Beyond The Paradox Of Purposefulness

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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









  1. doyourwork680125939 · January 12, 2020

    But why keep letting go and surrender, when there is possibility of changing certain aspects of yourself? For eg being a coward, one can just accept he is a coward and wallop in it as some spiritual stuff ( I am not saying you are talking that way, just one thing that came to my mind).
    , Instead of taking actions to change it.
    Any thoughts?

  2. zippypinhead1 · January 12, 2020

    I get what you’re saying, but I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. As far as our inner life is concerned, trying to change ourselves is always cowardice (or perhaps denial is a more familiar word). What I mean is that if we are in a painful state of mind then the courageous thing to do is acknowledge the truth of how we are – this is in direct contradiction to the positive thinking movement who will say that the thing to do is put a lot of effort into seeing things in a more optimistic way. But this is denying the truth of how we actually feel, which is driven by weakness, obviously. Acknowledging how we feel (when we are feeling bad) doesn’t mean despairing or rolling around the floor, it just means ‘connecting with ourselves’, which is far more difficult that it sounds. It’s much easier to disconnect from ourselves and insist we are other than the way we are. Any psychotherapist will tell you this!

    There are certain things we can change about ourselves I agree – we can adopt a healthier lifestyle, give up smoking or the booze, go to college or university or quit our crappy job, and all of these take courage. If we don’t have the courage it takes then we’ll stay the same. But as far as changing our inner state is concerned, this is a very different matter. I don’t reckon most people appreciate this point at all but the thing is that we CAN’T change our emotional / mental state on purpose, by ‘effort of will’. If you’re angry you can’t force yourselves to be not angry, if you’re sad you can ‘choose to be happy instead’, if you’re anxious then you can’t just ‘relax’ or ‘snap out of it’ or whatever. If you are sulking you cannot rationally decide to pull out of the sulk, just because you know you should. We can pretend, of course, but that’s not the same thing, obviously. That’s just ‘putting on an act’. Lots of unhappy or depressed people put on an act and pretend that they’re not sad – we’re under pressure from our friends to do this, after all.

    Painful inner states only shift when we give up fighting against them and allow ourselves to feel the pain that is in them. If we’re in grief then we surrender to the pain of that grief – that’s the ‘healthy’ or ‘courageous’ thing to do, obviously. We’re not always able to do this of course because the pain can be just too much. ‘Surrendering’ to the emotional pain is the brave thing to do here, whilst trying to ‘control’ or ‘manage’ our emotions is driven by weakness or fear and so this is back-to-front as far as our everyday thinking is concerned. Our everyday thinking doesn’t get it at all – we think that CONTROLLING is the strong thing when actually – in psychological terms – controlling IS fear!

    Allowing reality to be reality (and not putting our convenient slant on it) is the most supremely difficult thing we could ever do. Normally, we slant it to suit our prejudices, our beliefs, and we live in a comfort bubble. We never actually see reality therefore, even though we don’t realize it. That is how it is for most of us – we are sometimes said to be psychologically ‘unconscious’, in our own private bubble of made-up reality. This whole notion of ‘changing ourselves’ can therefore be seen to be purely ridiculous – if we are in a state of delusion or self-deception then anything we do to change ourselves to be what we imagine to be a ‘better way’ is only going to be furthering our self-deception. It certainly won’t bring us into contact with reality! Seeing reality can never be a ‘willed or purposeful act’ – it can’t be because we don’t even know what reality is. The only courageous thing we can do is ‘let reality be what it is’, which – in a superficial way – might sound ‘weak’ to us. But it clearly isn’t – very few people are willing to be that honest, most of us would much rather carry on fooling ourselves. ‘Seeing reality’ isn’t a deliberate or willed act – if it was then we would merely be imposing our own crappy ideas on the world, which is what we do anyway. I take your point that people can try to cover up their cowardice by saying that they are ‘being spiritual’ – that probably happens a lot. But the idea that ‘letting go’ (which means ‘letting go of our illusions’, let us not forget) is WEAK is seeing things completely back-to-front – hardly ANYONE is willing to let go of their illusions…

  3. doyourwork680125939 · January 12, 2020

    Thanks for the reply. I get it. Most people does not want to know why they want to change or what is it that they fear, but they just want to be free from discomforting things.

    I struggle from panic disorder issue, it was severely triggered in my workplace and I just continued there for sometime out of fear itself. And then I came to know about mindfulness, enlightenment, non duality and prolonged my suffering until one day I managed to resign.

    I do have problems while walking in public with fear of residing my panic symptoms, but what I understand from looking at my experience is, it is not the panic I am afraid but some other things like ‘i may not be able to stand up for myself, shame exposing’ etc and it’s avoidance.

    I am thinking of doing a EMDR therapy, hope it might help me to release some tensions and give some confidence to adopt a more courageous attitude rather than living in fear of not having the power to stand for myself and live in its denial.

  4. doyourwork680125939 · January 12, 2020

    There is conflict between being vulnerable and courageous. I had used idea of being vulnerable to remain stuck in not taking an action when required in the excuse of I am being vulnerable and feeling everything, while courage might require me to act on along with being vulnerable.
    Any thoughts on it?

  5. zippypinhead1 · January 12, 2020

    This is a tricky sort of a question, I reckon! if we aren’t in touch with we how vulnerable we feel then we can’t be courageous, for sure. That’s like saying you can’t be brave if you don’t feel fear. So courage could require that you feel vulnerable but act all the same. I totally agree with that. But then my inclination is to say that we should be wary about assuming that courage necessarily involves or revolves around ‘taking actions’. The existential philosophers argue that the most courage thing is to be, rather than to act in any particular way. Existence itself is the ultimate risk and so the most difficult thing is to actually ‘be’. ‘Being’ is under-rated by our culture and so we always tend to take it that it is our doing that is the ultimate mark of who we are, not our being. Very often we act so as to try to obtain being as a result of our doing, and yet unless we have found who we truly are in the first place all of our action merely perpetuates our misconceptions. Even if we are struggling bravely but we haven’t first ‘taken the risk of being’ then our courage counts for nothing! Being obviously comes before doing and ‘being’ involves having the courage to be who we are, exactly as we are. Often we ‘do’ so as a way of improving ourselves, or perhaps ‘proving ourselves’, which means that we are ‘doing’ because this is the easier option than just seeing ourselves for who we are, in our ‘unimproved’ state… The quiet and unglamorous courage of actually being ourselves is the only form of courage that matters. For me to see that I am scared (without trying to ‘prove’ to myself that I’m NOT scared by some action) is itself to be courageous, Sorry if I’m being long-winded there – it’s the only way I can get my thoughts out!

  6. doyourwork680125939 · January 12, 2020

    I am reading a book called ‘book of not knowing’ by Peter Ralston, he encourages one to look for the root motivation behind one’s fears or timidity or behaviours/reactions or whatever rather than adopting a new strategy even though it could be helpful for some.

  7. zippypinhead1 · January 12, 2020

    That makes sense to me. It’s funny the way we put all our emphasis on decisive and strong action, rather than putting any insight at all into seeing what’s actually going on. What could is action when we don’t really know what our motivation for it is?