Overcomplicating Life

The positive approach works for many things but not for all things. It works very well for making a cup of tea, for example. The formula is simple: firstly, we boil some water (in a kettle or whatever), secondly, we throw the water in a cup and add a teabag, thirdly, we let the teabag percolate for a minute or two, fourthly, we add milk or sugar to taste. And then, Bingo!  – we have a cup of tea. Job done… The positive approach always has the basic form of “Do <X> to obtain <Y>” Every method ever invented has this basic structure, it’s an algorithm, a formula, and our whole world is founded upon formulae…

 

Some things there are no formulae for however. For some things the positive approach just doesn’t work. We could take ‘happiness’ as a good basic example – there is no <X> that we can carry out in order to obtain the <Y> of happiness! There is no method for being happy – there just isn’t. No one ever became happy on purpose – trying to be happy on purpose is called neuroticism in fact. ‘Trying to be happy’ is actually an infallible method for misery!

 

Even to think about happiness is a sign that we are miserable. If we were happy then we wouldn’t be thinking about it – only unhappy people think about happiness. If I try to think of a way of becoming happy then this thought comes out of my unhappiness and the so-called ‘method’ that I come up with will simply extend or perpetuate this original seed of unhappiness. As Krishnamurti says, if I am afraid and I try to be not afraid then my attempt to be unafraid is the original fear in disguise and if I am violent then my attempt to be non-violent is itself a violent attempt. All methods perpetuate the particular mind-state from which they arise.

 

Exactly the same is true for mental health (which is not by any means to say that mental health and happiness are the same thing) – the attempt to reach out and acquire mental health when we perceive ourselves not to be mentally healthy perpetuates the state of being that we’re in. Mental health isn’t to be found ‘outside of ourselves’ in other words, or as Rumi says “The cure for the pain is in the pain”. Another way of putting this is to say that what we call ‘good mental health’ is nothing other than ‘having a genuine relationship with the way that we actually are’ and there is no way that there can be any ‘method’ to bring this about! The whole point of a psychological method is to change the way that we are, not bring about a genuine (i.e. ‘non-aggressive’) relationship with the way we are. Relationships don’t come about as a result of control or manipulation, after all!

 

Mental health is one of those things that the positive approach doesn’t work for, in other words. Whenever we try to utilize a method in order to improve our mental health situation we always double-bind ourselves – using a method automatically puts us in a position where we can help believing that the only way we can ever ‘get better’ (so to speak) is to strive in some way to accomplish whilst – unbeknownst to us – it is our deliberate effort to improve our situation that is keeping us stuck in the very pain that we are trying to escape from.

 

We now find ourselves in a very thankless situation – our striving to enact the method keeps us stuck in the pain (although we very rarely see this) and because we can’t help seeing ‘purposeful striving’ as the only possible way we have of getting out of the fix we’re in, the option of ‘not striving’ is now closed to us. We are – for one thing – afraid of what will happen if we stop straining to free ourselves from our situation and we are – for another thing – afraid of being blamed (either implicitly or explicitly, either by ourselves or by someone else) for not trying to help ourselves in the way that we have been advised to. One way or another, we’re going to ‘feel bad about feeling bad’ because we believe that we ought to be able to do something about it. This – needless to say – is a very common situation.

 

This then is the classic therapeutic ‘double-bind’ – if we engage in the method then this isn’t going to help us and when it doesn’t work (as it won’t) then this will be taken as evidence that we just aren’t trying hard enough (since everyone knows the method would work if we tried hard enough) and if we stopped engaging in the method then for sure the blame would lie fairly and squarely on our shoulders because it is now clear that – for whatever reason – we just aren’t making the effort to help ourselves… We’re ‘caught either way’ in other words and this is the very essence of a double-bind. We just can’t win…

 

It might sound unfair to suggest that a therapist – within the context of a defined ‘therapeutic situation’ – is double-binding his or her clients in such a way but inasmuch as the therapist believes that the positive approach to mental health actually works (which most of us do) the double-bind is inevitable. It can’t really be avoided in this case – as long as we believe in the positive paradigm we are always going to be double-binding our clients! This brings us back to the core question of why the positive approach can’t work in mental health. We have already tackled this question in one way but because we are so very convinced that it must be possible to meaningfully change our mental state on purpose it is worth seeing if we can come at this from a slightly different angle. The more arguments we can bring to bear on this matter the better!

 

The essential point is that any orientation that we have towards a state of mind that isn’t the state of mind that doesn’t happen to be the one that we’re in at the moment is always going to be a manifestation of running away and  – obviously enough – ‘running away’ never led anyone to a state of good mental health! Sometimes we hear that we should acknowledge how we are feeling and then act so as to move on. We feel the painful feeling, and then ‘we let go of it’. This too is a positive approach however because the only reason we’re acknowledging the painful mental state that we’re in is so we can escape it! It’s as if we realize that a person we don’t want to see won’t go away until we talk to them and so then we talk to them simply as a way of getting rid of them! The old method was to ignore them or run away from them but that didn’t work so now we talk to them instead. Our underlying motivation is always exactly the same however no matter what strategy we adopt…

 

There is no method for acknowledging painful states of mind (or for feeling painful feelings) because all methods (by their very nature) are directed towards an end-goal that is just not going to cut the mustard. Chasing goals isn’t what’s needed here – that would be like having an idea or plan of doing something rather than actually doing it. Or we could say that it’s like making a goal of ‘being in the present moment’ – this just can’t be done because the moment we conceive of a goal we are departing from the present moment, not coming closer to it! We get to be in the present moment by dropping our goals, not by enacting them. We could of course try to beat this by making a goal to drop our goals but clearly this is just complicating matters even further. Methods (in the psychological sphere) always complicate things and it is these ‘complications’ that constitute our neurotic suffering…

 

This is our problem in a nutshell – we always overcomplicate things. We put an endlessly proliferating series of pointless complications between us and simply ‘being’ (which is of course not complicated at all, since any fool can do it). When we have successfully negotiated these complications, we say, then – and only then – will we be allowed to ‘be’. We tell ourselves this but it just isn’t true. Nothing could actually be further from the truth. Taking mind-produced complications seriously (i.e. taking them on their own terms) will never lead to being – complications only ever lead to more complications, thought only ever leads to more thought. Bring ‘methods’ into mental health is therefore a disaster right from the onset – using a method to help us feel better only leads to us being addicted to that method, dependent upon that method, and the ‘method’ itself is no more than a thought-created complication.  As such therefore, it can only ever lead on to more thought-created complications, and so on and so forth forever. There is after all no method for freeing us from methods….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Jasmine Mohtashami · April 21

    What a detailed and insightful post! Loved reading it, I definitely tend to overcomplicate things too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. zippypinhead1 · April 21

    Thanks Jasmine!

    Like

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