When things become distorted and we depart from a harmonious state of being, then the way back to what we have lost is contained within the distortion itself – it is not to be found anywhere else. This is equivalent to Rumi’s statement where he says ‘the cure for the pain is in the pain’ – we imagine that there is some ‘special adjustment’ – something that we have to do to ‘make everything okay again’ – but there isn’t. Anything we do to make the situation better simply ‘distorts the distortion’ even more, and we depart even further from the lost state of harmony. Our lack of insight into ‘what helps and what doesn’t help’ consigns us to a path of ever-increasing suffering, therefore.
Departing from the harmonious state doesn’t mean deviating from normality; What we call ‘normality’ is itself a departure from harmony, a departure from the Dao. Well-being isn’t something that can be normatively defined, as body temperature or blood pressure can be, for example – the act of trying to reach some normatively defined state of being is always a departure from the Dao because the Dao cannot be defined! ‘The Dao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Dao.’ This is of course our whole problem – we don’t really believe in anything that can’t be defined. We certainly don’t value what can’t be defined. When we talk about ‘correcting the situation’ we are talking about creating a distortion, therefore. ‘To correct is to distort’.
‘Correcting’ simply means bringing things into line with how we say they should be – the ideal or optimal state is just a function of our arbitrary way of looking at the world, in other words. Our perception of what is correct or incorrect exists only in our own heads and so when we try to bring things into line without our biases in this way we are creating disharmony. We are creating disharmony which we cannot cure with further fixing, further correcting, and because we have no understanding of this we end up going down a one-way street to disaster. Western society, which – as Jung says – is based purely on rationality, is a perfect example of this. We can’t ‘leave things alone’, basically! From our viewpoint ‘leaving things alone’ is being hopelessly passive, it’s as if we have given up on life and we are – due to our lack of belief in ourselves – resigned to our fate. Our unspoken motto is ‘If you don’t take control then bad things will happen’. This is the rational worldview in a nutshell.
A wiser motto might be: ‘If you compulsively interfere then bad things absolutely will happen to you’, but we aren’t of course predisposed to appreciating this way of looking at things. We dignify our compulsive interfering with the dubious term ‘progress’! The ‘problem’, so to speak, with the mindset that believes in the idea of ‘progress as a result of purposeful striving’ is that it represents a back-to-front way of understanding life. Our view is that the future is all-important and that it is a goal to be worked is towards, which means that in the absence of striving and straining, in the absence of diligent goal orientated activity, we’re inevitably going to end up in a non-ideal situation, a situation that leaves a lot to be desired. ‘The way things naturally are’ is no good therefore, and if there is to be any improvement then we have to bring it about ourselves. Nature (or the natural state of affairs) came about ‘by accident’ (we say) and so it can’t be expected to be ideal – the ideal has to be striven for, it has to be brought about by our clever plans, by our clever controlling.
We aren’t seeing it to be the case that ‘the bad thing which is going to happen us’ is our own controlling, is our own interference, but – getting it backwards, as we have just said – we see it to be the case that our controlling or interfering is going to be our salvation. Our controlling is our glory in other words, and scorn will be poured liberally upon the heads of anyone who says otherwise. This inverted way of looking at things is a manifestation of hubris therefore – this is our pride, and nothing else. In the language of the ancient alchemist’s this is called the way of error, the via erratum. The via erratum is the belief that ‘if we are to be saved then it has to be us that does it’. This is something we always see as ‘taking responsibility’ but – really – it isn’t any such thing. Really, it’s an avoidance. It’s an avoidance of ‘letting go’, it’s an avoidance of seeing what happens when we give up our controlling.
Our way of seeing things is so distorted that we have a great difficulty in understanding this point; ‘controlling is the responsible thing to do’, we say, ‘whatever else, we should never stop controlling…’ That is true only if our ‘responsibility’ is to never have any contact with reality however! This is actually a good way of explaining what the distortion that we’re talking about is all about – we can say that what we’re looking at is ‘an inversion of the natural order such that avoiding reality is seen as the responsible thing to do and allowing reality to happen or re-establish itself (which it would do if we left it alone) is the irresponsible thing’. This is the inevitable distortion of the rational outlook, however reluctant we are to appreciate this. It is something the conditioned self has to buy into out of necessary allegiance to itself. Controlling successfully (or getting things to be the way we want them to be) is the ultimate sign of strength, the ultimate source of kudos as far as the self is concerned, just as failed controlling (or letting be things be what they themselves want to be) is the ultimate sign of weakness. The former is ‘healthy’, we say, whilst the latter is a sign of ‘morbidity’.
This is why, in our gauche Western approach to mental health, we put all the emphasis on control and management, for all the world as if our artificiality wasn’t the cause of all our problems in the first place. We couldn’t be any further from understanding Krishnamurti when he says, ‘it is truth that liberates, not your effort to be free’. We’re all about the effort, unable as we are to appreciate that the effort expended by the extrinsic or conditioned self is always in the other direction from freedom, or the truth. Our fundamental allegiance, when we are identified with thought’s construct of who we are, is always going to be towards the particular distorted view of reality that supports the continued existence of this construct – we couldn’t really expect anything else, of course. This is why the alchemists spoke of their work as being the opus contra naturam – instead of putting all our energy into defending and promoting thought’s construct of who we are and what the world is about we tap in to a deeper level of things, and thus find the courage within us to allow the true reality to show itself. Asserting the false reality that supports the superficial idea of who we are is actually a manifestation of fear not strength, but we can’t tell the difference. We take it as being our solemn duty to defend our superficial mental picture of things, our collective beliefs about things, and we are frankly scandalised by anyone who doesn’t want to go along with this charade. We can’t condemn them enough, it seems…
The one thing the heroic striving of the extrinsic self can never do is bring us to a position from which we can see the truth. The more the striving the further away from it we get, as we have said. Mere muscle (or willfulness) isn’t going to bring us into contact with the truth because our willfulness, our determination, our striving and struggling, is fuelled by our unconscious need to protect our core assumptions. What ‘turns everything around’ however is our willingness to look at these deeply buried assumptions of ours, and witness the truth no matter what the cost for that maybe, and this willingness to see the truth no matter ‘no matter what’ is a very rare thing. The security of the everyday sense of self is founded upon our profound unwillingness to see the truth, after all. Because we are so keen to ‘keep on motoring in the opposite direction to the truth’ (no matter what we may say to the contrary) this leads us in ‘the opposite direction to freedom’, if we can say that there is such a thing as ‘an opposite to freedom’..
The deeper we move into the world of illusion the more we are secretly motivated by the need to keep ourselves from seeing that the illusions we are trafficking in are mere illusions. This secret motivation isn’t ‘motivation’ at all really, of course – which is to say, it isn’t our motivation but the motivation of the mechanical forces that are now in control of us. The motivation is supplied for us by an external agency and so – really – it’s coercion. Nothing we perceive is true any more when we have moved into the territory of illusion – the free will we believe ourselves to possess isn’t true, any more than the self we believe ourselves to be is. Our struggle to benefit ourselves (or save ourselves from disaster) always takes us away from reality – we might say – because the self we think we are isn’t real…
Image: Asian Historical Architecture