Death by a Thousand Cuts
By Faisal Amjad

How the system is set up to kill your mojo... and how to get it back

Published in: World, Health
Date: 28 / 07 / 20

Over 1000 years ago, around 900AD, there was a form of torture and execution practised in China and Vietnam known as Lingchi. It was banned only as recently as 1905.

Lingchi was translated variously as the slow process, the lingering death, or slow slicing, and was also nicknamed “Death by a Thousand Cuts”. In this form of execution, a knife was used to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually resulting in death. The cuts on their own weren’t fatal, but together, the pain would slowly increase until they made the victim bleed to death in an excruciating manner. Often Lingchi was reserved for crimes viewed as especially heinous, such as treason.

(Ironically, Death by a Thousand Cuts is also a Taylor Swift song. I am leaving it up to you to decide as to which of these punishments is more painful to endure.)

The phrase in modern language has come to mean a situation where lots of small bad things are happening, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which add up to a slow and painful demise.

It kind of feels like that at the moment. 2020 has been a crazy, unbelievable year of almost meme-worthy proportions — and great news guys, we’re only halfway in yet. Gulp.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. This was supposed to be the big fresh start, post Brexit. A new year and a new decade. Like the annual Liverpool FC proclamation, this year was gonna be ‘our year’. But the more people I speak to, the more I am noticing a sombre, despondent mood around me — almost like people have ‘lost their mojo’.

lose (one’s) mojo
To lose one’s confidence, energy, or enthusiasm, especially coinciding with a decline in one’s success.

Much of this, in my opinion, is down to the fact people genuinely are tired. Tired of the constant negativity. Tired of bad news all the time. Tired from the repetitive grind. And of course, they are fearful, unsure of themselves or their place in the world for perhaps the first time. They are seemingly undergoing a psychological and psycho-spiritual crisis without much knowledge or guidance of how to navigate through it.

I remember studying pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism in English class back in school. This is when an inanimate object or thing is given human-like emotions or feelings — often to emphasise a certain theme. For example, if an author is setting a gloomy scene, the weather is often thunder and lightning (think about the start of MacBeth) — that kind of thing.

With that in mind, it’s not just this year that’s been difficult.

I really feel the last few years that have gone by has really set the tone for the general mood around us. Everywhere you read and looked, there was depressing, gloomy news — the ongoing Brexit saga, Trump-being-Trump, Rohingya, Syria, Yemen, the Tories in power repeatedly, austerity, more and more attacks, injustice, Islamophobia galore, paedophilia scandals, corruption, data leaks such as Cambridge Analytica, racism rife, ultra-nationalism, hardcore feminism, hyper sexualisation and the ever-increasing LGBTQIA influence into schools. Did you notice I didn’t even mention the pandemic yet? And if that wasn’t enough, we’re faced with a scary-looking geopolitical situation which seems to signal world war three looming on the horizon. Yay, just what we need.

With every day that passes we’re living in increasingly complex and confusing circumstances, drowning in the influx of data in todays ‘information’ age. From our social feeds, from the TV, from our laptops, from our phones, via email. Notifications constantly pinging. Monumental events that used to happen once a decade are literally happening in a matter of weeks. Much like a punch-drunk boxer, we cannot seem to turn our head anywhere without feeling overwhelmed and bombarded by more and more dreaded bad news, much of which is misrepresented, exaggerated or biased. The world is too rapidly changing, and its population is none the wiser to the underlying agendas continually manufactured and imposed upon it. We are mentally completely burnt out.

Individually, we could probably handle them. Heck, even a few of them. But when there’s just one after the other after the other, like a relentless flurry of punches pounding on you, you can’t help but be devastated, demoralised and on the cusp of a brutal knockout. It’s cut after slice after cut — and we’re now bleeding to death.

Killing a tree undetected

On another note, do you know how to kill a tree, without getting caught?

Random question, I know. But humour me. It’s actually easier than you think. No axe required. You simply get lots of salt and put it around the tree (or drill it into it, for faster results). The sodium in the salt will prevent a tree’s flow of potassium and magnesium, both of which are vital ingredients in the making of chlorophyll. The salt itself absorbs water, preventing the tree from doing so. The lack of chlorophyll will start turning the leaves brown and it will begin to wither up until it eventually kills the tree. The more salt you use, the quicker it’ll happen.

The salt ultimately prevents the tree from growing by blocking out what it needs for growth, and brings about the slow death from within.

When hope dies, apathy begins

Any ray of light, positivity, or even hopeful thoughts that usually accompany a new, fresh start have long been gone. That feeling many are going through, that feeling of sheer and utter despondency is what it feels like when the bubble bursts. When the jig is up. The death knell tolling. It signals the final extinguishing of what had kept everyone going, what had kept people striving all along — HOPE.

When hope dies, you often become apathetic. You end up going with the flow, accepting the status quo. You put your head down, shrug your shoulders and despair. Eventually the resentment and bitterness will subside, as you begin to embrace this as normality — or in modern speak — ‘the new normal’. Nothing can beat the big bad system, right? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, etc. You convince yourself (to make you feel good) that this is your choice, that this is just the way it is. You’ve got too many of your own battles to fight, how to pay your debts, how to put food on the table whilst desperately swiping right to find the one who somehow will make it all better.

NONE of this is good for the soul.

The soul is the key to everything.

The soul, if nurtured correctly, gives you energy, gives you passion, gives you confidence, gives you guidance and gives you growth.

This is our equivalent to the tree’s chlorophyll.

Anything that goes against your own nature and crushes and encroaches on the souls ability to grow and expand is salt — i.e. no damn good for you.

So when almost everything around you is bombarding your soul with the opposite of what it needs, what impact do you think that will have? Simply put, it is soul-destroying — quite literally.

Instead you become a jellyfish.

Jellyfish have taken over the ocean and they are multiplying in record numbers. A jellyfish actually adds no value to the ocean. It does nothing but consume. It is a mindless, spineless creature, always eating or mating.

Sadly, we have become the human equivalents, constantly consuming — data, food, information, entertainment, possessions — and we’re so frazzled that we are too brainless to properly think, and too spineless to take any real action.

There’s just too many battles to fight, so we withdraw deep within ourselves. In Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, we can never get to self-actualisation if we are constantly licking our wounds and fighting for survival. Our base animalistic desires kick in and take over. Fight or flight. In black or white.

We blame social media for deepening the problem — but we fail to address the root cause. As a general populace, people are so disheveled and demoralised, why else are they binge watching feel-good TikTok videos until 3am or desperately looking towards the rewarding dopamine hit that their duckface selfie might bring them in the form of Instagram likes? Or turning on each other with an angry rant on Facebook or trolling in YouTube comments?

Our mental health has never been more at risk.

An excellent essay called ‘The Demoralized Mind’ a few years ago stated that a mere three decades ago, the average age for the first onset of depression was 30. Now it is 14.

Suffering in Solitary

Lockdown seems to have had a major part to play in exacerbating that even further. And why wouldn’t it? People have been left without a friend to turn to, family to comfort them, lonely, panicked, pained and frozen with fear. Not knowing where they can turn or to whom. Estranged from their loved ones or even from a friendly conversation with a random stranger on the tube.

The highest form of punishment in our prisons is considered solitary confinement — and even then, they limit it to a few days or at most, a few weeks — due to how much of a psychological impact it can have on the person.

“A week in the hole!” the warden or prison officer declares in pretty much any prison movie ever, to which even the most battle-hardened, toughest of prisoners melts into a heaping pile of goo…

“Noooo guv’nor, anything but that, give me one more chance…” as he gets dragged off kicking and screaming by the guards, where his lonely fate is a dark cold room with only bread and water to eat and his even darker thoughts his only companion.

According to a 2017 review study, “a robust scientific literature has established the negative psychological effects of solitary confinement”, leading to “an emerging consensus among correctional as well as professional, mental health, legal, and human rights organisations to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement.

So, they’ve limited it in prisons but just extended it to the masses.

One study has shown that “inmates ever assigned to solitary confinement were 3.2 times as likely to commit an act of self-harm per 1000 days at some time during their incarceration as those never assigned to solitary.” Physicians have also concluded that for those inmates who enter the prison already diagnosed with a mental illness, the punishment of solitary confinement is extremely dangerous in that the inmates are much, much more susceptible to exacerbating the symptoms. Eeek.

This is quite a depressing read so far. Sorry about that. Let’s flip the script a little. Why is this happening?

To quote a modern wise sage (sort of):

“You hear me saying “stay away from “THEY” all the time, but who are “they”? I’ll tell you: “they” are the enemy. “They” want to keep the keys hidden and block you from the pathway of more success, and “they” want to see you fail. I’ve seen “they” out there and I’ve seen their evil. It makes “they” happy when you don’t prosper and “they” laugh at your plans to make yourself better and get ahead. The person who wants to distract you from your studies or career with your drama? That’s a “they”. That’s a big “they”. But here’s a major key: as long as you stay away from “they”, you will prosper. — DJ Khaled

Recognising a “They”.

Who are “they’s” and how do we recognise one?

Good question.

‘They’s’ are anyone preventing you from achieving your higher purpose, what you were born to do, what will make your soul soar and your spirit fly.

They’s are toxic and traumatic. It can be an individual, it can be a job, it can be a system, it can be an ideology, and it can even be a government.

Have you heard of the term ;gaslighting’? It has become more commonly used in recent times, and it refers to a technique often used by psychopaths, which is to manipulate the victim into doubting their own sanity.

gerund or present participle: gaslighting
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

Gaslighting is where you could swear on a certain thing being true, every bone in your body could be sure of it, your gut instinct, your mind are all telling you a certain thing — but you are being convinced by the other party that the opposite is true. Their certainty (particularly if they’re an authority) overpowers your own semi-certainty so you’re left going against what you believe and conforming to the narrative. Sometimes it’s taking advantage of your ignorance about a subject and using flowery and confusing language or dodgy statistics to prove a certain point. This probably happens daily in the case of the media for example, who insist on pushing certain agendas — even when it’s blatantly untrue or misleading.

This has the effect of making us conflicted, maybe even inauthentic. This is because of incongruence — we are not at one or aligned with who we believe ourselves to be — when we feel like that, eventually, we become so out of sync with our ‘real’ selves — we forget who we were.

Ultimately, what is their objective? For you to follow the system in place, to obey, to do what you’re told, to aspire for success within their defined parameters. To think the way they think. To prioritise the wrong things. To not question things. To subdue and suppress your energy. To never really understand your purpose, or fulfil your real potential. More than anything, for them to keep control and keep the status quo as it is, where the few get richer, a world of injustice. Ultimately, it’s about the suppression of the soul.

A parent in most cases is not a “they.” They want the best for their child, for them to be successful, happy, achieve their potential whilst guiding them along the straight and narrow. They may prevent or discourage you from doing things which are not good for you but it’s all in your best interests in the end. A ‘they’ is the opposite. They don’t want the best for you, they are not rooting for your success unconditionally — but will encourage you to do things that are bad for you.

Now think about it for yourself. Who else in your life wants you to conform, tries to break your spirit, stops you from thinking for yourself, being free and wants you to be dependent (and therefore controlled)? But at the same time, encourages you to follow your every whim and every desire? Who keeps you divided, never to be unified? If you’ve got a few things that come to mind for you — they’re probably a ‘they’.

The banking system which steals our wealth unashamedly are the hugest “they”.

Modern education, sadly is one of the biggest ‘they’s”. Something that should elevate and inspire us is instead closing our minds and limiting our creativity — it is nothing but rote learning, learning how to pass exams, as opposed to actual accumulation of real, useful knowledge. This makes us into human resources — literally.

Sir Ken Robinson, who has made the study of creativity in schools his life’s work, has also observed that instead of fuelling creativity through play, schools actually kill it:

“We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies. Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement.”

Dead Prez hit the nail on the head in their 2000 track ’They Schools’ —

“They schools ain’t teachin’ us, what we need to know to survive (say what, say what)… They schools don’t educate, all they teach the people is lies”…


Even things you think are convenient and part of every day life could be a ‘they’. Our food, for example. For centuries and even millennia, we have farmed for ourselves. Self-sufficiency, independence as well as ‘organic’ nutritious food were the order of the day. No longer.

What do we do to combat this?

The first thing we need to do is we need to get better at understanding ourselves as humans. What is actually good for us, and what is merely perceived (or marketed) as good? We do that, by asking the right questions.

What does our soul need to thrive? What does it get negatively affected by? So let’s do that, a little. And let’s turn to personal development guru, Tony Robbins. In his famous TED talk, he stated that a human has six key needs, if they are to feel fulfilled and happy. The six needs are — to have certainty (i.e stability), to have uncertainty (i.e. variety), to feel significant, to have love and connection, to feel as though they are growing, and that they are contributing to a cause greater than themselves. They are powerful — they say if your work has just three of these needs in it, it can become addictive for you.

IThe current state of affairs has affected each of these human needs considerably. Stability has well and truly gone out of the window. Variety, too — with many of our favourite pastimes or restaurants severely limited or off limits. With pretty much everyone working from home, donning masks etc — how many people are feeling significant right about now? Lockdown put paid to love and connection. When you’re in a state like this, you’re not growing, you’re dying. And contribution is not likely to happen when you’re in survival mode, just ask Abraham Maslow.

So we become even more despondent and desperate.

That’s why we’re being fed bad news constantly. And why we’re forced to wear masks (despite the downturn of cases) to propagate that fear wherever we turn. We have become dependent on those in power, dependent for something positive to lift the fog, waiting impatiently for permission for curfews to be lifted and for liberties once taken for granted to be given back with conditions imposed. Dependent on bounceback loans and bailouts, just grateful we have survived for now, despite the extra debt and implications. We live to fight another day, our minds too worn and weary from battle to think about why, let alone think of an alternative.

Over time, we begin to accept a ‘new normal’. Creeping normality (also called landscape amnesia) is a process by which a major change can be accepted as normal and acceptable if it happens slowly through small, often unnoticeable, increments of change. The change could otherwise be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.

So, what is the solution to all this madness?

Stop listening to the media and tune out negativity

The famous scholar of the Islamic Golden Age, Ibn Sina once conducted a medical experiment. He put two identical lambs in two separate cages, and he placed a wolf in one of the side cages. The wolf could only be seen by ONE of the lambs and the other was placed out of sight.

Months after, the lamb who could see the wolf died out of sheer stress and fear, even though the wolf did not physically go near or even threaten the lamb. The other lamb that had not seen the wolf lived on healthily and in good spirits.

This experiment showed the power and effects of mental influence on our health and body. Fear, anxiety, stress and negativity does nothing but harm — even if we don’t realise the damage it is doing to us internally.

We don’t need the nonsense. Filter it out. You don’t need to always be plugged in. Take a social media detox. It’s killing you.

Feed your soul and increase your spirituality

Believe it or not, the answer actually insightfully comes from that beacon of wisdom, Mr Khaled again.

“One of my major keys is actually the master key: God. In my life, they’ve hid the keys from me, so I’ve overcome and weathered a lot of storms because of Him.” — DJ Khaled

What is the effect of bad news on our being, on our humanity, on our souls,, constantly bombarding us and beating our brains to a pulp? As it leaves us subdued, disillusioned, depressed and losing hope, I would argue that is also a key reason why religion and spirituality is under attack in today, as it is one of the only things left which gives people hope, which allows people personal freedom, and which sets out a model different from the secular model. More than anything, it heightens your spirituality, and nurtures your soul. When you have this, you have contentment, you have insight, you have clarity, you have energy, you have freedom. You come to life.

In this current system, it is not set up for the soul to be allowed to be nurtured, to thrive. Everything that is championed or encouraged is effectively eroding our own souls. So we must challenge. We must go the other way. Where they zig, we must zag.

What does good nutritious organic food do? It gives us energy, makes us productive, creative, healthy. What does GMO, fructose based processed food do? None of the above.

What does being taught about entrepreneurship, real money, the importance of being debt free and money management do? Keep us independent and free to make our own choices. What does being lumbered with debt, working for someone else do? None of the above.

What does keeping family ties ensure? You have protection around you, keeping you safe and secure. What does breaking them do? None of the above.

What does spirituality, religion and excellent, selfless moral values do? What does selfishness do?

What does chastity and marriage do? What does lust, pornography, following one’s desires etc do? You get the pattern here.

Ultimately, ‘they’s’ are at war with our humanity — but cleverly, letting us inject our own poison. We are attacking our bodies, our minds, our hearts and souls with our choices — with what we eat, what we do, with our relationships.

Spirituality is our way of becoming closer to God, the creator.

The opposite of spirituality is actually materialism — one feeds the soul, the other feeds the self. It is no coincidence that current status quo is that which promotes mass consumerism, mass gluttony, mass lust, has broken down family ties and promotes a ‘YOLO’, do what thou wilt, mentality. It’s because it feeds the self, which in turn starves the soul.

We need to bring it back, to not be so self-obsessed, to do charitable acts for our fellow man. Eat wholesome food. Invest in people and your relationships.

Contribute in something bigger and greater than yourself

One of the greatest things that you can do in such times, is to channel your energies into a positive force. What change do you want to see? It may not lead anywhere but it is positive action, taking you forward and it will develop you. Fighting for a single cause greater than yourself can potentially tick all six of the human needs in one fell swoop. Efficient.

If you’re doing something you care HUGELY about, and you believe in its purpose deeply enough, you will tap into an inner resolve you didn’t know you had. And trust me, when all of these pieces come together, not only does your work move towards greatness, but so does your life.

Never stop learning

Now that you know the six human needs… one of the main ones is growth. When you’re dying, you’re not growing. So the opposite is also true. Always keep growing, learn, learn, learn and continue to benefit others with your growth.

Spend time in nature

Nature is therapeutic. It will keep your soul content. Trust me on that.

Don’t believe me? Okay, here’s the science behind it.

“Generally speaking, negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy. They also may protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation.”

Pierce J. Howard, PhD, author of The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain Research and director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C.

Negative ions are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron. They are created in nature by the effects of water, air, sunlight and the Earth’s inherent radiation.

ImThe more negative ions there are in the blood, the more efficient the cell’s metabolism process. On the contrary, the more positive ions there are in the blood, the slower and less efficient the cell’s metabolism. This causes the body’s cells to become weak and the body will tend to get sick more easily and aged faster.

THAT’S why you feel great when you go to the countryside or a forest or the beach or a waterfall. And why you might not feel so good in the home — positive ions are everywhere in a house — particularly as they are often generated by technology. The more screens in the house, the more positive ions.

So in a nutshell, negative ions are positive. Go get more.

Don’t ever lose hope

Going back to hope — I would argue that hope is one of the foundational, fundamental needs a human being has. Hope is the seed within us, that keeps us alive. It allows us to dream of a brighter tomorrow. It allows prisoners of war to survive their ordeal. Hope is the thing that keeps the battered wife or stockholm syndrome victim going.

But sadly, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. This is why we’re feeling down.

Because too often we attach this powerful emotion of hope to the wrong thing.

The answer isn’t to lose hope. It’s actually to keep your hope stronger than ever. Just to move it to a different source — that is bigger and greater than anything else.

The truth is, when we are looking to external means to fix our realities, that is symptomatic that a paradigm shift is needed. What we desperately need to do is to first understand that in a system that is not designed for your own salvation, we need to not play their game. And to build a new one for ourselves. To create our own systems, to work within our own communities and work together.

The most important thing we need to realise is that true hope actually lies within. With God. Knowing He will NEVER let you down. It’s the one thing that is certain, that has been promised.

That kind of certainty is powerful. A believer who places full trust in this promise will never let his head drop. He knows that in any state, when times are good he is grateful, when times are difficult he is patient. That’s it. It’s actually quite liberating.

Instead of looking for external saviours, we need to free ourselves from these rigged systems which are mere theatres of distraction. We need to place our hope in the one thing that will allow you to keep the hope no matter how difficult, or how dire things may get. That is God’s mercy.

That will always be a source of strength. That is limitless, it never runs out. And will provide solutions even if it seems impossible.

In times of difficulty, if you tap into this source and retain this hope whilst nurturing your soul— no matter what they do, they will never ever be able to defeat you or to make you this apathetic jellyfish.

You will stop bleeding to death.

You will become aware of what is your ‘salt’ and seek to avoid it at all costs.

You will recover.

You will thrive.

And most importantly, you will be authentic and congruent, and become who you were meant to be, again.

Faisal Amjad

About the author

A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.

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