If there is one thing we need to understand about mental health it is this: we can’t change our mental state on purpose. If we were to understand this then at least we would be halfway to finding that great blessing we call ‘peace of mind’. If on the other hand we don’t understand this point then it’s unending neurotic torment that we are going to find instead!
The mystery is how we think we are going to find peace of mind by taking it into our own hands to try and fix our own mental difficulties, as if the insidious mental activity of ‘fixing’ could ever live lead to peace! ‘Fixing’ can no more lead to peace than lots and lots of sexual activity can lead to virginity! Do we really – honestly – believe that we can create peace of mind by our own efforts, by our own striving, by our own activities? Is it not much more likely that it is simply fear that is driving us here? Isn’t fear what always lies behind unwise action? Fixing only ever occurs as an expression of our attempts to avoid the unwanted outcome, after all. We don’t as invest as much as we are doing in fixing (or controlling) because we feel equally free to either ‘fix’ or not fix’. That’s not the way it is at all! We’re very biased here and the name of this bias is ‘fear’…
The alchemists called ‘trying to find peace of mind (or salvation) through our own efforts’ the via erratum, or ‘way of error’. This is the ‘easy’ road to go down, for sure – it’s the road which we are almost a hundred percent certain to go down. To try to fix, or try to correct, is a reflex reaction, after all – and not only this, it’s a completely overwhelming reflex reaction’! We see something that isn’t the way we want it to be, and so we try to make it be the way that we wanted to be. What could be easier to understand than this? The question remains however – do we really think peace of mind can be obtained in this way? Can we have peace simply because we will ourselves to? Isn’t this willing (this desiring) itself the lack of peace? How can we not see this?
When we try to change our state of mind then we become the prisoner of the device that we use in order to try to do this. We use some sort of instrument in order to accomplish our will on this matter, and then the next thing is that we have to find some way of freeing ourselves from that instrument in turn. When I am anxious then my anxious thoughts are my ‘instrument’ to help me become free from whatever I am anxious about, but then I have to find a way to try to free myself from my anxious thoughts (i.e. my ‘fixing’). It just goes around in circles forever. The one thing the instrument can never do is get rid of itself, after all. If I use a psychological method to obtain some modicum of relief from the mental pain that I am in, then this means that I am now dependent upon that method. We’re not talking about peace here therefore but ‘dependency’!
Having a dependency and having peace are hardly the same thing; and it’s not just that they ‘aren’t the same thing’ either, they’re opposite things. Peace is where we don’t have any dependencies; peace is where we don’t need anything outside of ourselves. Throughout the whole of human history our situation has been the same – when one of our man-made systems becomes too oppressive for us then we swap it for another, in the hope that it will do what the old wouldn’t (or couldn’t). Whilst it is true that one belief can displace another, it never takes too long for us to discover that the new belief is in fact every bit as restrictive as the old. We are always looking for systems to save us and we go from one system to another, from one mode of dependency to the other, always hoping that the latest will be different from ones that came before it. All systems (be they political, religious, or philosophical) are tyrannical and disempowering however – none of them can give us what we really want, which is our own autonomy.
Autonomy is of course the only the one thing a system can never give us! The very essence of ‘a system’ is that it ‘tells us what to do’ and the state of being in which we are told what to do is the exact reverse of autonomy. Rules can’t ever set us free because ‘a rule’ and ‘freedom’ are antithetical principles! Our core problem is therefore that we want something that is fundamentally impossible– we want the peace that comes with being free from external pressure, external coercion, external control, but we want a system to tell us to how to go about obtaining it. We want someone else to tell us how to be free!
There is of course no shortage of systems that will step up to offer to do this for us. They will ALL do this – there will all promise this. They always promise the same thing: “Do what I say and I will set you free” or “Do what I say and I will bring you happiness / salvation / redemption from your sins…” Of course they will always say this – they are exploiting our core weakness, which is – as we have said – that we want someone else to tell us how to be free. What a dangerous thing to want! The systems keep on promising us to free us and we keep on believing them, we keep on ‘handing all our responsibility over to them’ (because ‘taking responsibility ourselves’ is the one thing we don’t want to do), and so life continues as normal. Nothing ever changes – the human situation proceeds as always…
We absolutely insist on thinking that the answer must come from outside and so it is only to be expected that there will be a long line of charlatans at our front door, each one assuring us with their hand on their heart that their answer is the right one! We might think that after thousands upon thousands of years of this carry on you might have learned a bit of sense, but not a bit of it. We’re as gullible now as we ever were. This is as true for religion (that great source of oppression and restriction in the past) as it also is for these newfangled ‘psychological therapies’ that promise us peace of mind or relief from what troubles us if we ‘do what they say’, or if we ‘think in the way that they tell us to think’. We even go so far as to call this ‘scientific’! But how can it possibly be ‘scientific’ to assume that mental health can be brought about by subscribing to some system, and thereby acquiring a dependency upon ‘a method’?
‘Not looking for an answer that comes from the outside’ is the same thing as ‘not trying to fix ourselves’ or ‘not trying to change the way that we actually are’. When we stop thinking that the answer must lie outside ourselves (or that it lies in us being some kind of way that is different from the way that we actually are) then this always brings us back to ourselves. We don’t need any system in this case. We are free from the need to buy into any system. We don’t need a system to help us to be the way that we actually are, after all! At this point we are self-sufficient therefore – we’re not handing over responsibility for our lives to anyone or anything; we’re not putting our faith in any sort of rational ‘mumbo-jumbo’ or ‘hocus-pocus’.
At this point we come back to our own mental state. It’s not an easy state to be in, it’s true, but by having this change of attitude whereby we are not straightaway looking for answers ‘on the outside’ or looking for ‘someone else to tell us what to do or think’ something very important has changed – we have regained our autonomy. Peace of mind and autonomy are inseparable, they can never be treated as separate deals, separate issues. A whole process starts up when we stop looking outside of ourselves for answers – an autonomous (or ‘spontaneous’) process. When we give up our fear-driven allegiance to the way of error the only thing left is ‘the way of truth’!
No one has to tell this spontaneous process what to do or how to work. No ‘expert’ needs to come along with their patented brand of psychobabble to get the process to do what it is ‘supposed’ to do (according to the textbooks). None of that is needed. All that’s needed is for us to ‘step out of our own way’ and stop tripping ourselves up with our constant attempts to ‘help’ ourselves with our automatic never-ending ‘fixing-type’ activities (since as we have said, fixing never brings peace or cessation of suffering). ‘Taking matters into our own hands’ never brings peace or freedom from suffering – it’s only a form of ‘self-sabotaging due to anxiety’! What we’re talking about here might be a very slow process it’s true, but it’s also a real one, and there’s no substitute for that!