The Generic Life

Society is the Great machine for producing the generic life. It’s not that society doesn’t or couldn’t have any other more practically useful functions aside from this but just that these ‘useful functions’ are completely overshadowed by this unacknowledged negative aspect. In this, the social organization of which we are all a part acts as ‘negative parent’. Just as a negative or toxic parent will – when challenged – point to the nurturing functions which they do provide, such as food, shelter, clothing, protection from external harm and make the indignant claim to be benevolent rather than malign – so too will society reject any accusation that it has failed us, and more than just failing us that it is doing us harm. This argument is easily seen through – suppose that I am a parent who does all of these things (and who even perhaps provides emotional support too) but who nevertheless has an underlying agenda to sabotage the developing autonomy of those under my care. Suppose that I am fostering dependence rather than independence. In this case can it still be said that I am acting as a ‘good parent’? This is of course a purely rhetorical question – we all know that a parent who provides food, clothing and shelter but nothing else is abusive. The rudiments of parenting are there but not the ‘higher functions’, which is something an uncaring robot could perfectly well manage. Physical health – in a very narrow sense – may be being fostered but not emotional or mental health. The trauma that is caused by emotional neglect is tremendous and may take many decades to work through. If the child has been kept dependent and subservient and has thus been prevented from reaching the state of true adult autonomy, this is too is a complete failure of parenting – the children then in this case become nothing more than versions or copies of the dysfunctional parent.

 

So the point we are making is that society is an abusive (or ‘negative’) parent in exactly the same way, no matter what claims it may implicitly make to the contrary. The evidence is all around us! We don’t see this – it is true – but blindness is par for the course. That’s how things work – we don’t know anything different, we don’t have anything else to go on. Society – the common system of relations that we are all part of – is a negative parent, an abusive guardian. ‘Culture isn’t your friend’, as Terence McKenna says. The reason society isn’t our friend is because it doesn’t allow us to grow; it doesn’t do all the really important things that a parent quite naturally does if they really care about the well-being of their children. If you care about your children (rather than just caring about yourself) you will let them go, you will let them evolve beyond you. Society never does this – it would never occur to it to do this. As far as ‘growing as people’ or ‘developing as individuals’, this absolutely isn’t going to happen – we have to copy or mimic the template or else we’re misfits, we have to ‘fit in’ or else we’re ‘weird’. It can’t happen – there is no growth within the generic life. The generic life is the generic life and that is that; the only time growth is going to happen is when we go beyond the limits that have been set for us, not when we stay faithfully within them like a machine that always works the way it is supposed to work. Moving beyond the prescribed way that we have of understanding ourselves is growth but this happens to be the very thing that society doesn’t allow – that is illegal, that is prohibited by the whole weight of society. This is of course how systems get to be systems: by enforcing limits, by treating limits in a very serious way. When we look into it, we can see that systems actually are the limits that they enforce, that they take seriously.

 

Whenever we collectively agree – by whatever process – that this is the way we do things and that this is the way we think about things then we have created a system. We have created a set of limits which we are now taking seriously and this set of limits, this system then acts so as to mould and regulate us. This is what we call ‘society’ – it’s a working template that we set above ourselves. The point here is that this template then develops a ‘life of its own’ – it becomes more important than the human units that make it up and so it prioritizes its well-being and survival over that of the individual lives that make it up. Of course it is more important – the mould is always more important that what is being moulded. Naturally the template tells us what to do – it tells us what to do, we don’t tell it what to do. We can’t play fast and loose with society’s laws, society’s conventions. Even the least of these laws or conventions, if we go against it, will bring huge penalties down on our head. Anyone who has ever had the experience, in any way, of ‘not fitting in’, will know what a tremendous force ‘peer pressure’ is to come up against. This is why we always do conform to conventions in the way that we do – because we know how it works, because we know that there is this tremendous coercive force there and we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of it!

 

What happens when we ‘conform’, when we take seriously the limits that the system takes seriously (i.e. when we allow the system to mould and regulate us in accordance with these limits) is that we become generic. As we started off this discussion by saying, the societal life is the generic life. When we reflect on it, this is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying; it’s ridiculously obvious – it’s like saying that people who are sad are no happy or that people who are under five feet in height tend not to be tall. Yet we need to say it because we never actually think about it; we just don’t appreciate the implications of what we have just said here. The ‘implications’ couldn’t be bigger. The implications here simply couldn’t be overstated:

When we are living what we have called ‘the generic life’ – which is the default setting where everything is running smoothly ‘on automatic’ and nothing has happened to knock us off our pre-established trajectory – then we aren’t living as ourselves but simply as an idea of ourselves (i.e. as a generic idea of ourselves).

This is very easily said and it comes across perhaps as being rather glib, but when we come to grips with this idea and actually appreciate what it means to us then we can see that that it is an enormously disturbing revelation. It’s as if someone stole your life when you were still really young and then lived it instead of you, leaving you sidelined, leaving you marginalized, leaving you quite forgotten about. And not only this, it is also the case that the ‘thief’ who stole our life isn’t actually anybody but is only an idea, only a notion that has been passed on randomly from person to person like a cold, like a dose of the flu in winter.

 

This is what it means to ‘lead the generic life’ – it means to catch a cold! It means to catch cold and never get over it because you immune system has been suppressed. This then is not by any means a small thing; the enormity of what has happened to us can’t be overstated, as we have already argued’. When Jean Baudrillard speaks of ‘The Perfect Crime’ and ‘the murder of the real’ he is essentially speaking of this (although he is coming at it from a different angle). He is talking about the murder of who we really are, which is a job that has been started by our parents and then continued by everyone else we have ever met! Obviously, this is not done with any bad intent (or at least not usually) but it is done all the same. We don’t – as parents – have any choice in this: when we are ‘unconscious’ (i.e. unconscious of who we really are) we can’t help passing on the virus. That’s what we do when we’re unconscious – we act as passive vehicles for the generic impressions or imprints. Being unconscious means that we act as a passive medium or substrate which the ‘generic identity’ utilizes in order to propagate itself; our common understanding of ourselves is as this generic self (which is essentially nothing more than a cultural meme) and so naturally we’re going to see nothing wrong with this state of affairs – that’s why we are ‘passive’ in the process. Far from seeing anything wrong about it we’re going to see the situation in which the false or viral idea of self is maximally facilitated in propagating itself (at the expense of the true or ‘non-generic’ self) as being pre-eminently ‘healthy’ and desirable. We will adopt whatever strategies we can to bring this situation about, and maintain it. This is what we consider to be ‘the state of good mental health’, after all – ‘good mental health’ (to us!) means the continued unchallenged ascendancy of the generic self, the generic identity…

 

Nothing about the generic self is true – it doesn’t exist anymore than ‘an average value’ exists. Averages don’t really exist and yet they may all the same loom large in our minds as something to be aimed at or something to be avoided. We may live our whole life in the service of these ‘averages values’, in one way or another (we’re governed by social constructs, in other words). When we lead the generic life we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is’ and not only this, we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is on the basis of who or what someone else thinks we are (or ought to be)’! It’s no good pretending – as we generally do pretend – that this isn’t what the socially-conditioned life is like, that society (or our peers) are actually encouraging us to be our true authentic unique selves. It would be absurd to believe this. You would have to be asleep and dreaming (you’d have to be asleep and dreaming a socially-conditioned dream) to believe this!  When we say that we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of who we are or what life is’ it’s not really ‘someone else’ of course – we’re simply trying to approximate ourselves as best we can to an abstract idea that doesn’t belong to anyone. The generic ideas own us, we don’t own them! The generic idea owns us, but at the same time it doesn’t really exist; we’re putting ourselves through the wringer trying to approximate ourselves to an illusion – sometimes we fail and then we beat ourselves up (or are beaten up by our peers), or we succeed and we then go around feeling good about this, in a perfectly absurd fashion…

 

Life isn’t a matter of fitting into the pattern that we have been given; it isn’t a matter of ‘going along with the obvious answers that have been given to us without ever questioning them’. Life is a test, but it’s not that sort of test, it’s not a ‘test of obedience’ in the way that the fundamentalist Christians tell us it is. That’s just paternalistic bluster, that’s just ‘the Negative Father Image trying to frighten us, as always’! That’s just ‘The Old Tyrant‘! Life isn’t a test to see how good we are at going along with the prevailing bullshit – how could we possibly short-sighted enough to think this? We might like to think that it’s all about doing what we need to do in order to be good girls and good boys and get patted on the back or awarded medals but that of course is just a cop out so we don’t have to think for ourselves. That’s slavery, not life, even if it is slavery that we ourselves willingly walk into. Life’s not about embracing the generic life (and feeling either good or bad depending upon whether we are able to successfully do this), it’s about seeing through it.

 

This might sound like a rather simplistic or limited way of saying what life (which is obviously a pretty big thing) is or isn’t about but it hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways. It’s a pretty accurate way of putting things; after all, it’s only to the extent that we can see through (or beyond) ‘the generic life’ that we can live at all…

 

 

 

 

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The Devaluation Of Consciousness

Consciousness is the least valuable commodity there is – we can sell just about everything else but we can’t sell this! Consciousness is garbage to us; we would not stoop to pick it off the street. It’s worse than garbage actually – consciousness is something that we have put on the banned list, it is something that we make every effort to keep at a safe distance. Consciousness is the uninvited guest at the party who will be thrown out unceremoniously by heavily armed security men if she ever dares to show her face…

 

To say that consciousness is inconvenient to us is of course to put it very mildly indeed! Consciousness is the one thing that is guaranteed to upset every apple-cart. It is guaranteed to throw all of our structures into disarray, and reduce them to rubble in moments. Consciousness destabilizes our structures to the point where they are not able to exist anymore. It falsifies all of the assumptions that our systems rest upon. How then can we possibly value consciousness, given that we are so very heavily invested in all of these structures and systems that we have created? To value consciousness is to value truth and truth is the very last thing we want to know about in this modern world of ours, no matter what we say.

 

It might seem that we live in an enlightened era which exists in stark contrast to earlier times when the human race was ruled by ignorance, prejudice and superstition, but if we think this then we’re looking at things with rose-tinted spectacles. People are not behaving very differently, when it comes down to it. What has happened (and it is admittedly very dramatic) is that we have got a lot better at controlling our physical environment and manipulating whatever we are able to manipulate. We can pull off a lot of tricks and they are quite spectacular. We have become very skilful at carrying out certain technical manoeuvres but if this skilfulness exists without any relationship to actual consciousness, then we’re in big trouble – to put it mildly. When there is no consciousness in the picture (and there isn’t) then things can hardly be expected to work out well…

 

If we have this hugely enhanced ability to manipulate the physical world but at the same time our actual level of awareness hasn’t changed very much (if at all) then we are in heading in one direction only and that is the direction of deceiving ourselves, and then enslaving ourselves with our self-deceptions. It has been said many times that when our cleverness outstrips our wisdom then we’re headed for disaster and how could this be otherwise? We don’t tend to see this because we imagine that technological prowess and understanding is the same thing as wisdom, but this is very far from being the case. The tools might be impressive but the user of the tool most definitely is not; our agenda for using all of the tools that we have access to is not impressive – on the contrary, it is distinctly uninspiring. It’s all pretty squalid. We’re only ever concerned with personal advantage; we’re only ever concerned with promoting the interests of the narrow little group that we’re affiliated with and this allegiance to the self or the group is a symptom of unconsciousness not consciousness.

 

Consciousness has no agenda whilst the rational mind always does. The rational mind cannot not have an agenda and its agenda has nothing to do with becoming conscious. The only way we can become conscious (or ‘globally aware’) is when we drop all of our rational agendas and it can be readily seen that our contemporary rational/technology culture has absolutely interest in doing any such thing. If we have an enhanced ability to control, and we are moreover very much invested in control and the outcome of controlling, then why on earth would we want to relinquish all our agendas? Actually, dropping our agendas turns out to be the very same thing as dropping the rational-conceptual mind and we definitely aren’t about to do this anytime soon! When it comes down to it, we think that we are the rational-conceptual mind and so of course we aren’t about to drop it – that would be the psychological equivalent to suicide. That would be throwing away the thing we hold most precious.

 

This – we might say – is our biggest delusion – the delusion that we are the thinking mind, that we are the same as our thoughts about who we are. As long as this is the case then it goes without saying that we won’t have any genuine interest in becoming conscious. Becoming conscious would mean sacrificing our precious illusions about who we are. Instead, we’re going to be very interested indeed in controlling because we imagine that if we get very good at controlling then we will be able to produce some especially favourable conditions for ourselves. Producing especially advantageous circumstances or conditions for ourselves is our chief interest; it’s just about our only interest. Although we may not necessarily put it quite like this, our Number One Assumption in life is the belief that if we get very good at controlling then this will mean that we will be able to bring about the ultimately beneficial situation for ourselves. Naturally enough, this (thoroughly deluded) thought has an enormous amount of appeal! It’s quite intoxicating…

 

We could hardly get things more wrong, however. We couldn’t get things more wrong – that would be an impossibility! The more we invest in controlling the more deluded we are, and the more trapped by our delusions we are. We are always looking for better and better outcomes and because of the intoxicating lure of ‘improving our situation’ we are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in cleverness and controlling. We are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in the rational mind, in other words. The more we invest ourselves in the rational mind however the more alienated from actual reality we become – our viewpoint is getting narrower and narrower the whole time as we focus more and more on the particular details that we are interested in. The more we specialize the less we are aware we are of the indefinable Whole; to know everything (or nearly everything) about one particular set of details at the expense of having any awareness or appreciation of the bigger picture is to be not-conscious. That is to be unconscious and being ‘unconscious’ is very clearly what we as a culture are all about. We’re not about the bigger picture at all – we think that our narrow rational understanding of the world is the bigger picture! We call anything else an illusion…

 

Our assumption is then that the outcome, the special conditions that we will have brought about with our skilful controlling, will be highly beneficial for us, highly advantageous for us. We are on this accounted highly attracted to the goal or outcome that we see in front of us – it exerts a tremendous magnetic effect on our attention. But how can a mind-created illusion (because that’s what it is) possibly be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’? How can it possibly do us any good? The answer is of course that it can’t do us any good; it will actually do us harm – over-valuing a mind-created illusion is bound to cause us harm because we’re neglecting what matters in favour of what doesn’t matter. Only the Whole can be beneficial, only the Whole can do us any good, but we have no regard for it. We have no regard or respect for the Whole – all we care about is our controlling and what this controlling is supposed to bring about for us. We’re obsessed with our narrow agenda and this agenda is purely toxic.

 

On the face of it, what we value is the desired goal-state, as we have just said; we value the special conditions that are going to be so beneficial to us. If we go deeper into it however we can see that this means we must also value the abstract viewpoint that gives rise to the mirage of the goal (or to which this goal seems so meaningful and so important). Without this narrow, abstracted way of looking at the world the goal means nothing at all. In simple terms – if we value the goal at which we are aiming, and which is exciting us so much, then we also have to value the state of ignorance that gives rise to it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we actually value our own ignorance and so – this being the case – of course we don’t value consciousness.

 

We either have it one way or the other therefore – we can’t have it both ways and the way that we have chosen to have it is to protect and preserve our own ignorance at all costs. The thinking mind can’t operate any other way, strange as it may sound to say this. The thinking mind has to ignore the Whole Picture because if it doesn’t then all its deliberations, all its activities, immediately become entirely meaningless. What ‘goal’, what ‘outcome’, what ‘specially-engineered situation’ can hold a candle to the Whole, after all? The ‘Whole’ we’re talking about here isn’t some kind of metaphysical fancy – it’s what actually exists. It’s the only thing that exists. The part, the fraction, the detail, only seems to exist when we pretend that the Whole isn’t there – this is the game that thought is playing. Reality itself doesn’t not contain any divisions; it does not come with any boundaries or limits.

 

The thinking mind is a jealous god and it doesn’t look kindly upon any extra-curricular activities, anything that doesn’t support the party line, anything that doesn’t have anything to do its all-important goals, anything that doesn’t support it’s all-important agenda. As we read in Saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. …

Once we’re in the business of controlling then consciousness goes out of the window straightaway because consciousness is what lies outside of the framework of thought. Consciousness is what doesn’t serve the master of the thinking mind. The engine of thought and all of its devices requires a lot of investment; as we keep saying, this means that anything which has ‘no relevance’ to our viewpoint (i.e. anything that doesn’t fit with our prosaic assumptions) has to be forgotten about. We have no time for it; we have no regard for it. We’re far too busy with the endeavours that the mind sees as important. Yet what we’re forgetting about is Everything because the special goal-state we’re lavishing our attention on isn’t real. It’s not part of ‘Everything’ because it’s a mind-created abstraction. What we think is important is never ‘where it’s happening’ – on the contrary, it’s always where it isn’t happening! There’s nothing more sterile than thought’s creations.

 

We’re always looking in the wrong direction – we’re always looking in a direction that isn’t even a direction. We’re deludely convinced we’re onto something but we’re not. We’re gambling everything on the wrong thing because even if we did win the prize it wouldn’t do us any good. It wouldn’t do us any good because the prize is a mind-created abstraction and so we would have to become a mind-created abstraction too in order to believe in it, in order for it to seem substantial to us. We would have to become a ghost, in other words – we would have to become a ghost whilst still alive. Chasing the glittering images which the mind creates in such abundance means that we have turned our back on reality itself, and what possible good do we expect to come from this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Mind

How can computation, calculation, and data-gathering be the centre of all things; how can the measuring or quantifying mind be the basis for the whole world? And yet it is. There can be no doubt that this is the way things are – all we have to do is to pay careful attention to our day-to-day experience of what it feels like to be us, what it feels like to be a person. What the experience of being a person usually means is that we are always in the middle of a whirlwind of mental activity – evaluating things, judging things, analysing things, categorizing things, quantifying things, thinking about things…

 

We have made computing or calculating (or ‘measuring’) the centre of all things. We have done this without realizing what we have done, without appreciating that this is in any way strange. Whatever happens, we’re in a hurry to measure it, to compare it with the evaluating yardstick of the concept-making mind and see what we make of it. “What is this, what is this, what it this?” the mind is asking all the time. Every time a new datum comes along the mind tries to fit it into its overall picture of reality, to consolidate that picture. All the activity that goes on in the thinking mind is geared towards this end.

 

The questioning that the thinking mind engages in isn’t questioning of a philosophical type – it is on the contrary a pragmatic questioning, a form of questioning that is directed towards consolidating our conceptual ‘grip’ upon the world. We’re not asking open questions with our thinking in other words, but rather what we’re doing is that we’re trying to makes sense of the world within the same narrow framework of understanding that we always use to make sense of things, and this is a different matter entirely. There is no doubt whatsoever that our experience of being in the world is one of being in the centre of this maelstrom of thinking and evaluating – we can hardly pretend otherwise since if this were true then we would be going around in the centre of an oceanic sense of calm and serenity, and how often is this the case? The way things usually are is that we are agitated rather than calm, busy in the head rather than peaceful.

 

The question this raises is “Why?” Why is all this activity going on? Why have we made computation and measuring the centre of all things when it is clearly not necessary that we do so? We don’t need to be thinking about life the whole time, after all – we could just be living it. We don’t need to be analysing and evaluating and second-guessing our situation – we could just be taking it as it comes and enjoying it! Since everything is already perfect at being what it is, what is all this mind-created commotion about? What’s to be gained by it? What are we trying to achieve? What’s behind it all?

 

We have of course already alluded to what the answer to all these questions might be – we’re mentally busy in the way that we are because we’re trying to squeeze everything into a framework when it doesn’t really belong there. All the activity is because we’re trying to make sense of the world so that it makes sense in the way that we want it to. One thing is absolutely for sure and that is that if we were happy for everything to be the way that it already is then we would immediately be in a state of the most wonderful inner peace. Words would not be able to describe how peaceful we would feel – we would be at the centre of a veritable ocean of peacefulness. There would be a quality of serenity such as we are unlikely ever to experience in life. If we did experience it then we would be unlikely to forget it in a hurry…

 

We know that this oceanic sense of serenity and unity with the world comes our way only very rarely therefore – if at all – and so what this shows us is, very clearly, is that we aren’t OK about things being ‘the way that they already are’. Our day-to-day state of mind indicates clearly that we aren’t ‘accepting of things as they are’ but resisting of things as they are. Because we aren’t OK about things be the way that they are we are compelled, instead, to be forever trying to control and manage and regulate them instead. This draws our attention to a very curious thing therefore – how could we be resistant to reality across the board, and only be in favour of it when it meets our special requirements?

 

Even to ask this question is to begin to be aware of what it is that’s going on here. The point (which we have already alluded to) is that our relationship with reality is a controlling one, not a respectful one. If I am in a relationship with you and I am trying to control you (as is often the case in relationships) then I am only going to be happy with you when you do what I want. I’m not happy with you the way you actually are; I’m only happy with you when you’re the way that I want you to be and this is exactly what our relationship with reality is like, whether we like to see it or not.

 

Needless to say, a controlling relationship isn’t any sort of relationship at all, and yet we’re constantly fooling ourselves that it is. We’re constantly fooling ourselves to think that our relationship with reality is an honest and respectful one when this very much isn’t the case. The truth is that we don’t care what reality is in itself – we’re actually frightened to find out – we only care about what we say it is. As long as we have this type of controlling ‘relationship’ with reality we’re never going to be happy; happiness is out of the question, as is peace of mind. Everything is on a strictly conditional footing when we’re in ‘control mode’ – everything is conditional upon how well we do in our controlling. So if our controlling goes well then we’re ‘happy’ but this is only conditional happiness. It’s conditional happiness because it depends upon us getting our own way and what this means is that the so-called ‘happiness’ will turn around at the drop of a hat and become its opposite when things don’t work out according to plan. Satisfaction then turns into dissatisfaction, apparent ‘good’ humour turns sour. Contentment turns into angry frustration, and so on. All conditioned emotions are like this, all are liable to turn around at the drop of a hat, depending on circumstances. There is never any chance of genuine peace or happiness when our relationship with the world is a controlling one, therefore.

 

Peace of mind is alien to the conditioned mentality; it doesn’t belong there – any sense of peace or well-being that might seem to be there can be taken away in an instant and ‘peace that can be taken away in an instant’ isn’t peace! We can fool ourselves that it is, we can tell ourselves that all is well with the world and that the basis of our well-being is as solid as a rock but this just isn’t true. The basis for our sense of well-being is ‘us being successful in our controlling’ and there’s nothing rock solid about this. Our well-being is dependent upon external factors, upon ‘things going a certain way’, and a less reliable basis than this is impossible to imagine. When our sense of well-being is dependent upon successful controlling then, pretty obviously, peace of mind is not going to be the result! This is actually the recipe for anxiety, not peacefulness…

 

The thing that we generally have difficulty in understanding is this assertion that our relationship with reality (or the world) is almost always one of controlling – we don’t see things this way. Obviously we can see that sometimes we are controlling, or trying to control, but we certainly have the perception that this is always the case. This is because we don’t understand that thinking is in its essence all about controlling. Thinking is controlling because it always interprets reality on its own terms. Of course thinking always interprets reality on its own terms – that’s what thinking is. Thinking is the process whereby we subject the world to our rules, to our criteria, in order to it to compel it ‘make sense’. It is so normal for us to do this that we don’t really focus on what we’re doing, but what we’re doing is pulling everything into a framework of reference that we ourselves have decided upon. We’re making sense of things in a way that suits us.

 

If we didn’t think about the world all the time then it wouldn’t look the same at all. Our thoughts don’t exist ‘out there’ in the world, our concepts and ideas and beliefs don’t have an existence of their own – it’s us that make them, it’s us that have put them there. If we didn’t engage in all this mental activity then the picture of reality that we take for granted would wink out of existence immediately, as if it had never existed. This picture of reality – no matter how familiar it might be to us – is a conditioned one. It is conditional upon us making it be there, it is conditional upon the way that we choose to look out at the world.

 

To put this in really simple terms – the simplest possible terms – what we’re trying to do is make something be what it isn’t. This is the big endeavour that we are all engaged upon. Is it any wonder that we are kept so busy at? The bottom line here of course is that we just can’t make something be what it isn’t. That’s just not going to happen, plainly. But what we can do – for a while at least – is make it seem as if we’re getting somewhere, and this illusion will allow us to feel motivated and positive. What we’re actually doing however is that we’re rolling a boulder up a hill – by putting a lot of effort into it we can apparently get somewhere, but the moment we start to slacken it’s all going to go into reverse again. Things are going to start slipping…

 

So straightaway we have two types of activity that are possible, two types of activity that can arise. The first type of activity we can call ‘optimistic’ or ‘hopeful’ activity, the second ‘pessimistic’ or ‘anxious’ activity. ‘Hopeful’ activity is activity is activity that is motivated by the belief that we can roll the boulder up the hill until we reach a point at which it won’t come rolling all the way back down again. This is the outcome that we are working towards, this is the outcome called ‘success’. Anxious activity – needless to say – is still activity where we’re struggling to get that boulder up the hill but we no longer believe that we’re going to be successful at it. This doesn’t mean that we stop trying, it just means that we are now trying on two levels not just the one. We’re fighting to roll the boulder up the hill and we’re also fighting not to see that this can endeavour is never going to work.

 

Both of these are equally strong motivations – when we have our eye on the prize and we’re pressing home for the final advantage this is a strong motivation, and when we’re struggling to avoid missing out on the prize this too is a powerful motivational incentive! But it can be seen all the same that both motivations are also equally illusory – the ‘prize’ that I’m striving for doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist neither does the possibility of avoiding the threat of missing out on it. I can’t avoid not attaining the prize because attaining it was never a real possibility in the first place. The prize we’ve got our eyes on is – as we have said – the prize of not having to be working away forever at rolling the boulder up the hill. The prize is when we finally ‘get there’ but this just isn’t going to happen; we’re never going to reach the summit of the mountain in the way that we hope to and the reason we’re never going to be able to do this is self-explanatory – no matter how long and how hard we work away at maintaining a mental construct that construct is never going to grow legs and stand up all by itself!

 

This then explains why there is always so much thinking, so much mental activity going on – it’s because we’re engaged in a job that has no end to it, it’s because we’re engaged in a non-terminating task. We can look at this in two ways – either we can say that we’re struggling to fit everything into our narrow little framework of reference and that this is a NTT, or we can say that we’re struggling to maintain the artificial construct of who we think we are but aren’t, and this is a NTT as well. It all comes down to the same thing in the end because it’s only by looking at the world via our narrow frame of reference (as if it were the only way to look at things) that we can carry on believing in the reality of the self-construct. The bottom line is that mental activity – both conscious and unconscious – is needed on a constant basis. The best we can hope for is that the unconscious mental activity will carry on without us having to be made aware of it and that the conscious mental activity (the day-to-day thinking) will continue to appear entirely volitional and unconnected with the secret task of maintaining the self-construct. This is ‘unconscious living with no visible snags’, so to speak.

 

The worst that can happen, on the other hand, is where we do begin to become aware of what is going on and have to painfully escalate the thinking activity in order to try to cover up the true nature of what is going on, even though this escalation actually draws attention to what is going on all the more. This situation is called ‘neurotic mental illness’ – this is when our comfort zones start to fail us and we begin the slow and painful movement back to reality – however reluctantly. The irony underlying all this of course is that the thing we’re protecting isn’t really worth it. It isn’t really worth it because it isn’t real – what we’re struggling to protect is a knot of tension and struggling and stress which exists purely in order to maintain the fiction of who the thinking mind says we are, and yet who we really are – behind all this struggling and stress – is something far, far greater than we could ever even begin to imagine! We’re protecting the shoddy copy at the expense of the priceless original! This is the true nature of the ‘ironic struggle’ upon which we are perpetually engaged…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conventional Therapy Is ‘Therapy To Keep Us Asleep’

Therapy’s a funny thing. It’s a funny thing because it isn’t really what we think it is; very often, what we call ‘therapy’ is just a way of confusing ourselves! Or as we could also say, it’s very often a way of delaying or postponing the moment when we get to see the truth about ourselves, and if we’re ‘delaying the moment when we finally get to see the truth about ourselves’ then this isn’t therapy, it’s merely a way of keeping ourselves asleep!

 

‘Therapy’ is a very comfortable and familiar word to us. It sounds like giving ourselves a bit of a treat, it sounds like something that’s going to take all those mental aches and pains away. Sometimes it is. But the problem is that these aches and pains have some sort of message to give us – they’re telling us something we need to know about. The pain we’re experiencing is serving a function rather than just being an annoyance or irritation to be gotten rid of. As Anthony De Mello says, most of us go to see a psychotherapist to get our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We don’t want to grow up and leave the safety of our beloved play pen!  We don’t want to face reality. We understand the outcome of effective therapy as being the elimination of all the symptoms that are afflicting us so that we can go back to the way we were before things started getting difficult for us…

 

What does it mean to ‘leave the play pen’ though? What is the ‘playpen’ that we are talking about here? The play pen – we could say, by way of a simple answer – is everything we know, everything we are familiar with, everything we habitually see as ‘being true’. It’s the status quo; it’s what we want to hang onto. The movement of life, on the other hand, is the movement of adventure, which is the movement away from all this. What could be more natural than to want to explore the world beyond the known, the world that lies outside of the safe perimeters of our well-managed everyday world? And yet there is of course another tendency at work here too and this is the tendency to flee from the unknown and pretend that it doesn’t exist. This ‘tendency’ is more commonly known simply as fear.

 

When therapy becomes synonymous with ‘returning us safely to the play pen’ (which is what professor of nursing Margaret Newman calls linear-interventionalism) it is no more than ‘fear in disguise’, therefore. It is us obeying fear. Linear interventionalism with regard to psychological therapy is in effect the legitimization of fear, the legitimization of ‘security-seeking’. The symptoms of neurotic pain that we are experiencing – and which we, naturally enough, want to see cured – are the inevitable side-effects of ‘hanging on’, the inevitable side-effects of fearing the unknown, legitimizing this fear, and resisting it for all we’re worth. There is no way that we can free ourselves from neurotic suffering and yet at the same time hold on to the known (or stay safely resident in the play pen) – that would be a perfect example of ‘wanting to have our cake and eat it’! When we resist the natural movement of life – which is of course our prerogative – then we are going to taste the lash of neurotic suffering, which is ‘the pain of having our growth arbitrarily restricted’.

 

Just as the yearning to go beyond our boundaries and move out into the Great Unknown is a natural impulse, so too is the impulse to run in the opposite direction. There are the two forces of life – the conservative and the exploratory (or ‘fear and love’, as Bill Hicks puts it). It’s all a natural process – it’s all the same natural process, working itself out. What happens in this process is that we resist our natural impulse to let go of the known and so instead we end up clinging to it for dear life. We attempt to make the play-pen the whole world and deny that anything else exists – we validate our ‘holding on’, in other words. We make a virtue of it and blame anyone who doesn’t do the same as us. We call them bad names. But what happens then is that the pain of trying to cling onto what can’t be clung onto (because it isn’t a real thing, even though we say it is) gets more and more unbearable – it grows and grows until in the end it becomes quite untenable. We finally see that what we’re fighting against is our own true self, our own true nature, and then it naturally happens – as part of the process – that we accord with our own true nature rather than fighting against it. To see that we are not according with our own true nature is the same thing as according with it! So then we become the explorers that we truly are and we embrace what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey rather than shirking it, rather than outlawing it, or pretending that ‘there is no such thing’.

 

There is a ‘problem’ with the unfolding of this process however and this ‘problem’ is our collective way of seeing things. The problem is society, to put it bluntly. The problem is our culture. Our collective understanding of ‘therapy’ is that it ought to be something to help return us safely to the equilibrium values from which we have accidently departed. Our understanding of therapy is that it is an essentially normative process, that it is an intervention designed to return us to the linear time-line of our normatively defined lives. The symptoms of neurotic pain – whatever they are – are seen as ‘errors’ to be eliminated. We have no interest in these symptoms, beyond what we need to know in order to eliminate them. We have no curiosity about what they might be implying. When we have been effectively therapized then we can get back to so-called normal life again; we can take up our allotted roles in society where we left off. The only thing is, normal life equals ‘the play pen’; normal life equals ‘the known which we are afraid to let go of’. We make a whole world out of our equilibrium values and we (implicitly) say that there is no other legitimate world, no other legitimate way of doing things, when the truth is that our established, collectively-validated way of life (i.e. society) is an exercise in conservatism and nothing more. It’s ‘conservatism for the sake of conservatism’. It’s the rule of fear. It’s what Joe Campbell calls ‘the refusal’ – it’s refusing the call on a grand scale. It’s global refusal. We are refusing the call to be who we are and the price we pay for this refusal is neurotic pain  – instead of life all we’re going to get is a shoddy and degraded copy of the true thing. Anything else is a ‘cheap debased counterfeit’, as Rashid Dossett says. That’s our lot – that’s all we’re going to get…

 

Our way of understanding mental health perfectly illustrates our confusion. Mental health is implicitly seen as being the same thing as ‘being adapted to the reality that society has defined for us’. It is seen as being adapted to the reality that society presents us with in such a way that we don’t have any problems with it. We are supposed to value our lives (to see our lives as being ‘worthwhile’) on this basis.  A good illustration of this is the way in which we are widely supposed to find our lives meaningful (i.e. ‘worth living’) on the basis of our goals, which are when it comes down to it provided for us by society itself. It’s not put quite like this of course – the meaning of life is said to come from us being ‘free to pursue our goals’, whatever those goals (or ‘dreams’, as it is also said) might be. The thing about this however is that these goals are the goals that make sense to us within the structure or framework of society, which is itself an avoidance of reality. Our goals never have anything to do with ‘leaving the play pen’ – they are on the contrary ways of distracting ourselves from seeing that we’re in the play-pen. Our goals are the play pen…

 

Our goals and dreams are society’s goals and dreams because we see the world in the way that society wants us to. Society has given us its mind. That this should be so if pretty much a foregone conclusion seeing that the social milieu has been telling us ‘how things are’ from the cradle onwards. My map of reality has been given to me by society and this ‘map’ doesn’t permit me to see beyond it. In another way, it doesn’t matter whose goals they are anyway – the notion that we can obtain our sense of meaning in life with regard to a bunch of goals (whether they are ours or not) is fundamentally nonsensical. Waiting for our agendas to be fulfilled (or not fulfilled, as the case may be) does provide us with a type of ‘meaning’ of course – it’s just not a very wholesome one! This isn’t a wholesome type of meaning because it’s based on delusion. How can I possibly base my sense that life is ‘meaningful’ on something that hasn’t happened yet, something that only exists in my own head, something that is nothing more than a projection of my unconscious programming? What kind of craziness is this?

 

The sense of meaningfulness (or ‘worthwhileness’) we get from goals is an illusory sense of meaningfulness, an illusory sense of worthwhileness. It’s based on shadows, on fictions. It’s only a game that we are playing – whatever way I am feeling now, I think that there’s going to be some value added to it (hopefully a lot of value!) when I attain the goal, when I reach that special destination that I am aiming at. I live in expectation of this happening therefore – I live in expectation of the great thing happening and it is my belief in this happy eventuality that provides me with my motivation in life. The more I believe the more motivation I feel, the more ‘anticipatory excitement’ I feel. I’m essentially trying to ‘solve life’ therefore; I’m trying to solve life with my goal-orientated activities, although I won’t see it like this. But whether I see what I’m doing or not doesn’t change anything – it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very shaky basis for feeling good about things, a very shaky basis for me to say that ‘my life is meaningful’…

 

Goals don’t make our life meaningful. That’s the Western Delusion. That’s samsara. If my life didn’t feel OK before I get the outcome that I want then it certainly isn’t going to feel OK because of this! Life can’t feel meaningful (or ‘worthwhile’) because of something outside of me – it is completely nonsensical to think this! We might imagine – in some half-baked kind of a fashion – that good mental health can be obtained by ‘filling the hole inside of us’ but this is just not going to work for us. It is good for capitalism, it’s good for all the corporations that sell us stuff, it is good for the ‘Consumer Society’, but it’s not good for us. Looking for solutions for our emotional / mental pain outside of us just isn’t going to work. Therapy isn’t supposed to provides answers or solutions to our inner pain –that’s a false understanding of therapy. It’s sleep we’re looking for, not any type of psychological growth. Getting rid of the symptoms is just playing a delaying game, as we have already said – what’s needed is for us to get to the root of our suffering, and see clearly what this root is. Waking up is what helps, not taking more sleeping pills!

 

This doesn’t tend to sound too good to us. Looking into the root of our suffering (rather than ‘solving it’ or ‘making it go away’) doesn’t sound very good at all – it sounds suspiciously like saying that we have to sit with our pain, it sounds as if we’re saying that we’re stuck with our pain and can’t get rid of it. It comes across (perhaps) as a pessimistic message that tells us we just have to put up with the misery and learn to live with it, as far as that is possible. This is understanding things the wrong way around, though. The root cause of our suffering is that we just want to get rid of our symptoms every time they arise so that we can go back to our beloved play-pen, and carry on ‘playing with our toys’, as Tony De Mello puts it. This is the attitude that created the pain and misery in the first place. But when we understand this clearly then we don’t have to keep on suffering – if we weren’t 100% invested in clinging to the world of the known and pretending to ourselves (and each other) that this is the right thing to do then there would be no more neurotic misery. All of these neurotic ‘problems’ only exist because of our refusal to see the bigger picture, because of our resistance to change. ‘Not resisting’ doesn’t mean that we have to ‘put up with the pain forever’ (which is what the thinking, problem-solving mind tells us), it means that the pain doesn’t arise in the first place…

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Live In A ‘Content-Free’ World

What happens when we create worlds for ourselves that are existentially ‘non-challenging’ is that we promptly fall asleep on our feet. This isn’t just something that is probable (or even very likely) – it is an inevitability. It happens every time…

 

An ‘existentially unchallenging environment’ is one in which everything is defined for us and if everything is defined, if everything is ‘in its right conceptual box’, then where’s the existential challenge in this? Everything just becomes an exercise in accounting.  Because there’s no challenge in the moment there is no ‘being present’; because there is no more than ‘what superficially appears to be there’ there is similarly no more to us than ‘what superficially appears to be there’. We are (pretty much) the products of our environment – when we adapt to an environment that is only skin-deep then the same becomes true of us, when the only world we know is a world that has no actual content then neither do we. This is because – in the absence of an effort in the direction of self-inquiry – we can’t help using our environment to define ourselves.

 

This tends to be a point we don’t immediately get – we’re only too used to realities that have already been defined for us, predigested realities, realities in which there is never any more than ‘what superficially appears to be’. Because of this it is hard for us to see that there is anything peculiar or untoward about this situation. The reason the ‘world of appearances’ is a peculiar one is because reality itself is not merely ‘an appearance’ and so we’re diverting from what is real without knowing it. Appearances are what we see and relate to but that is strictly our own affair – what we see or understand as ‘being real’ has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do the actual nature of reality itself. Appearances have a particular form to them – they have hard edges which we can focus on to the exclusion of anything else. We ourselves create these ‘edges’ and having created them we proceed to treat them as if they are the only important thing in life – we treat the edges that we’ve made as if they themselves are reality. The ‘edges’ that we’re talking about here come out of our thinking, needless to say, because thinking is all about edges, or ‘cut-off points for our attention’.

 

When ‘an edge’ equals reality then everything straightaway becomes flat. The world becomes flat – there’s no depth involved. Depth doesn’t come into it – the idea of ‘depth itself is lost. Where the edge is then that’s what’s real and behind that sharply uncompromising edge there’s nothing, nothing has been defined, nothing has been presented and that means that as far as we are concerned there is nothing. It’s as if we have turned up the focus on our focussing mechanism to make the image we’re seeing as sharp as possible; it’s only the mechanism (i.e. the conceptual mind) that does this however – this two-dimensional sharpness doesn’t exist in the world itself. The world itself has nothing in common with the image that is presented on a flat plane, as if nothing else existed but that flat plane.

 

If we take the time to relate to the world without the help of this focussing mechanism (and hitting a flat-plane representation with nothing behind it) then we will encounter this unfocussed phenomenon that we have called depth. Depth means that ‘the more you look, the more you see’ (as Robert M Pirsig says); reality reveals itself when we give it the space to do so, when we don’t hurry it along by ‘pressing for a conclusion’. If we press for a conclusion then we get the conclusion that we have pressed for and that’s all we get. We never go beyond it, we never get surprised. When we don’t ‘take charge of the process’ in this way then we keep on being surprised, we keep on seeing more than we thought there was to see. This quality of there being more in the situation than we initially perceived there to be constitutes what we have called ‘depth’ and depth is therefore the existential challenge that we have said designed environments don’t contain.

 

The essentially open nature of reality constitutes an existential challenge for us because of the demand that is being made on us to be present with a reality that has no precedence and which on this account we are not prepared to deal with. All we have is ourselves and this is a challenge because we not used to dealing with reality ourselves – we’re used to dealing with it with the help of external authority of the thinking mind, which is a collection of gimmicks and procedures and formulae that have been passed down to us, not ‘all on own’, which is what is required of us now. Life is making a demand and that demand is that we attend to what is happened right now, which has never happened before, rather than assuming that we know what is going on and moving on to the next (known) thing, which is what we usually do. The demand to attend to an unknown present moment is also the demand to attend to (or question) ourselves, and this is the one thing we never want to do. This then is the boon that the constructed environment bestows upon us – the constructed (or ‘designed’) environment bestows upon us the boon of not ever having to look at ourselves. Because the world we are relating to is made up of sharply-defined surfaces with nothing behind them so too have we become a ‘sharply-defined surface with nothing behind it’ and because there’s ‘nothing behind it’ we don’t need to examine ourselves. There’s no point because we already know everything there is to know. We are thereby protected from what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘a direct perception of what is‘.

 

The question here is then, why is the challenge of having to examine who or what we are so very frightening to us? Why are we so very keen to run away from it? One way of explaining our ‘reluctance to examine things too deeply’ is to say that we simply don’t want the apple-cart to get upset. Seeing that the world is other than the way that we took it to be means that we have to go right back to the drawing board and that means a lot of hard work. It also means seeing that we have wasted a huge amount of time and effort on the wrong idea of who we are and what life is all about, and seeing this is in itself hard work. That is actually the hardest work of all! Everything we thought was wrong. Having to let go of everything we thought we knew and go back to the drawing board is the hardest work there is and so it is hardly surprising that we would want to run away from something like this. Faced with the two possibilities of either carrying on in our denial and ‘putting off the moment of truth’ for as long as we possibly can, and deciding to turn around from the road of denial and go back to start again it is clear what the easiest (and therefore most attractive) option is going to be…

 

We had this comfortable little illusion going for us there – we thought we had everything sussed out, we thought we had a handle on everything, when all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from under us and we discover that we were only fooling ourselves. We’d been asleep, in other words, so now is the time to wake up. This is still puzzling however because when we wake up there’s a whole interesting world there to find out about and this has got to be the most exciting challenge ever! Why then do we react so badly to this challenge? Admittedly – as we have just said – we have to overcome our initial resistance to seeing the truth, but is this enough by itself to explain our tremendous antipathy to encountering ‘reality as it actually is’? The world that is made up of defined surfaces isn’t that great a world, after all; far from being in any way ‘great’ it is completely sterile, completely lacking in anything that can ever genuinely surprise us, and so why are we so very keen to stay in it, not knowing of any other world and not wanting to know either? Why do we refuse the richness of the non-conceptual mind in favour of the generic ten-a-penny two-dimensional pseudo-world that the thinking mind constructs for us? What the hell – we might well ask – is going on here?

 

What we’re really asking here is “Why is psychological work so very inimical to us?” Why is the existential challenge that is inherent in life itself something that we are just not prepared – under any circumstances – to countenance? The answer to this question is very simple – when we have identified with the mind-created self, which is the self that is constructed out of edges, out of hard-and-fast boundaries, then psychological work is a complete impossibility for us. There couldn’t be a more complete impossibility than this. Psychological work (or ‘conscious work’) means going beyond our boundaries and the mind-created self can’t do this – it can’t do this because it IS its boundaries. That’s the whole point of the defined self – that it can’t be what it isn’t defined as being! The defined self is only what it is defined as being and so it can’t ever go beyond these limitations (no matter how much pain and frustration they might entail) – going beyond its own boundaries is the same for the defined self as dying. To embrace the new is to let go of the old and the bottom line is that we just don’t want to do this – our resistance (or ‘inflexibility’) here is absolute…

 

As soon as we being to attend to the world around us we are challenged. Our idea of ourselves is challenged and that idea is sacred to us. That idea IS us. Our orientation towards life is totally based on this idea of ourselves – our interest is totally in the direction of ‘acting on behalf of this idea’, not ‘questioning it’. That would be going in the other direction entirely! There are two entirely distinct modes here – ‘doing mode’ and ‘reflecting mode’ – and if we’re in the first mode, the purposeful mode, then questioning ourselves doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s giving up or sacrificing the very thing that’s most important to us (the only thing that’s important to us!) because it’s only through unreflective purposeful doing that we can perpetuate the illusion of the controller, the illusion of the doer, the illusion of the purposeful self. The purposeful self only gets to exist because of the way it always defines itself by consistently relating itself / orientating itself to the sharply defined surfaces of the constructed world, as we said earlier.

 

‘Being asleep’ means that we have identified ourselves with a whole bunch of mental constructs. We can’t even differentiate between what we have called ‘the constructed world’ and the idea of who we are (i.e. who it is that inhabits this world) because each requires the other in order to carry on existing. The purposeful self and the defined world within which it lives are mutually conditioning phenomena – they are the two sides of the same coin. Inasmuch as I experience myself to be this ‘mind-created me’ I am going to have no interest in what lies beyond the sharply-defined representations of the world that the mind has created for me; not only am I ‘not interested’ in the reality that lies beyond my concepts, I am mortally afraid of it. I am never going to admit its existence, no matter how much pressure I am under. Admitting the existence of a reality that lies beyond my concepts is the same thing as admitting my own non-existence!

 

Our relationship with unconditioned reality – when we are identified with the defined self – is the relationship of fear. ‘Fear’ is relating by not relating – we don’t know what we are relating to because we aren’t relating to it, but at the same time we can’t help knowing about it for the very same reason, because we are so deliberately not relating to it. To consistently turn away from something is to orientate oneself towards it in a negative or reverse fashion so when we are afraid of the unconditioned reality (which is the world beyond our constructs) then our whole lives are based on fear, even though we can’t see it. Fear is what lies behind our rigid posture in life, our constant tedious tropism towards defined goals or definite outcomes, but at the same time we never look at why we are the way that we are. We have no curiosity towards ourselves; fear does not examine itself, after all – if I am afraid I do not want to see deeply into the nature of this fear! We don’t see what we are afraid of for what it is – we don’t see unconditioned reality for what it is, we simply know that we need to avoid it at all costs… If we saw that what we were so afraid of is actually reality itself, then this would tend to give the game away big time, and that’s what we don’t want!

 

It is because we don’t want the game to be ‘given away’ that we are so very fond of conditioned environments, environments that we have created for ourselves out of the thinking mind, environments which are seamlessly defined so that there is no radical mystery in them anywhere. To gaze upon a radical mystery would be to gaze upon the beginning of our own non-existence – the self-which-is-a-construct-of thought cannot afford to have any dealings with the Great Mystery which is reality! The constructed self is most emphatically not a philosophically-minded type of an entity – it is – as we have been saying – purely practical in its approach. It just wants to know what the goal is, and how it is to obtain it, and then it is happy. It is like a wind-up clockwork toy in this regard – we just have to prime it and then we can let it off to ‘do its thing’. Being wound-up clockwork toys, all we want is to ‘do our thing’! We don’t want to know why we are to do it – we just want to ‘get on with the job’, we just want for there to be nothing obstructing us in the fulfilment of our mechanical task. If something stands in the way of us going through our predefined routine then this is immensely irritating, immensely frustrating to us. There’s nothing worse!

 

‘Going through our predetermined routines’ equals being asleep and when we’re asleep we want to carry on being asleep. We don’t want to be disturbed. Beware waking up sleeping people, as Anthony De Mello says! They won’t like it, they won’t be happy with you. When we’re asleep we just want to whizz around and around and around on the tracks that have been laid down for us. We don’t want anything to get in our way. We just want to play our games. It is for this reason that we have created a world for ourselves that is made up entirely of defined surfaces, which is a world that has had all the actual content taken out of it…

 

 

Art: Sean Norvet

 

 

‘Assertion Mode’ Versus ‘Reflection Mode’

When we are painfully caught up in neurotic distress it is very helpful to see that there are two distinctly different modes of awareness, which we can call assertion and reflection. The difference is that while one mode will free us from neurotic torment, the other will make the problem worse. We can explain these two modes very easily. In the case of assertion I am saying ‘This is true’, which is being specific, committed, and closed. In the case of reflection I am not saying anything, but my attitude is asking ‘What is true?’ Reflection is unspecific and open because I am not looking for any particular answer. Each of these two modes of awareness might be said to be linked to a different sense of ‘self’: in the assertion mode it is the purposeful self, which Krishnamurti calls the ‘self-image’, and in the reflection mode it is the spontaneous self, which we can call the ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ self.

 

The spontaneous self is easy to explain (in one way at least) because it is who we really are; here there is the free expression of our true nature. We don’t have to think about what we are doing or saying – it just comes out of us. The self-image, on the other hand, is the known self, the self that we deliberately project for the benefit of ‘an audience’ (which includes ourselves). Everything the self-image does and says is ‘calculated for effect’ – even if we don’t realize that this is the case. This is the self that we are conditioned to believe in and defend, and it is at the end of the day no more than an artificial construct. A curious and very troublesome property of this ‘image of ourselves’ is that we get caught up in it and take it very seriously indeed as if the well-being (or ‘integrity’) of the self-image were the most important thing in the world

 

We can explain this idea by saying that it is a bit like a position (or opinion) that we start defending in a conversation even though it doesn’t matter that much to us one way of another. At first we don’t really care if we are ‘right’ or not (our involvement is ‘playful’), but after a while a process sets in which means that we start to get invested in this position; from this point onwards it all begins to get very serious and ‘out of hand’. When this happens, I get caught up in all sorts of problems and difficulties that I didn’t really need to involve myself in at all. The effort (and subsequent suffering) involved is unnecessary because I am defending an unreal thing. I am defending something that only matters because I have said that it matters and I am getting so caught up in it I am forgetting that ‘it only matters because I say it does’.

 

We can in fact define neurosis in general as the situation where I am defending a false sense of self. The consequences of defending this ‘false self’ (or self-image’) are that all our efforts are in vain since even if we win we lose because it is not us but the false self that benefits. What is good for the false self is not good for anyone because the false self isn’t real, and so when we promote and defend the false self we have effectively become our own enemy.

HOW CAN I TELL WHICH MODE I AM IN?

If I want to find out which mode I am in, a good question to ask myself is therefore “What self am I serving?” If I am acting for profit (i.e. in order to benefit myself in any way) then it is the self-image that is being served. This is always the case when the underlying motivation is to obtain profit, or avoid loss. The two triggers of attraction and aversion always relate to the self-image (the managed or controlled self) because it is only this self which stands to gain or lose. Essentially, anything that helps to prop up (or support) the self-image is ‘GAIN’ and anything that threatens to show it up (i.e. damage it’s integrity or standing) is ‘LOSS’. The True Self, which is who we really are, has no fear of being exposed or damaged, and no hope of being vindicated or supported. It is what it is, and it needs no ‘spin-doctoring.’  Because it isn’t a pretence it doesn’t need to be propped up.

 

A good way to explain this is in terms of ‘the truth versus the lie’. The thing about a lie is that it can only survive if the truth is successfully covered up. If I tell a lie then I am invested in that lie, I am committed to maintaining it – I always have to be defending it or attacking other points of view (which comes to the same thing). The lie always needs propping up because it cannot stand on its own; I have to actively promote it because without my intervention it will be exposed for what it is. The truth, however, needs no propping up – it is called ‘the truth’ precisely because it stands up on its own, without any outside help.

 

The point here is that I do not need to assert that such and such is true; if I feel the need to assert the truth then that means that I have lost the truth, I have become separated from the truth! It means that I am now in fact defending a lie. This is the reason why the purposeful self can never truly find peace of mind, and why anxiety is never far away. From this we can see why assertion is not the way to find freedom from anxiety since if I am asserting then this is because deep down I suspect that what I am asserting is not really true at all. It doesn’t matter how vigorously I try to prop up my positive assertion – in fact the more energy I put into it the more I feed the anxiety. Asserting the positive only emphases the negative!

SPOTTING MY ATTACHMENT

If I notice myself maintaining or defending some position (whatever that position may be), then I know for sure that I am acting from the basis of the self-image, the false self. Or we could also say, when I notice myself defending a position, then this means that I don’t really believe it to be true myself!  Seeing this lack of honesty, however, is itself an honest act – which means that it is an act which the self-image is incapable of. The self-image isn’t interested in seeing the truth, it is only interested in promoting what it wants to be true, what it wants to be the case.

 

Seeing that I am defending (or asserting) straightaway gives the game away because as soon as I see that my position needs defending, then I know it is not true, and so I catch myself and don’t get caught up in the futile attempt to persuade myself that it is. I don’t get caught up in the defending because I immediately spot what I’m defending for what it is. So we can therefore say that seeing that I have to defend the false self weakens the false self since the truth is the one thing it cannot take. If assertion mode is where I promote and perpetuate the false self, then reflection mode is where I allow myself to see that this idea of myself is not who I really am at all.

 

This business of ‘seeing myself defending’ is clearly a very healthy and helpful process – when I see the falseness of what I am defending then I will no longer invest in it, I will stop putting my money on it because I know that it will not give me anything in return. This process means that I will gradually stop identifying with the false self, and this allows me to come back to being who I really am, which is the self that doesn’t have to be asserted or defined. The journey of dis-identifying with the false self – which is based on a whole load of stuff that I don’t even believe in – is the journey of psychological growth. Normally we see growth as the process in which we build up the image of who we think we are and so it can be seen from what we are saying here that genuine growth isn’t like this at all – genuine growth is where I see through who I thought I was, not where I keep on having to defend and prop up this false image of myself…

CONTROLLING EQUALS ASSERTING

It is important to understand that what we are talking about here is ‘noticing what mode of awareness we are in’ – not ‘changing the mode that we are in’. The reason for this is simple: if I try to change myself from being in the assertion mode to being in the reflection mode, this is in itself an act of assertion and so it cannot work. All that happens is that I get confused; I get confused between where I actually am, and where I want to be. As a consequence I get tied up in knots – always trying to solve my problem with the very thing that is causing the problem. I will be trying to control myself to stop controlling myself, trying to force myself to be free. This takes us back to our definition of neurosis because the self that I am trying to free is not who I really am; it is a fiction dependent on a constant diet of spin doctoring, so how can it ever be ‘free’?

 

What we are saying, then, is that we cannot change modes on purpose – all we can do is see what mode we are in. I cannot assert that I am in the reflection mode, or that I intend to be in the reflection mode because that is what I want to be true. What I ‘want to be true’ is a position that I have invested in, it is a lie that I need to maintain. The only truth is ‘what is’, not what I ‘want to be’.

 

Actually, I don’t need to change anything on purpose because the moment I notice that I am in assertion mode I am straightaway in reflection mode!

The moment I sincerely ask myself ‘what master am I serving’ then I am asking from the standpoint of the True Self because only the True Self is interested in the truth.

The false self cannot ever sincerely ask this question because it has a fundamental resistance to hearing the answer; assertion is all about not asking open questions – the principle of the false self is ‘keep moving because if we stand still for a moment we might hear something we don’t like’. The false self is pursued by a thousand demons, yet in reality its problems all stem from itself and its determination to not hear the truth; if it stood still for a moment it would learn that it doesn’t actually exist, and this in itself is no problem.

REFLECTION IS NOT THE SAME AS JUDGING

Asking myself “What master am I serving?” is not the same thing as ‘assessing my situation’. This is another mistake that we keep making. Judging is not reflecting because when I am judging I am providing my own answers. When I evaluate whether something is good or bad what I really mean is “Is it good or bad according to my likes and dislikes?” The point is, it is me who gets to say what is good or bad – I am in control, I am holding the reins. Of course, I cannot allow myself to see how I am ‘fixing’ the process of evaluation or I wouldn’t be able to say that it is objective. Therefore, I avoid seeing how I am secretly getting my own way by assuming that my likes and dislikes are objectively valid, i.e. that my way of looking at the world is the right way.

 

Finally, it must be stressed that we are not saying that reflection is good and assertion is bad (which would be a judgement, and therefore an assertion). Assertion is only a problem when we are too afraid not to assert. If I can stop and reflect from time to time then assertion is not a problem, and purposefulness finds its proper place within a context of ongoing questioning. When assertion and reflection exist together, then my purposeful behaviour is not ‘blind’ – it is not driven by fear (i.e. denial). When there is a balance between the two modes my activity does not stand in the way of learning and so I do not get stuck in static (or cyclic) behaviour patterns.

When I See That I’m Asserting Then I’m Reflecting

We have said that having an awareness that there are two mode of awareness, and being able to see which mode we are in, frees us up from neurotic conflict, which is where we try to make something be true that isn’t true. The cure is not to try to make that state of affairs not be so, but simply to see that we are trying to make something be true that isn’t true. In other words, the cure is being able to see when we are in ‘assertion mode’.

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Health Isn’t A Strategy

Collectively speaking, we have a very peculiar idea about what mental health entails, or should look like. What we see as good mental health isn’t healthy at all – it would be more accurately referred to as ‘a precarious illusion that we are obliged to spend our lives trying to prop up’. When we are able to successfully prop up this pain-producing illusion then we call this ‘being mentally healthy’ and when we can’t maintain the illusion any more then we say that this isn’t healthy and that we need help. Our idea of what constitutes mental health is completely back-to-front, therefore! We couldn’t get it more wrong if we tried…

 

We essentially think that good mental health comes about as a result of being in control of all the parameters, although we probably won’t see it quite as bluntly as this. Mental health isn’t having lots of coping strategies on hand however – it’s not about having a coping strategy for every occasion, or an answer for every problem. On the contrary, it’s about not having a need for any coping strategies, not needing a big bag full of answers. Whenever we hear any talk of ‘coping’ this means one thing and one thing only – it means propping up something that would otherwise be at threat of ‘going under’. This is like a country whose economy is going to pot and which needs a package of financial aid to keep it afloat. What we don’t ask ourselves is “What sort of ‘mental health’ is it that continually needs to be rescued, stabilized, or propped up?”

 

What we’re talking about when we use this model of mental health (even though it’s not really a ‘model’ as such because it’s not actually thought out through very thoroughly) is a nothing more than a state of dependency. By using strategies we’re creating a dependency on having to do X, Y or Z in order to feel better, in order to feel that we can ‘cope’. So perhaps I am anxious and you show me a way of deescalating the anxiety in some way – perhaps for example I am to take ten deep breathes or do ten minutes of progressive muscular relaxation. This sounds great to us, we never question this for a moment because it seems to us that we have found a way of dealing with the problem, which is exactly what we want. We now have ‘a strategy’ that we can use, we now have another effective tool to put in our ‘tool kit’, etc, etc.

 

It seems to our normal way of thinking that this is a good way of looking after our mental health. To have ways of managing our anxiety (or anger, or stress, or whatever) seems like the way to go. We’re very fond of this whole notion of ‘managing’ stuff – management’, like ‘regulation’, is a favourite word of ours. We use it all the time in the world of mental healthcare and we don’t see anything at all suspicious about it. We can’t see that the notion of ‘managing our own mental health’ is a very suspect one indeed – and yet we absolutely ought to be able to! We can’t be that lacking in psychological insight, surely?

 

The point we are making is this – if I have to engage in some kind of prescribed behaviour every time I feel anxious, or stressed, or angry, or whatever and if that behaviour affords me some sort of temporary relief from the anxiety (or whatever it is) then I have just made myself dependent upon this behaviour. With it, I get to feel OK; without it, I am definitely NOT OK! To say that I have to do X, Y or Z – whatever the strategy in question is – I order to bring the symptoms of anxiety (or whatever) under control is to affirm to me that ‘something needs to be done’ – I don’t feel OK and  so something needs to be done in order to feel OK. To feel that one needs to do something specific in order to feel OK is to have a dependency therefore and there is no way we can equate being in a state of dependency with ‘mental health’. We’ve just given away our autonomy to a mechanical coping mechanism and what’s so healthy about that?

 

I ever I have to do something in order to feel OK then this straightaway tells me that I am not OK until I do it. So the message is that ‘I’m not OK’. The message is that I’m not OK until I do what I need to do in order to feel OK. But clearly it’s not OK to be dependent upon something in order to feel OK!  So what then is this state of perceived well-being that I am striving after? It is a very obviously ‘conditional state of being’, which is to say, it is a state where I can say “I am feeling OK if….”  I am OK if conditions X, Y or Z have been met, are in place, etc. My mental health now ‘equals’ these conditions, therefore – I have now successfully externalized my mental health so that it is dependent upon external mechanical factors. If the external factors are working well then I’m well too…

 

When so-called ‘mental health’ is dependent upon conditions being met (or upon the procedures that will bring about these conditions) then this makes it into a very precarious, very brittle sort of a thing. This supposed state of mental health is not robust – it is not autonomous, it is not ‘sufficient unto itself’. It’s only OK when something outside of it, some extrinsic factor, makes it be OK. And yet if we had to say that mental health is anything, we would have to say that it means being autonomous. Without autonomy, we have nothing! We might have the superficial appearance of well-being on the outside, but for sure there’s nothing on the inside to back it up because if there was then we wouldn’t need ‘help’ from the outside. We could also talk about autonomy in terms of being self-organizing – self-organizing systems (like the psyche) don’t need to be organized from outside, if they are then this compromises their own natural process and when we disrupt or compromise the psyche’s natural self-organizing (or spontaneous) nature by relying on clumsy external mechanisms then we have fostered profound ill-health.

 

Our sense of being ‘well in ourselves’ can never be made dependent upon a special set of conditions otherwise we are going to make ourselves the slave to the need to maintain these conditions, which is exactly the road we have collectively chosen to go down – even though ‘choice’ is of course always the wrong word to use in relation to collective matters. By getting better and better at controlling our own environment (both physical and mental) we have lost our ‘resilience’, we have lost the robustness that the human race undoubtedly did used to have. Even in our own life-time, we can notice the difference – we’re less self-sufficient, we complain and go running for help for the slightest bit of discomfort, and this tendency is encouraged and fed by a political/economic system that thrives on our passivity. Who can deny this?

 

It suits the system to define mental health in the way that it does, therefore. If we are slaves to the need to the need to maintain a very specialized environment then this suits the political/economic system that prevails at this time because that political/economic system is at root the same thing as that ‘special environment’. There’s no difference. Collectively speaking, we’ve gone down the road of getting better and better at controlling the external world and this has gone hand in hand with the loss of that ‘inner life’ which has nothing at all to do with control. This ‘inner life’ is what mental health is all about, if it is about anything. What we have obtained for ourselves as a result of all this control, all this manipulation, isn’t ‘well-being’ at all – it’s a state of conditioned well-being and conditioned well-being is a different kettle of fish entirely.

 

‘Conditioned well-being’ is a phantom that we have to keep chasing. We have to keep working at it because it’s going to run away from us otherwise and leave us in the lurch. We can only have the prize if we arrange everything correctly, if we correctly ‘do the thing that we are supposed to do’. What we’re essentially doing is making our sense (or perception) of well-being dependent upon our own successful controlling, our successful ‘strategizing’, and this is a million miles from anything that we might call ‘mental health’. What we’re talking about here is actually latent anxiety and latent depression – its anxiety and depression waiting to happen.

 

What we’re essentially talking about here is conditional happiness in another guise. It is conditional happiness in a supposedly therapeutic guise! It’s no wonder we can’t spot the flaw in the logic with regard to putting all our money on coping strategies (or ‘tools’) therefore – our whole way of life is based on the unexamined belief that that happiness is conditional type of thing. Our whole approach to life, in other words, is based on the assumption that “I can / will be happy if…”

 

A lot is hanging on this ‘if’, therefore. An ‘If’ is a terrible thing to have to base one’s happiness on. Our approach to life might be based on the supposition that conditional happiness is a viable proposition but this doesn’t mean that it is! If this is our bed-rock assumption then things are simply not going to work out for us – not ever, no matter how much effort and dedication we put into it. Instead of happiness we’re going to have to make do with fantasies about happiness instead – that’s the best we will ever be able to do. In the same way, if our key assumption is that the state of good mental health can be obtained via some successful set of strategies, some system or other of management, then well-being will always be a phantom for us – a phantom that we can chase but will never catch up with.

 

Our ‘problem’ – which we can’t see to be a problem – is that we imagine that a feeling of ‘wellness’ within us can be obtained on purpose, can be brought about via some sort of purposeful action. This is our supposition, this is our assumption. But there’s a glitch here that we never seem to spot. The glitch is this – any purposeful action, across the board, is always going to come about as a result of perceived deficit. If we’re thinking in terms of taking purposeful action in relation to mental health (or some notion that we might have about mental health) then this action is always going to originate in a perception that we have regarding a lack of health, a deficit in health. If I need to do something in order to feel well in myself then clearly I am coming from a place of not feeling well. What we don’t appreciate however is that any action arising out of a perception of ‘things not being right’ with regard to how we feel in ourselves, or about ourselves, is only ever going to perpetuate that same feeling. For example, as Krishnamurti says, any action that comes out of fear (action which is the attempt to either escape fear or combat it) is fear. Any action that occurs in relation to ‘negativity’ (if we want to call it that) is that negativity. What we react to we perpetuate. ‘What we resist persists‘, as Jung says. Problem-solving isn’t the answer when we’re talking about mental health because what we call ‘mental health’ is about being not doing. Problem-solving is a decoy, as Mark Nepo says.

 

If there’s no ‘wellness’ to start off with, in other words, then no amount of manoeuvring can bring it about!  This might sound very pessimistic, very depressing, but it isn’t. The point is that wellness is always there. It never wasn’t there – we were just cut off from it. Because wellness (or Wholeness) was always there we don’t have to create it, we don’t have to bring it about by any sort of ‘skilful action’. Skilful action only confuses matters – it distances us even more from the peace of mind and the resources of strength and wisdom that are already inside us. If we are struggling to obtain something that we think we haven’t got then this only serves to reinforce the belief that we haven’t got it, that we have to do something to get it, that we have to search for it ‘on the outside’.

 

Western culture is all about searching for happiness or well-being on the outside. We don’t like to see it like this, but clearly it is true. Who can seriously argue that it isn’t the case that we always look for everything on the outside – like it or not, that’s the sort of culture we are. We have a fundamental belief that everything, including our own well-being, our own peace of mind, is to be found on the outside. We don’t trust our own spontaneous and wisdom either – we only believe what comes to us from outside of ourselves. This is what we call ‘education’ – absorbing stuff from the outside and then being examined to see if we have absorbed it correctly! And yet what an absurd belief this is – imagine thinking that our mental health, our wisdom and strength, our peace of mind, could be dependent upon things that we do, upon procedures and strategies that we have to enact correctly. Imagine thinking that our peace of mind ought to dependent upon external factors or conditions that we can supposedly control! What a terrible nightmare this would be if it were true; if it actually were true that we always had to be ‘managing our own mental health’. “Leave it alone and it will sort itself out” would be better advice. Let the muddy puddle alone and it will clear itself, as the Buddhist teachers say. ‘Let it settle itself’, says Tilopa. Don’t get stuck in the micro-managing, don’t get caught up in the nightmarish attempt to control the parameters of your own existence.

 

Our intrinsic well-being is something that can never be destroyed – it is not a conditioned reality that is dependent upon external factors. It is not something that I or society has ‘put together’ and which now has to be maintained. Anything that has been constructed needs to be maintained and once we start maintaining an illusion we are bound to keep at it forever, driven by the unconscious knowledge of what will happen if we stop maintaining, if we stop controlling. Feeling compelled to keep on maintaining and protecting an illusion, and feeling compelled at the same time to keep on validating what we’re doing, both to ourselves and everyone else, by (implicitly) saying that what we’re maintaining and protecting ISN’T an illusion isn’t mental health. It’s our Western version of ‘mental health’. It’s actually as far from mental health as it is possible to be…