The Movement Away From The Known

We can’t move towards Wholeness deliberately – nothing was ever more impossible than this! We can express this impossibility in lots of different ways, but they all come down to the very same thing. In terms of mental health, we can say that we can’t move towards mental wellness deliberately; in terms of meditation we can say that we can’t meditate purposefully (or that we can’t ‘become from free from the thinking mind on purpose’), and in terms of spirituality we can say that we can’t ‘become more spiritual’ because we want to, because we are deliberately making efforts in that direction (or in what we think is that direction). It’s the same principle that we coming up against in all of these cases, and if we can’t understand this principle then we can’t understand anything!

 

Alan Watts (speaking from a religious perspective) says that we can’t earn ‘the Grace of God’ on purpose, by dint of our efforts or hard work, by obeying the rules of the religion we belong to, or by trying as hard as we can to be ‘good and not bad’. We can’t do a deal with God to say “If I do everything you say you have to give me your grace!” It just doesn’t work like that, as we would see if we took a moment to think about it. Making deals doesn’t come into it. If I imagine that I can obtain God’s grace by doing a deal, by agreeing to do ‘X, Y or Z’, then what this means is that I believe, on some level or other, that I have some kind of control, as I have ‘negotiating rights’, and this simply isn’t true. Clearly it isn’t true – the very idea is ridiculous, as we would straightaway see if we looked into the matter clearly. If we really looked into the matter then we would give up all our games on the spot! We would give up trying to find ‘new and improved games’, which is what we are always doing. We would – in short – give up trying to manipulate the situation to our advantage.

 

We very rarely do see this however, and that’s the whole point. We don’t want to see it; we have immense resistance to seeing it. This principle is very simple to explain (nothing to be easier) but that doesn’t mean that we going to be able to find anyone willing to sit down and listen to us! Just try explaining the idea that you can’t become mentally healthy ‘on purpose,’ by effort of will’, to a trained professional mental health worker and see how far you get with it! You would be no better off than if you were trying to explain to a Jehovah’s Witness the idea that we can’t be saved just because we’re following all the rules that the organisation requires them to follow in order to be a Jehovah’s Witness. This is true for all religions – there is a great passivity inherent in all religious groups and this passivity derives from the belief that all we have to do to be saved is conform to the given structure. Our willingness to believe this – needless to say – is simply a function of our fear of having to take responsibility for ourselves – we want our ‘salvation’ to come from outside of us, as a result of our unquestioning compliance some external system. Do we really think that we can be saved by uncritically handing over responsibility to what is at root no more than a collection of dead mechanical rules? Can a machine save this? Or will it simply enslavement and abuse us?

 

Meditation demonstrates the principle that says ‘we can’t move towards Wholeness on purpose’ particularly clearly. Meditation is a very practical thing, after all. It has nothing to do with ideas or theories; we can’t bluff into meditation. Qualifications are of no avail. In meditation we are moving away from thought – we are opening up the space between us and our thoughts. That space was always there of course, we are just learning to appreciate that it is. This movement away from thought (which is also the movement away from the thought- created world) is what Krishnamurti calls ‘movement away from the known. This movement is meditation – is no meditation apart from this. Meditation (or ‘mindfulness’) can be explained in lots of fancy ways but this is all that it is – movement away from the known.

 

This happen to be a very interesting movement – it’s actually the only interesting movement; after all, as Krishnamurti also says, ‘the movement from one known to another is no movement at all’. This is very interesting movement but it’s also not a movement we can say anything about – we can only talk about the known after all. As soon as we talk about this movement we sabotage it therefore, as soon as we think about this movement we sabotage it, and when we practice meditation then what we discover is that we are constantly sabotaging ourselves in this way – we can’t help themselves, it’s a ‘reflex-reaction’ on our part. The movement away from the known happens all by itself – it starts happening just as soon as we stop interfering with it (which of course – as we have said – we very rarely do). When we are ‘practising’ meditation and we notice this ‘movement into the unknown’ then we straightaway get excited, we straightaway think about it. Biased mental activity occurs. The further the movement goes the more excited we get, and the more excited we get the more we think about it! This is because we are invested in this particular movement – that’s the whole reason why we’re putting so much time and effort into meditation after all – because we would like for this movement to happen. This is precisely the glitch however – the keener we are for this movement into the unknown to take place (i.e. the more invested in it we are) the less able we are to not get excited by it when it happens and, as we’ve said, when we get excited we think. It doesn’t really matter what we think  – just as soon as we start thinking (which is to say, just as soon as bias comes into the picture) then we find ourselves right back at square one!

 

The process only happens when we don’t interfere with it, when we neither want it to happen nor not want it to happen (which is of course the more common situation). The idea that we can – by deliberate act of will – ‘move away from the known’ is clearly nonsensical therefore. That’s the one thing we can’t do! But the point we are making here is that, when we practice meditation, we run into this principle all the time. It’s a basic fact of our experience when we are meditating. This is THE basic fact of our experience when we are meditating – the fact that we are constantly sabotaging ourselves, whether we want to or not. Who can disagree with this? Whoever has ever had any different experience to this? What we learn through the practice of meditation that ‘the movement away from the known’ doesn’t happen because we are making it happen or willing it to happen or in any way tricking it happen. What we learn as this is that this movement occurs despite our efforts, not because of them. When (or rather if) we do learn this then we learned the biggest thing we ever could learn – we have learned that we can’t move towards reality (or towards Wholeness) ‘under our own steam’, as an act of will.

 

 

 

 

 

Art: Sarolta Ban, from boredpanda.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strategizing Causes Anxiety

There are no effective (long-term) strategies for anxiety. If we can’t understand the truth of this simple statement then – very clearly – we just don’t understand anxiety! If we can’t understand that strategies and techniques and ‘tools’ aren’t the way to go then this can only mean that we don’t have any insight into anxiety at all…

 

The thing is that when we start looking for security we automatically create anxiety and what are ‘psychological strategies’ other than the attempt to somehow organise better security for ourselves? The very existence of a strategy implies that we have some kind of control over the situation, and if we allow ourselves to believe that we have some kind of control over a situation then this belief of ours equals ‘security’, obviously enough. From a psychological point of view, ‘control’ is always a paradoxical type of thing. It is paradoxical because controlling creates the necessity to control – from the psychological point of view control is an addiction, in other words. It’s an addiction because once we get into the habit of controlling ourselves then we will immediately become scared to stop doing whatever it is that we’re doing. Controlling is now where our sense of security (even if it isn’t working particularly well) comes from and to give up sense of security (however illusory it might be) is extraordinarily hard for us. We have to learn to trust the spontaneous process all over again and regaining that trust is a slow and painful process, with many relapses along the way. Relearning trust doesn’t happen without risk-taking and the fact that we are anxious in the first place doesn’t exactly predispose us to taking risks. By relying on strategies we’re feeding the anxiety, therefore.

 

When we start ‘managing’ ourselves with strategies then we’re going down the wrong road – we’re going down the road of reinforcing our distrust in the natural process of the psyche spontaneously organizing itself, without our so-called ‘help’. We prove to ourselves that we are right to control because – as we have said – once we start controlling at all then we create the perceived need to carry on. Fear then sets in, and the prospect of what might happen if we ‘let go’ the reins fills us with dread. It might be naïvely argued that if we are suffering from anxiety then we are right – in one specific way at least – not to trust ourselves, and that the presence of anxiety shows that we need to learn some kind of anxiety management technique or strategy. But since anxiety is ‘the tendency to distrust the natural uncontrolled order of things and look for some kind of security instead’ – arguing that going along with this tendency and opting for strategies rather than tolerating risk is going to actually help things doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s like saying that taking more of the drug we are addicted to is somehow going to cure our addiction.

 

The point that needs to be understood here that any kind of deliberate movement on our part in the direction of perceived security automatically creates the spectre of fear, which will make us even more keen to move in this direction. The logic is self-reinforcing: why else would we be trying to move in the direction of increased security unless we’re trying to escape something, after all? What else would our motivation be? Why do we try to move in what we perceive to be the direction of ‘increased security’ unless we are afraid of ‘insecurity’? As the ancient Daoist texts say, to create one opposite is also to create the other. The moment beauty is born, ugliness enters the picture; the moment ‘good’ is born, ‘bad’ comes into play. How is it we not able to understand this?

 

The ‘mutual identity of the opposites’ (which is of course another way of talking about paradoxicality) means that believing in ‘security’ automatically causes us to believe in the complimentary opposite, which is ‘insecurity’ – it’s impossible to have the one without the other. If we want to believe that there is somewhere to run to, somewhere where we will be ‘safe’, then we also have to believe that there is something to run from. If we want to believe that there is a safe place then we also have to believe in the possibility of a place that is unsafe, a place that is dangerous and that we need to run away from. Trying to move in the direction of safety means that we have chosen to believe that there actually is such a thing, and that’s how the game of anxiety (which is a game that we can’t ever deliberately exit from) starts.

 

To say that strategising is not helpful when it comes to anxiety is really just to say that any purposeful activity, of any type whatsoever, can be of no help when it comes to finding freedom from anxiety. All purposeful activities are based on moving towards ‘the desired opposite’, after all. We can’t have purposeful activity without first identifying a purpose or goal, and that purpose or goal can only exist in relation to its opposite. Winning can only exist in relation to losing, success can only exist in relation to failure, and so straightaway we are engaging in the game of ‘seeking one opposite and shunning the other’. Purposeful behaviour (which is to say, ‘making and chasing goals’) cannot in any way help us when we are anxious therefore. Saying that one opposite is the ‘right’ one and that the other is the ‘wrong’ one just fuels our anxiety; attachment to the right way and fear of the wrong way is anxiety – purposeful activity can never get rid of the spectre of ‘wrong’, after all!

 

At the same time seeing this, it also helps to realise that we can’t help trying to move in the direction of what we perceive to be ‘increased security’. That’s how the mechanism of the conditioned self works, and we can’t fight against this nature. If I start saying that the thing to do is to stop chasing security then ‘not chasing security’ is my new security and so what has changed? It’s the same old game all over again. The conditioned or mechanical self is always chasing security of some sort – as we have just said, it can’t help doing this. This means that we can’t hope for the conditioned or mechanical self to start behaving in a helpful way; we can’t expect it to behave in any other way than an anxiety-creating way. We can’t expect it to stop being purposeful in everything it does. This is a very helpful thing to see because it means that we will no longer tie ourselves up in an impossible struggle the whole time – the struggle of trying to get the rational-purposeful self to behave in a way that is not going to fuel our anxiety. We can now understand this self and what makes it tick, and the part of us that understands the rational-purposeful self and its mechanical ways is not the ‘rational-purposeful self’. The part of us which either identifies with the conditioned ego or fights against it IS the conditioned ego and the part of us which understands this ego is not that ego. Insight is the key when it comes to anxiety therefore – that’s what frees us, not strategizing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond The Paradox Of Purposefulness

Anyone who is seriously trying to come to grips with what is called ‘therapy’ is always going to come up against the same intractable problem. It’s only a matter of time – everyone is going to find themselves – sooner or later – in the same impossible position. There is actually no way around this! Therapy isn’t as simple or straightforward as we think – it isn’t just a matter of ‘following the therapeutic protocols’ or ‘following the prescribed method’. If we think that it is then we’re never going to get anywhere. If we think that it is then we’re being super-naïve…

 

What we come up against is a paradox, and the essential form of this paradox is that we find ourselves trying to ‘let go on purpose’. We know that letting go (or surrendering) is the answer, but the problem is ‘how do we go about doing it?’ There is no way to deliberately ‘let go’ because everything we do deliberately is always ‘done for a reason’ and the whole point of letting go is that we aren’t doing something for a reason. The whole point is that that we aren’t acting in order to obtain some kind of desired outcome. How can we be ‘letting go’ and yet ‘trying to obtain some kind of desired outcome’? ‘Letting go’ is letting go – there are no ‘desired outcomes’ – if they were then it would be controlling that we are looking at here, not ‘getting go’.

 

Instead of talking in terms of ‘letting go’ we could equally well talk about accepting – it’s the same thing. When we ‘accept’ we let go of any idea that we might have of how we would like things to be different. We let go of any idea that we might have of things being different to the way that they actually are. That’s what ‘accepting’ means. Very often we hear of the notion of acceptance in therapy and that’s fine as far as it goes, but the problem comes when there is some sort of implication that we ought to be able to do this on purpose. First we have the idea, and then we put it into practice. ‘Letting go’ or ‘accepting’ is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, we are given to understand, so we just have to hurry up and accept. That’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do…

 

This is a joke however because no one in the entire course of human history has ever accepted because it was ‘the right thing to do,’ because we have gone ahead and made the informed decision to do so’. We can’t accept on purpose any more than we can let go on purpose. When we ‘accept’ we always do so because we are trying to obtain something as a result and if we are ‘trying to get something as a result’ then we are in a ‘fundamentally non-accepting’ frame of mind. We’re not accepting the possibility that we won’t get what we’re secretly trying to get as a result of our so-called ‘accepting’.

 

We assume that acceptance is a kind of choice that the thinking mind can make – “I choose to accept”, I say. Choice means preference (or bias) however – one thing we want, the other thing we don’t want. One possibility is good, the other bad. When we talk about acceptance in the psychological (or spiritual) sense of the world what we mean however is going beyond preference, going beyond ‘like and dislike’. How then can choice, which is the same thing as preference, take us beyond itself? How do we imagine that this is ever going to work? How can I ‘choose not to choose,’ because that’s what I’m really trying to do here? I can’t use attachment to free myself from attachment, or use the thinking mind to free me from the thinking mind.

 

Our problem is that we can’t see that there is a big fat paradox there. Most of us – even if we are in therapy, or have been in therapy, for a long time – don’t ever see this. Most therapists won’t ever see this – they will skip blandly over the paradox as if it didn’t exist. How often do we hear in therapy anyone talking about the insurmountable paradox that is inevitably to be found waiting for us when we try to accept on purpose, accept because it’s the right thing to do, or ‘because it’s part of the prescribed therapeutic protocol’? Therapists very rarely talk about paradoxicality. The very existence of the paradox we are talking about makes a complete nonsense of including the notion of acceptance in any psychotherapeutic protocol. ‘Methods’ and ‘paradoxes’ don’t mix! What’s the point of having acceptance as part of ‘what’s supposed to happen’ if there is absolutely no way in which we can go ahead and do it on purpose? And if trying to ‘go ahead and do it on purpose’ has the opposite effect to what we want? What kind of a joke is that?

 

The reason the paradox remains invisible to us is because is simply because we’re too identified with the thinking mind. The one thing the thinking mind can never see is the paradoxicality that is adherent in its very nature and so when we are 100% identified with the instrument of thought (as we almost always are) then any talk of the logical paradox inherent in the structure of thought itself will remain a profound mystery to us, and it’s not a mystery that we’re in the least bit interested in either! When we’re not consciously aware of the paradox inherent in thought then we are doomed to go on ‘unconsciously enacting the paradox’ in just about everything we do. We are bound to keep going around and around in circles forever, in other words.

 

In order to be aware of the paradoxicality inherent in thought (or in purposefulness) we have to be – to some degree – separate from the thinking mind. It can’t be our total or exclusive viewpoint; there has to be some possibility of seeing things in a way that is not conditioned by thought. How do we get to separate our consciousness from the rational mind however? Clearly this is just the same paradox all over again because anything we deliberately do in order to (supposedly) separate us from the thinking mind actually ties us to that mind all the more. If we do anything on purpose, as part of some kind of ‘rational design’, then this reinforces the thinking mind. To use the thinking mind is always to strengthen it, after all! We can’t free ourselves from the instrument of thought (and the suffering that it causes) by using that very same instrument, which is nevertheless what we always try to do.

 

This doesn’t mean that our situation is ‘hopeless’ though – it’s just hopeless if we keep on trying to help ourselves by using the thinking mind! There is – no matter what might think – a process going on the whole time that is acting to separate us from the instrument of thought, and demonstrating to us that we are not this instrument, and this is the process of ‘disillusionment’ (or the process of ‘becoming aware’). Curiously therefore, it’s the suffering-producing activity of the thinking mind which facilitates this process. We might not be directly aware of how using thought to (supposedly) solve of all our problems infallibly results in us being caught up in the jaws of logically paradoxicality, but we get chewed up by these crunching jaws all the same, whether we know what’s going on or not. Paradoxicality with regard to our purposefulness comes down to counterproductivity – we act so as to improve our situation but we improve it instead. We try to escape from discomfort or pain and find comfort or pleasure instead, but things just don’t work out like this. The more we try to be in control of our situation so as to make our lives happier or more peaceful or more secure the more miserably neurotic we become. Cleverness and control never lead us to happiness, and yet we never seem to learn this. It’s as if we are constitutionally unable to learn not to trust the thinking mind in the blind way that we always do trust it – we keep on believing that rational thought can do what it can’t, that it can lead us to freedom and happiness when it never will.

 

Inasmuch as we are 100% orientated towards believing the thinking mind to be ‘an infallible guide in all things’ then we are constitutionally incapable of learning, but as we have said, there is another force at work apart from our blinkered ‘conditioned will’, and that is the force which acts, persistently and patiently, against our will and in the direction of freedom instead, which is the direction the conditioned mind can never take us. We don’t of course feel favourably disposed towards a process that is bigger than us and stronger than us and which takes us in a direction that we very much don’t want to go in. We don’t like it at all, but when we develop enough wisdom and insight to see this process for what it is then this changes our attitude in a crucial way; we will still fight against the ‘helpful’ process of disillusionment on one level, on a ‘reflexive-level’, but at the same time – on a much more profound level of awareness – we will assent to it, we will be ‘at peace’ with it. We are no longer worshipping our conditioned will (or ‘the conditioned mind’) as if it were the most important thing in the world, as if it were the Divine Source of All Wisdom, and it is precisely this ‘demoting of the autocratic thinking mind’ to a subsidiary position that takes us ‘beyond the paradox of purposefulness’.

 

 

Art: St. George and the Dragon by Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526, Italy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Looking Outside Ourselves For Answers

If there is one thing we need to understand about mental health it is this: we can’t change our mental state on purpose. If we were to understand this then at least we would be halfway to finding that great blessing we call ‘peace of mind’. If on the other hand we don’t understand this point then it’s unending neurotic torment that we are going to find instead!

 

The mystery is how we think we are going to find peace of mind by taking it into our own hands to try and fix our own mental difficulties, as if the insidious mental activity of ‘fixing’ could ever live lead to peace! ‘Fixing’ can no more lead to peace than lots and lots of sexual activity can lead to virginity! Do we really – honestly – believe that we can create peace of mind by our own efforts, by our own striving, by our own activities? Is it not much more likely that it is simply fear that is driving us here? Isn’t fear what always lies behind unwise action? Fixing only ever occurs as an expression of our attempts to avoid the unwanted outcome, after all. We don’t as invest as much as we are doing in fixing (or controlling) because we feel equally free to either ‘fix’ or not fix’. That’s not the way it is at all! We’re very biased here and the name of this bias is ‘fear’…

 

The alchemists called ‘trying to find peace of mind (or salvation) through our own efforts’ the via erratum, or ‘way of error’. This is the ‘easy’ road to go down, for sure – it’s the road which we are almost a hundred percent certain to go down. To try to fix, or try to correct, is a reflex reaction, after all – and not only this, it’s a completely overwhelming reflex reaction’! We see something that isn’t the way we want it to be, and so we try to make it be the way that we wanted to be. What could be easier to understand than this? The question remains however – do we really think peace of mind can be obtained in this way? Can we have peace simply because we will ourselves to? Isn’t this willing (this desiring) itself the lack of peace? How can we not see this?

 

When we try to change our state of mind then we become the prisoner of the device that we use in order to try to do this. We use some sort of instrument in order to accomplish our will on this matter, and then the next thing is that we have to find some way of freeing ourselves from that instrument in turn. When I am anxious then my anxious thoughts are my ‘instrument’ to help me become free from whatever I am anxious about, but then I have to find a way to try to free myself from my anxious thoughts (i.e. my ‘fixing’). It just goes around in circles forever. The one thing the instrument can never do is get rid of itself, after all. If I use a psychological method to obtain some modicum of relief from the mental pain that I am in, then this means that I am now dependent upon that method. We’re not talking about peace here therefore but ‘dependency’!

 

Having a dependency and having peace are hardly the same thing; and it’s not just that they ‘aren’t the same thing’ either, they’re opposite things. Peace is where we don’t have any dependencies; peace is where we don’t need anything outside of ourselves. Throughout the whole of human history our situation has been the same – when one of our man-made systems becomes too oppressive for us then we swap it for another, in the hope that it will do what the old wouldn’t (or couldn’t). Whilst it is true that one belief can displace another, it never takes too long for us to discover that the new belief is in fact every bit as restrictive as the old. We are always looking for systems to save us and we go from one system to another, from one mode of dependency to the other, always hoping that the latest will be different from ones that came before it. All systems (be they political, religious, or philosophical) are tyrannical and disempowering however – none of them can give us what we really want, which is our own autonomy.

 

Autonomy is of course the only the one thing a system can never give us! The very essence of ‘a system’ is that it ‘tells us what to do’ and the state of being in which we are told what to do is the exact reverse of autonomy. Rules can’t ever set us free because ‘a rule’ and ‘freedom’ are antithetical principles! Our core problem is therefore that we want something that is fundamentally impossible– we want the peace that comes with being free from external pressure, external coercion, external control, but we want a system to tell us to how to go about obtaining it. We want someone else to tell us how to be free!

 

There is of course no shortage of systems that will step up to offer to do this for us. They will ALL do this – there will all promise this. They always promise the same thing: “Do what I say and I will set you free” or “Do what I say and I will bring you happiness / salvation / redemption from your sins…” Of course they will always say this – they are exploiting our core weakness, which is – as we have said – that we want someone else to tell us how to be free. What a dangerous thing to want! The systems keep on promising us to free us and we keep on believing them, we keep on ‘handing all our responsibility over to them’ (because ‘taking responsibility ourselves’ is the one thing we don’t want to do), and so life continues as normal. Nothing ever changes – the human situation proceeds as always…

 

We absolutely insist on thinking that the answer must come from outside and so it is only to be expected that there will be a long line of charlatans at our front door, each one assuring us with their hand on their heart that their answer is the right one! We might think that after thousands upon thousands of years of this carry on you might have learned a bit of sense, but not a bit of it. We’re as gullible now as we ever were. This is as true for religion (that great source of oppression and restriction in the past) as it also is for these newfangled ‘psychological therapies’ that promise us peace of mind or relief from what troubles us if we ‘do what they say’, or if we ‘think in the way that they tell us to think’. We even go so far as to call this ‘scientific’! But how can it possibly be ‘scientific’ to assume that mental health can be brought about by subscribing to some system, and thereby acquiring a dependency upon ‘a method’?

 

‘Not looking for an answer that comes from the outside’ is the same thing as ‘not trying to fix ourselves’ or ‘not trying to change the way that we actually are’. When we stop thinking that the answer must lie outside ourselves (or that it lies in us being some kind of way that is different from the way that we actually are) then this always brings us back to ourselves. We don’t need any system in this case. We are free from the need to buy into any system. We don’t need a system to help us to be the way that we actually are, after all! At this point we are self-sufficient therefore – we’re not handing over responsibility for our lives to anyone or anything; we’re not putting our faith in any sort of rational ‘mumbo-jumbo’ or ‘hocus-pocus’.

 

At this point we come back to our own mental state. It’s not an easy state to be in, it’s true, but by having this change of attitude whereby we are not straightaway looking for answers ‘on the outside’ or looking for ‘someone else to tell us what to do or think’ something very important has changed – we have regained our autonomy. Peace of mind and autonomy are inseparable, they can never be treated as separate deals, separate issues. A whole process starts up when we stop looking outside of ourselves for answers – an autonomous (or ‘spontaneous’) process. When we give up our fear-driven allegiance to the way of error the only thing left is ‘the way of truth’!

 

No one has to tell this spontaneous process what to do or how to work. No ‘expert’ needs to come along with their patented brand of psychobabble to get the process to do what it is ‘supposed’ to do (according to the textbooks). None of that is needed. All that’s needed is for us to ‘step out of our own way’ and stop tripping ourselves up with our constant attempts to ‘help’ ourselves with our automatic never-ending ‘fixing-type’ activities (since as we have said, fixing never brings peace or cessation of suffering). ‘Taking matters into our own hands’ never brings peace or freedom from suffering – it’s only a form of ‘self-sabotaging due to anxiety’! What we’re talking about here might be a very slow process it’s true, but it’s also a real one, and there’s no substitute for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art: demilked.com/street-art-european-cities-pejac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hell of Pure Purposefulness

Ours is a purposeful culture, and this inevitably brings a whole raft of  neurotic mental health ‘conditions’ in its wake, which we then attempt to solve in a purposeful manner! The irony is lost on us, however.

 

Purposefulness is clearly a healthy part of life; no one is suggesting that we should abandon all purposeful behaviour, but – on the other hand – when purposefulness eclipses all else it becomes an evil, it becomes ‘a mental health hazard’. We only have to reflect on this for a moment to see that it is true – imagine what life would go like if we had to be purposeful all the time. What a nightmare this would be! The whole of life becomes one big grinding chore that never ends… This is not life but a cruel parody of it; the ultimate joke is being played on us and it is not a nice joke…

 

Alan Watts explains this point in terms of dancing, and the question of ‘who leads the dance’. If one partner leads all the time then the dance would be a very sterile affair – it would hardly deserve being called ‘a dance’ at all! It would be more like ‘having a conversation with oneself’. If both partners lead the dance to an equal extent however then the interaction immediately becomes creative, it immediately becomes a genuine dialogue.

 

In the same way, when purposefulness is overvalued in the culture then there is no ‘dance’ going on, merely the humourless and obsessive pursuit of goals. Life itself becomes devalued in this case because life (or ‘nature’) just become something that is supposed to ‘submit to our will’. What we forget, in this case, is that it isn’t ‘all about us’, that life isn’t just a matter of us ‘exerting our will’, or ‘conceiving a goal and then doing our level best to achieve it’.

 

When everything becomes about goals, and overcoming whatever obstacles might be standing in the way of us achieving them, then life becomes frighteningly sterile. ‘It takes two to tango’, as the saying has it, and control is always a one-way street – it’s a ‘top-down’ kind of a thing. When purposefulness is overvalued then – obviously – the only thing that matters to us is control, and how effective we are at it, and this is the recipe for neurotic suffering, not mental health.

 

When I am focussed entirely on ‘the attaining of my goals’ then I am stuck in ‘a relationship with myself’ – there’s nothing there else left to have a relationship with, after all! When life becomes all about purposefulness then there is just ‘me having a relationship with myself’ and the relationship between ‘me and myself’ isn’t actually a relationship at all (just as a dance between me and a purely passive partner isn’t really a dance at all). The most important element – the relationship with ‘the other’ – has been lost. There no longer is an ‘other’ in this case, and this is always the case with control. We only have to think about abusive relationships.

 

‘Overvaluing purposefulness’ is a bad road to go down, therefore. It’s a bad road to go down because we lose our relationship with reality and all that’s left is me playing a game with myself; all that’s left is me ‘relating’ to my own projections. One projection is called ‘winning’ and I think that this is a good thing, the other projection is called ‘losing’ and that is a bad thing. Actually, both are the very same thing – both are only my projections and my attempt to obtain the positive projection is every bit as sterile (or futile) is my attempt to avoid the negative projection.

 

When I think that life (or nature) is merely some kind of passive thing to be moulded as I see fit, to be controlled or manipulated as it suits me, then I am heading for disaster. On the ‘macro-‘ scale (which is to say, on the scale of the environment within which we live) then we all know what this disaster looks like. At this particular point in time at the beginning of the twenty-first century we are all becoming very aware indeed of the negative consequences of having a ‘one-way relationship’ with nature, a relationship in which we get to ‘call all the shots’.

 

The same disaster for faces us on the ‘micro-’ (or individual) scale of things too. When I treat the dance between me and life as if it’s only what I want that matters, then sooner or later I back myself into a sterile corner. My life becomes meaningless and pointless. If I keep on ‘leading’ and never show any sensitivity to what life, or my own ‘unconscious’, wants (if we may put it like this), then life will refuse to help me when I need it to. My own spontaneous nature will refuse to step in and help me when I finally realise that I need it to because ‘I have run out of answers’. It is at this point in time that I will truly become acquainted with this spiritual wasteland that we call ‘neurotic suffering’.

 

The assumption that we are making is that if we get to be ‘totally in control’, if we get to be ‘calling all the shots’, if we get to be ‘securing the outcomes we want’, etc, then this will of course be a very good thing. That’s our assumption but it couldn’t further from the truth, for the reasons that we have just given. What’s missing from this picture (as we have said) is a relationship with anything outside of us – in order for there to be a relationship there has to be something ‘coming back the other way’, so to speak, and that’s precisely what’s not happening…

 

Something else is needed and that ‘something else’ might be called ‘listening’, or ‘sensitivity,’ or ‘intuitiveness’, or something like that, but the thing about this is that we can’t do ‘listening’ or ‘sensitivity’ or ‘intuitiveness’ on purpose! If we did do it on purpose then that would mean that we knew in advance what we were listening or intuiting for, or what we were being sensitive to, and the whole point is that we don’t know. We can’t know and that is precisely the point. What we’re talking about is an entirely different ‘modality of being in the world’ therefore, and it doesn’t happen to be a modality we know very much (if anything) about in this rational-purposeful culture of ours. That is after all the very element that we’ve forgotten about in our great, all-consuming hurry to be ‘in control’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confirming Our Biases

There’s this thing we do called ‘living’ only it isn’t living – it’s ‘bias confirmation’, which is actually a travesty of living. How do we get away with this travesty, then? How do we wangle it so that we get to believe that we are living when all we’re really doing is repeatedly confirming our sterile preconceptions?

 

Living is living and we shouldn’t be able to ‘make of it what we want’ (or ‘have our patented version of it’). We shouldn’t be able to live a ‘tame version’ of life that hasn’t got any actual existential challenge in it and yet still be able to get away scot-free! It would be a clever cheat if we could do this for sure, but since when has ‘cheating’ ever produced a good result? Can we really ‘cheat life’ and get away with it?

 

We go through the motions, we do the things that ‘pass for living’ (at least as far as we’re concerned, anyway) but there’s something missing. There is something not there that should be there! What’s missing is any kind of challenge to our mental categories, anything that might disagree with our pre-existing way of looking at things. What’s missing is reality, in other words….

 

It’s as if we read a book cover to cover, with interest, whilst being entertained throughout, only it’s the type of book that can be completely understood within the terms of the concepts which we already have. We don’t have to stretch our concepts in the least, let alone dispense with them entirely. Needless to say, there are lots and lots of books like this! The bestseller list is made up of books like this. But if we can read a book without it in any way changing the way that we have seen the world then that doesn’t really say much for the book. What we looking at here is ‘a non-event disguised as an event’. Nothing really happened during our reading of the book because nothing about us has changed – we’re exactly the same afterwards as we were before! We have received no information because information (in the proper, technical sense of the word) is always that which contradicts our assumptions. Information is ‘that which changes us’; or as cybernetics pioneer Gregory Bateson puts it, it is ‘the difference that makes a difference‘.

 

The very same is true for ‘living’ in general – if none of our (so-called) living calls upon us to change the way we have of understanding the world then what we’re talking about here isn’t actually life but something disguised as life. There are no new events occurring here, there no actual information content to what is going on – there is merely a ‘continuum’ that is made up of the same event stretched out indefinitely so that it seems like the whole of life. Yet this ‘one event’ that keeps on being rehashed and recycled, isn’t actually an ‘event’ at all because an event can only be an event if it gives way to something else, if gives way to something new. Otherwise we have eliminated all genuine change from the picture and replaced it with superficial change (which is ‘formulaic change’, i.e. ‘the same old thing revamped in some sort of a way’).

 

It is perfectly possible to read a book and enjoy it, or watch a film and be highly entertained, and yet for this not to be an ‘event’ in the strong sense of the word that we are using (rather than using the word event in the ‘weak’ sense, in which it signifies nothing more than a type of an echo). It’s also perfectly possible to live life without anything ever really happening – naturally this is possible, that’s just normal, that’s just the way we usually do it. But the question is, what happens to our ‘real’ life in this case? What happens in other words to the life that we would be living, if we hadn’t somehow fallen asleep at the wheel? What happens to the life we don’t live?

 

This turns out to be a very good question, a question that is well worth asking, even if the answer is hard to come by. Is there – we might wonder – anything that could wake us up to what’s really going on with us with our perennial obsessive ‘bias confirmation’? Is there perhaps some kind of sign that we could look out for to show us that we’ve gone wrong? Is there any way that we could cottoned on to the fact that something important has gone missing? Do you really want to know anyway? It is this last question that is – perhaps – the most significant. No doubt we could suss onto the fact that something is amiss but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that we don’t particularly want to. We are otherwise engaged’; we’re busy doing other things – ‘bias confirmation’-type things…

 

Somehow this business that we have called ‘bias confirmation’ not only substitutes itself very effectively for life, it also puts a kind of spin on things which makes us very disinclined indeed to ‘look outside of the box’. Getting hooked on bias confirmation very effectively ‘switches our curiosity off’, we could say. It switches it off as if it were a light switch – all our curiosity about the world vanishes and all we care about instead is ‘getting our biases validated’, getting our data-processing prejudices confirmed. Of all the ‘switch-arounds’ that there ever could possibly be in terms of our way of being in the world, this is the greatest therefore. This is a ‘one hundred and eighty degree turn’.

 

‘Bias confirmation’ simply means that we are busy proving that our view of the world is the right one – it is nothing more and nothing less than this. This innocent-sounding term ‘bias confirmation’ covers more than we might think it does – it accounts for the whole of our thinking process since almost of what we do in day-to-day life is based on thought. Everything purposeful that we do is based on thought after all and how often do we do stuff that isn’t purposeful, that isn’t goal orientated?

 

The ‘thinking process’ (whether we like to see it like this or not) is purely based on the principle of ‘jumping to conclusions’ – thought can never escape the assumptions that it is founded upon and so course it’s always jumping to conclusions. Thought always jumps to the conclusion that it was right in the assumptions that it has made! More technically speaking, we may say that thought operates in a self-referential way, which is undeniable. Thought operates by comparing all incoming data with the mental categories that already exist in our heads, and so this whole business of thinking is example of business of bias confirmation. Every day of our lives we confirm our own unexamined mental constructs with our thinking; we confirm them over and over again and we never get tired of doing so.

 

It’s not just thought-based perception that is based on the principle of bias confirmation but also thought-based action – we don’t see the setting and achieving of goals as bias confirmation but what else could it be? Being ‘focused on goals’ and ‘learning to see the world in a radically new way’ do not exactly go hand-in-hand. We all think that obtaining our goals (or ‘getting what we want’) is what life is all about but this is plainly ridiculous – ‘obtaining our goals’ (or ‘getting what we want’) is how we prove to ourselves (without admitting that this is what we doing) that our way of looking at the world is the right way. It isn’t though because reality isn’t ever going to agree with our biased way of looking at it! Reality isn’t going to match our bias because reality – unlike the thinking mind – isn’t biased. Reality equals ‘no bias’.

 

Our idea (or ‘version’) of living is based on us spending all of our time proving to ourselves over and over again that reality is something that it isn’t. The reason we have to keep on proving the point to ourselves over and over again (or trying to prove it) is precisely because what we’re trying to say is true isn’t true. If it were then there would be no need for this business of ‘bias confirmation’, obviously. What we’re doing isn’t living at all therefore – it’s actually denial, and when we are in denial we are not living.  On the contrary, we are engaged in an ‘inverted version of living’; we’re actually rejecting life because life (by its very nature) doesn’t agree with our biases…

 

 

 

 

Art: jornalagora.info/street-art-graffiti-wallpaper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rational Disconnect

Self-affirmations are part of every ‘mental health tool-kit’ it seems, and yet there is nothing even remotely ‘mentally healthy’ about dutifully repeating self-affirmations. It is actually odd that we should accept this supposedly helpful practice so very uncritically – where the hell does this idea come from anyway, and where is the proof that it actually works?

 

For some reason the whole area of mental health seems to be one in which we take to heart advice with practically zero critical appraisal. We’re very gullible when it comes to the question of what will or will not help our mental health, which – when we come to think of it – probably isn’t so surprising. We’re very keen to be helped after all, and we’re not so keen to learn about potential ‘flies in the healing ointment’. There are a number of ways in which we could try to show why self affirmation isn’t a legitimate means of helping ourselves. One way is to point out that every affirmation we could ever possibly make is merely ‘a thought’ and no thought is ever true. Thoughts are simply thoughts – they are abstract mental evaluations or statements that we make about the world, and as such they ought not to be confused with the actual reality that they are referring to. It is the fact that we are always confusing our abstract mental labels and evaluation with the reality which they are referring to that causes our neurotic suffering in the first place, so ‘more of the same’ is hardly going to help matters! Yet more thinking isn’t really going to be the helpful thing because it was thinking that got us into the mess we’re in in the first place. The head can’t be used to cure the head, so to speak…

 

Although we are unlikely to stop and see things this way, when we engage in self-affirmations all we are doing is ‘telling ourselves what we would like to believe’ and this straightway makes the whole endeavour very suspect! Isn’t that what we do all the time anyway, in one way or another? Aren’t we always trying to validate ourselves with our thinking and our talking? The only time we’re not doing this – generally speaking – is when we are criticising ourselves or blaming ourselves or ‘putting ourselves down’ with our thinking and this too is a form of ‘validation’, even though we certainly don’t see it as such. Self-criticism and ‘self-blaming’ is negative validation and negative validation is still validation, despite the fact that it makes us feel bad instead of good.

 

We’re not very good at seeing this in our Western culture – we’re not very good at seeing that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are the two sides of the very same coin. That’s what the familiar yin-yang symbol is showing us – we are all familiar with this symbol but unfortunately we’re not so familiar with the philosophy behind it. The message of the yin-yang symbol is that if we push positive far enough then it will become negative! ‘At the moment of victory defeat is born’, as the ancient Chinese saying has it. We think we’re pretty smart in the West but our thinking isn’t subtle enough to appreciate this point, which is ‘the principle of the identity of the opposites’; very evidently, we simply ‘don’t get it’, no matter how sophisticated we might imagine ourselves to be. We insist on treating the opposites as if they weren’t mutually dependent, as if we can have ‘more of the one without by the same token having more of the other’.

 

If I keep telling myself (and others) that ‘everything is going to be okay’ this is a positive message for sure but – alt the same time – it straightaway spells a negative message on the unstated level. If I truly believe that everything is going to be okay then I wouldn’t have to keep on saying it, I wouldn’t have to be so extremely insistent on it! “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” as the well-known line from Hamlet goes. If I keep on loudly protesting my innocence this unfailingly makes me sound guilty. Or – to give another example – if I keep on assuring you that you can trust me, then this very clearly sends the opposite message to the one I want to get across. No one goes around telling people that they are trustworthy unless they aren’t!

 

Positive affirmations are exactly the same as this, therefore – we’re ‘protesting too much’ and this over-egging of the pudding ought to make us suspicious. It actually does make us suspicious on an unconscious level, and so we are then obliged to do our best to cover up our doubts by being louder and more insistent than ever with our positive self-affirmations! This is the trouble with all so-called ‘positive thinking’, it actually has the very opposite effect to the one we want  and so what happens then is that we actually get caught up in a struggle that won’t ever end. We have unwittingly created a counter-current (or counterforce) to the one we are actively trying to promote and so we then become locked into the very grim business of ‘fighting against the negative’. We get locked into ‘trying to control what we never should have started trying to control’. We get caught up in a fight that we can’t win and what’s so ‘mentally healthy’ about this?

 

‘Promoting the positive’ is the very same thing as ‘fighting against the negative’ – it’s just odd that we find it so extremely hard to gain this insight. Our whole culture is working against us however, so perhaps it isn’t so odd after all that we can’t see a way out of the neurotic mess that we have created. ‘Promoting the positive’ or ‘affirming the positive’ is a recipe for suffering plain and simple. It’s a guaranteed recipe for suffering – it works every time! If we wanted more suffering then we’d be delighted – we’d be very pleased with the results of our efforts, but the whole point is that we don’t like suffering, needless to say! That’s actually what we’re trying to escape from in the first place, of course.

 

What we need to understand is that our overly-rational culture is not good for our mental health, and it certainly isn’t qualified to be telling us how to go about obtaining it for ourselves! Mental health is not some kind of defined goal to be reached via our logical thinking, by our technology, by our rational strategies. To go about things this way is always to incur suffering. We try to be clever about it but that isn’t that just isn’t going to work. We’re trying to obtain good mental health by manipulating, by controlling, by ‘fixing’, and that’s like ‘trying to put out a fire with gasoline’. We can’t successfully use the thinking mind as a tool when it comes to mental health because thinking is always about ‘chasing the positive and resisting the negative’ and this kind of thing (which in the East is called attachment) is the very root of our problem not the cure. Attachment can’t cure attachment. Control (which arises from ‘like versus dislike’) is the cause of our suffering and when we engage in positive affirmations we are trying to control – it’s as simple as that.

 

Of course we’re trying to control – we’re trying to obtain a particular outcome (the ‘positive’ one) and that’s control! So if attempted control doesn’t work – but only in fact makes matters worse) then what’s the alternative? What else can we do? It turns out that there is only one alternative to control and that is to be ‘interested in things as they actually are’ (rather than being obsessively fixated on positive outcomes’). This doesn’t take cleverness or techniques, but simply sincerity, or as we might also say, honest and courageous self-observation. It’s the truth sets us free, not cleverness, not our ability to manipulate the situation. Instead of self-affirmation (which as we have said is an attempt to manipulate) we practice something much gentler and much more powerful. We give ourselves the permission to be the way that we actually are, which is not a form of manipulation, which is not a form of cleverness.

 

This ‘permission-giving’ isn’t a ‘rational–purposeful’ kind of thing of course – it’s ‘a letting go’ not a ‘holding on’, not a ‘clinging to some mental technique’ type of thing. If it was merely a rational-purposeful thing then we could turn it into a strategy, and that would make it into just another form of self-affirmation. We would just be repeating another ‘meaningless mantra’ to ourselves in the case – we would be changing the formula slightly but that’s all that will have changed. What we’re talking about is the type of thing that comes from the heart and not the head and the problem here is that we’ve pretty much forgotten about our hearts (due no doubt to the relentless pressure to be clever and competitive that we’re all under). We got a bit of a ‘disconnect’ going on in the heart department unfortunately and we can’t really gloss over that fact, no matter how much we’d like to. This is just something that we have to face – the problem isn’t in our DNA or in some ‘error’ in our own personal psychology, it’s in this bizarre disconnected and competitive way of life that we have invented for ourselves…

 

Our Western culture is a heartless one due to our bizarre and unpleasant emphasis on consumerism and it is also a soulless one (as Jung has said) because of the way we insist on putting rationality on a pedestal. Once we see this however then we are half-way there because we won’t be looking for answers any more from either the disconnected rational mind or our cold-hearted, insincere techno-consumerist society. All we have to do is honestly reconnect with ourselves, which means not trying to control or manage ourselves the whole time in the way that the so-called ‘experts’ say that we should…

 

 

Art – Ben Frost – Store In A Dark Place (Mickey on Prozac), 2015