The Simplest Things

The simplest things are the hardest to speak of. When we’re talking about ‘approaches’ that we take in therapy or ‘models’ that we have in psychology we have no trouble in finding things to say – we find it very easy indeed to come out with all sorts of highfalutin jargon! In no time at all we evolve a whole jargon-heavy language, full of catch-phrases and buzz-words. Yet we’re not really saying anything really – we’re prattling. We’re intoxicating ourselves with our own spurious cleverness. If we were actually saying something real then it would be a lot harder and we wouldn’t be able to use other peoples’ catch phrases, tawdry generic language that we have ‘taken off the shelf’. That wouldn’t cut the mustard…

 

The reason we love models and approaches, catch-phrases and buzz-words so much is of course because it gives us an angle. We’re desperate for an angle! We’re stuck without one; we feel that we absolutely do need one. Without an angle, what are we going to do? How are we going to proceed? It’s seems natural and perfectly reasonable that we should be looking for an angle because we’re coming at things from the point of view of the rational mind and this is just another way of saying that ‘we’re coming at things from the POV of wanting to change or control what is going on’. If the person I am working with is depressed then I am looking for a way of getting them to be not depressed; if they are thinking in an anxious or self-recriminatory way then I am going to be trying to change this anxious or self-critical way of thinking, and so on. That’s pretty much my brief as a therapist, after all!

 

We need ‘an angle’ because our intention is somehow to manipulate the situation and manipulation or control is simply not possible without an angle. Control and manipulation are second nature to us; more than second nature, it very often seems as if this is the only nature we know. Control seems like the answer to everything when we are in mental pain and if you try to say that it isn’t people aren’t going to take any heed of you. We don’t want to suffer, obviously, and neither do we like to see others suffer but this doesn’t mean that trying to manipulate what is going on as soon as things start getting painful is a good thing to do! Far from being ‘the answer to everything’, control is actually the root cause of our woes. It only takes a little wisdom to see this. Even a little wisdom is generally beyond us however – we have bucket-loads of technical means in our culture but no wisdom! Or if we do have wisdom (because it’s out there somewhere) it is rarely to be found in our experts. Expertise doesn’t require wisdom – wisdom comes out of the broader view and – generally speaking – we just aren’t interested in ‘broadness’ or ‘width’ of vision.

 

The thing about control is that it always distances us from whatever it is that we are attempting to get the better of. When we bring in control this always puts us at odds with the world, it always introduces a very troublesome glitch into the system, which is odd because the whole point of control is that it is supposed to benefit us, not jinx us! The reason control always puts us at odds with the world (and not the world but ourselves) is because it disconnects us – it necessarily disconnects us (and no one can reasonably argue that it doesn’t!) because control can only ever be instigated as a result of our theories about the world, our abstract models of the world. So first we represent the world to ourselves in terms of a handful of spindly abstract concepts and then the next thing is that we charge ahead on this basis and interact with the world as if our abstract model wasn’t an abstract model at all but an infallible guide to what’s really going on out there! This isn’t a genuine interaction at all therefore but rather it’s a type of hamfisted bullying that is taking place on the basis of this bizarre misrepresentation – a type of bizarre misrepresentation that exists in our heads but nowhere else.

 

‘Control’ has its rightful domain of applicability but this is not the psychological domain! It has its rightful applicability within the realm of the ‘non-complex’ – if I have to put up a fence or build a shed or dig a hole in the ground that is of the right size and depth then this is where control is needed. If I am surgeon performing a laparotomy then this is also a case where very precise control is required, if the patient is to stand any chance at all of surviving! In all such cases we can come up with a formal theory that holds water and then apply it to ‘the real world’ but when it comes to psychological matters we cannot come up with any convenient theory or model. No theory has ever been found that has allowed effective psychological control to be exerted or applied, regardless of what the text books might say. Changes may be effected alright, but only at the cost of a ‘rebound’ that wipes out any advantage we might think we have gained. The reason no model (no model which ever yielded useful results) has ever been found is because the psyche isn’t a machine. The psyche (i.e. who we are) isn’t a machine and if it isn’t a machine (i.e. if it doesn’t obey the dictates of linear or predictable logic) then there is no way that we can ever possibly model it…

 

How could we ever think that how we are could be something we could understand, just as we understand the internal combustion engine or a printed circuit board? The thinking mind always assumes everything to be understandable (i.e. amenable to being represented in its own non-complex terms) because if it doesn’t do this then it would be cutting the ground away from under its own feet. Unless the thinking mind assumes a universe that is fundamentally understandable in terms of logic then it is making itself redundant, it is doing itself out of a job. It only works if everything is understandable – if we had a situation where parts of the universe were understandable but these parts were embedded in a deeper reality which is itself not understandable then this would mean that nothing was understandable, not really. If a thing is to make sense to the thinking mind then the whole universe, from top to bottom, has to make sense. Otherwise its position is lost. We can’t see it, but the thinking mind’s ultimate agenda is always to ‘hang in there’ and avoid the fate of being made redundant and for this reason it will never admit (it never can admit) that the world or the universe isn’t just some kind of machine, and that we aren’t – in our turn – just complicated units of biological machinery, even though this puts us in an utterly preposterous position. And there is no more preposterous position than the one we find ourselves in when we claim to understand something profound about ourselves on the basis of the so-called ‘science’ of psychology’.

 

The truth of the matter – which we are very keen indeed to deny (for no batter reason than our inability to see through the malign influence of the runaway rational mind, which cannot bear to be knocked off its pedestal – is that the universe is infinitely complex, just as we are, being as we are part and parcel of that universe. This is no disaster, this is no defeat, this is no terrible thing – it just means that we have to put up with the thinking mind no longer being ‘top dog’, no longer ‘ruling the roost’. It wasn’t doing a very good job anyway! As a result of seeing things clearly (which is something we have been steadfastly resisting at every turn) we have to ‘put up with’ no longer living in a world which is basically an exercise in accountancy, where we have to spend all our time trying to make sure that every single thing can be neatly accounted for. Instead, we have to live in a world which in its essential nature is more like a poem or a work of art than a neat row of numbers in a ledger (or on a spreadsheet). This is the hardship that we have to endure if we can bring ourselves to come around to dispensing with the dubious services of the rational intellect and accepting the actual non-logical nature of reality…

 

When we live in a world of poetry then cleverness is no good to us! As Rumi writes:

No better love than love with no object.

No more satisfying work than work with no purpose.

If you could give up tricks and cleverness,

that would be the cleverest trick!

This whole drive to be clever, to argue mysteries away, to systematize our understanding of the world, is simply us trying to make our concepts and models relevant when they’ aren’t. We’re trying to force everything to fit our conceptual slots because – since we’re coming at the world from the basis of the thinking mind – everything has to be about these slots. The bottom line is that we’re always struggling to make the rational faculty relevant when it isn’t. When we’re dealing with infinite complexity (i.e. infinite inter-connectedness) then any attempt to systematize just traps us in delusion – the only way not to be trapped in delusion is not to try to make sense of things! Even though it may sound contradictory to say it, when we’re dealing with great complexity, simplicity is what’s needed. Simplicity works because it resonates without trying – if something is simple enough then it is whole, and if it is whole then it resonates with everything else that is whole. By not trying to say too much we say it all!

 

This is why the sparse verses of the Tao Te Ching work so much better than all the weighty tomes of Western philosophy. It is as if in the West our response to the surpassing complexity of life is to complicate things as much as we can. We go down the wrong road – we go down the road of hyperrationality. We throw a whole mess of technical jargon at the problem, we invent a whole new kind of ‘speak’ that creates the illusion that we ‘know what we’re doing’. This technical language owes its existence to one thing and one thing only – the premise that it can actually enable us to do something about to help alleviate the mental pain and distress that our clients are suffering from. If the people we are dealing with are anxious then the language validates itself on the basis of its ability to ameliorate anxiety; if they are suffering from depression then the terminology gains prestige from its promise to banish effectively the shadow of depression from our clients’ lives, and so on. What else could excuse this ungainly mass of specialized terminology, which is quite lacking in aesthetic or poetic virtue in itself?

 

Traditionally however, all of our psychological situations have been addressed by something else entirely – by wisdom rather than cleverness. Wisdom has an entirely different character to cleverness – it doesn’t seek to create its own highly specialized vocabulary, for a start! Wisdom can express itself in the simplest of terms; it can express itself in language that can be understood by children, in fact. That’s how we know that it’s honest – this is where its power comes from, not in its ability to impress, intimidate, dazzle or intimidate people. If we come across some common human situation like anxiety and we respond to it by pulling a lot of neologisms out of our hat then all we have succeeded at is in alienating the sufferer from his or her own experience; in Ivan Illich’s words, cosmopolitan medical civilization takes the experience of being unwell (or in pain) out of our hands and makes it into the property of the mental health professionals. Only they have the power to say what our situation is, and to know what to do about it, and their language is both controlling and jinxed.  [As we have already said, ‘Controlling’ and ‘jinxed’ go together when it comes to mental health!]

 

Anxiety (to to use this one example) isn’t what the medical authorities say it is, however. It isn’t something that needs to be understood in terms of some frame of reference that doesn’t belong to us, and which we are actually excluded from understanding because we haven’t had the appropriate training or education. If I am suffering from anxiety then ‘what it is’ is necessarily my own subjective experience of it; there’s nothing else it could be – anxiety isn’t something that exists ‘in the abstract’! It isn’t at all what you –with your technical terminology – frame it as being…Anxiety is actually a very simple thing – anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety knows what it is. Anxiety is the experience of anxiety and this is where the ‘answer’ (so to speak) lies – not in someone else’s complicated theories of it! Anxiety is not at all a technical matter, in other words – it can’t be transposed into some other (highly arcane) sphere, it can’t be converted into some riddle or problem to be solved.

 

The ‘answer’ – if we may continue to use that word – lies exactly in our subjective experience of what’s going on, not in some abstract, mind-moderated formulation or theory of it. In the simplest of terms, where we are when we’re suffering from anxiety is a very difficult place to be and the ‘answer’ is simply for us to be able to be there without feeling that we need to escape, without constantly feeling that we need to ‘press the eject button’. This could easily become a type of a theory but it isn’t – it’s an intuitive understanding of the situation we’re in. Furthermore, it is our understanding and not one else’s. What makes anxiety different from the everyday ‘non-anxious’ experience of being in the world is simply that in the non-anxious state of mind we somehow have the ability to avoid the existential challenge that lies in the present moment and so – because we always have the option of escaping – we don’t get anxious, even though anxiety is latent in our situation. We are constantly escaping without knowing that we are escaping (because not knowing that we are escaping is an essential part of the escaping) and so we perceive ourselves as not being anxious. Anxiety – in this case – can be linked with the failure of the mechanism which facilitates our imaginary escaping from the demand that ‘being present’ places upon us! Or to put this another way, it is because we can no longer flee reality with impunity that we are feeling anxious…

 

Anxiety – we might therefore say – is where we keep on trying to flee (or ‘solve the problem’) but can’t and this is where the suffering comes in. We trying to do something that we can’t do. Our comfort zones have failed us and so we now have to deal with the difficulty of being present in our own life without any of the usual convenient escape routes. The drug of escaping (and not being present in our own lives) is no longer available to us and so now we’re going ‘cold-turkey’ – anxiety is as simple as this. How then can the clever talk of some accredited clinical expert help us if this is the case? It is more than likely that their role of ‘clinical expert’ represents nothing more than their escape from being present in the reality of their own life – there are no experts when it comes to the question of ‘how to live life’, after all! No one can be an expert at being their own true self…..

 

There is no jargon for being present. There are no models, no theories. This is not something that someone else can advise us on  – just as Walt Whitman says in his poem Song of Myself that no one can ‘walk that road’ for us, so too must it be the case that no one can ‘be present’ for us. Being present in the actual reality of our own lives is the simplest thing there is, yet no one can describe it, nor tell us how to ‘do’ it….

 

 

 

 

 

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The Twist

Life has a hidden twist in it. Or rather we should say that when we live life in the way that we always do live it, then it has a hidden twist (or glitch) in it.

 

The twist that we’re talking about here is very easy to explain – life isn’t purposeful and yet we nevertheless live it on purpose.  This involves ‘a twist’ because once we start living life on purpose then we can’t stop, we can’t go back. What’s more, we can’t see any way in which life couldn’t be purposeful – we’ve become incapable of seeing that it could be any other way. This means that we’re living life one way, as if it were one thing, whilst really it is another thing entirely – something that we really don’t understand and this puts a kind of ‘kink’ or ‘glitch’ in life that keeps tripping us up. We’re somehow ‘at odds’ with the basic nature of things and we can’t see it.

 

There are therefore two parts to this twist – one part is that we can’t go back to the way life used to be, and the other part is that we can’t understand how life could be any way other than purposeful. That has become incomprehensible to us – if we don’t live our life on purpose, deliberately, by design, according to our intentions, then how is it going to happen, we ask? Someone has to be in the driver’s seat, choosing what direction we’re going to go in, deciding what is going to happen next, avoiding problems that may lie ahead, making plans for the future, etc…

 

Both of these two parts make up one and the same twist of course – we’re stuck in ‘not being able to go back’ and we’re also stuck in ‘not being able to see that there is anywhere to go’. We’re caught up in living life purposefully and that’s that. It won’t happen for us spontaneously any more – if we don’t make it happen then it’s not going to. So now we’re in this situation where we’ve got this thing that we have to push around ahead of us wherever we go, like a rusty old supermarket trolley full of rubbish, and as soon as we stop wrestling it and struggling with it the thing goes off the track and ends up in the ditch. This is why as a culture we’re always banging on about ‘having a goal’ or ‘having a plan’. It’s also why we’re always talking about how great it is to be motivated.

 

‘Motivation’ is what gives us the energy and stamina to somehow keep pushing ahead with the old shopping trolley, uphill struggle though it is. It is the magic ingredient that makes it possible for us to keep the show on the road, and keep forging ahead to our Big Goal (whatever that might be) and with all the necessary (and usually very tedious) steps that lead up to it. We have to keep on ticking all the boxes until we hopefully get where we really want to get in life and finding the motivation to do this can be a challenge. It’s a challenge to do all the stuff that we’ve got to do along the way because we’re not really interested in that but we have to do it all the same and that’s why ‘motivation’ is such a magical word for us. It sounds good to us because that’s what’s missing! When faced with the artificial type of life that we’re supposed to be getting on with our natural motivation tends to depart and that’s why we have to go to motivational seminars and such-like nonsense.

 

There is something very terrible about all this talk of ‘motivation’ and ‘strategies’ and ‘tools’ and ‘goals’. It’s a horrible way of speaking. We shouldn’t have to be looking for ways to trick ourselves to stay motivated; we shouldn’t have to be using goals and targets all the time as a means of giving meaning to what we’re doing. Pretty clearly, something has gone badly wrong when we have to do this. What’s really going on here – loathe as we are to see it – is that we have had to substitute all of this goal-driven stuff, all of this ‘extrinsic motivation’, for ‘intrinsic motivation’, which is motivation that happens by itself. It’s as if the engine in our car has conked out and we have to get out and start pushing the thing ourselves instead. This will work fine if we’re going down a hill, or even on the flat if we’re strong enough, but once we start going up against a major incline we’re going to run out of steam very quickly. Then we’re in trouble because the car’s going to start rolling back down the hill again, in exactly the opposite direction to the one we want it to go in.

 

Replacing intrinsic with extrinsic motivation is going to prove untenable in the long run not just because its unremitting hard work with no actual joy or creativity in it, but also because the whole thing is inevitably going to reverse on us at some point or other. Our own will, as indomitable or as trusty as we might like to think it to be, is going to turn traitor on us and let us down. It’s going to start working against us instead of for us. It’s going to ‘flip-over’  – having been pushed one way as far as it will go the pendulum is going to reach its limit and go into reverse on us. It’s going to swing the other way. The fact that we can ‘achieve our goals’ is one thing and we’re very fond of trumpeting on about how great and wonderful and inspirational this is, but just as well known (if much less likely to hit the headlines) is the fact that we are forever undermining and sabotaging ourselves too. We are forever pursuing ‘perverse goal’ – goals that if we were in our right mind we wouldn’t really want to achieve, goals that are to our disadvantage rather than our advantage. This ‘reverse-current’ of our will-power is every bit as well known to us as the positive variety, it’s just that we don’t like talking about it so much.

 

This ‘reverse current’ of will might seem incomprehensible to us, it might seem like something that we ought to be able to ‘therapize’ away by coming out with lots of frothy psychobabble or ‘positive thinking’ (or possibly CBT) but we only think this because we don’t understand what we’re dealing with. We’re trying to ‘will away’ glitches that have been caused by our own wilfulness; we’re trying to deliberately iron out problems that are the result of our own pernicious ‘deliberateness’. What we’re actually coming up against here is the resistance that has been set up by the over-use of our rational will – this is what happens when we try to ‘rationalize life’ and make everything into a puzzle we have to solve, or task that we have to purposefully do. When life is made into a problem that needs to be solved or a task that has to be completed then resistance comes into the picture and then we find out (eventually) that we’re actually fighting ourselves.

 

As we started off this discussion by saying, life is essentially spontaneous in nature (i.e. it isn’t governed by rules) – it isn’t purposeful, it isn’t a movement that is on its way to a specified goal! As Alan Watts says over and over again, life isn’t something that’s done for a reason, in order to ‘get somewhere’ by it. The universe didn’t come into existence for a reason, it doesn’t exist in order serve our rational will. There’s no ‘plan for life’! Sometimes we hear talk about ‘God’s plan for us’ but this is the very same thing – it’s our own absurdly clunky rational thinking projected onto God because we can’t imagine anything else apart from ‘goal-orientated activity’. There always has to be a goal – where we are right now can never be good enough! There always has to be something missing, something that we need to reach out for. But all of this is quite ludicrous – we don’t live so that we can kill ourselves trying to obtain this, that or the other dumb concrete goal. To imagine that this is the case is to degrade life to the level of a game…

 

The ‘twist’ is therefore just another way of talking about resistance. The twist is what happens as a result of resistance – we’re resisting life happening the way it wants to happen by imposing our own brand of order on it. We’re trying to make life be the way we think it ought to be and we never see anything odd about this at all. We always try to make life be the way we think it ought to be simply because that’s ‘the way we think it should be’… We never look any further than this. That’s the end of the matter, as far as we’re concerned. We never look any further than ‘what we think’ – we never look any further than our own thoughts. What we have called ‘the twist’ is nothing other than our own resistance to life. When we strive to achieve a goal that we see as being good and wholesome that is resistance and when we perversely go against ourselves and ‘score an own goal’ that’s resistance too. It’s all resistance. Anything purposeful is resistance, by definition! We’re trying to achieve something that isn’t already the case and so by definition we’re resisting what is the case. Resistance is our basic activity – when we try to promote and further our ‘idea of ourselves’ this is resistance and when we ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ this also is resistance. It’s all what we have called ‘the twist’.

 

Life itself isn’t twisted, we are! We are the twist, we are the glitch. We are the spanner in the works. This of course all sounds very negative (reprehensibly negative, in fact) to our rational-purposeful way of looking at things. No square-jawed, steely-eyed, high-profile motivational speaker is going to go along with this! The formulation of our predicament that we just presented here doesn’t give us a leg to stand on. It isn’t affirming for our concept of ourselves at all and that’s what self-help gurus, popular psychologists (or any kind of conventional psychologist, come to that) always offer us – affirmation for our idea of ourselves. affirmation for the self-concept is a lot like flattery – it might feel good at the time but it certainly isn’t doing us any favours in the long run!

 

Life’s a lot simpler without the twist. That’s like being a child again – life works with you not against you. With the twist – which we can’t see and don’t know to be there (since it is us) – complications and entanglements keep on piling up. Things don’t go smoothly, even though we will have periods when we think that ‘things are going our way’. The very notion of ‘things going our way’ is glitched however – life isn’t supposed to be going our ‘way’, it’s supposed to be going its way! Life isn’t supposed to be falling in line with some arbitrary mental construct (or idea) that we have come up with, and that we have put on a pedestal as if it were the most important thing in the universe. If that’s the way that we want to live life then we’re in for a bumpy ride and no mistake…

 

Ultimately, those bumps aren’t a bad thing though. They’re there to remind us of something – they’re there to remind us that life isn’t supposed to be purposeful! Or as we could also say, the ‘bumps’ are there to remind us that we aren’t really the idea that we have of ourselves. It helps to see that these bumps – our trials and tribulations – aren’t a bad thing. It helps because then we don’t take against them so much! We won’t hate them so much. Insight into the nature of things is always liberating – insight is always liberating because it shows us that everything is already in the process of sorting itself out. Everything is already in the process of sorting itself out and so there’s no need for us to intervene. ‘Insight’ is actually the mirror-image of paranoia in this way, because paranoia always shows us that something bad is happening and that we very much do need to intervene! Paranoia is ‘twisted insight’…

 

Insight shows us that we can’t do anything about being identified with the thinking self, even as it shows us that we aren’t really that self. We can’t do anything about our situation – if we try to then we just make matters worse. We pull the knot even tighter than it already is. The way that we are is the way that we are and that’s that! We are the way that we are but that’s OK because when we act as the purposeful self (as we always do act) then this creates a backlash which works – if we let it – as a reminder to remind us that we’re aren’t really this ‘purposeful self’, that life isn’t really this ‘deliberate’ or ‘forced’ thing that we have made it into. This isn’t a reminder to ‘do something about it’ however because as we have said there’s nothing we can do about it! It’s a reminder in the sense that it reminds us to remember something that we have always known, deep-down, but which we have nevertheless forgotten…

 

Knowing that everything is already in the process of sorting itself out means that we can ‘relax into’ whatever it is that is happening, so to speak. And if we can’t relax into what’s going on then that’s OK too because that too will sort itself out – all we need to do in this case is ‘relax into not relaxing’, therefore! Whatever level the tension or conflict exists on, we can relax into it being there and in this case, even though the twist is still there, and very much in painful evidence, we know on a very deep level of our awareness that it’s OK for the twist to be there because the twist ‘is its own solution’, so to speak. When we know that it’s OK for the twist (or glitch) that’s in life to be there (when we know that we don’t have to fight against it or try to fix it) then – curiously – knowing that stops the twist being the twist. We’re connected with our deeper awareness of who we are (the deeper awareness that knows that there’s no need to ‘do stuff on purpose’) and so there is no more divide. The twist only functions as a twist when we resist it – paradoxically therefore, if we allow it to be a glitch then it no longer is a glitch….

 

 

Image:The Birth of Venus (Audio Editor glitch) by Omletofon

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Health Is Not A Goal

The only type of ‘therapy’ that is worthy of the name is therapy that has no agenda, therapy that does not involve expectations or goals. The only type of therapy that is worthy of the name is therapy that is completely ‘non-coercive’, in other words. This is such an alien concept to us however – it’s far more alien to us than we imagine it to be because we simply don’t realize how coercive we are in our relationships both with other people and ourselves. We all function on the basis of the logical mind (whether we acknowledge this or not) and the logical mind is always coercive, always aggressive. It operates on the basis of the order which it takes for granted, and which on this it account projects or imposes upon the outside world and this is of course the very essence of aggression! How can imposing your own brand of order (a brand of order which doesn’t actually exist anywhere in the world other than in your own head) on the world not be aggressive?

 

This inherent coerciveness shows itself in our notions of what mental health consists of – mental health is inevitably seen as an ideal state and an idea state is something that we have to work towards. It’s something we have to define, make a goal of, and then take the appropriate steps to obtain. This tends to sound reasonable enough to us (since this is how it works with everything else, just about) but the point is that all of this business of ‘deciding where we want to be and then working towards it’ is aggression – we’re actually trying to coerce ourselves to be mentally healthy (because it’s an ideal that needs to be accorded with) and yet ‘coercing or manipulating ourselves to be mentally healthy’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s flatly self-contradictory in the very same way the phrases ‘fighting for peace’ and ‘legislating for freedom from bureaucracy’ are…

 

The state of mental health isn’t an ‘ideal state’ because ideal states are projections of the mind; they are pictures of ‘how things should be’ that the thinking mind has come up with. If we go down this road then we are trying to inhabit our own mental maps and our own mental maps are essentially uninhabitable, just an ideology is uninhabitable. The attempt to attain what we consider to be an ‘ideal state’ – which is something that we do all the time – is anything but conducive to good mental health. It’s conducive to a lot of things, but none of them are healthy. What it is conducive of are various socially-prescribed styles or fashions of unhappiness and frustration…

 

Mental health has nothing to do with obtaining goals or ‘being the way we (or other people) think that we should be’ – it has to do with the honesty that we can bring to bear on our actual situation and this is a completely different type of thing. Honesty is never aggressive or violent – it doesn’t need to be because it’s not about trying to change anything. Honesty accepts rather than rejecting; it comes with no agenda – it comes with no expectations or judgements with regard to the vexed question of ‘how things should be’. And the point is of course that we can never – in the normal run of things – separate ourselves from our thoughts or preconceptions regarding ‘the way things should’; we live out our whole lives within this matrix of expectations and how well reality accords (or seems to accord) with this artificial template determines whether we feel good or whether we feel bad, whether we say that life is going well or badly…

 

Of course honesty has nothing to do with expectations or agendas or goals or judgements or control or anything like that. All of this stuff is the business of the thinking mind and the thinking mind is all about projecting its ideals or assumptions out into the world. It never does anything else – it always measures the world in accordance with its expectations and then tries to change or manipulate things on this basis. That’s its job. Thought has its role and stating that all it ever does is ‘measure things against it expectations’ (or ‘chase ideal states’) does not diminish or invalidate that role. If I’m thirsty and I need a drink of water then the projected situation where I actually receive this glass of water is ‘the idea state’. If I’m cold and tired then being all warm and snug somewhere where I am able to rest is an ideal state, and so on. Practical goals and our consideration of how we might attain them is the very stuff of life, we might say, but this type of goal-orientation does not apply to mental health.

 

As we have already said, mental health is not a goal to be obtained, it is on the contrary purely a matter of relating honestly and clearly to the way that we actually are. Another way to put this is to say that mental health is when we are able to be ‘present’ with ourselves, instead of being ‘somewhere else’. It doesn’t matter what it is that we are to be present with, it just matters that we be present! This is – needless to say – no small matter. It’s no small matter because we’re all experts at not being present in our lives – we’re expert at not being present in our lives to the very same extent that we live in our dreams, in our goals, in our expectations, and this is a very considerable extent. Far from being a ‘small’ matter being present in our lives is the biggest challenge there is. This is what really matters, no matter what anyone else might tell us, not matter what society as a whole might tell us. How after all can ‘being present in our lives’ be outranked by something else? Suppose I have everything ‘right’ in my life – according to societal values – but I didn’t happen to be present in it, what good would this do? And yet we’re already being prevailed upon by the forces that act upon us to postpone ‘being present’ until X, Y and Z are taken care of; in practice there’s actually always something more important!

 

Being present is not something that is encouraged or promoted by our social milieu, by the humdrum everyday forces that are in operation all around us. It is not something that is ever promoted by the everyday mind, which is the mind that finds expression in society. On the contrary, we are constantly being told that achieving this task is the important thing, or that achieving that task is the important thing. Anything else is more important, when it comes down to it! There is always a task needing to be attended to and this is always ‘the important thing’. There is always a goal waiting to be achieved and this is seen as being where our well-being lies – in the successful accomplishment of our goals. The achievement of our goals (which is a spectacularly jaded formula which we nevertheless never seem to get tired of hearing) might well be seen as being where our wellbeing lies but this has nothing to do with being present.

 

All of the ‘humdrum forces’ that we have been speaking of operate by ensuring that we shall not be present. We won’t be present because we’re living in our goals, our agendas, our plans, our expectations, our ideas and this is not being present. This is ‘living at a distance from reality’, just as James Joyce says of one of his characters in his novel Dubliners that he ‘lived at a little distance from his body…’ This is also ‘living life on the never never’ because we’re always saying to ourselves that we’ll start living our lives when the ideal conditions that we’re controlling for come about, when they never will. Or if they do seem to come about, then before very long there will be another set of conditions that we need to bring about, another set of goals that we need to attain. The result of this is therefore that we’re always waiting to live but never living, as Alan Watts says, and there’s no way that this can be called ‘being mentally healthy’. How can always living at a distance from one’s life as it really is be mentally healthy?

 

There’s nothing wholesome or conducive to health about this business. There’s nothing wholesome about it because there’s nothing ‘whole’ about it – we’re living a fragmentary life, as Krishnamurti says – we’re living a life made out of fragments (or fractions) that never come together and this causes a malaise. More simply put, it causes chronic unhappiness, and then – because we’re unhappy all the time – we realize that we need therapy and because this therapy probably involves trying to achieve some kind of an ideal state we’re simply going around in circles. Mental health (or ‘being present’, if we want to call it that) doesn’t necessarily have to mean being happy but it does mean ‘being real’ and being real makes it possible for us to experience peace and happiness, which it is clearly not possible for us to ever experience if we aren’t being real. All we could ever know – at best – would be an unreal version of peace / happiness! What glitches us is that we are constantly straining for it; we are constantly aggressive, constantly striving, and even if we aren’t actively striving we’re possessed by the thought or belief that we should be striving, that striving is the right thing to do, and this too is striving, this too is aggression…

 

Aggression (in this sense of the word) ensures that we stay locked into a state of chronic unhappiness because there is no way that any genuinely wholesome states can ever come our way if we are constantly trying to feel better than the way we actually do. We want to be happy (or at least we think that we do) but that doesn’t mean that we want to be real and so because of our resistance to ‘being real’ (because being real or moving in the direction of being real doesn’t feel so good) we never get to feel ‘good’ in a profound or wholesome sense – at best we will occasionally feel ‘good’ in a superficial or image-based kind of a way, and this is really just a form of suffering. Anything superficial or ‘image-based’ is a form of suffering. Being ‘real’ means being present in the mess of what is actually going on, and who amongst us has the stomach for that?  It’s much nicer to live our idealized dreams and projections of who we would like to be, or think we ought to be; this is the sugar-coated version of reality that the thinking mind keeps presenting us with – the sugar-coating is only a tiny fraction of a millimeter thick, a couple microns perhaps, but it’s still the only version of reality we’re interested in. If it isn’t what the rational-conceptual mind is feeding us (or rather spoon-feeding us) then we don’t want to know. We will look the other way with all the stubbornness and obstinacy in the whole universe!

 

What we need isn’t more goals, more purposes, more methods to follow and more tasks to complete but the unconditional support to be the way that we actually are, and this is something that our mental health services are just not equipped to provide. Most of us can’t provide support for ourselves to be present in our lives, so how can we be supportive to others who are having such great difficulty being present with themselves? The crux of the matter is that our systems deny us our presence, which is the possibility of ‘us having an honest relationship with our own pain’. They are always pointing in the other direction, just as the thinking mind is always pointing in the other direction. All of the social systems that we have created have this characteristic – the characteristic of ‘denying us’, the characteristic of pointing us in the wrong direction, the direction that leads away from our own wellness, our own true mental health. This is always going to be the case with any system that we devise. That anti-health, anti-wholeness bias is inherent in all logical systems and this reason for this is very clear indeed, once we get around to letting ourselves see it – systems are of course all about organization (they could hardly be about anything else) and ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) isn’t something that can be organized.

 

To organize something is to put it into the appropriate slots, the appropriate compartments, the appropriate boxes, etc. This seems in one way too obvious to be worth pointing out but at the same time we need to stress this point because we are so blind when it come to understanding that ‘organization’ or ‘regulation’ cannot be applied to people in the name of therapy, or in the name of promoting mental health.  ‘Managing’ ourselves with regard to stress or anxiety or anger or whatever emotional turmoil it is that we might be going through is a far cry from anything even remotely ‘mentally healthy’  – we shouldn’t even be allowed to use the word because we are so very far from understanding it! How can the thinking mind know what health is, what wholeness is? As a rational culture, we don’t actually know anything about mental health at all – we think that it has something to do with ‘according with certain standards or criteria’. We would like to devise an instrument or machine to determine it. We think that just about everything has to do with ‘according with standardized criteria’ – if it can’t be standardized (or regulated) we don’t take it seriously.

 

Mental health isn’t however about perceiving, feeling, thinking, or behaving in a particular way (which is what we think it is), it’s about being present in our own lives, as our lives actually are. It is as simple (and as difficult) as this. We don’t become present by according with criteria or rules (i.e. by ‘fitting into the prescribed framework that everyone else is trying to fit into’), we become present by honestly relating with what actually is not by trying to measure and arrange everything in accordance with our unexamined expectations, which is all the thinking mind can ever do! Goals and methods and expectations have no part to play here! Coercion to ‘be the way that we or other people think we ought to be’ has no part to play here….

 

 

 

 

 

The Mind-Produced Sense of Self

If we aren’t this brittle, insecure sense of self then who are we? This brittle and permanently insecure sense may not be much, but it all we’ve got, after all! It definitely isn’t all that much fun being tied as we are to the mind-produced sense of the self but there doesn’t seem to be any choice about it – the ‘sense of self’ that we’re talking about goes hand-in-hand with the sense that we ‘can’t do anything about it’. That’s what it means to be a self after all – it means that ‘this is who we are’. There’s no freedom involved in this, there’s no freedom involved in this business of ‘me being who I am’. How could there possibly be any freedom in it?

 

And yet there is. We only feel ourselves to be who the mind says we are because we believe in what we’re told, because we believe in the narrow little viewpoint that we have been given by the thinking mind, which is the viewpoint of the conditioned self. We’ve been shoe-horned into this tiny little slot, this tiny little compartment and because we’ve had all our perspective surgically removed by the procedure we think that this is our only possibility. You could sit me down and talk to me about it for a year and I’d still think that it was my only possibility – that’s how powerful the illusion is. As far as I’m concerned there isn’t the slightest trace or hint of a question about it (about the fact that I am this brittle, insecure sense of self) and so all I can do is ‘just get on with it’. All I can do is try to make a go of it and attempt – to the very best of my ability – to focus on the good times and ignore the bad ones…

 

The crucial point is however that this isn’t who we are – it never was and it never could be, no matter what delusions we might hold to the contrary. As soon as we have the awareness, no matter how faint, that this brittle insecure sense of self isn’t who we are then this introduces a completely new ‘note’ into the picture – the note of freedom! It’s not that having this crucial awareness necessitates us ‘doing anything about it’, just knowing it changes everything forever. We don’t need to do anything. The awareness itself is the freedom. We can’t actually be aware of anything without this freedom because without being free from the delusion that we are this brittle, insecure mind-produced sense of self what we think is ‘awareness’ isn’t anything of the sort – it is awareness that has been conditioned by our narrow viewpoint and conditioned awareness is enslaved awareness, awareness that isn’t free to see reality. We can’t be aware of the world as it is in itself when we see everything from the point of view of the mind-produced sense of self because all we see is ‘the world as it appears to this unreal viewpoint’. We haven’t the freedom to see anything else – all we can ever do is ‘react in accordance with what the conceptual mind shows us’. All we can ever do is react. Reacting is not the same as ‘being aware’ but reacting is the only possibility that the MPSOS ever has open to it. It can react this way or it can react that way but ‘not-reacting’ is simply not an option. It can choose X or it can choose Y but it cannot forebear from choosing…

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are in the ‘identified’ state everything we do has to be done on purpose. Everything we do when we are ‘identified with the idea that we have of ourselves’ is necessarily purposeful. For this reason we can refer to the MPSOS as the purposeful self. The purposeful self always operates in relation to ‘a plan’ – this plan (or model) may be highly sophisticated or it may be as rudimentary as they come but there has to be a plan of some sort. There has to be some sort of ‘fixed basis’ (or framework) for what we do and what we think. With regard to our ‘plan’ (i.e. our ‘idea about what we want and what we don’t want’) outcomes are of course always going to be seen as being either ‘right’ or being ‘wrong’. All situations or eventualities are always going to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ therefore and the point here is that when something is automatically seen as either good or bad, and reacted to accordingly, then there is no freedom in this situation. If an outcome is ‘good’ then we react to secure it, and if it is ‘bad’ then we react to avoid it or push it away. ‘Reacting’ simply means ‘acting without freedom’ in other words. We are acting in a way that has been predetermined by our compartmentalized way of seeing and thinking about the world, which we are not free to question. We the slaves of the categories that we are obliged to operate within, without even appreciating that they are only mind-created ‘categories’.

 

The purposeful self always acts without freedom precisely because it is the ‘purposeful self’ therefore; it has no freedom precisely because it always has to be acting for one purpose or another, and these purposes are simply ‘mental categories’. We could also (and equivalently) say that the purposeful self always acts without freedom because it is always operating from within its dualistic view of the world. ‘Dualistic’ simply means that we see the world as being essentially divided between two polar extremes such as ‘right versus wrong’ or ‘good versus bad’ – either a thing is one way or the other, either you are a friend or an enemy, either you are for us or against us, either you’re a true believer or you’re a godless heathen, etc. Actually, there is always another possibility and that is that we really don’t care in the slightest one way or the other but the possibility ‘sublimely uncommitted to either pole’ is not acknowledged to have any existence within the dualistic framework. Everything has to be ‘polarized’ because that’s the narrow way in which we understand things. Just as long as we see the world through our thoughts we are always going to be looking at things from a dualistic viewpoint. Thought is always dual. Thought is always dual because thought is based on categories and categories are based on boundaries. A boundary is ‘duality in a nutshell’ because it is nothing other than ‘right versus wrong’, ‘good versus bad’, ‘in versus out’. It’s a line that has been drawn, a line that marks out what is included on the one side, and what is excluded on the other…

 

So the upshot of all this is that the purposeful self has no freedom even though it thinks that it does. The purposeful self doesn’t actually understand freedom – it understands freedom in an upside-down way and this is the only way it can understand it. For the PS, freedom is when it can realize its goals, or ‘successfully enact its purposes’. What it doesn’t (and can’t) see is that these purposes were never ‘free’ in the first place – they are merely categories that have been foisted upon us. We can’t see that we aren’t the PS until we have the freedom to see this, and yet the precise point that we are making here is that it doesn’t have any freedom. That’s how the purposeful self gets to be the purposeful self – by not having any freedom in it! It’s essentially a game that we play and – as James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games – we can only play a game when we give up our freedom, and put ourselves in the situation where we can’t see that the game is only a game. What this means is that when we do see that we aren’t this brittle, insecure mind-produced sense of self then this is because freedom has come back into the picture. We can’t say that ‘freedom comes back into the picture when we see that we’re not the MPSOS’ because we can’t see that until we have freedom! There isn’t a causal relationship going on here. Without freedom, as we have said, we can’t have genuine awareness of anything. Freedom doesn’t come about as a result of anything we do therefore – freedom isn’t one of the purposes of the purposeful self! Freedom isn’t a category – it’s when we don’t have to conform or submit to any mind-produced categories, and this state of affairs isn’t itself a category!

 

Freedom doesn’t happen as an outcome or result of any causal relationship and causal relationships are all the purposeful self understands. We can’t understand how the process happens but that doesn’t actually matter – the important thing is that it does happen, not how. Freedom does come back into the picture; somehow consciousness separates itself from the personality construct and until this separation takes place we will have no genuine awareness of anything – we will only have this thing that we have called ‘conditioned awareness’, which is not awareness at all but its inverted analogue. We can’t be aware of what’s going on because we’re seeing everything through the ‘coercive lens’ of duality, which represents everything to us as in terms of polar opposites. We’re trapped in the dualistic illusion and we have no way of knowing that it is an illusion – we don’t suspect that anything odd or peculiar is going on at all, despite the fact that we’re living in a world that has no freedom in it at all.

 

Once we have had the first insight into what genuine freedom is (and have seen that freedom is simply not possible for the conditioned or purposeful self) then the illusion is broken. Things can never be the same after this, even though the power of the dualistic trap is such that it will keep on dragging us back into it. Moments of freedom will come and go and as we become more acquainted with freedom they will come more frequently. Our ‘connection’ to the awareness that we are not this brittle, insecure mind-produced self may be unreliable but – as we have said – once we have had it then this changes everything. The two situations are fundamentally different – in the first case, which is the situation where we have never had any awareness at all that there is a radically different way of looking at things then the appreciation that there is this thing called ‘unconditional freedom’ (which is so is so very different to anything we have ever known before) simply does not exist. You couldn’t explain it to me, no matter how you tried. We only ever see freedom in completely false terms – we only ever see it in terms of us being able to act out our attachments, in terms of us being able to do what we are being compelled to do, whilst not seeing that we are being compelled. How very far from genuine freedom this is, and yet it is nevertheless the ‘closest’ thing to freedom that we will ever get.

 

In the second situation no matter what happens we know on some level or other that what we want to do (or want to see happen) we only want because we are being compelled or coerced to want, and this turns everything around completely – even if we still can’t help being coerced! We don’t believe in this coercion in the same way that we used to and so it no longer has the absolute power over us that it used to. We know (on some level or other) that it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get what we want to get – we have a degree of equanimity, therefore. We no longer take the game quite as seriously as we used to, in other words, and when a game is no longer taken seriously this dramatically changes the nature of the game. It’s a game changer! As we were saying earlier, when we no longer take a game absolutely seriously then it no longer works as a game. The bubble has burst – freedom has come back into the picture. This addition of this one little ingredient is enough to radically change our view of everything, including ourselves…

 

Having had a glimpse of what freedom really is allows us to appreciate just how terrible it is to have no freedom, and to have to live life on this basis. How is such a thing even possible, we might wonder? How is it possible to live life on a totally false basis, where we think that we are this brittle, fundamentally insecure, mind-produced sense of self, this sense of self that comes complete with its own inbuilt dualistic distortion which compels us to see the world (and ourselves) in a way that isn’t true, in a way that we get helplessly trapped in? How can we live in this world where all freedom has been taken away, and still manage to ‘make a go of it’? Nothing we see is true, nothing we think is true, and nothing we do is ‘true’ either since we are being compelled to do it! The things that matter to us very much (our attachments) don’t matter to us at all really – they only matter to the false, brittle, insecure sense of self which is who we think we are. Why these things matter so much to the false sense of self is very easy to explain – the MPSOS is insecure not just because it isn’t who we are but also because it isn’t who anyone is and because it absolutely has to compensate for this underlying it greatly values whatever will validate its position, just as it demonizes anything that devalidates (or threatens to show up) the lie that it takes so seriously. When we take up a false or arbitrary position without knowing that we are then the world immediately gets divided into those things that validate us and those things that do the opposite of validating us – the world is divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, in other words. We think that good and bad have an objective existence out there in the world around us but really they are only functions of our deluded viewpoint!

 

The mind-produced sense of self is insecure for a very good reason – there’s no way that it couldn’t be insecure – and out of this irreducible insecurity arise all its attachments, both positive and negative. All of its activities exist for the sake of compensating for its unacknowledged insecurity – nothing else really interests it! Because of its insecurity the MPSOS has to be forever trying as hard as it can to acquire validations for itself and avoid de-validations. These are our attachments – these are the things that matter so much to the false sense of self but don’t matter at all in the bigger scheme of things since who really cares if an illusory sense of self gets validated or not? Nothing the FSOS does (as a result of trying to enact its purposes) makes sense really. Everything it does is all for the purpose of proving that what isn’t true actually is true, and where’s the sense in this? The FSOS is forever trying to assert itself, and ‘itself’ isn’t true! We don’t see any of this when we are identified with the false sense of self however – it has us completely hoodwinked and we never even come close to seeing through it. We’ve fallen under its spell completely. We don’t know what the mind-produced sense of self is really up to with all its activities and what’s more, we are extremely unlikely to ever find out. It could be said that this is the best-kept secret of all – there never was a better kept secret than this! The profoundest ignorance there ever was is reserved for this matter; the darkest of all shadows falls over this secret business of ‘what the false sense of self’ is really up to with all its manoeuvrings. It ‘puts us off the scent every single time’…

 

We are ‘put off the scent’ by having attachments, either positive or negative, dangled in front of us. Either there’s something there that we very much want to acquire, or there’s something there that we very much want to get away from. Either way, as soon as we start reacting we unwittingly create a smokescreen that stops us seeing through to what our true motivation is, which is to avoid seeing the truth about our true nature. Because we put so much effort into avoiding seeing our true nature we never do, and so we’re stuck full-time with this brittle, insecure sense of self. That’s what we’re fighting to protect, after all! We’re fighting full-time to protect an illusion and ‘protecting an illusion’ means precisely that we never allow ourselves to seeing that it is one. The irony is therefore that we are fighting against ourselves the whole time – we are in a very real sense ‘our own worst enemy’ because we are insisting on a false form of freedom that is actually the antithesis of the genuine article. We’re cherishing this brittle, insecure sense of self and so – by doing this – we are cherishing what can never be any more than a life of frustration and misery. We will know occasional moments of true happiness and peace and joy it is true – but what we completely fail to understand is that these moments are the moments that happen when we momentarily (and quite accidentally) forget to cherish the mind-produced sense of self…

 

 

 

 

The Mythological Life


We’re living life in two ways at once and it is of absolutely crucial importance not to lose sight of either! One if these ways is  – we might say – when we live life on a down-to-earth pragmatic basis and only concern ourselves with issues that have undeniable ‘concrete’ significance to us. Pragmatic issues have a way of driving out all ‘non-pragmatic’ ones and when this happens we fall into seeing the concrete way of life as being the only way. Everything else gets dismissed as being ridiculous and fanciful – we don’t have time for people who talk about things in any other way, we very quickly lose patience with them…

 

‘Concrete mode’ is very easy to understand – it’s the default mode, the mode that everything very easily settles down into. It’s the mode in which we do everything ‘on purpose‘, as part of some prosaic logical plan.The other mode is what we might call ‘mythological mode’ and this isn’t so easy to understand – if the concrete mode is where we relate to everything in this down-to-earth, no-nonsense way as the down-to-earth practical everyday person we are, then the mythological mode is where everything unaccountably takes on some ‘bigger’ type of significance. Life in the mythological mode is more than just obtaining this concrete goal and then that concrete goal, and going from A to B and then B to C in the prescribed logical fashion and ticking all the boxes in an orderly fashion, it has some strange and essentially ‘impersonal’ meaning. It’s ‘impersonal’ in the sense that it’s not just on this tiny scale where we are living our mundane personal life where we are endlessly preoccupied with all these petty meaningless details – it is significant in a way that goes entirely beyond this mundane sphere. Our affairs are no longer ‘purely personal’ but meaningful in some epic sense, a sense that goes far, far beyond the trivial things that society says we are to concern ourselves with. This ‘non-trivial’ or ‘mythological’ aspect of life is the aspect that the everyday concrete mind dismisses out of hand.

 

As we have said, because of the overwhelming ‘pressure of the practical’ it is almost a foregone conclusion that we are going to ‘lose sight of the mythological’ – in our culture losing sight of the mythological is actually part of becoming an adult! If you don’t then you’re not considered to be an adult – you’ve got ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, you refuse to grow up and be sensible about things. When we lose sight of the mythological this isn’t a step towards maturity however – it’s a step towards inner death, which isn’t quite the same thing. When we live purely on the concrete-personal level then we diminish ourselves tremendously. Life is so very much more than we take it to be. We ourselves are so very much more than we take ourselves to be. We are so much more than our family and friends take us to be, which is why families and friendship groups very often inhibit any possibility of inner growth. We are so much more than society takes us to be and this is why society – despite being a necessary support to us on one level (the concrete level!) is a psychological threat to us on another, crucially important level. What’s the point in being kept alive and entertained and well-fed if our ‘inner life’ is totally suppressed and denied?

 

When we live purely on the concrete level we’re ‘living beneath ourselves’ and the consequences of this are tremendous. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

 

We cannot live beneath ourselves, and fail to bring forth what is with is us (because our rational society implicitly tells us every step of the way that there is nothing remarkable within us, nothing that needs to be brought out) with impunity – the consequence of this is our neurotic suffering, which gradually eats us alive, one way or another. It is no mere accident that the rates of depression and anxiety have been steadily increasing for the last one hundred years – we often like to say that there is a genetic component to mental disorders but how do we imagine that after millions of years of evolution our DNA is suddenly developing faults? Antidepressants are hardly going to prove a remedy for the fact that our modern way of living life is entirely shallow and neglectful of any non-trivial meaning! What Jung calls (not in his exact words) ‘an epidemic of soul-sickness the like of which we have never known’ is scarcely going to be cured by the judicious prescription of psychiatric drugs to dull our existential anguish!

 

On the other hand, if we lose sight of our ‘feet’ and get swallowed up by the mythological world, this has very great consequence too. If we lose our connection with our actual practical, pragmatic life and find ourselves adrift in what Jung calls ‘the realm of the unconscious’ then we may never come back to ourselves. This is a dangerous journey and we cannot treat it as if it were not; Joseph Campbell refers to this as ‘the hero’s journey’ for a reason – the reason being that it tests us to the limit. Since when did heroes have an easy time of it? The terrible dangers that we read about in myths and legends all have their psychological meaning and this comes down to our ‘sense of ourselves’ being overpowered by the tremendous forces that exist in the mythological realm. We cannot simply launch ourselves into this world, as we are, and naively expect it to somehow work out for us on this basis. The mythological realm is powerfully intoxicating to the everyday mind – either we get intoxicated with hubris or we get intoxicated with fear, and either way spells disaster.

 

Somehow, we have to live life both ways at the same time – we have to ‘walk the tightrope’, so to speak. As we have said, on either side lies disaster – if we fall to one side we get swallowed up by the banality of everyday life and disappear without a trace, and if we fall the other way we get swallowed up by the mythological realm and also disappear without a trace. By far the biggest danger – for most of us – is that we will be browbeaten and intimidated by the concrete world and prevailed upon to renounce the world within us that – on some level – we know to be true. We are bullied into abject submission by sheer peer-pressure – fifty million people (or however many it is) can’t be wrong, after all! But actually X million people can be ‘wrong’ and – from a psychological point of view – always will be. Only the individual can be ‘the carrier of virtue’, says Jung – the state (or the collective) never can be. Virtue can never reside in the collective or the social group because no one in the group is truly being themselves – the mass mind has no conscience, no sense of responsibility and there is no way that it can be compelled to be conscientious or responsible by legislation. To be subsumed with ‘group-mind’ is to lose yourself – if we have lost ourselves then we’re simply not there and if we’re not there then how can we possibly ever ‘take responsibility’?

 

The process of social adaptation is the process of losing the mythological aspect of life because the mythological aspect of life can never be consciously experienced (or acknowledged) on the level of mass consciousness. It can be experienced unconsciously, as Jung of course says, but this is another matter entirely! We are not consciously participating in life in this case, but merely resigning ourselves to the fate of being puppeted by external forces which we have zero awareness of. We are ‘mere mechanical units’ and the reason we think we are doing things is not the real reason. Instead of a genuine inner life, we internalize some crude external script (the ready-made narrative that our society provides for us) and we imagine that this tawdry second-hand generic artefact is our inner life. We imagine that when we read from this script then that is ‘free will’…

 

The mythological mode of living life cannot be taken from a script or template and it cannot be the same for ten million people – somehow, we have to discover it ourselves and in order to discover it for ourselves we have to see the reality that lies beyond the concrete, matter-of-fact one. This can only happen when we find the courage to stop believing automatically in everything the super-pragmatic rational mind tells – rationality is what represses us, in other words, and at the same time that it represses us it will not let us know that it does, but rather (like a bad parent!) it always persuades us that it is acting in our best interests! If we do allow ourselves to be thus persuaded then this is the same thing as ‘losing touch with the mythological dimension of life’ and when we lose touch with the mythological dimension of life then we are consigned to an existence of ‘merely surviving’, and existence in which the only option left to us is to entertain ourselves as best we can until we die. The rational mind – if we let it reign over us – will always reduce us to this level; the rational mind is a device for carrying out pragmatic or concrete tasks and so if we let it ‘take over’ and ‘run everything for us’ then it will turn our lives into no more than ‘a concrete or pragmatic task’. What else can it do?

 

Rationality, by its very nature, always denies anything that it cannot – in principle, at least – understand and it is crucially important to see this. Rational thought – as is often said – is a very powerful servant but an appalling bad master. It’s a bad master because when it takes control it permanently (and invisibly) limits us to a very narrow little world – the narrow little world that it itself creates for us. In this world the only purposes are logical purposes, rational purposes, concrete purposes and no one can live their life on such an arid basis. Or rather we can, but when we do we end up suffering from the all-pervading sense of meaningless and alienation from life that Jung calls ‘soul-sickness’. Soul-sickness is the inevitable result of being confined to that narrow and juice-less world that the rational mind creates for us. It is the inevitable result of living life without the mythological dimension, which is the one thing the RT cannot provide us with. It can provide us with rules and regulations aplenty, but not a mythological dimension…

 

To the logical mind any talk of ‘mythological dimensions’ is simply nonsense, as we have already said.  Myths are not real, it says. Myths are just myths! The logical mind will inform us over and over again that only cold hard facts are real, that only the concrete everyday world is real. Its argument is very persuasive – and ultimately crushingly persuasive – but at the same time what it lead us to believe in is entirely false. There’s something silly about us if we believe it. ‘Facts and figures’ are not real at all – they are mind-created abstractions. The concrete world that we are compelled from an early age to believe in is similarly a fiction – it’s a world that is made up purely of our own descriptions and our descriptions are our own. They have nothing to do with the world as it is in itself. The world as it is in itself is an inscrutable mystery and it can never be penetrated by us. It can never be rationalized and explained and if we fall into the trap of doing this then we end up prisoners in a dead world. We end up as inmates serving a life sentence in the ‘prison of the rational mind’. We can’t rationalize or explain the world as it is in itself, but we can live it, which is the complete antithesis of existing exclusively in ‘concrete mode’, through the profoundly dubious auspices of the thinking mind…

 

 

Art: Ann Marie Zilberman

 

 

 

 

Engaging With An Unreal World

The more we engage with the fast-moving machine that is society the more unreal we become. This isn’t particularly obvious though – far from being obvious, it is almost impossible to see. The type of unreality we’re talking about here is camouflaged; it’s unreality that is dressed up to look like the bee’s knees. It is unreality disguised as ‘the main event’. This is we could say a super-charged unreality – it’s a reality which really does seem to have a lot going on in it, like some kind of a high-speed super-frenetic cartoon. Because there’s so much frenetic activity we think that we are getting somewhere, that ‘progress’ is being made. We think that the machine is actually doing something; we think that it’s actually producing something.

 

The fast-moving machine that is society doesn’t produce anything, though. What do we imagine that it’s producing with all its activity? What kind of thing is it that the machine – which demands so much labour, so much man/woman-power, for so much of our lives – actually make for us? If we were to look closely we would see that the machine produces nothing but itself – it’s like a closed loop. All its energy (all our energy!) gets used up by the machine maintaining itself, perpetuating itself, promoting itself. As we have said, it’s a closed loop, a pointless, self-validating merry-go-round. We know this well enough – that’s why we talk about ‘the rat-race’. We know well that it’s a pointless merry-go-round; we know well that we are having to run as fast as we can just to stand still. We know it alright but we aren’t going to do anything about it.

 

We know it but we don’t know it at the same time. We know it but we won’t really admit to ourselves that we know it. We know it but when it comes down to it we’ll deny that we do. The official story is that the fast-moving machine that is society produces a good standard of living for us that we can enjoy. The machine turns over goods and services and these goods and services are supposed to be what gives us a decent standard of living, or whatever other phrase it is that we might use. Somehow, it is assumed that our standard of living is a function of the ‘economic growth’ that is going on in the part of the world where we are living – why this should be so doesn’t make much sense outside the heads of economists or politicians but it’s a dogma that they seem to be able to get away with.

 

This notion that we need to have a ‘certain standard of living’ – which comes down to ‘the ability to enjoy all the goods and services that society can provide us with, whether we really need them or not – is easily confused with the non-economically defined notion of ‘quality of life’. In practice it is undoubtedly true that we assume an equivalence. It’s not hard to see that the two are the same thing at all however. ‘Standard of living’ – to a large extent, at least – has to do with our ability to satisfy all the various conditioned needs that we have been implanted with – that’s how this thing called ‘consumerism’ works, after all. We are persuaded that we have to have all these things and so if we can’t have them then we will say that we are suffering from an unsatisfactory standard of living. We’re living a ‘sub-standard life’. But to acquire a habit or an addiction and then be given the means of satisfying it does not translate into ‘quality of life’! This is actually a self-cancelling sort of business as we can clearly see – first we create a need where before there was none (for example, the need to own a high-spec Android or iphone) and then we are provided with the means of satisfactorily servicing this need on an ongoing basis. We’d be in the same place after it all if we never had the need in the first place!

 

This sort of business doesn’t increase or enhance our quality of life at all, as most of us would probably have no problem in admitting. Quite the reverse is true – our quality of life deteriorates (sometimes to the point of being seriously unwell or troubled) as a result of owning buying into the conditioned needs that society brings. What we are essentially doing with our high-tech culture is acquiring more and more attachments and attachments don’t equate to ‘mental health’, even when they are being satisfactorily taken care of! The more attachments we have the more degraded our ‘quality of life’ is going to become. This is actually a good way of describing what QOL – we can define QOL as something that exists in inverse proportion to the number of attachments that we have. Or to express this the other way around, we can say that what we are calling ‘quality of life’ (for the want of anything better to call it) is actually just a way of talking about our essential ‘autonomy’ – the degree to which we are free to be (or express) ourselves without things that have nothing to do with us (attachments or conditioned needs) getting in the way, or getting ‘first priority’. To be alive is to have needs it is true, but our essential needs are relatively few – our ‘non-essential’ (or ‘artificial’) needs have on the other hand multiplied beyond all measure. When we talk, as we do, about the ‘complexity of modern life’ and all the demands that this put on us this is what we are referring to.

 

The state of being attached (i.e. the state of being in thrall to a host of conditioned needs) substitutes itself very neatly for genuine freedom; it substitutes itself for genuine freedom in such a way that we never notice that any such substitution has taken place. So instead of the freedom not to have anything to do with the attachments (and the deterministic or defined world they create) we see freedom in terms of our ability to service or satisfy these needs. The ideal state of freedom thus becomes the situation where we can satisfy whatever ‘needs’ we have just about as soon as we experience them. If we could satisfy them instantly that would be perfect! In this way ‘freedom’ becomes something that we can only have when we have successfully adjusted ourselves to the artificial world with which we have been presented and are therefore able to operate effectively within. This is – needless to say – very convenient for the artificial world that we are being persuaded to buy into. If we want freedom, then adjusting successfully to society is the only way in which we are going to be able to get it, in other words! The substitution that we were just talking about means that we can’t see that the so-called ‘freedom’ which we are chasing only exists as an artefact or construct of an artificial system, and it itself not a real thing therefore. The ‘freedom’ which we’re buying at such a high price is freedom of an artificial nature and so it really isn’t the bargain we take it to be. We’re buying a dud product. Real freedom isn’t actually a product and it doesn’t cost anything!

 

So this is why we can say that ‘the more we engage in the fast-moving machine that is society the more unreal we become’. There is no reality without freedom; reality and freedom are two ways of talking about the same thing – if we are compelled / directed / controlled / determined then we are simply no longer real. We are no longer who we are and this means that we ‘unreal’. We aren’t ourselves anymore, we are simply extensions of the machine. Our goals are the machine’s goals; our dreams are the machine’s dreams… To be controlled or regulated is to be defined and as soon as we are defined we have ceased to be real. Instead we have become ‘part of the socially-validated fiction’. Reality cannot be defined; similarly, if I am defined (or ‘regulated‘) then I’m not actually real. I’m lost in a virtual reality world. I’m a player within the game, a construct of the system. And what I’m being defined by are my needs, my attachments. When it comes down to it when we are wholly adapted to the artificial world that society creates for us, then we are our conditioned needs!

 

Ironically, we regard those who do not engage 100% with society as being misfits and oddballs and eccentrics who have ‘opted out’ of life for whatever reason whereas the truth of the matter is that it is us who have ‘opted out’! We have opted out of reality; we have opted out of reality without even acknowledging that we have done so. We have opted out of reality by opting in to the virtual reality social game that ‘everybody who is anybody’ is playing. We’ve bought into ‘the false self’. We’re looking for a slice of the pie and we think that this is where it’s to be found! Everyone else is looking for the prize here and we don’t want to get left out or left behind. Everyone else is playing the game so the pressure for us to be doing so too (and not be ‘the odd one out’) is absolutely immense. Everyone else is doing it and X millions of people can’t be wrong, surely…

 

So for this reason we end up unwittingly embracing unreality on a mass scale and shirking the one responsibility that we do have, which is to always keep an eye on the truth and not wander off into ‘illusion-land’. When we wander off blithely into illusion-land then this means ‘losing ourselves’ and if we lose ourselves (if we lose sight of who we really are) then nothing we do can benefit anyone, either ourselves or others…

 

Image taken from: Cyborgology, in thesocietypages.com

 

 

 

The Illusion Of Things

The rational mind – which is our way of knowing about the world around us – sings only the one song to us, and it sings it over and over again. We think that this mind of ours is telling us accurate and useful information about the world, and – up to a point – it usually is, but along with this function it is doing something else that is too subliminal for us to be able to pick up on – it is singing this very repetitive ‘siren-song’ for us, a song that is keeping is very effectively trapped.

 

What is this song then? What kind of a song is it? The first point that we could make is to say that it isn’t really very much of a song – it isn’t exactly what you would call ‘melodious’. What it is is an ‘affirmation’, or a ‘confirmation’. There is a starting-off point, a type of a basic assumption, and then thought confirms this assumption over and over again, come what may. Thought always confirms this starting-off point of ours – that’s all it ever can do.

 

The rational mind can never not confirm its own starting-off point – rational thought is after all an extension of that point, a projection of that point out onto the world. If we wanted to be very clear about it then we could say that the rational mind is this starting-off point, this static framework. It is its own fixed point of reference and so it can never leave this reference point behind. To say that the rational mind always confirms or affirms its own starting-off point is rather missing the point therefore – the rational mind is the starting-off point, it is the basic assumption.

 

What then is this ‘song’ that the thinking mind keeps on singing to us over and over again? What exactly are we on about here? Talking about affirming or confirming our basic assumptions is one way of putting it but this is rather dry and intellectual. It is somewhat removed from the realm of human experience – it doesn’t really make that much sense on a personal level. So if we were to use more everyday down-to-earth terms what we’re talking about here is the ‘feedback’ that tells us who we are…

 

The ‘song’ of the rational mind is all about affirming that we are this self, in other words – this self that we started out thinking we were. Everything we think – without any exception – tells us this basic message. There isn’t a thought that we ever thought that didn’t affirm the existence of the thinker that thought the thought! It never happens that we discover anything else through thinking. This then is just another of saying, as Krishnamurti says, that the thinker and the thought are one.

 

It is therefore entirely misleading to say, as we always do say, that the thinker creates the thought! It would be more accurate, more to the point, to say that the thought thinks the thinker (or that ‘thoughts think us’). The thinker is a construct of the thought; thought goes on, thought happens and then we assume (and identify with) the one who is responsible for thinking the thought. But the truth of the matter is that thought isn’t causally and volitionally produced by some autonomous ‘thinker’ – that isn’t it at all! As David Bohm says, the perception that we are there in the driving seat (or the ‘thinking seat’), freely deciding to think this or that thought, is an illusion produced by thought. This illusion comes as ‘part of the package’ – thought tells us that we are thinking the thought when actually thought is thinking us…

 

Sometimes we call the song of the thinking mind ‘the personal narrative’. The personal narrative – which is the ongoing story of ourselves that thought spins for us – can go one of two ways – it can make us feel good about ourselves or it can make us feel bad. It can be ‘positive’ and it can be ‘negative’ (as we commonly say). Naturally we see this as being an ‘all-important’ difference – we actually see it as the all-important difference – but when we look at it from the perspective that we have been exploring here in this discussion we can see that it doesn’t matter at all which way around the personal narrative works – it is confirming our basic assumptions either way.

 

It makes no difference what type of song the rational mind is singing to us – it doesn’t matter whether it is making us feel good or feel bad, whether it is optimistic or pessimistic, whether it makes us love ourselves or hate ourselves – it is the same either way because either way we’re being told that this thinker, this ‘decider’, this ‘enactor of purposes and goals’ is an actual real bone fide ‘entity’ in its own right and not merely an artefact of the thinking mind. The mind-created self is being reified in both cases in other words, one way positively as ‘the winner self’ and the other way negatively as the ‘loser self’, as the ‘failed self’.

 

The song is always telling us that we are either doing well or not doing well, that we are either winning or losing, and this is an entrapping message for us to take on board because both ways we get tricked into identifying with the mind-created self. This is a difficult point for us to understand of course because we are so very identified with the MCS that the notion that this is not who we are is frankly incomprehensible to us. We have no way of grasping what that means. It is as if we are sitting there in our living room in our favourite armchair (in our only armchair) and we have somehow become so extraordinarily habituated to sitting there (watching TV or whatever) that we can no longer see ourselves as being essentially different to and independent of this deeply familiar armchair of ours. We’ve forgotten that we have the possibility of acting independently from it, we’ve forgotten that we have legs and that we can have the ability to get up and walk freely around the place!

 

This might seem like a very far-fetched and not particularly plausible analogy but it is all the same exactly our situation with regard to the MCS. We’ve just got lazy! The MCS is, when it comes down to it, nothing other than a viewpoint, nothing more than a static position that we have gotten used to, nothing more than a set of assumptions that we can’t see beyond anymore. We stood in this spot so long that we’ve forgotten that it is possible to move around, to change our position and look at the world in a different way, see things from a different viewpoint. We have somehow grown into the armchair, our behinds – due to lack of movement – have got stuck fast to the armchair and so now it’s not just that we can’t ever get up out of this all-too—comfortable position, we’ve become incapable of seeing that this is even a possibility.

 

The ‘problem’ – so to speak – is that the thinking mind always presents everything (its vision of the word) in terms of static viewpoints, whilst the nature of reality itself – which is not a category, not a construct of the thinking mind – could be less ‘static’. The principle of reality is, we might say, antithetical to that of thought. This doesn’t means that reality is the ‘opposite’ of what we think it is because opposites exist only in thought, nowhere else. ‘Yes’ is the opposite of ‘no’ but there is neither yes or no in the world itself! The world itself is neither right nor wrong. ‘Yes’ means that the thing fits into the category that we have made and ‘no’ means that it doesn’t but our categories are our own affair – reality itself has nothing to do with our categories. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are both equally irrelevant; the thinking mind can’t actually relate to reality, in other words. It has no terms for reality – it has no terms for reality because reality doesn’t have any ‘terms’…

 

Reality has no place within the static framework and neither do we. How could we have possibly imagined that it does, or that we do? How could we have been that crazy? We are so very used to seeing and understanding everything in terms of the static framework of thought that we just can’t ‘get it’ that this is a wholly artificial (and therefore fundamentally misrepresentative) way of presenting the world. A good way to look at this is by saying, as Alan Watts has done, that the universe isn’t a noun (i.e. a subject or an object in the sentence) but a verb. The universe, in other words, is ‘a happening not a thing’. The verb (e.g. running, jumping, loving, laughing) can contain nouns but it is not produced by them. There is no one doing the running, the jumping, the loving, the laughing, there is just the ‘happening’ of it. There is the happening of the happening and that is it. ‘The verbs are verbing’,as David Mermin says here (quote taken from Jason Silva’s short video):

Matter acts, but there are no actors behind the actions:the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns. Actions act upon their actions. Properties are all there is. Indeed: there are no things.

There is therefore no isolated or abstracted entity there in the background causing the happening to happen – that’s just an erroneous perception caused by the way thought works. ‘God is a verb‘ as Buckminster Fuller says!To quote Piet Hut, professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton:

No thing exists, there are only actions. We live in a world of verbs, and nouns are only shorthand for those verbs whose actions are sufficiently stationary to show some thing-like behavior. These statements may seem like philosophy or poetry, but in fact they are an accurate description of the material world, when we take into account the quantum nature of reality.

In the same way then we can say who we are is a verb not a noun, not a subject or object. Who we are is a happening, with no one ‘making it happen’. We are actually the very same happening as the universe – there’s only the one happening happening, not a whole bunch of them, not a collection of them! How could there be any ‘separate happenings’, anyway? ‘Separation’ belongs only to the world of things – separation is what makes things into things. In the Great Happening which is every-‘thing’ there is no separation. In the Great Happening which is everything there are no things! As Bodhidharma said one thousand five hundred years ago, ‘From the very beginning, not a thing was’. There never was any ‘thing’ – it’s only the rational/categorical mind that says there was. Even though there never was any ‘thing’, the rational mind keeps on telling is that there was, and is, and will be. This is its song. The rational mind keeps on telling us that there are such things as things and furthermore, it keeps on telling us that we are one of them!

 

 

Image: Jeda Villa Painting by Jan Wils. Photo Credit: Wiki Commons.
Taken from: refinethemind.com