Cancer of the mind
October 21, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
There’s a cancer of the mind. It’s called “fantasy.” Like cheesecake, fantasy is great in controlled dosages. My brother Paul and my sister Carrie once made a cheesecake with strawberry topping, split it in half, and finished it down to the last crumb of graham-cracker crust. Neither of them ate cheesecake again for over twenty years. I have tons of fantasies that brighten my day, but I never apply them to real life. And I never spend more than a few minutes thinking about them.
Unchecked fantasizing always gets worse. It metastasizes until the person is living in a fantasy world. That wouldn’t matter if the terminal fantasizer were locked in a rubber room where he or she could do no harm. The problem is that so many people base their life decisions on fantasy. Entire populations are delusional. World leaders suffer disproportionately from this mind-cancer. They do things that force the rest of us to wage war on them.
This man, for example.
He loved costumes, pageantry, and public adoration. It went to his head, and he retreated from reality into fantasies of his own military “genius” and the capabilities of his armed forces. Nazi Germany never had a chance of winning World War II after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and then declared war on the United States, December 11, 1941.
Germany lacked the resources to fight the USSR and the US simultaneously, and the Nazi approach to military matters was crippled by fantasy. Germans made fun of American and Soviet uniforms, which they said were the exact color of human excrement.
The Germans adopted field-gray uniforms in 1907.
They were also in love with camouflage. This Nazi machine gunner wears three different patterns of camouflage on his helmet, jacket, and trousers respectively.
Well, the guys in the uniforms that literally looked like crap cleaned the clocks of the snazzy Nazis. Culturally Germans were susceptible to living in a fantasy world. It made them start two world wars, neither of which they could’ve won after the US got involved. This isn’t to take away from the efforts of the other Allies; Germany would likely have lost both world wars even without the direct participation of American forces. But once the US turned all its attention toward defeating the Central Powers in World War I and the Axis Powers in World War II, the die was cast.
Today an Israeli told me that my post on the media love affair with Hamas is an example of why people prefer fantasy to depressing reality. Though I understand the sentiment, I think that not facing reality is a form of living hell that will eventually destroy you. The story of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations always haunted me. Jilted at the altar, she never took off her wedding dress, left the wedding breakfast and cake on the table, and stopped all the clocks.
She lived like that—in stasis—for decades.
I figured out only in 2014 why fantasy always disturbed me: It’s denial of reality. Sometimes it’s fun to deny reality. For example, I totally immerse myself in movies. Last night I watched Father Goose again.
Though I was imagining that Leslie Caron was in love with me, I was also completely aware that she doesn’t even know I’m alive. That doesn’t spoil the fantasy. Watching the movie was a short vacation, that’s all. When it was over, I wasn’t depressed that I never got to be alone on a deserted island with Leslie Caron; instead, I was grateful that for a short time I was able to pretend that I was.
My novel Chasing the Last Whale is a fairy tale. I enjoyed writing it, but it’s a fantasy. It was very hard work creating that fantasy, so I never got lost in it or swept away by it. Every single word is carefully chosen. When I finished it, I didn’t think, “I wish I could have that life.” It was never in the cards; I knew that when I was four years old. People would tell me of all the wonderful things I’d do when I grew up, but I already knew they’d never happen.
The reason I’m not bitter is because I accepted reality. Doing so can be astonishingly painful, which is why people avoid it. But the pain doesn’t last. You experience it for weeks or months or even years, and then it’s over. Acceptance is permanent. With acceptance comes clarity, and with clarity comes as much peace of mind as you can manage.
You don’t end up like this Buddha I drew back when I could still see.
It’s based on a statue I saw in Japan, which triggered some kind of…downloading of understanding. For an instant I grasped the concept of eternity and how possessing total happiness—achieving nirvana—would suffice. You wouldn’t get bored or antsy. The moment passed, and I was left as I was before, unable to articulate what it was I’d perceived.
But I still have the memory of knowing something. It all made sense for a second.
I’m not a particularly happy person; this life has been too hard. But I’m as happy as is possible for someone who’s experienced what I have and who knows what I know. I believe that happiness is banked. You accumulate it cycle by cycle. At the start of each life, you have amnesia, but happiness stays with you. That’s why it’s so important to not live in a fantasy world of how you wish things were.
By denying reality you stop dead in your tracks. Growth ceases. You can even regress, losing all your gains and spending all the happiness you had in the bank. In the next life, you start over with nothing, flat broke.
That won’t happen to me. My clarity came at the cost of losing just about everything. Retreating into a fantasy world would make my entire life a waste.
I understand perfectly why people choose to not face reality. But the reason we’re here is to become better. You can’t get better if you refuse to see things as they really are. The treatment that cures the mind-cancer of fantasy is quite harsh, but as in the case of radiation and chemotherapy, the suffering is temporary. Happiness, on the other hand, can be permanent.
Eventually. Acceptance and gratitude will get you there.
Don’t look for something
Plain truth is nothing
Nothing but the plain truth
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