The most counterproductive thing we can do with regard to our own emotional pain and mental suffering is to get ‘clever’ about it – which is to say, the most counterproductive thing we can do is to think about it! When we hear about ‘not thinking about our emotional pain’ we are very likely to take this to be the same thing as denying our emotional pain but this isn’t the case. Denial starts with a thought, it doesn’t come out of anything else other than our thinking. Everything else that happens afterwards comes out of that original thought, and therefore is that original thought. That original thought never goes away therefore – it might be unconscious, it might be buried deep, but it will continue nevertheless to have an enormous effect on our everyday lives. The more unconscious the thought (i.e. the more deeply buried it is) the more it will determine the course of our lives.
We place far too much reliance on thinking as a way of dealing with our difficulties; our reliance on thinking is of course just a manifestation of our desperate hope that we can escape from the difficult situation that we’re in. ‘Thinking’ equals ‘our attempt to escape’, in other words – it’s the same thing. We are all great believers is escaping – we call it ‘problem solving’ or ‘finding solutions’ and the very sound of these phrases make us feel better! We immediately feel better upon hearing phrases such as these because by using then we have legitimized escaping and made it seem both possible and the right thing to do. As soon as we hear the word ‘solving’ or ‘fixing’ we know we are barking up the wrong tree! Because our thoughts are more powerful the more unconscious they are the helpful direction to go in is the direction of bringing consciousness to these thoughts and this is not a ‘doing’, not a ‘goal-driven activity’. ‘Goal’ is a code word for ‘escaping our predicament’ after all so whenever we find ourselves being orientated towards some outcome or other then we should beware of this because we’re actually running away from our life.
Consciousness has no goal, just as life has no goal. Goals are solutions and solutions are fear. Solution-focussed therapies are fear-based therapies therefore and the search for solutions (or belief in solutions) is the sickness not the cure. The root of the sickness – we might say – is that there are parts of our life that we are fundamentally opposed to living. We REALLY don’t want to live these parts of our life and we never question why we don’t want to live them. We don’t question or examine our refusal or resistance and the more caught up in the resistance we are the more unconscious we become. Very quickly we become totally unconscious and our activity becomes nothing more than a reflex that has been triggered, an all-powerful reflex that has been ‘ruling the roost’ for a very long time. This is the time-honoured ‘reflex of trying to escape’!
When we come across part of our life that we don’t want to live then this is where all the ‘thinking’ comes in. This is what all the thinking is about – skipping over the unwanted bit of our life is ‘the goal’ and the thinking is our attempt to find an effective way of doing this. Escaping from the bit of our life that we don’t like is our ‘clever plan’. Solution-focussed therapies are – we could therefore say – ways of facilitating us not to live the parts of our life that we don’t want to live, that we have resistance to living. They are our way of ‘being clever about things’! It’s not that we actually see things like this, of course. We don’t see ourselves as wanting to pick and choose over which parts of our life we want to live and which we don’t want to live (as if we had the choice!) but rather we see the bits of our life we want to get rid of as being wholly negative and worthless, as deserving zero attention or care or interest on our part. Labelling an experience as being absolutely negative is of course the perfect justification for wanting to eliminate or escape from it – this part of our life is ‘a fault’, ‘a mistake’, ‘an error,’ a ‘bad thing’, and so naturally we don’t want to have anything to do with it. That goes without saying…
The logic behind this ‘rejection of the negative’ is extremely plausible, extremely convincing – we never question this way of looking at things for a moment. This way of looking at things EQUALS not questioning. ‘Thinking about things’ equals not questioning. There is a snag in this logic however – a glitch that we are always going to be unconscious of when we are busy dividing life into the parts we like and want to keep versus the parts we don’t like and want to get rid of. The glitch arises out of the fact that we CAN’T separate or divide life according to our preferences – this is just not a possible thing we can do and when we try we get caught up in the glitch. Life always comes as a whole – it’s all of one piece and we abstract only the elements that we like or find enjoyable. It’s all life, to paraphrase what Kurt Vonnegut says in Breakfast of Champions, there’s no part of it which isn’t, no part which is ‘something else other than life’. All that’s happening when we reject one part of our life as not being worth living is that we are exercising prejudice, but that prejudice is entirely ours – it does not represent or correspond to anything in reality. That’s a glitch that comes out of our attitude, not out of life itself.
When we try to eliminate or escape from a part of our life that we have automatically labelled as unacceptable what happens is that our tactic rebounds on us. Resistance is always going to rebound on us! It can’t not rebound on us – all that’s happened is that we have put a kind of twist in things to make life even more difficult for us than it was before e started rejecting it. By refusing to live part of our own lives we have created a twist (or glitch) that we just can’t get past. What do we imagine happens to the unlived bits of our life, after all? Where do we imagine they go? Unlived life is still life whether we like it or not and because it is still life it has to be lived sooner or later. All that has happened when we reject it is that we have put it ‘on hold’…
There is more to it than just this, however. ‘Unlived life’ changes the way it subjectively appears to us – it becomes dark, it becomes subjectively hostile or threatening. It manifests as an enemy that persecutes us. The ‘demonic’ character of the life that we have rejected isn’t a property of that unlived life itself however – it’s simply a reflection of our own aggression. Aggression – as Chogyam Trungpa says – can be seen as a ‘refusal to communicate’. There’s no communication in the situation and this refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as a terrible hostility. Our own refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as the demonic quality that we are either trying to fight or run away from; fighting or running away doesn’t help the situation however because both fighting and running away equal ‘not communicating’! The demonic, persecutory aspect of our environment is really nothing other than our own attitude, our own aggression mirrored back at us but we perceive it to be something that exists independently in the world around us – something that can be successfully eliminated if we try hard enough!
When unlived life takes on this persecutory nature that makes us resist it all the more, in other words, and this is the ‘glitch’ that we have been talking about, the glitch that we can’t help getting caught up in when we are living unconsciously. The rejected parts of our life take on the appearances of ‘avenging furies’, as M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Travelled and the more we run (or the more we fight) the more furiously these demons (the demons that have been created by our rejection) pursue and terrorize us. We are at war with ourselves and we cannot win! Aggression is the same thing as ‘the absence of communication’ because we are always projecting our own meaning, our own categories on whatever is happening to us. We are perpetuating our own closed viewpoint, our own fixed framework of interpretation in everything we do and this means that there is zero possibility of communication. If we reject one part of our life as it unfolds then we reject all of our life. This has to be the case – if life is ‘all the one’, if it cannot be conveniently subdivided, then we cannot reject any supposed ‘part’ of it without rejecting all of it. It’s all or nothing, therefore. And the moment we start ‘picking and choosing’ which bits of life we want to live then it’s going to be ‘nothing’ rather than ‘everything’, therefore! This is the inevitable result of exercising ‘the mind of preference’.
Trying to pick and choose, trying to ‘get clever about things’, is the root cause of our sufferings, not the cure for it. That’s how ‘backwards’ we have got everything! If we saw things clearly then we would see that we don’t need a cure – as we have already said, what we fondly call ‘a cure’ or ‘a solution’ is simply our hoped-for escape from the parts of our life that we don’t like, the parts of our life that we have automatically rejected. There is no solution (or ‘therapy’) for life. Interference or control or manipulation is only going to multiply our woes – it’s only our fear that is driving this control, this interference, after all. It is not ‘therapy’ we need therefore but simply the willingness to live each moment of our lives exactly as it unfolds.
This is what Pema Chodron calls ‘the fearless heart’. This panoramic fearlessness is also symbolized by ‘the lion that looks in all four directions at once’ – the Lion of Ashoka that has been adopted as the state emblem of India. Rather than our customary one-sided ‘rational approach’ (which is based on always having plenty of clever strategies at our disposal), all that is required therefore is for us to live our lives ‘consciously rather than unconsciously’. We aren’t partisan, we aren’t mean-minded, we don’t exclude anything. And if we find ourselves rejecting or resisting life as it unfolds (as of course we will do), then we bring consciousness to that rejection, that resistance, too! That automatic resistance, that ‘attempted manipulation or control’, that ‘running away’ is after all as much part of life as anything else…