We Can’t Hang Out’ On Purpose

One of the basic ideas in all anxiety management classes (and ‘anxiety management’ is not actually a very nice term) is that of challenging the avoidance of situations that provoke anxiety in us. This is fine as a far as it goes but we need to understand that ‘challenging’ isn’t really a purposeful thing in the way that we always assume that it is. If we don’t understand this then we are simply going to go around in circles. The point is that challenging isn’t something that can be done intentionally (i.e. as part of a strategy) because when we challenge intentionally then this too becomes ‘an avoidance’. This isn’t the easiest thing in the world to understand but we can get to it in easy stages. Avoidance is without any doubt at the very heart of anxiety because as soon as we avoid we automatically reinforce the belief that the situation in question is dangerous enough to be worth avoiding. We don’t stick around to see what is really going to happen, we just get out of there, and the instant sense of relief conditions us to do the very same thing next time. It is easy enough to see how this works: if I stay in the situation I feel bad, and if I avoid I feel relief, so what am I going to do? It’s a no-brainer, really…

 

What has happened when I get stuck in a pattern of avoidance is that I have created a mental barrier that corresponds to a ‘no go’ zone in real life. Every time I avoid going to the supermarket (for example) I reinforce the original belief that something terrible is going to happen to me if I stick around, and eventually the force of this belief may become strong enough to make me feel physically sick if I even think about going there. What is worse is that avoidance creates a precedence: if I have ’solved’ one difficulty by avoidance then I am more than likely to solve the next problem that comes along in the same way. Eventually I am going to be retreating on all fronts and the whole of life will be a ‘no go’ zone. So where does that leave me? In the end even my one ‘safe place’, whatever that is, will become threatened – just because I have ignored the bigger problems in life by ‘over-simplifying’ my interaction with the world, that doesn’t mean that my life will now be problem-free. On the contrary, smaller, pettier problems will unfailingly arrive to take the place of the old ones, and all the anxiety that used to attach itself to the original problem, will proceed to attach itself to the new one.

 

The point here is that the anxiety hasn’t actually gone away, and that it will always find something to associate itself with. It doesn’t matter how trivial the issue, the anxiety reaction will be just the same. This is a phenomenon with which we are all familiar – a tiny little difficulty completely upsets me, a minor inconvenience elicits a disproportionate physical and mental reaction. We know it is ridiculous to be worried by such a small thing, but this knowledge doesn’t help us. At this stage we might try to simplify our lives even more, so that there is less and less that can ‘go wrong’, but this doesn’t work because we can never control our situations 100% – that is a law of the universe – and the frantic attempt to do so is a one-way ticket to neurotic hell.

 

We see this, and so we decide to start challenging our patterns of avoidance – all well and good. Let us say that one of the situations that I have been avoiding is going to the high street and buying something in a shop. Let us also say that this is not my ‘Number 1 fear’ – it is quite low down on the list and so it is a realistic thing for me to try to challenge this avoidance. So what do I do? Well, because I am challenging the avoidance, I make a goal of doing the thing I don’t usually do, the thing I don’t want to do. I grit my teeth, I set my jaw firmly, I bite the bullet and I head off out the door. In my head there is only one thing, and that is the goal which I am determined to attain. What this means is that the whole time I am making my way to the shop, I am (in my head) there already! In my head I have already arrived…

 

It is true that there is a delay between me first getting the idea in my head, and that idea finding its fulfilment in reality. It is also true that I am very much aware of the discrepancy between ‘goal’ and ‘attainment of goal’, but because I am aware of this discrepancy, the whole time that this gap is there I am trying single-mindedly to close it. I only want one thing, I am only interested in one thing, and that is to make reality match my idea of it. Because I am only interested in the ultimate goal, I am not actually present as I make my journey to the shop; my body is there but I am ahead of myself, only concerned with getting where I am going – touching base. This is – again – a thing that we are very familiar with when we are suffering from anxiety – it is the phenomenon of ‘always skipping ahead’.

 

What this means therefore is that as soon as I do touch base I then have a new goal, and that new goal is of course to get back home as quickly as possible. There is no moment of freedom, no moment of rest, no release. I never let up on the unwavering control, not for a second, and so the whole process of ‘living in the future’ is repeated until I do get back home. When I get home I can relax (possibly), and I might even feel good about having achieved my target, but just how satisfactory is this?  Obviously it is a step in the right direction, but at the same time there is no doubt that the whole procedure is a bit of avoidance in its own right! What I have been avoiding is the ‘here and now’ – it is not good enough to be there in the shop and in the high street in my body because if my awareness is elsewhere (or willing itself elsewhere, which is the same thing) then the anxiety is still dictating the terms.

 

If I rush from goal to goal, then that is anxiety. That is anxiety in a nutshell. If I am in one place, and I make a rule in my head saying that I should be in another place, then that is anxiety. The only thing that isn’t anxiety is being in the place that you are, and not wishing you were somewhere else! What we are talking about here is this thing called ‘hanging out’. The day I really reverse the insidious process of avoidance is the day I hang out. ‘Hanging out’ means being present with no agenda and this is easier to talk about than to do because I always have an agenda. I can’t ‘hang out on purpose’, because if I am there with a goal in my head (even the goal of hanging out) then I am not really there – I am (as we have said) in my head, planning, wishing, wanting, controlling…

 

I cannot have an agenda to drop my agenda, because then that is still an agenda. I am there in one place (the place of having an agenda), and I want to be in another place (the place of having no agenda). I am making a rule in my head that ‘something should happen’, and this is anxiety all over again. I’m skipping ahead. So what do I do? The answer is simple, but it doesn’t come easily. The answer is to be in the place that I am already in, which is ‘wanting to be somewhere else’. So, if I am ‘not hanging out’, then I ‘hang out in not hanging out’. This means that I don’t try to force myself to be elsewhere – I don’t make a rule saying “This is not good; this is not the right place to be”. Wherever I am, that is the right place to be. It has to be! It must be right because I am there, and I can’t be anywhere else anyway, no matter how hard I try. Mental straining is always futile and when we start to see that it is always futile that means we are actually present. Normally, we’re not ‘present’, we’re not ‘conscious’, and that means that we don’t see that the straining is futile.

 

Experiencing fear is one thing, and being anxious is another. Fear is when I don’t like being in a place, but I know that I am there – I am present in it, in other words. Anxiety is when I am running away from my fear – which means that I believe (on some unexamined level) that it is possible to escape if I strain hard enough. Thus, all my effort goes into ‘straining to do an impossible thing’, which is what creates anxiety. I am not orientated towards reality – I am orientated towards my goal of how I would like reality to be.  This is why goals are useful when it comes to working with anxiety; goals mean that I want to be somewhere else (obviously enough!) and so how is this supposed to help me with anxiety? Having goals (or ‘relying on methods’) always feeds back into the anxiety, naturally enough, and it is easy enough to see this – if we are actually interested in seeing it.

 

The purposeful mind really isn’t the right man for the job here. The purposeful mind isn’t the right man for the job because it’s always ‘skipping ahead to the future’ and this is what creates the anxiety in the first place. It’s the purposeful mind’s job to be skipping ahead – very obviously that is its job – so we can’t blame it for this! ‘Purposes’ exist in the future, after all – they certainly don’t exist in the present. There are no goals in the present; there never could be any goals in the present. There’s nothing in the present but ‘hanging out’ and we’re not hanging out for a reason. We’re not hanging out in order to achieve or obtain anything.

 

This might seem like a rather simplistic point to make but it isn’t – when we see that there are no goals in the present and that the present is the only place we can find relief from anxiety (because there is then no rule saying that we have to be somewhere else other than where we are right now, which is the cause of anxiety) then our orientation naturally starts to shift. The orientation is no longer directed outside of ourselves to some ‘result’ we would like to see happen. We absolutely can’t shift our orientation on purpose but when the awareness comes to us that goals equal anxiety (which society will never tell us because it is based on goals) then we will naturally let go of our goals, to some extent. ‘Letting go’ isn’t a thing that can be made into a goal; ‘letting go’ comes only from awareness and awareness exists only in the present moment…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path Of Error

When we force ourselves to do what we were going to do anyway – without any forcing – then we take the good out of it. We ourselves take the good out of it, no one else. The reason we force ourselves to do whatever it is that we were going to do anyway is because that way we get to avoid any risk, avoid any uncertainty. We’re afraid of taking the risk that we might not do it, and so we force ourselves. We take matters into our own hands, and this is ‘the way of error’.

 

Out of the avoidance of risk (or out of the avoidance of uncertainty) comes ‘evil’, in other words. Out of the avoidance of risk – when it is psychological risk that we’re talking of – comes a long, long road of suffering. The Via Erratum isn’t ‘an error’ because we have broken any rule, or because we have rebelled against the proper authorities (and have wilfully gone against the way that was preordained for us), it’s ‘an error’ simply because it leads us into suffering. We could also say that the Via Erratum is ‘an error’ because it’s a dead end, because it simply doesn’t get us anywhere. Eventually we’re going to realise this and so then we are going to have to come all the way back again. We will have to come ‘right back to Square One’…

 

When we force ourselves to live our lives (because we think we have to, because we think it’s the right thing to do, because we think it’s our ‘duty’, or because we are afraid of what might happen if we don’t) then this takes the good out of it. This takes all the creativity, sensitivity and joy out of it. This inevitably takes all the humour and poetry out of life and so what are we left with then? This is Alan Watts’ central message, the message that he reiterated in many different ways – “a life which is forced, a life which is conducted deliberately or on purpose, is a life not worth living”. What a terrible mistake this is to make! What could be more precious than life, and what could be more tragic than to utterly corrupt and despoil this gift – for no good reason at all?

 

This is the error that we all make, every last one of us. No matter where you look you will always see people making this error; there is no shortage whatsoever of people making this error. To ‘do as others do’ is to make this error. Society itself demands that we go down this road – it tells us every day that the right thing to do is to live life deliberately, on purpose, in strict accordance with our rational intention. It is through the purposeful activities of the Concrete Identity that we will find meaning and joy in our lives, so we are told. This key message is beamed out at us a thousand times a day, out of a hundred different media outlets – just in case we are a bit slow in picking it up. And yet the purposeful activities of the concrete identity are quite, quite worthless. They lead to nothing but suffering and frustration. They are suffering, pure and simple.

 

As we have said, there couldn’t be a bigger mistake than the mistake of ‘living life deliberately’, living life ‘on purpose’, and gravitating ceaselessly thereby towards our mind-created goals. There couldn’t be a bigger error than ‘the error of believing life to be nothing more than the fulfilment of the Concrete Identity’s agenda’! The fulfilment of the Concrete Identity’s agenda doesn’t bring us any joy; this isn’t life – it isn’t anything! The realisation of our goals isn’t life, life is when we realise that our goals don’t actually matter! Life is the falsification of our ideas about life. The person who does nothing other than chase after goals the whole time isn’t living, they are simply obsessing and obsessions are – by their very nature – always sterile. There is nothing more sterile than obsession; there is nothing more sterile than obsession because obsession is always all about the Concrete Identity and the key point to understand about the Concrete Identity is that it doesn’t actually exist.

 

‘What’s your problem?’ Wei Wu Wei asks, ‘Mistaken identity’ he replies. The Concrete Identity is obliged to force itself to do everything and when once we go down this road of forcing then that’s it – there’s no turning back. There’s no turning back because forcing is now the only thing we understand and so if we stop forcing ourselves then nothing will happen. We have become dependent upon control in other words and so we have to keep on controlling even though controlling everything is nothing but neurosis. Forcing is suffering and yet forcing is all we know – we have to see it through to the bitter end, therefore. ‘Forcing’ is the only card we have to play and the terrible thing about this is that no good can ever come of it, not matter how far we push it…

 

 

 

 

Art: Tyranny RPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcomplicating Life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Can’t Force Peace Of Mind

Whenever we’re happy or have some kind of peace of mind then experience will show that this is always because we have ‘forgotten about ourselves’, not because of anything special that we’ve done, not because of any special method that we have learned and then applied. This is fairly obvious once we actually come out and say it – whoever heard of a ‘method for happiness’, or a ‘strategy for peace of mind’, after all? If there was such a remarkable thing as ‘a method for happiness’ then you can be very sure that we’d have heard about it by now…

 

Intuitively, we know that there is no way to wangle genuine happiness or genuine peace of mind for ourselves and yet – at the same time – we all buy into a technological culture that rests fair-and square on the notion that happiness/well-being/peace of mind can be brought about by technical means. Trying to obtain happiness for ourselves’ is what drives most of what we do – this is what drives this thing we call ‘the consumer society’ – we’re ‘doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing’ in order that we might (hopefully) be happy as a result! So how is it that we buy into something that – on another level of awareness – we know perfectly well to be nonsense?

 

Leaving aside for the moment our crude ‘materialistic’ efforts to bring about happiness and fulfilment for ourselves by partaking in ‘the consumer game’; we can spot another version of this same anomaly in our collective approach to mental health care. Mental health care is full of methodologies for (supposedly) achieving well-being and no one ever seems to question this. But if genuine well-being can only happen when we forget about ourselves (and not when we ‘do something special’ so as to hopefully obtain good mental health as a result) then just what the hell are we doing with all of our therapeutic methodologies? If the key is to ‘forget about ourselves’ (so to speak) then how is all this ‘purposefully trying to fix ourselves’ – type of business supposed to do us any good?

 

Once we understand this key point then this clears up everything. When we are able to see clearly that peace of mind only comes about when we forget all about ourselves then we can finally stop confusing and annoying ourselves with all these methods, all of these helpful ‘mental health tips’, all of this advice, all of the ‘things that we’re supposed to ‘do’. This preoccupation with technical means (or ‘control’) is society’s craziness, not the road to good mental health! We keep on bringing ourselves into the picture and the more we bring ourselves into the picture the more tangled up we get. Happiness or peace is when we don’t bring ourselves into the picture!

 

Whatever we ‘do’ in order to gain peace of mind merely ties us up in knots even more; we’re treating mental health or peace of mind as a game that we have to play in order to win but things don’t work like this at all. Nobody ‘wins’ well-being; nobody ‘wins’ peace of mind or happiness. This isn’t one of society’s games. What we need to do therefore is to see this because when we see it we will naturally stop putting so much energy and conviction into ‘enacting the methodologies’ (or ‘following the advice’) It is personal insight we need not expert advice. What do the so-called ‘experts’ know anyway? All they know is what they have been told by other so-called ‘experts’.

 

The trouble is that what we are talking about here (i.e. not trying to fix ourselves) is too simple and we find it very hard to believe anything as simple as this could actually be true. It doesn’t sound right to us. We’re all geared towards believing that if we are ever to gain anything worthwhile in life then it has to be as a result of hard work. This message has been beaten into us from an early age. In the same way therefore, we can’t believe that regaining mental health (particularly when were suffering from chronic ‘mental ill-health’) has to be the result of something complicated, something clever, something impressively ‘high-tech’, something that only highly trained professionals can know about. We have been very effectively disempowered, in other words!

 

Not only have we been disempowered, we’ve been very thoroughly ‘jinxed’!  We have been put into a double-bind. Far from facilitating us in ‘forgetting about ourselves’, anything ‘complicated’ or ‘clever’ that we (supposedly) have to do just reminds us of ourselves (and the fact that we’re ‘not right’) all the more. The existence of the procedure means that we then have the onerous responsibility of ‘carrying it out correctly’ and this responsibility causes us to be more preoccupied with ourselves rather than less. We’re under pressure because we have to ‘do the thing’ (whatever that thing is) We have to ‘do the thing’ and this makes it even more neurotically controlling of ourselves than we were before. It doesn’t free us up at all… Being neurotic means that we take on responsibility for what we don’t need to, says Morgan Scott Peck, and so leading us to believe that we need to take responsibility for our own mental state before we can feel better feeds our neurosis rather than curing it.

 

‘Distracting ourselves’ isn’t the answer either – naturally we think that forgetting about ourselves means ‘distracting ourselves’ but this is not the case at all. ‘Self-distracting’ is purposeful doing, it’s something we have to do ourselves and – moreover – it’s something that we have to keep on doing. If we ever stopped distracting ourselves then that would mean that we’d be ‘right back where we started’ in no time and this knowledge, even if it isn’t at the forefront of our attention, keep us very far from ‘forgetting ourselves’. This unconscious knowledge is a pressure that never goes away…

 

When we talk about forgetting ourselves what we really mean is ‘forgetting to control ourselves’ or ‘forgetting to be forever thinking about ourselves’ and this has nothing to do with any cheap self-distraction techniques. What it really means is ‘not being so self-conscious in the way that we almost always are self-conscious’, and obviously this is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not as easy as it sounds because we are going against the habit of a lifetime. We are so very reliant on methods but this happens to be the one thing that methods can never help us with!

 

As we have been saying, there can’t be any such thing as ‘a method for helping us to be less self-conscious’ since the very moment we even think of a method (or think that is a need for a method) we become self-conscious! This is like saying that we will float perfectly safely in deep water even if we can’t swim just as long as we don’t try to float, but the moment we start trying to make sure that we don’t try to float then we will sink straightaway. Merely knowing this doesn’t help us any therefore because this knowledge feeds right back into our panic as something we have to do – even though it’s actually something that we don’t have to do! Ceasing to react to the perceived need to control ourselves (or to our situation) isn’t by any means as easy as it might sound – such is our reliance on controlling that we will immediately start trying to control ourselves to make sure that we don’t control ourselves. We do this unconsciously, automatically, inadvertently. This is what the alchemist call ‘the way of error’ – we’re trying to save ourselves by our own efforts, we’re trying to rescue ourselves with our own non-stop struggling.

 

Changing unconscious patterns of thinking and behaving isn’t something we can fast-track, it isn’t something we can force to happen. We can’t ‘change our own minds’ on purpose. ‘Forcing’ is the very habit we want to change, after all. Really, what we’re talking about here is a whole new approach – a process is based on insight and patience rather than any sort of technological ‘know-how’. There is no technological know-how when it comes to patience, obviously. Technology is very opposite of patience – the technological approach is the ‘quintessential impatient approach’ because we’re trying to force things to happen on our own terms. We want to get to the desired destination ‘in no time at all’.

 

Patience is the one thing we need and insight is the other. Insight changes the ‘balance of power’ between us and the mechanical mind so that we stop buying into the ‘forcing approach’ quite so much; we see through it and seeing through the forcing approach is what makes all the difference. We can’t force patience and we can’t come up with some sort of ‘technology for catalysing insight’ either – there is simply no way to make insight happen just because we want it to happen. The idea of forcing insight is preposterous! We can of course purposefully ‘impart information’ and this is what we as a technologically-minded culture are good at; ‘providing information’ in the field of mental health is all but meaningless however – what is needed for change to take place is insight not so-called ‘psychological education’ and just telling someone what it is that we think they need to know is not going to help them when it comes to gaining insight.

 

What we need when it comes to our true well-being is philosophy not the cheap tricks of technology. Philosophy doesn’t have much credibility in this rational-purposeful world of ours. In our hubris we scoff at philosophy – we certainly don’t see it as having any crucial role in life. Philosophy means ‘love of the truth’ in ancient Greek. Philosophy means ‘love of the truth’ and the truth is that happiness (or well-being or peace of mind) come about when we forget about ourselves, not when we try to work towards them as goals. We don’t become happy as a result of cherishing or controlling or managing ourselves, we become profoundly miserable instead. Actually, peace of mind or happiness is none of our business – it’s got nothing to do with us, and seeing this is wisdom.

 

 

 

Art: Banksy, ‘Soldiers Secretly Want Peace’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Anxiety as a ‘Cue’

Anxiety is never about what it appears to be about – this is fairly obvious since what we are anxious about doesn’t generally warrant the worry that it is evoking in us. If the situation that we are anxious about did warrant the degree of concern that we are feeling then this wouldn’t be anxiety – it would an appropriate, healthy response to a difficult situation.

 

So the whole point about anxiety is that it is a disproportionate reaction to what is going on; we all know this – as anxiety sufferers we know this only too well – but the thing is that it just doesn’t help us to know this! It actually makes us feel worse not better, obviously enough…

 

This shows us that the anxiety isn’t really what the anxiety itself tells us it is about.  There is a displacement going on, which means that we are seeing something ‘in the wrong place’. The anxiety really belongs somewhere else and what this means is that we’re wasting our time when we allow our attention to be ‘diverted’ in the way that it is. We’re simply chasing red-herrings and that’s not going to get us anywhere!

 

If I’ve lost something in one place there’s no point in looking for it somewhere else, after all! That’s definitely a bad road to go down. The helpful thing is to use the anxiety as a cue to draw our attention to the fact that there is a displacement going on here – when we feel anxious about something then straightaway we realize that there is this displacement occurring, therefore. To be aware of this is helpful because we are now in a better position to feel the feeling where it belongs instead of where it doesn’t belong. When we know we looking for what we’ve lost in the wrong place then this is very useful information – it’s useful information because it frees us up from the thankless (and pointless task of ‘looking for what we’ve lost in the wrong place’…

 

This isn’t a method for working with anxiety because it’s not setting out guidelines as to what we should ‘do’. What it is however is a way of using anxiety as a cue to remind ourselves that we are getting our attention tied up with red herrings so when we receive this cue or reminder we can stop ‘going down the wrong road’. The cue does nothing more than ‘bring about awareness’, and it is awareness that we need because anxiety works by hoovering up our awareness! The awareness that we are being ‘misdirected’ is itself all that it takes to bring us back to ourselves so there is no question of having to follow any kind of a method, or utilize any kind of a strategy, which are mechanical responses that can only bring about more anxiety.

 

When we receive the cue that reminds us that we are having our attention misdirected then we have our attention back again, so to speak, and so all we need to do is to ‘come back to ourselves’ (or ‘check in with ourselves’) to see what is really going on with us. The anxious mind always points our attention away from us (like a person throwing a stick for a dog to run after and bring back) we are usually more than happy to oblige by chasing after the stick as fast as we can! As the Tibetan sage Milarepa says –

When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.

When Milarepa advises us to be like a lion rather than a dog running after sticks the whole time what he is suggesting is that we ‘come back to ourselves’ rather than looking outside of ourselves. It is important to realize that ‘coming back to ourselves’ isn’t a method – there is no method to come back to ourselves, there is no way this can be achieved via some sort of tactic or strategy. Methods can be used to distract ourselves, it is true (and as a culture we have developed a huge arsenal of them) but there’s no method for un-distracting ourselves! All that’s needed for un-distracting ourselves is awareness – when we are aware that we are distracted then we are straightaway un-distracted. No ‘doing’ is needed – or as the Buddhist teachings say “There is no need for expedient means”.

 

This is of course the very same principle we come across in meditation; when we are practicing meditation we don’t force ourselves to ‘come back to the present moment’ – if we did that then we wouldn’t be meditating! Instead, we notice that we have drifted away from the present moment and as soon as we notice this we are straightaway back in the present. It’s the awareness that does it, not forcing or effort or will-power. As soon as we notice that we’re ‘away’ we’re back ‘home’ again! The moment we see that we thinking then we’re not thinking – we’re observing that we’re thinking and that is awareness.

 

When we are using anxiety as a cue we’re not coming back to our breathing however (which is a specific focus), we’re coming back to noticing ‘how we are in ourselves’, which is an open-ended sort of a thing. Another way of putting this is to say that we’re noticing how we are feeling – we’re tuning in to the deeper emotional core of ourselves, even if only momentarily. We started off by saying that when we anxious our attention is being distracted away from where the issue really is. The anxiety is a dodge, in other words. It’s an automatic avoidance mechanism. The question is therefore, “What are we dodging?”

 

The simplest way to answer this is probably just to say that are dodging ourselves. Anxiety – we might say – is the thinking mind’s ‘last-ditch attempt’ to distract our attention from the place that we don’t want it to go! Instead of being ‘with ourselves’ thought is sending us off on endless wild goose chases, and who can deny that this is what anxiety comes down to? Even if we do solve the problem that is troubling us a dozen other problems will pop up more or less immediately and if we don’t solve it (as is very likely) then we are going to be worrying over it endlessly in the forlorn attempt to solve it. Perhaps if you go over it a thousand times it will somehow come right, thought says. What else can it say after all – it has no other tricks up its sleeve, only thinking, thinking, and more thinking. It’s only got the one product and so it will keep on trying to sell it to us…

 

In essence anxiety is the attempt to solve an insoluble problem and that is why we can never get to the end of it, that’s why we can never cure anxiety with thinking – anxiety just feeds on itself then. We could say therefore that all the worries that crop up for us are ‘surrogates for something else’ and so the real question is ‘what is it a surrogate for?’ An existential philosopher would say that we are running from the pure irreducible uncertainty of life; this is an ‘insoluble problem’ – obviously enough – because there is nothing that we can do about the irreducible uncertainty of life. It’s irreducible, after all – that’s the whole point!

 

The fact that life is irreducibly uncertain isn’t actually a problem, however, – being uncertain is what makes life life! Saying that ‘life is uncertain’ is just another way of saying that it is always unfolding in an unpredictable way – ‘unfolding in an unpredictable way’ is what makes life life. What other type of unfolding is there, anyway! The new unfolds, day by day and moment by moment, and this is what life (or reality) is all about – obviously enough! Why would we be so afraid of the ‘unfolding of the new’ when the unfolding of the new is the very essence of life itself though? What – we may ask – is the big problem here?

 

‘The unfolding of the new’ doesn’t sound so dreadfully bad after all – it actually sounds rather marvellous. The ‘old’, on the other hand, rapidly becomes very tiresome if not to say oppressive, as we all know very well. Who doesn’t know this? It’s one of those basic things that we learn that we learn in life. Even if it’s not something we can always put in practice we all nevertheless know that it isn’t healthy to be forever holding onto the old, or holding onto the past. We are – generally speaking – perfectly aware of that…

 

One way to explain why we so very easily become ‘afraid of the new’ (or ‘afraid of what we can’t control’, which is the same thing) is to say that we become so used to our ‘defensive position’ that it become the whole world to us. It’s all we know and we trust it because has always protected us in the past (or so it seems). We trust it because we know nothing else. This isn’t to say that our protective posture (or ‘protective mechanism’) hasn’t protected us in the past – quite possibly it has done. The thing is thought that when the protective posture ‘becomes the whole world to us’ then we always end up in the situation where what we are defending ourselves against is life itself and this – of course – is a terrible dead-end.

 

We’re trapped in a terribly difficult situation when what we’re defending ourselves against is life itself. It’s not just a ‘difficult’ situation, it’s an impossible one.  It’s an impossible situation because life is all there is and if life is all there is then how can we defend ourselves against it? When we identify totally with our defensive position then this is the very same thing as ‘being institutionalized’ – we’re utterly dependent on the structure that imprisons us and so we will defend it to the end. To lose it seems like the worst thing in the world, even though of course it isn’t. It’s not doing us any good any more so how can it be such a terrible thing to lose it?

 

The insight that it is a healthy thing to relinquish our defensive position doesn’t mean that we can just go right ahead and ‘let go’ (just because this is the helpful thing to do). We could go right ahead and let go if we were free to do so but the whole point is that we aren’t. We’re caught up in the logic of a long established defensive reflex, after all. This defensive reflex has become our only way of seeing the world, our only way of understanding the world. We’re going against the grain; we’re going against what seems to be our own better judgement. We’re rebelling against ‘who we are’, so it seems. The point is however that it isn’t who we really are and this insight is the key to everything. We’re not really this tense and frightened ‘defensive posture’ – we’re always more than a posture, no matter what type of posture that might be. Obviously, we’re more than just ‘a posture’!

Summary

To talk about ‘letting go’ in connection with anxiety is facile in the extreme – there is no way that we can let go as an act of will. We can only let go when we let go of all ideas of letting go (which means that it isn’t ‘us’ letting go at all). We can’t intend to let go because ‘intending’ is holding on to a goal; we can’t let go on purpose because a purpose is a goal and – as we have just said – goals are only goals because we are hang onto them. What we can do however is use the anxiety as a reminder to check in with ourselves. We’re not checking in with ourselves as a way of getting rid of the anxiety (much as we’d like to get rid of it); that would be an act of aggression and aggression feeds anxiety rather than getting rid of it. When we turn our backs on the reality of our situation and fixate our attention on ‘surrogate problems’ and try to fix them then this is aggression. The aggression is born of the pure desperation that comes from trying to do an impossible thing. Our aggression is the inevitable ‘waste-product’ of our attempt to safeguard the shaky belief that we have in our illusory ‘fixing’. So instead of being aggressive towards our anxiety or being fearful of it (which results in ‘the aggression of running away’), we appreciate its role in reminding us to come back to ourselves. We appreciate it (in a natural or genuine way!) because the truth is that we wouldn’t remember to come back to ourselves otherwise. The pain of anxiety reminds us. We are now seeing anxiety as a ‘help rather than a hindrance’ therefore and this means that we’re not being aggressive. We’re just noticing ‘how we are’, that’s all, and that is a peaceful act rather than a violent one! Learning not to be aggressive may not sound like very much but it’s the most useful thing we could ever learn – learning not to be aggressive is actually the key to everything…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Peace With Anxiety

There are two ways of approaching anxiety – one way is to approach it with a whole bunch of tools and methods and ‘skills’ (which is of course the aggressive way) whilst the other way is with gentleness and tolerance, and no attempted ‘forcing’.  The first way involves learning some method that we have to put into action when our anxiety levels rise; the first way involves the tool which we call the rational-purposeful mind, in other words. The second way does not occur via the thinking mind at all, it involves us just being ourselves amidst it all (which is admittedly a lot harder than it sounds). We don’t have to bring in any tools, any gimmicks, any foreign artifacts.

 

We are not therefore trying to learn some new trick that we didn’t know about – which would be daunting and put us under a strain – but rather we’re learning to bring a part of ourselves into play that we really don’t value very much, or don’t respect particularly. In fairy-tales this corresponds to the motif of the youngest brother who is generally regarded as a bit silly or soft and not really up to much; all the smart money is on the oldest brother who is single-minded and quite ruthless in pursuit of his goals. In the stories it is however the ‘silly’ or ‘soft-hearted’ younger brother who succeeds in the question rather than his hard-headed eldest brother who invariably falls flat on his face. [See for example the Celtic story of The Five Sons of King Eochaid.]

 

The part of ourselves we value and automatically rely on in a crisis is the ‘older brother’ of the rational-purposeful mind – it’s rather as if we’re walking around with an angle-grinder or a Black & Decker drill the whole time and if any challenging situation arises then this heavy-duty tool is what we use. But when it is anxiety that is challenging us then this heavy-handedness is only making things worse. ‘Using tools’ to further our will is only making things worse. All that aggression (all that ‘fixing-type’ energy) simply gets bounced back at us and feeds right back into the anxiety-cycle. Trying to fix anxiety is not a good thing to get into! What we’re looking at here is a positive-feedback process therefore; anxiety is quintessentially a ‘positive-feedback’ process where we are constantly reacting to our own projections, our own evaluations, our own calculations and expectations.

 

The whole time that we are alive in this world however we also developing the other side of our nature, whether we realize this or not. We develop this side of our nature just by growing as people, not by learning anything. More often than not, it happens that we develop the gentle, non-judgemental and ‘non-fixing’ aspect of ourselves via our relationships with other people, or perhaps with animals, and so we always have this non-aggressive side of ourselves to call upon. We just need to value this core part of ourselves, and trust it, which is something that society as a whole does not teach us to do. Society teaches us to rely on our ability to manipulate or control situations skilfully and ‘push on ahead regardless’, so to speak. Society teaches us to be competitive, self-assertive and goal-driven, etc, which a way of being in the world that inevitably backfires on us.

 

The difficulty comes about because when we are challenged we automatically put the rational-purposeful mind in charge which – as we have said – just makes matters worse.  This is just like voting a right-wing government into power because we are frightened by some crisis that is going on and some charismatic (or at least half-way charismatic) politician tells us that he knows what to do in order to. He never does of course – that’s just a ruse to get into power. Far-right politicians never make things better – as history shows! Since when did putting a far-right politician in power ever improve the situation? When anxiety comes along there is no quick fix and so the self-assured dictator which is the purposeful mind – with all of its recipes for ‘fixing’ the situation – isn’t the right man for the job.  We’ll ‘buy into it’ for sure because that’s what we always do, but it won’t get us anywhere. We buy into it because we’re afraid, and nothing good ever came of that…

 

The way to change our aggressive attitude to anxiety is to see that the pain and distress we are experiencing is trying to tell us something and that it is not just an ‘error signal’ informing us that something is ‘wrong’ with our brain. If we can take this idea on (even a bit) that is very helpful in itself because our attitude changes by 180 degrees – what works is befriending the anxiety, not turning it into the enemy (even though it very much feels like an enemy). Physical pain serves a function and so does the mental variety – if we just move to ‘squash it’ then we’re not going to learn anything, and if we don’t learn something then we’re not going to change, obviously enough. We’re going to carry on the same. ‘Stopping the pain’ is not good therapy, even though it is of course what we all want.

 

What ‘befriending anxiety’ comes down to is establishing some sort of relationship with ourselves as we actually ARE (i.e. the ‘anxious us’) and having a relationship is essentially a two-way thing, as we know from interpersonal  relationships. If I have a genuine relationship with you then this means that I’m not just ‘telling you what to do’ the whole time, which is what we do with ourselves when we are anxious or depressed. When we are anxious or depressed we tell ourselves do (or think) things in a different way and then when that doesn’t happen (and it doesn’t) then we blame and condemn ourselves (which is still not a relationship). This is very much how we get on with ourselves when are anxious – we don’t have a relationship with ourselves but rather we are pathologically alienated from ourselves. Needless to say, this doesn’t go anywhere – it’s a dead end if ever there was one!

 

Once we see things like this then it becomes apparent that the key thing is establishing a relationship with ourselves. It’s not just the ‘key thing’, it’s the only thing. The question then becomes, how do I establish a relationship with myself?’ The best way to think about this is – as we have just said – to think about how we form relationships with other people, so we can ask ourselves how we go about doing this. This, of course, turns out to be a very interesting question – what we learn fairly quickly (most of us, anyway) is that there is no ‘magic formula’. We might like for there to be, but there isn’t. People might of course try to sell us a magical formula with regard to forming relationships (for example, ‘How to make friends and influence people’) but that’s only because they’re trying to make money out of us. That’s only because they have spotted a niche and they are moving in to exploit it, not because they have any useful to pass on or genuinely want to help anyone.

 

What we learn – some of us perhaps quicker than others perhaps – is that there are no shortcuts, that there are no fast ways to get where we want to be. If we try to push for the ‘relationship’ to happen faster (or if we try various tricks and gimmicks to get the desired results) then the other person is probably going to smell a rat very quickly and steer well clear of us. We’ve obviously got some kind of agenda going in this case. And even if our manipulation is successful, which it sometimes is, that just makes us into a ‘successful manipulator’, not ‘someone who is successful in their relationships’! Actually, of course, it doesn’t make sense to talk of someone who is ‘successful in their relationships’. It’s impossible to success to be ‘successful’ in a relationship because we are not trying to achieve anything – if we are not trying to achieve anything how can we be successful? If we were trying to ‘achieve’ or ‘get something out of the relationship’ then there would be no genuine relationship; it would just be a case of us ‘seeking the advantage’ as always. It would be nothing more than a game in other words. A true relationship can only come about when neither party is trying to obtain anything as a result of it.

 

We can apply exactly this same principle to the business of ‘us trying to cultivate a relationship with ourselves’ – if we are trying to get anything out of this relationship then it’s just not going to happen! Doing it on purpose doesn’t work. Relating honestly (or sincerely) with ourselves is thus both an easy thing and a hard thing at the same time – it’s easy because it’s the most natural thing in the world and, as a result, it ‘happens all by itself’, and it’s hard because there is absolutely nothing we can do to push for it to happen, just because we want it to. There are no methods or instructions for ‘how to establish a relationship with ourselves’; there is no theory or model to tell us how to do this. We can’t do it purposefully; we can’t do it via the agency of the rational-purposeful mind. We can’t do it via the agency of the rational-purposeful mind for the simple reason that this mind never did anything without a reason. If the rational mind does something then there always has to be some sort of goal, some kind of ‘advantage’ that is to be achieved. Thought can never do anything in a non-calculating way because it is – by its very nature – ‘a calculation’!

 

There’s no getting away from the fact that ‘not being aggressive’ presents a major difficulty for us, for the reasons that we have all ready gone into. When we are under pressure, when we being challenged in a significant way, then we automatically turn to the thinking mind for help; not turning to the ‘reflex mind‘ for help goes very much against the grain with regard to how we have been coping with difficulty all of our life. It doesn’t come naturally to us. This is a very different type of difficulty from the difficulty of having to learn some ‘artificial method’ and put it into practice however. [And all methods are ‘artificial’ when it comes to mental health – if we have to go around using methods to feel okay the whole time then this can’t be very mentally healthy, after all!] It’s not something foreign to us we have to learn after all – we are simply relearning to be ‘the whole of ourselves’, after having forgotten what this feels like, or rather, after forgetting that there even is such a thing as the whole of ourselves. So although it might seem like an impossible task to come back to the whole of ourselves once we have been trapped in the narrow realm of thought, it is at the same time a perfectly natural process. There is no process that is more natural than this.

 

Perfectly natural processes don’t have to be forced as artificial ones do; in fact the whole difficulty lies in getting out of the habit of forcing everything to be the way that we think it ought to be. There is a place for ‘forcing things to be the way that we think they ought to be’ – that’s just another way of talking about purposeful action, after all – but it most certainly does not apply to mental health. Mental health means – if it means anything – that we are ‘whole and not fragmented’ and there is no way that the part or fragment which is the rational mind can get us to be whole via its purposeful or calculated behaviour! It doesn’t want to anyway – what the thinking mind wants to do is to extend its rule as far as possible in all directions. What the thinking mind always wants to do is be ‘the boss of everything’ – it’s all ‘in a good cause’ of course but, but this is what it wants. It doesn’t trust in anything else; it neither trusts nor believes in anything else. The trouble is that the very great tendency of the TM to run things its own way, no matter how narrow that way might be, isn’t ‘in a good cause at all’ – it’s only ‘in its own cause’. It’s only in the cause of what it – quite honestly but also quite deludedly – ‘understands to be a good cause’. The TM always thinks it knows best, in other words.

 

It is easier to explain things this way than merely talking about ‘observing yourself’ or ‘not judging yourself’ because that can sound rather clinical if it is not put across carefully. It also sounds like something we can do on purpose, which is very far from being the case. We all instinctively realize the helpfulness and healthiness of having a two-way relationship and having a relationship with ourselves is the very opposite of trying to control or fix ourselves.  We are actually being interested in ourselves in this case, we’re interested in being ourselves, even though the way we are is painful and doesn’t feel at all right to us. But if we can respect (in some small way) the overall healthiness of the process (i.e. if we make peace to some degree with the unwanted pain and distress of the neurotic symptomology) that straightaway changes our attitude so that we do become interested.

 

Even if we are only a little bit open to seeing the process as being ‘healthy’ (i.e. not seeing ourselves as ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’ or ‘broken’) that means that we’re not fighting against ourselves in the total way that we were before. We will still fight against ourselves because that’s our reflex, but we won’t be buying into what we’re doing so much and it is this ‘disidentification’ with thought that changes – by ‘non-violent’ means – the balance of power between us and the tyrant of thought. Thought then becomes something useful, in this case. This might be said to be the ‘esoteric’ meaning of Exodus 4:3:

And the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. “Throw it on the ground,” said the Lord. So Moses threw it on the ground, and it became a snake, and he ran from it. “Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail,” the LORD said to Moses, who reached out his hand and caught the snake, and it turned back into a staff in his hand.

A snake or a dragon is a very familiar way of referring to the thinking mind or ‘lower self’ (see ‘Rumi’s dragon’) – when it rules the roost then it is a terrible monster indeed and no one can stand against it – it will devour everything in sight. When it is in its proper place however then it is immediately transformed back into the staff of righteousness…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glue Of ‘Identification’

The everyday mind creates an image or idea of who we are that is based upon its own unacknowledged limitations (the everyday mind can only ever do anything on the basis of its unacknowledged limitations) and then the next thing is that we become flatly convinced that this really is who we are, that it isn’t ‘just an image or idea’. The narrower our mind is therefore, the narrower will be the sense of self that is produced by that mind.

 

The sense of self that we are talking about here so very casually is no small thing – it may be only a ‘sense’ but it’s as entrapping as a Category-1 prison. The SOS isn’t just like a prison, it is a prison – it’s the most formidable prison ever constructed. The idea that we have of ourselves may be only an ‘idea’ but in practice it’s like a deep dark hole that we fall into and can’t ever climb out of. Our conceptual identity is only ‘an abstract description’ it’s true, but we’re stuck fast to it as if by the strongest glue ever invented. It is as if we are bonded to it on the molecular level.

 

The power that the everyday mind has to trap us in its picture or image of us is absolutely overwhelming – we have no more ability to escape from it than an iron filing has the ability to escape from an ultra-powerful magnet. It is such a very unequal fight that we’re talking about here and in this context it just never happens that David overcomes Goliath. So powerful is ‘the glue of identification’ that we don’t even know that we’re ‘stuck’ to the mind’s description of us. We just can’t get it, and even if we did – by some fluke – catch a glimpse of this truth, then we’d still have that immense magnetic pull to content with and the thing about this pull is that when it ‘sucks us in’ we lose whatever bit of perspective we had gained and with the loss of this precious perspective we forget what we had learnt. What we had just learned makes no sense to us anymore. And even if we do still remember it is very hard to trust our insight or give it any credence when the Tyrant of Thought is exerting its full hold on us. It’s very hard not to be browbeaten by the Tyrant of Thought…

 

Certain states of mind cause the thinking mind to tighten its grip on us even more than usual. Examples of such states would be anger, anxiety, obsession, desire and jealousy – when we are under the power of these constrictive states of mind we are identified with image or sense of ourselves that is extremely narrow and this causes us pain. Rage or jealousy, for example, causes us to become a veritable caricature of ourselves – as we all know. We become distorted, laughable, ‘cartoon versions’ of ourselves and yet somehow – we ourselves don’t know it, even though everyone else and plainly see the transformation that has occurred to us. [Thought always turns us into caricatured version of ourselves, but it’s not usually as dramatic as this.] When we are in the grip of what Tibetan Buddhists call an ‘afflictive emotion’ such as anger we aren’t directly or honestly aware of the pain that being trapped in such a very narrow ‘sense of self’ is causing us – instead of seeing the pain where it belongs we project it outside of ourselves and see it as being the ‘fault’ of someone or something else, which – of course – fuels the anger all the more. Anger is a ‘self-fuelling mechanism’ therefore – it doesn’t need a basis in reality in order to continue to exist!

 

The very same ‘displacement mechanism’ is at work in all the afflictive emotions, as well as operating in anxiety and the obsessional states – which are not strictly speaking ‘emotions’. When we are in the grip of desire then our sense of self narrows viciously and causes us pain but because we are fixated upon the object of our desire we believe that the pain we’re in (which is the suffering of craving) comes about because we don’t have whatever it is we want to have. When we have obtained the prize – we believe – then the pain will end and instead of the suffering of craving we will experience transports of joy. This then – in an exactly parallel fashion to the case of anger – fuels and reinforces the ‘desire state’ and so it is – as a consequence – very hard to escape from this loop of logic. In the case of anxiety we don’t feel ‘the pain of restriction’ because we are – again – ‘fixated entirely upon the outside’; we see our distress as being due to the possibility of ‘things going wrong’ (not because of our assumed identity being so painfully restrictive) and so we see the only possible solution to our predicament is as being ‘the correction of the situation that is threatening to go off the rails’. We are always ‘looking for solutions’ in other words and this automatic mental activity of ‘looking for a solution’ feeds back into the anxiety-cycle and reinforces it. Once anxiety starts up it can (and it does) keep on going all by itself, in other words.

 

Because of the compensatory mechanism that comes into operation just as soon as we get subsumed within the ‘afflictive emotion’ in question, we never see what has happened to us; we never observe that our awareness has been restricted to the tremendous extent that it has been. All of our attention is ‘on the outside’, all of our awareness has been consumed by whatever passion it is that has afflicted us. We can point to this mechanism very easily in the case of the afflictive emotions (which are known as ‘the seven deadly sins’ in Christianity and ‘the five poisons’ (or ‘five Kleshas‘) in Mahayana Buddhism, but there is a subtler point to be made here and that point has to do with the way this mechanism operates in the case of the mind-created sense of self, which is also ‘a pain-producing restriction of our being’ – even when it’s ‘in neutral’ with regard to emotional state. Exactly the same applies to the everyday identity that we have been supplied with by the thinking mind and which we understand in all good faith to be ‘who we are’ – we are effectively prevented from spotting the trick is that has been played on us by our mind by constantly having our attention drawn (compulsively drawn) to various ‘issues’, various things that either need to be either fixed or escaped from, gained or avoided. When we see someone who is always running around trying to attain their goals we say “How inspiring!” – the one thing we don’t say “Here is a person with a lot of pain-displacement activity going on…!”

 

We don’t say this because we are not a psychologically-minded culture, we don’t say this because our entire way of life, our entire modus operandi, is based upon seeing the ‘concrete identity’ as being fundamentally and irreducibly real. This is ‘The taboo against knowing who you are’ that Alan Watts speaks of. When we put the thinking mind on a pedestal, as we have done, then this absolutely means that we have to accept the mind-created sense of self as ‘something that must never be questioned’ – this is the price we pay for adulating the everyday mind in the way that we do (instead of seeing it as simply being ‘a useful tool that must not be on any account be allowed to ‘run away with itself’ and switch places with the one who is supposed to be operating it). Putting our total trust in the TM means totally and unreservedly buying into the package of ‘the mind-created sense of self’, obviously enough…

 

We idolise the thinking mind in the way that we do because we are afraid to learn that the thought-created world isn’t the only world that there is. If we ever did discover that there is ‘a reality outside of the reality that the thinking mind allows us to know about’ then this might turn out to be ‘the thin end of the wedge.’ If the thin end of the wedge is discovering that there is a reality outside of them so-called ‘reality’ that the thinking mind has provided for us then the thick end of the wedge is realising that the world the thought-created world isn’t actually real at all! With a wedge like this the only thing to do therefore is make very sure that it is never allowed entrance in the first place and this is exactly what the system of thought (which is the same thing as ‘the system of society’) does. The ‘wedge of space’ is never allowed entrance, not even to the smallest degree. To allow any space at all would be the same as allowing the awareness, in a game, that ‘winning’ is a perfectly meaningless proposition – an awareness like this would finish off the game on the spot, just as a dose of cyanide taken by mouth would put a halt to the vital Krebs cycle operating in all the cells of the body that this poison has reached. ‘Awareness of the freedom that we have not to play the game’ is cyanide for the game, which is why James Carse says that we need to ‘veil our own freedom from ourselves’ in order to play a finite game.

 

Excluding ‘space’ (or eradicating ‘intrinsic freedom’) is the prerequisite of being able to live in the world that thought has created for us therefore – that’s how we get to play this particular game. The ‘plus’ side is that we get to be able to ‘play the game of positive reality’, whilst the ‘minus’ side is that this puts a very big pinch on us. The ‘pinch’ is that we don’t have any space available to us any more – none at all. To say that the positive or mind-created world is ‘a tight fit’ is putting it mildly – it fits like a glove, but the problem with this is that it doesn’t fit ‘us’ but the mind-created construct of us – the positively-defined reality is perfect for the mind-created sense of self (it’s actually an extension of it) but because the mind-created sense of self isn’t in the least bit congruent (in any way) with who we really are, the ‘straitjacket-like fit’ between the false idea of ourselves and the positively-defined environment that this idea needs to be surrounded with on a full-time basis just isn’t any good for us. It’s actually the worst thing ever!

 

What a terrible trick this is, therefore! The only place we have to look for freedom is in the ‘extrinsic space’ that we are surrounded with on all sides, and which is a projection of the ‘positive self’ that operates mechanically and deterministically within it. ‘Extrinsic space’ is the same thing as Krishnamurti’s ‘psychological time’ – psychological time is the time between wanting something and getting it, it is the virtual space between the formulation of the goal and the realisation of it. Extrinsic space is the space between defined locations on a logical continuum, which isn’t space at all. It is the space between ‘where I think I am’ and ‘where I think I’d like to be’! We have eased the pain of our cruel existential restriction by searching for freedom, meaning and fulfilment within the Realm of Extrinsic Space but this is a barren hunting ground. There never was a more barren hunting ground than this…

 

We can never find freedom or meaning or fulfilment in the Realm of Extrinsic Space, obviously – how could we ever find freedom, meaning, or fulfilment in the space between ‘where we think we are’ and ‘where we think we’d like to be’ when both of these propositions are entirely non-existent? How can my search for freedom ever get anywhere when the one who is striving so hard to find it isn’t real, any more than the goals through which it believes it can find release through are (and they aren’t real because they are only ‘the deficit-fuelled projections of the unreal self-concept’)? How is this ‘misplaced endeavour’ of ours ever going to come to anything? And yet at the same time the thing that we are most resistant to ever seeing is that there is any ‘pain displacement’ going on, and that the self-concept we think we are doesn’t exist, any more than its cherished and super-attractive goals do. The illusion fuels itself, reinforces itself, and continually reinstates itself, and we’re fast stuck to that self-fuelling illusion with the ‘glue of identification’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Movement Away From The Known

We can’t move towards Wholeness deliberately – nothing was ever more impossible than this! We can express this impossibility in lots of different ways, but they all come down to the very same thing. In terms of mental health, we can say that we can’t move towards mental wellness deliberately; in terms of meditation we can say that we can’t meditate purposefully (or that we can’t ‘become from free from the thinking mind on purpose’), and in terms of spirituality we can say that we can’t ‘become more spiritual’ because we want to, because we are deliberately making efforts in that direction (or in what we think is that direction). It’s the same principle that we coming up against in all of these cases, and if we can’t understand this principle then we can’t understand anything!

 

Alan Watts (speaking from a religious perspective) says that we can’t earn ‘the Grace of God’ on purpose, by dint of our efforts or hard work, by obeying the rules of the religion we belong to, or by trying as hard as we can to be ‘good and not bad’. We can’t do a deal with God to say “If I do everything you say you have to give me your grace!” It just doesn’t work like that, as we would see if we took a moment to think about it. Making deals doesn’t come into it. If I imagine that I can obtain God’s grace by doing a deal, by agreeing to do ‘X, Y or Z’, then what this means is that I believe, on some level or other, that I have some kind of control, as I have ‘negotiating rights’, and this simply isn’t true. Clearly it isn’t true – the very idea is ridiculous, as we would straightaway see if we looked into the matter clearly. If we really looked into the matter then we would give up all our games on the spot! We would give up trying to find ‘new and improved games’, which is what we are always doing. We would – in short – give up trying to manipulate the situation to our advantage.

 

We very rarely do see this however, and that’s the whole point. We don’t want to see it; we have immense resistance to seeing it. This principle is very simple to explain (nothing to be easier) but that doesn’t mean that we going to be able to find anyone willing to sit down and listen to us! Just try explaining the idea that you can’t become mentally healthy ‘on purpose,’ by effort of will’, to a trained professional mental health worker and see how far you get with it! You would be no better off than if you were trying to explain to a Jehovah’s Witness the idea that we can’t be saved just because we’re following all the rules that the organisation requires them to follow in order to be a Jehovah’s Witness. This is true for all religions – there is a great passivity inherent in all religious groups and this passivity derives from the belief that all we have to do to be saved is conform to the given structure. Our willingness to believe this – needless to say – is simply a function of our fear of having to take responsibility for ourselves – we want our ‘salvation’ to come from outside of us, as a result of our unquestioning compliance some external system. Do we really think that we can be saved by uncritically handing over responsibility to what is at root no more than a collection of dead mechanical rules? Can a machine save this? Or will it simply enslavement and abuse us?

 

Meditation demonstrates the principle that says ‘we can’t move towards Wholeness on purpose’ particularly clearly. Meditation is a very practical thing, after all. It has nothing to do with ideas or theories; we can’t bluff into meditation. Qualifications are of no avail. In meditation we are moving away from thought – we are opening up the space between us and our thoughts. That space was always there of course, we are just learning to appreciate that it is. This movement away from thought (which is also the movement away from the thought- created world) is what Krishnamurti calls ‘movement away from the known. This movement is meditation – is no meditation apart from this. Meditation (or ‘mindfulness’) can be explained in lots of fancy ways but this is all that it is – movement away from the known.

 

This happen to be a very interesting movement – it’s actually the only interesting movement; after all, as Krishnamurti also says, ‘the movement from one known to another is no movement at all’. This is very interesting movement but it’s also not a movement we can say anything about – we can only talk about the known after all. As soon as we talk about this movement we sabotage it therefore, as soon as we think about this movement we sabotage it, and when we practice meditation then what we discover is that we are constantly sabotaging ourselves in this way – we can’t help themselves, it’s a ‘reflex-reaction’ on our part. The movement away from the known happens all by itself – it starts happening just as soon as we stop interfering with it (which of course – as we have said – we very rarely do). When we are ‘practising’ meditation and we notice this ‘movement into the unknown’ then we straightaway get excited, we straightaway think about it. Biased mental activity occurs. The further the movement goes the more excited we get, and the more excited we get the more we think about it! This is because we are invested in this particular movement – that’s the whole reason why we’re putting so much time and effort into meditation after all – because we would like for this movement to happen. This is precisely the glitch however – the keener we are for this movement into the unknown to take place (i.e. the more invested in it we are) the less able we are to not get excited by it when it happens and, as we’ve said, when we get excited we think. It doesn’t really matter what we think  – just as soon as we start thinking (which is to say, just as soon as bias comes into the picture) then we find ourselves right back at square one!

 

The process only happens when we don’t interfere with it, when we neither want it to happen nor not want it to happen (which is of course the more common situation). The idea that we can – by deliberate act of will – ‘move away from the known’ is clearly nonsensical therefore. That’s the one thing we can’t do! But the point we are making here is that, when we practice meditation, we run into this principle all the time. It’s a basic fact of our experience when we are meditating. This is THE basic fact of our experience when we are meditating – the fact that we are constantly sabotaging ourselves, whether we want to or not. Who can disagree with this? Whoever has ever had any different experience to this? What we learn through the practice of meditation that ‘the movement away from the known’ doesn’t happen because we are making it happen or willing it to happen or in any way tricking it happen. What we learn as this is that this movement occurs despite our efforts, not because of them. When (or rather if) we do learn this then we learned the biggest thing we ever could learn – we have learned that we can’t move towards reality (or towards Wholeness) ‘under our own steam’, as an act of will.

 

 

 

 

 

Art: Sarolta Ban, from boredpanda.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strategizing Causes Anxiety

There are no effective (long-term) strategies for anxiety. If we can’t understand the truth of this simple statement then – very clearly – we just don’t understand anxiety! If we can’t understand that strategies and techniques and ‘tools’ aren’t the way to go then this can only mean that we don’t have any insight into anxiety at all…

 

The thing is that when we start looking for security we automatically create anxiety and what are ‘psychological strategies’ other than the attempt to somehow organise better security for ourselves? The very existence of a strategy implies that we have some kind of control over the situation, and if we allow ourselves to believe that we have some kind of control over a situation then this belief of ours equals ‘security’, obviously enough. From a psychological point of view, ‘control’ is always a paradoxical type of thing. It is paradoxical because controlling creates the necessity to control – from the psychological point of view control is an addiction, in other words. It’s an addiction because once we get into the habit of controlling ourselves then we will immediately become scared to stop doing whatever it is that we’re doing. Controlling is now where our sense of security (even if it isn’t working particularly well) comes from and to give up sense of security (however illusory it might be) is extraordinarily hard for us. We have to learn to trust the spontaneous process all over again and regaining that trust is a slow and painful process, with many relapses along the way. Relearning trust doesn’t happen without risk-taking and the fact that we are anxious in the first place doesn’t exactly predispose us to taking risks. By relying on strategies we’re feeding the anxiety, therefore.

 

When we start ‘managing’ ourselves with strategies then we’re going down the wrong road – we’re going down the road of reinforcing our distrust in the natural process of the psyche spontaneously organizing itself, without our so-called ‘help’. We prove to ourselves that we are right to control because – as we have said – once we start controlling at all then we create the perceived need to carry on. Fear then sets in, and the prospect of what might happen if we ‘let go’ the reins fills us with dread. It might be naïvely argued that if we are suffering from anxiety then we are right – in one specific way at least – not to trust ourselves, and that the presence of anxiety shows that we need to learn some kind of anxiety management technique or strategy. But since anxiety is ‘the tendency to distrust the natural uncontrolled order of things and look for some kind of security instead’ – arguing that going along with this tendency and opting for strategies rather than tolerating risk is going to actually help things doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s like saying that taking more of the drug we are addicted to is somehow going to cure our addiction.

 

The point that needs to be understood here that any kind of deliberate movement on our part in the direction of perceived security automatically creates the spectre of fear, which will make us even more keen to move in this direction. The logic is self-reinforcing: why else would we be trying to move in the direction of increased security unless we’re trying to escape something, after all? What else would our motivation be? Why do we try to move in what we perceive to be the direction of ‘increased security’ unless we are afraid of ‘insecurity’? As the ancient Daoist texts say, to create one opposite is also to create the other. The moment beauty is born, ugliness enters the picture; the moment ‘good’ is born, ‘bad’ comes into play. How is it we not able to understand this?

 

The ‘mutual identity of the opposites’ (which is of course another way of talking about paradoxicality) means that believing in ‘security’ automatically causes us to believe in the complimentary opposite, which is ‘insecurity’ – it’s impossible to have the one without the other. If we want to believe that there is somewhere to run to, somewhere where we will be ‘safe’, then we also have to believe that there is something to run from. If we want to believe that there is a safe place then we also have to believe in the possibility of a place that is unsafe, a place that is dangerous and that we need to run away from. Trying to move in the direction of safety means that we have chosen to believe that there actually is such a thing, and that’s how the game of anxiety (which is a game that we can’t ever deliberately exit from) starts.

 

To say that strategising is not helpful when it comes to anxiety is really just to say that any purposeful activity, of any type whatsoever, can be of no help when it comes to finding freedom from anxiety. All purposeful activities are based on moving towards ‘the desired opposite’, after all. We can’t have purposeful activity without first identifying a purpose or goal, and that purpose or goal can only exist in relation to its opposite. Winning can only exist in relation to losing, success can only exist in relation to failure, and so straightaway we are engaging in the game of ‘seeking one opposite and shunning the other’. Purposeful behaviour (which is to say, ‘making and chasing goals’) cannot in any way help us when we are anxious therefore. Saying that one opposite is the ‘right’ one and that the other is the ‘wrong’ one just fuels our anxiety; attachment to the right way and fear of the wrong way is anxiety – purposeful activity can never get rid of the spectre of ‘wrong’, after all!

 

At the same time seeing this, it also helps to realise that we can’t help trying to move in the direction of what we perceive to be ‘increased security’. That’s how the mechanism of the conditioned self works, and we can’t fight against this nature. If I start saying that the thing to do is to stop chasing security then ‘not chasing security’ is my new security and so what has changed? It’s the same old game all over again. The conditioned or mechanical self is always chasing security of some sort – as we have just said, it can’t help doing this. This means that we can’t hope for the conditioned or mechanical self to start behaving in a helpful way; we can’t expect it to behave in any other way than an anxiety-creating way. We can’t expect it to stop being purposeful in everything it does. This is a very helpful thing to see because it means that we will no longer tie ourselves up in an impossible struggle the whole time – the struggle of trying to get the rational-purposeful self to behave in a way that is not going to fuel our anxiety. We can now understand this self and what makes it tick, and the part of us that understands the rational-purposeful self and its mechanical ways is not the ‘rational-purposeful self’. The part of us which either identifies with the conditioned ego or fights against it IS the conditioned ego and the part of us which understands this ego is not that ego. Insight is the key when it comes to anxiety therefore – that’s what frees us, not strategizing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond The Paradox Of Purposefulness

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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