The alien anthropologist would definitely come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with human beings. I imagined that they would come up with the term ‘humania’ to describe our condition – as in ‘human madness.’
How did you go about researching into this theory?
It was based on my observations of human beings over a long period. I was puzzled by the fact that so few people seem to be truly happy. So many people spend their lives chasing after more wealth and more success and status. So many people live in the future rather than in the present – the whole life is based on pushing forward into the future, rushing around, trying to achieve ambitions and goals.
One of the main problems is what I call ‘cognitive discord’ – the restlessness of our minds. When our attention isn’t occupied by something external, our minds fill up with random ‘thought-chatter’, a whirl of associations, memories and images – thoughts about the future or the past, daydreams, and so on. A lot of the time, ‘thought-chatter’ has a negative bias, and makes us feel worried about the future, or bitter or guilty about the past.
How easy is it to alter these states of mind?
Quite easy. It happens to us spontaneously. There are many occasions when we shift into a state of what I call ‘harmony of being,’ when our normal psychological discord fades away. It can happen when we’re walking in nature, listening to music, dancing, doing yoga or meditating, or after sex. In these moments, everything just feels right. A sense of deep well-being fills us. We feel connected to other people and to our surroundings. These experiences of ‘harmony’ are usually just temporary, but I think it’s possible to make them our normal, permanent state.
What do you want to achieve from releasing this book?
I want to help people understand why they might feel discontented and dissatisfied. And I want to show people how they can heal their psychological discord. I want to show people how life can cease to be a struggle, and become an easy, harmonious experience. I want to help us to develop a more harmonious relationship with each other, with nature and the whole Earth itself.
The book is an unusual approach to our behaviours, has it been challenged along the way?
A couple of my lecturing colleagues thought the idea that we all – or at least most of us – suffer from a psychological disorder was a little bizarre. Psychologists are used to thinking of mental disorders as abnormal – as a deviation from the norm. I’m saying that it is the norm. Humania is difficult to see because it’s so close to us. We take it for granted, because we’re so used to it. In order to see it, it’s necessary to step back and look at human beings from a completely objective standpoint.
What is the easiest and simplest way we can reduce suffering from humania today?
Contact with nature, meditation, yoga. Spending quiet time away from distractions and activities. A lot of sports can provide harmony of being too, like running or swimming, or more adventurous sports like climbing or hang-gliding. Harmony of being is our most fundamental state, so it’s not difficult for us to return to it. In the book I explain how we can cultivate a permanent state of harmony through an eight stage path of development, including stages such as transcending negative thought-patterns, practising conscious attention, and service.
What is the most common symptom of humania?
It’s an underlying sense of unease which often manifests itself in a need for distraction – a need to do something just for the sake of it, a need to turn on the TV or surf the web just to divert your attention outside you, or a need to focus on the future to get away from your dissatisfaction in the present. It also creates a drive to accumulate things you don’t really need – to buy unnecessary things, or to collect more money in your bank account.
How much has your career in Psychology aided this book?
Since gaining a good understanding of most areas in psychology, I’ve felt that there are some things about the human mind and human behaviour which aren’t properly explained. So I’ve gained the courage to develop my own radical ideas, and go beyond conventional psychological explanations.
When did your interest in the human mind evolve?
From being a teenager, I was always interested in observing other people, and trying to understand why human beings behave as they do. I was always interested in observing my own mind too. I always felt that ‘I’ was watching myself, aware of myself thinking thoughts and acting out my behaviour. That sometimes made life a little difficult – it made me very self-conscious and awkward. But it also led to my interest in psychology.
Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of Our Minds (Hay House, £10.99)
Female First Lucy Walton