By Ricardo Márquez
Every day, we’re bombarded by countless texts, e-mails, news and propaganda that keep us distracted or trapped in what is external and immediate. We’re subjected to a barrage of stimuli that don’t allow us to concentrate, to maintain focus on a thought, feeling or task. We face more information than we have the capacity to process, discern or digest. We could say that we live in a state of indigestion. The conflicting views about the virus, the vaccines, laws, the war, immigration issues, gender issues and environmental disasters trigger fear and confusion. We don’t know what the next chapter of our life will bring and that fuels our anxiety and uncertainty about the future.
All of this is fertile ground for mental illness to take root, with its rage, frustration and depression. Meanwhile, the process to get psychological, emotional and spiritual support has gotten more complicated and therapists and organizations that offer this help are overwhelmed.
In general terms, we could define mental illness as a loss of harmony in relation to ourselves, to others and to the reality that surrounds us. We respond instinctively amid the chaos with violence, rigidness, apathy, fanaticism or indifference. What do we do when facing this terrifying situation? Acknowledging that we’re in a crisis could awaken us from it, inspiring us to ask for help, beginning the road to our interior selves.
When explorers discover that they’re lost, the most sensible course is to return to base camp. What does it mean for us to return to base camp? It means to begin to look inward, to begin to ask, “Where are my reactions coming from? My fears? My emotions?” It means passing from the visible to the invisible, from the apparent to the essential, from the accidental to the fundamental; to truly begin to look at what is important to us. We speak, sometimes superficially, about the importance of cultivating love, respect, compassion and tenderness; it turns out, these things are necessary in moments of crisis.
In recent days, when we were remembering those who disappeared in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the media shared some of the last messages sent by passengers and crew members in the hijacked planes to their family members:
“Don’t forget that I love you” … “I want you to know that I love you” … “Tell the kids that I love them” … “Forgive me for not spending more time with you.”
Love is in our DNA, integral to our creation. Creation for believers is a mystery of love, a “big bang” of love that continues to expand; we came from love and will return to love.
Creating silence in our frenetic lives is the first step to beginning a journey to our interior, to creating a space and a moment to reduce the avalanche of external stimuli and to prepare the ground to begin to listen to the interior voice of our conscience, to see ourselves as we are, with our attributes, wounds, lights and shadows. That process, which takes time and requires grace and discipline, is what will lead us to accept and love ourselves, and from there, to respect and love others.
In that intimate place of our conscience is where we find the mystery and greatness of God; it is in that place of loving encounter that we feel like the prodigal son of the parable Jesus shared with us.
If we don’t judge ourselves, nor condemn, neither will He condemn us. And from that experience of lived acceptance and love, from that deep transformation, is born the urge to announce to others the Good News that we are all loved and are called to experience that love here and now. This process takes us to harmony, to the flexibility that we need to move in the midst of chaos and confusion to better mental health. Amid the turmoil, we will know that we are loved and that our life is sacred.
Ricardo Márquez, PhD, is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.