Being The Compassionate Witness Of Our Own Lives

The most helpful thing we can do for ourselves – and in the long run the only ‘helpful thing’ we can do for ourselves – is to be the compassionate witness of our own lives.

 

This doesn’t tend to come easily however. Normally we try to be the ‘fixer’ or ‘improver’ of our own lives and when this doesn’t work, when this doesn’t bear fruit, we turn into the blamer, the critic, the judge of our own lives. These are the only two possibilities we know, generally speaking. Either we try to improve or fix ourselves, and believe that we can do so (if we try hard enough) or we are condemnatory to ourselves for not being able to fix ourselves, for not being able to improve ourselves as we are clearly supposed to. Either we are busy putting ‘positive moral pressure’ on ourselves to change, or we’re busy putting ‘negative moral pressure’ on ourselves for not changing. Either we’re ‘encouraging’, or we’re  ‘punishing’…

 

There is a third possibility however – one that does not involve pressure, either of the positive or negative variety. One thing that is very hard for us to see is that any sort of pressure is non-therapeutic, non-helpful when it comes to mental health. ‘Pressure’ means aggression when it comes down to it – it means ‘the application of force’. I want things to be different to the way they are and I am going to use methods and strategies to ensure that the change I want to see comes about.  This goal-orientated approach is fine when we are effecting change in the outside world, but it is entirely counterproductive when we apply it to the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. The outside world is very different from the ‘inside world in this respect’. Whilst in the external world skill and force can make helpful changes (for example when chopping wood or building a house) it is absolutely impossible to find peace and happiness through either skill or forceful effort. We ought to see this clearly perhaps, but somehow we just don’t.

 

All we need to do is to reflect on the matter a while – how can the exercise of force ever be expected to bring about inner peace? How can I pressurize myself to be ‘at peace’? Obviously I can pressurize myself to be at peace but equally obviously this is never ever going to work! This is like ‘forcing myself to be free’ – if I am being forced to do anything then this is the opposite to being free. It’s like having a rule that says ‘There must be no rules.’ Really what we’re talking about here is a self-contradiction that – when we’re under enough pressure – we can’t see to be a self-contradiction. Because we can’t see the contradiction, because we can’t see the paradox in what we’re trying to do, we keep on banging our head against a brick wall and all we ever get for our efforts is a very sore head…

 

Equally, we can very easily see (if we reflect on the matter for a moment or two) that there is no way to bring about inner peace by cleverness, by artifice. Cleverness just means coercing things to go the way we want them to go and whilst this – again – generally works just fine in the outside world it doesn’t work for the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. If I have managed to obtain some sort of peace of mind via cleverness, via cunning or artifice, then the one thing we can be 100% sure of is that this so-called ‘peace of mind’ isn’t the genuine article. It’s going to give way at some point or other and peace of mind that gives way when it is pushed too far isn’t peace of mind at all – it’s just a comforting delusion that we have temporarily bought for ourselves. Peace that is brought about by cleverness isn’t peace at all – really, it’s just ‘trouble in disguise’. It’s mental suffering waiting to happen. ‘Manufactured peace’ is actually mental suffering waiting to be unleashed on me when the time is right. So what we’re saying here is that peace which I bring about by my own efforts or my own cleverness is actually the very opposite of peace – it’s ‘phoney peace’ (or ‘make-believe well-being’) that has to be maintained and coaxed along in case it collapses on us.

 

When we talk about ‘cracking up’ or ‘having a mental breakdown’ this is what we are talking about. We’re talking about having our comfort zone collapse or disintegrate on us. We’re talking about the illusion of peace and well-being that we have invested so much time and effort in falling to pieces all around us. We’re talking about the cracks in the structure we had cobbled together getting bigger and bigger, wider and wider, until eventually it starts to look as if everything is going to fall down them. Sometimes we might even have dreams of cracks appearing in our house, or we might develop anxiety about ‘things going wrong’ or ‘things falling apart’. What we’re really frightened of is our comfort zone failing us, and what we are calling ‘our comfort zone’ is simply the mind-created version of peace or well-being that we have put in place of the real thing. So it’s not just that comfort zones always bring anxiety, our comfort zones ARE anxiety. These are two different words for the same thing!

 

Our comfort zones (which is to say, the illusion of mental health and well-being that we have bought into with the aid of society) were created in the first place by ‘fixing’ and when they start to go wrong (as they always do in the end) what we find ourselves doing is trying to fix them. “How do I fix my failing comfort zone?” I ask. Only I don’t phrase it exactly like this because I don’t see what I am trying to fix as a ‘comfort zone’. I see it as my life, or perhaps ‘who I am’. When we gain a bit of insight into what’s going on however we see that the idea of ‘fixing’ our failing comfort zones is ridiculous – ‘fixing’ didn’t work in the first place (because it never could) and so now I’m trying to ‘fix my fixing’ in the forlorn hope that repeating the mistake will somehow makes things better… And then – when my fixing of my fixing starts to come undone at the seams – presumably I am going have to start fixing my fixing of my fixing, and so on and so forth. This is what Carl Jung called the via erratum, the ‘way of error’.

 

The way of error is when we start to think that we can bring about our own mental well-being by our own efforts. Essentially, it is when we think we can successfully hoist ourselves up in the air by our own shoe-laces! It is when we think we can get ourselves out of the hole our thinking got us into by using that very same thinking. (And as Einstein is often quoted as having said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”) From a psychological perspective, we could say that ‘when we neurotically try to avoid the pain cause by own neurosis we make an even worse neurosis.’  We are attempting to avoid the fruit of our own avoidance, and at the same time allowing ourselves to hope that this secondary avoidance is somehow going to work where the first avoidance didn’t! Yet another way of explaining ‘the way of error’ is to say that it is when we keep on having to tell new and ever more inventive lies to get out of the trouble that was caused by the first lie. Clearly this road – if followed – is not going to take us to a good place…

 

Jung contrasted the via erratum with the via veritas, the ‘way of truth’. If we think about our last definition of the via erratum as ‘a lie that keeps on multiplying and growing new heads’ this makes a lot of sense. No cleverness is needed, no forcing or no coercion. All that is required is that we refrain covering it up, and let the truth come to light (as it is going to anyway). So we see our avoidances for what they are, instead of avoiding seeing them for what they are, which is what we usually do. We own up to the lie, instead of telling a new one! We can also talk about the via veritas in terms of being the fearless yet non-judgemental witness of our own lives. Being the compassionate witness of our own lives means not avoiding seeing what is going on – whatever is going on, we see it. Our normal approach – as we have said – is to straightaway try to ‘fix’ or ‘improve’ what is going on. We can’t bear to be with ourselves and so what we do is to leap straight into ‘fixing mode’ (or ‘avoiding mode’). ‘Fixing’ and ‘avoiding’ are the very same thing when it comes down to it – both come out of the very same motivation, which is fear. Being the compassionate witness of ourselves is the only thing that isn’t driven by fear. This is the only way of relating to ourselves that isn’t fundamentally aggressive. As Pema Chodron says:

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.

Pema Chodron talks a lot about cultivating the virtue of fearlessness, which is completely different from aggression – aggression being nothing other than the active aspect of fear. Our normal approach to ourselves when we are experiencing a lot of mental suffering – as we started off by saying – is to either try to fix ourselves, or to recriminate viciously against ourselves when we find that we can’t do this. It is very easy to see why self-recrimination isn’t going to help our mental health, but it isn’t so easy to see why striving to change or improve ourselves isn’t a helpful thing. Yet both ‘striving to fix or better myself’ and ‘blaming myself for not succeeding at what was never going to be possible in the first place’ are branches from the very same tree. It’s the same thing, the same impulse in both cases – it is ‘self-aggression’.

 

Once we start to see our self-aggression, and compassionately understand it for what it is, then it straightaway starts to melt. The self-aggression straightaway starts to lose its punch, its power, its ‘viciousness’.  Aggression only works under cover of ‘darkness’ (or ‘unconsciousness’) – once we bring the light of gentle, non-judgemental awareness to self-aggression then everything starts to change. Things soften up; the iron cage that is enclosing us so tightly and so painfully starts to ease up slightly and we find that we can breathe again. A bit of space comes back to us; space in which we can simply ‘be’. This life-giving change doesn’t come about as a result of ‘doing’ however – it doesn’t happen because we followed prescribed steps or used methods to make it happen. It happens by itself, quite naturally, no force needed, just as a muddy puddle clears all by itself when we stop stirring it about with a stick…

 

 

 

 

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Deprogramming Consciousness

Conscious work (which is the only kind of work worthy of the name) can be very simply explained by saying that it is when we don’t exercise prejudice. Or rather, it is when we allow ourselves to see that we are operating on the basis of prejudice since there is no way to prevent ourselves from doing so! Going against our biases doesn’t undo them, it compounds them, it makes them more complicated, more convoluted. If I fight against my prejudices then all this does is to drive them underground, and at the same time give them even more power over me…

 

In meditation training we practice ‘observing the mind of like and dislike’, which is the only way to find freedom from that mind. We can’t become free from the mind of like and dislike by being prejudiced against that mind, by taking against it (or by supposedly ‘acting against it’). If we act against anything we are inevitably acting out our prejudices – all purposeful behaviour is prejudice-driven, just as all control is biased. My purposes are my prejudices; my attempt to control is the manifestation of my bias, my ‘prejudice with regard to outcome’.

 

When we exercise prejudice or bias but do not take the trouble to be aware that this is what we are doing then this is ‘non-work’. If conscious work is how we free ourselves from the mind of like and dislike then non-work is how we sign ourselves up to be its (unconscious) slaves! One way we get back our freedom, our independence, the other way we lose it (and also lose the ability to know that we have lost it). One way we come ‘back to ourselves’, so to speak, the other way we disappear under the weight of mechanical programming. The other way we get to donate our life-energy to the mechanical system, and make it stronger than ever…

 

There are only two possibilities in life – either we work consciously or we work unconsciously. Either we move in the direction of awareness or we fall deeper and deeper into the state of sleep, into the realm of fantasy. When we are involved in conscious work our fantasies are revealed to us as fantasies, and when we (unwittingly) allow ourselves to be operated by the mechanical system then these fantasies congeal and coagulate all around us, inexorably driving out anything else, anything of a ‘non-fantasy’ nature. Our fantasies solidify around us like quick-setting concrete and as a result all genuine movement (or ‘growth’) ceases.

 

We might ask why it is that there is this inexorable pull in the direction of ‘falling asleep’, the direction of ‘identifying with the mechanical system and allowing it to live out its crude ‘pseudo-life’ through us – as if this were of any value to anyone. Why do we give way so limply, so feebly, so resignedly to all the programming, instead of rebelling against it and persevering with this revolution until we had recovered our own true voice, our own true nature? Why do we let what Colin Wilson calls ‘the internal robot’ live our lives for us? Why – when a bias or prejudice gets activated – are we so keen to put every last drop of our precious life-energy at its disposal? What kind of perversity is this?

 

The point is that when we act out the bias something is being perpetuated. Something is being perpetuated that ‘wants’ to be perpetuated (so to speak). To not act out the prejudice that has been activated is to refrain to perpetuate this ‘thing that want to be perpetuated’, whatever it is. We are going against some kind of blind mechanical force. As we have already said however, we can’t actually wilfully prevent ourselves from acting out the prejudices or biases (although we might think that we can) but what is possible is for us to be aware that we are acting them out. If I take the trouble to be aware of what I am doing (instead of just automatically validating the behaviour) this makes a very big difference however. If I am aware of myself ‘obeying the rule’ this is actually the same as me ‘not obeying the rule’ because obeying the mechanical rule also means not seeing that we are obeying it. That’s part and parcel of the rule so already I am rebelling, already I am breaking free of its control. To become aware is an act of subversion; it’s an act of insubordination – we’re not supposed to be aware, we’re supposed to obediently swallow the official story!

 

There’s actually nothing we can do in order to become more conscious. It’s not a matter of ‘doing’ – when we purposefully do something it’s because there’s something we want to gain and something we want to avoid and this equals ‘a rule’, this equals ‘a bias’. Consciousness has nothing to do with rules and biases; it has nothing to do with trying to obtain one outcome rather than another. It has nothing to do with trying to reach one state of mind rather than another. If we are trying to reach some particular state of mind then this is simply the mechanical mind trying – as it always does try – to obtain what it sees as an advantage in the game its playing. Consciousness has nothing to do with trying to obtain the advantage…

 

The notion that some states of mind are closer to the truth than others is a typical delusion of the thinking mind. “The sufferings of birth and death are nirvana”, says Nichiren Daishonin… Whether a particular state of mind seems noble or ignoble, righteous or sinful, whether it is pleasurable or painful, triumphant or despairing depends entirely upon a wholly arbitrary point of view; the value we ascribe the mind-state depends upon the game we are playing, in other words. Take away the arbitrary POV, take away the game, and all states of mind are seen for what they truly are – nirvanic bliss. It’s only the biased or prejudiced viewpoint which is the self that divides everything into either good or bad, right or wrong, pleasure or pain. Whether a mental state is regarded as advantageous or disadvantageous is only so regarded from a wholly arbitrary viewpoint, the viewpoint of a self that doesn’t really exist.

 

What we may call ‘unconscious life’ is therefore driven by the compulsion to perpetuate an unreal self. When we are compelled to obey to act out our prejudices what we are really being compelled to do is to perpetuate a self that doesn’t actually exist! And by the same token, if we cease liking and disliking everything in sight (i.e. if we cease judging) then what we are really doing is that we are ceasing to promote or perpetuate this nonexistent self. As we have already pointed out however, we cannot deliberately or purposefully refrain from promoting or perpetuating the conditioned self because anything deliberate or purposeful is always done in service of the concrete sense of self. That’s what the word deliberate means – it means that the ‘me’ is doing it. That’s what ‘purposeful’ means – it means that there is a ‘me’ that has the purpose. What is possible however is for us to be aware of the judging, aware of the ceaseless activity of liking and disliking and in this gentle, unprejudiced awareness there is no ‘me’, there is no sense of there being a ‘concrete doer’.

 

No one does awareness, after all. Awareness is not a doing and there isn’t a right and a wrong way for it to happen. Being aware of the (unreal) self and its doing is work however because this awareness is not following the pre-existent pattern. Not only is awareness not following the pre-existent pattern, the established way of seeing and doing things, it is challenging that pre-existent pattern, it is going against that established order of things. The pattern cannot continue when there is awareness and so it could be said that awareness or consciousness is the enemy of the established order. This is always how it is – consciousness is always the enemy of the established order! Where there is consciousness there is change and change – needless to say – is the sworn enemy of the existing pattern, the existing way of seeing and doing things!

 

This is not to say that the mechanical mind (which is to say, the judging mind, the mind of like and dislike) is ‘the enemy of consciousness’. In one way it could of course be said that it is indeed the enemy since the mechanical system (whether we are taking about the ‘machine mind’ or the ‘machine world’ which is society) will automatically annihilate consciousness as a matter of course. It will gobble our awareness up in a flash like the big bad wolf, like Rumi’s ‘dragon in the snow’. The machine mind / machine world will, by its very nature, eliminate all traces of awareness by unceremoniously degrading or downgrading it into a system of mere mechanical reflexes. In this way the mechanical system may be said to be the enemy of consciousness, but in another way it is not an enemy at all but a helper. The mechanical order of things that does not – by its very nature – allow anything that is not itself is only our enemy when we are unaware of it, when we conform to it without knowing that we are conforming, when we do its bidding without seeing that we are. When we take the trouble to see what is happening however, the mechanical (or group) mind provides us with the necessary training ground (or gymnasium) to regain the freedom and independence that we have lost. As Paul Levi says, the mechanical system (the ‘dark father‘) then becomes the ‘worthy adversary’ which pushes us relentlessly and pitilessly to become who we truly are…

 

 

 

 

 

Going Beyond The Game

‘Therapy’ is one thing, whilst ‘living our life consciously, just as it is’ is quite another. Therapy implies fixing – it’s hard not to use the word and yet not mean that we want to ‘do something about ourselves’. The whole point of therapy is that we aren’t happy with ourselves the way we are and we want to do something about it. One definition of counselling that has been used (just to give one typical example) is that if we engage in it we can make ‘meaningful and permanent changes’ to our lives. Simply living our lives consciously (which means something to the effect of ‘not looking the other way when something we don’t want to see happens’) has nothing to do with effecting change, either of a temporary or permanent nature. It just means being with ourselves during our day-to-day lives, and this is a very different kettle of fish. If we really do want to change ourselves then this business of ‘simply being aware of ourselves’ is not by any means an attractive prospect. It is in fact the complete opposite of an attractive prospect!

 

There is a good reason why becoming conscious of one’s own life as it is without putting any kind of a spin on it is deeply unattractive to us. Stuff doesn’t come any more unattractive. One is that we are bound in his case to see all the things about ourselves that we don’t like, which is what Jung referred to as being aware of the shadow – there’s nothing guaranteed to put us off as much as the prospect of seeing stuff about us that we would rather keep hidden. The shadow – as Jung says – is ultimately repellent – we’d do anything rather than see it. We will do the most extraordinary things rather than see it.There’s another reason too, which is not quite as straightforward to understand, and that has to do with the over-throwing of our most prized assumptions about life. We could phrase what we are talking about here in terms of ‘living your own life consciously instead of unconsciously’ which has a nice ring to it. If we did phrase it in such a way this would however be entirely misleading since the more consciously I live my life the more clearly I start to see that the life in question (the life that is supposedly ‘being lived’) isn’t actually mine!

 

There are two possibly ways we could take this dawning revelation, each being the ‘mirror-image’ of the other, so to speak. One way would be to find this insight tremendously interesting, tremendously exciting so that we want to go into it further and see where this particular road leads to, whilst the other way would be to find the whole thing deeply disturbing and unwelcome and – on this account – want to back away from it as fast as possible and go back to what we know and are comfortable with (which is the perception of this life being solely my life). If I start to perceive that the life I am living isn’t really mine at all and I am attached to the idea that it is, then this perception will of course be very unwelcome to me. If I am attached to the idea that this familiar and comfortable sense of self is a real thing and not a construct then any awareness that falsifies this sense will manifest purely as fear, purely as threat, and I will resist it with everything that I’ve got.

 

But the reason we resist the awareness that ‘I am not this self’ (and that as a consequence ‘this is not my life’) is simply because of fear, not because there is anything genuinely interesting or worthwhile about the familiar and comfortable belief in the concrete self and its viewpoint. We’re not ‘upholding a positive value’, we’re simply hiding from a challenging truth. The safe and familiar viewpoint of the everyday self is – when it comes down to it – unrelentingly tedious. We may not want to admit this to ourselves, but it is nevertheless true. Honesty would show it to be true every time. This business of seeing everything from that narrow, limited, eternally fixed viewpoint seems, at the start, to have great possibilities in it but this perception of possibilities is entirely illusory. The self can be pleased with what is happening or it can be displeased, but this polarity (i.e. the polarity of ‘like versus dislike’) represents the limit of what is possible for it.

 

From the narrow perspective of the self if something happens that is advantageous to me, that is to my considerable benefit, then this is the best possible outcome. Things don’t get any better than this. I am frankly not interested in anything that goes beyond this! ‘Beyond my own advantage’ doesn’t exist as far as I am concerned. And yet the thing is that we are not this limited little self – we are much, much more than that. The self is not who we genuinely are – as contradictory as that may sound – it’s just a sterile little that we’re caught up in. It’s just a sterile little game that we keep playing over and over again because it has this terrible hypnotic power over us. We play it compulsively, we play it because we can’t not play it. We play the game of the self because the game has total power over us, just as a hypnotist has power over his victim…

 

Given that we are so much more than this little self to be constrained in the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain is incredibly tedious. How can it not be tedious? The game of self is INFINITELY tedious – if we could see it with unfettered consciousness we would see that it is a horror. The game of self is a living death. It is the tomb of life. The process of life is therefore the process of going beyond this game; if we don’t go beyond the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain then the impulse of life has been thwarted and our suffering and frustration will grow as a result. In this case we can say that life has not kicked in yet; we can say that life has not even begun yet because life is a reaching out beyond the self and its tedious games, not the state of permanent fascination with them…

 

Life has only one direction – we might say – and that is the direction of moving beyond the self. The other direction – the trying of trying ever harder to successfully act out the narrow agenda of the self – isn’t a direction at all. It isn’t a direction at all because it doesn’t lead us anywhere, because it doesn’t take us anywhere. The self and its sterile game of ‘advantage versus disadvantage’ is not anywhere. It’s not anywhere because [1] This is self is not who we are, and so it is always taking us away from who we are, and [2] it doesn’t actually exist in the first place!

 

So of course the direction of moving beyond the self is tremendously interesting and tremendously exciting – this is the direction of life itself. This is the greatest adventure there is; this is the ONLY adventure there is! The only adventure worthy of the name is the adventure of leaving the self behind – anything else is merely distraction. Anything else is merely entertainment for the self. The repetitively tiresome antics of the self do not constitute an adventure – they constitute the avoidance of the adventure.

 

Moving in the direction of discovering that it is not ‘me’ who is living this life corresponds we might say to what Joseph Campbell calls ‘The Hero’s Journey’. The Hero’s Journey is when we move beyond our self-imposed limits, it is – according to Joseph Campbell – when we ‘leave the playpen’ and move out into the real world. Only a hero can make this journey become moving beyond the limits of the known is a hugely challenging thing – we need everything we’ve got to go on this journey, we need all of our resources as human beings. We can’t simply ‘do it on automatic’ in the same way that we do everything else. We can’t do it by following orders, we can’t do it in our sleep. Anthony De Mello is talking about the same thing when we says that when we go to see a psychotherapist this isn’t because we want to grow or change (or ‘wake up‘), it’s because we want to have our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We want to go back to the game; we want to go back to the play-pen where we feel safe. The play-pen has a terrible fascination, a terrible power over us…

 

The point we were making a moment ago was that anything which isn’t a ‘going beyond the self’ is an avoidance tactic, is a red-herring, is a decoy with which to divert ourselves. ‘Refusal of the call converts the adventure into its negative’ says Joseph Campbell and it is by utilizing distractions or red herring that we facilitate ourselves in avoiding the call to adventure. Society specializes in the provision of such distractions, such red herrings – distractions and red herrings are its ‘stock in trade’! The ‘collective of us’ – which we call society or ‘the social system’ – has nothing at all to do with our emergence as truly autonomous individuals; it stunts and represses our growth as the true individuals we are at every opportunity. It might seem strange (or hard to believe) that society should be opposed to our growth; we naturally assume it to be for our ‘common good’, as the expression has it. Society is however like a parent who provides us with food and shelter, but who refuses to allow our growth. They might say, “Aren’t I looking after you?” but being a parent involves more than just providing food, clothing and somewhere to sleep; it involves fostering independence of thought, it involves fostering autonomy – not making your charges into your slaves.

 

There really is no other way that what Jung calls ‘collective thinking’ can work – collective thinking necessarily works on generic lines and the generic is always inimical to the individual, to the unique. Society (like all groups, like all ‘collectives’) is an equilibrium system and as such it values only the equilibrium. All mechanical or rule-based systems only ‘care’ about one thing and that is that the rules are obeyed. The inbuilt tendency of the group to inhibit the psychological growth of the people making up the group is a very well known phenomenon. What psychotherapist has not seen her clients’ growth and mental health being compromised by either family or peer-group or society in general? The social group – if we may consider it as an entity in its own right, which is what it functions as – values only its own stability, it values only it own continuation, its own pointless perpetuity. If the group were to be favourably disposed to the psychological growth of its members then this would be the same thing as it being ‘favourably disposed to its own dissolution’. This is just not going to happen – the true individual may sacrifice himself or herself, but the collective never will.

 

If we think in terms of a large organization, in which there are always rules and regulations for everything, we can easily appreciate that it is no good you or me deciding that there is a better way to do things, and as a result disregarding the protocols that are already in existence. As far as the organization is concerned, this is simply ‘non-compliance’.  It is simply ‘an error in the system’ and as such it has to be corrected – one simply can’t exist as an individual in an organization, in a collective. It’s either ‘the organization’s way or the highway’. Collective thinking rules supreme – one just doesn’t ‘go against the group mind’! Even if it were possible (which in theory it may be) to make changes by going through the correct channels no radical change will ever be approved, only those changes that fit in with the over-all aim of the system. The system may be optimized, but it will never be meaningfully changed from within!

 

All human collectives actively block and repress ‘the Hero’s Journey’, therefore. You can’t be a hero if you’re owned by the system! The group of people (most of us) who agree to stay within the bounds of the world-view that has been provided for us by the group mind is the group of people who have tacitly agreed to allow themselves to be distracted or diverted from this Journey. Personal growth ends, individuality dies stillborn, and all in the name of our ‘allegiance to the common good’, all in the name of what is laughably called ‘being responsible’. We get to feel that we are being ‘responsible adults’ and we get to live the safe, predictable life that has been mapped out for us, but only at the price of the loss of our true individuality (which equals ‘our inner death’) – which clearly does not bode well for the future of the collective!

 

Society sneakily ‘blocks our growth’ by putting us under constant pressure to improve or develop ourselves. This is done in an apparently empowering way but what society really means when it talks about self-development or self-improvement is self-development or self-improvement in its terms. We are to get better at playing the game which it has given us to play; we are to get better at playing the game which is it. Really, we are being encouraged the whole time to adapt ourselves to the machine and this – of course – necessarily means becoming more and more ‘machine-like’ ourselves! The collective thinking that we have been talking about is the machine; the group-mind is the machine-mind. Naturally the group-mind is a machine because it is all about following rules and regulations and that’s what a machine is. That’s what a machine is – it’s a ‘rule-based system’. We’re a machine when we follow the rules rather than our own intuition. We are obliged to keep trying to better ourselves in line with the current trends, we are obliged to keep up our personal development even though this so-called ‘personal development’ actually has nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are! We’re ‘progressing within a dream’…

 

In short, the social system offers us the means of maintaining, promoting, upgrading and accessorizing the ‘self-construct’, which is the denial of our true, undefined (or unregulated) nature. Society is a machine and so is the everyday mind – both are based on precedent, both are based on rules, both function on the basis of fear (which is to say, ‘the automatic avoidance of the new’). So here we are caught between the two tyrants of the thinking mind and rule-based society (both of which being aspects of the same thing, as David Bohm says) and somehow we have to find our own way. Our way is not the machine’s way, our way is not society’s way. And as difficult as it is, this is the task that lies before us. This is the Hero’s Journey. Living one’s own life (and not some idea of what it ought to be) is the Hero’s Journey, and if we find the courage to take this journey we discover that the one who we thought was having the life in question, or living the life in question isn’t actually who we are at all.

 

Living one’s life consciously is no easy matter, even though it is at the same time the most natural and straightforward thing in the world. The curious thing is though that life isn’t something we have to ‘do’, it’s not a duty or ‘responsibility’ (in the way that we have been persuaded or bullied to understand it to be). The curious thing is that we don’t live life! Nobody lives life, strangely enough. On the contrary, life lives itself through us, if we let it…

 

 

 

 

Doing and Being

We live in a world in which being has been replaced by doing. Isn’t doing great, we are constantly saying to ourselves, isn’t all this doing quite marvellous? How splendidly inspiring it is – we must do more of it. We must work harder at it; we must get better and better at it. We must do more doing…

 

We have become so busy with our constant doing that we can’t see that it is not great at all really. We are so intoxicated with doing that we can’t see that it’s not really worth anything, just as money or status in society isn’t really worth anything. It’s hollow, devoid of substance, devoid of value and integrity. Its a sham. We’re so busy with our doing that we can no longer remember how good being was. We’ve been cheated by our own greed.

 

Doing is a strange sickness, a sickness that makes us hungry and hollow; it makes us hungry and hollow at the same time as tantalizing us and titillating us with promises of what we are to receive as a result of it. These crazy-making promises are what drive us to keep on trying to improve our doing, make it more effective, make it more efficient. The tantalizing images are what drive us to be forever investing more and more of ourselves in the never-ending doing…

 

And yet the more invested in doing we become the more inwardly impoverished we get as a result. Doing doesn’t take us towards being; it takes us further and further away from it! Doing always takes us away from being; doing always impoverishes us. Doing equals ‘straining after phantoms’ or ‘chasing after mirages’, so how can it not impoverish us? The more fixated on hollow images we are the more we turn our backs on being, and yet being is all there is.

 

Being is all there is, but we are constantly straining and striving in the opposite direction! And yet there isn’t an ‘opposite direction’ – how could there be an ‘opposite direction’ to being? How could there be anything other than the True, or the Real? And yet somehow we want something else, something better. We want improvement. We are constantly looking for something that doesn’t exist and the more we invest in looking for it the hungrier we are getting. Our appetite can’t be satisfied by being anymore; being is no good to us anymore because we have turned away from it. Being can’t nourish our souls anymore because we don’t believe in souls; we don’t believe in souls any more than we believe in being.

 

So what we’re hungry for when we’re caught up in doing is something that doesn’t exist in the real world. We don’t actually know what it is, if we were to be honest about it. We lazily imagine that we do know; we very flippantly assume that we know but if we were to carefully examine what it is that we are yearning for, what we think it would be if we got it, then we would discover that we are not actually able to say. It’s as if we are getting excited about some half-baked idea, some sort of a notion that wouldn’t make sense in the light of day. We’re consumed with an insatiable hunger for some kind of hollow fantasy.

 

The fantasy is given life by our unacknowledged inner impoverishment. Strangely, therefore, the illusions we are getting so excited about when we are caught up in our feverish doing are ‘fuelled’ by our lack of being. Lack of being fuels doing and doing causes us to lose being, and this is the vicious circle we are caught up in. The hungrier we are the more we impoverish ourselves by investing ourselves in doing; the more impoverished we become the hungrier we are and the hungrier we are the more we are driven to invest ourselves further in yet more doing…

 

All the talk is of plans and procedures, strategies and skills, tools and methods, as if by the pure stubborn weight of our ‘will to control’ we can tear down being from the heavens and compel it to be at our disposal. We imagine that we can browbeat life into ‘coming up with the goods’ with our plans and procedure, our pestilential bureacracies. It is as if we simply cannot conceive – cannot allow ourselves to conceive – that it’s just not possible for us to get our own way. We are flatly convinced that it is right and proper and perfectly in line with the principles of the universe that we should be able to get what we want out of life. Our commitment to self-deception is immense in this regard, but that doesn’t make our chances of getting what we want any the greater. Being doesn’t come out of doing, no matter how hard we push it! Being can’t be squeezed out of doing, no matter what fancy talk or fancy theories we come out with. No theory – no matter how fancy it is, no matter how impressive it sounds – can EVER convert doing into being!

 

As is very clear indeed to anyone who cares to take a look around them, we live in a world in which doing has replaced being. We live in a world that is fueled by fantasy.There’s no being anywhere – there’s only talk of how great everything is going to be when we have completed all our plans, when we have successfully carried out all our strategies. We’re busy chasing that preposterous hallucination called ‘winning’ or ‘success’ – ‘winning’ is the hallucinatory analogue of being that we believe in when we live in a world that is ruled by doing and thinking (which is a form of doing). It’s a meaningless half-baked notion that we take very seriously indeed. Its our god.

 

The hunger to win (or succeed) is the sickness that we are all afflicted with. It is a sickness because it can never be satisfied; it is a sickness because it only ever leads to pain, pain, and more pain. It is a sickness because it makes us turn our backs on the only thing that can ever bring us true peace and happiness, which is actual being…

 

 

Art: Igor Morsky

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

The default situation is one in which consciousness is held prisoner by the thinking mind on a full time basis. We don’t ‘think’ that this is the default situation but it is. There are – we might say – two elements here: on the one hand there is the thinking mind (which is made up of repeating patterns) and on the other hand there is consciousness, its captive.

 

Consciousness is the fair maiden and the thinking mind the fearsome dragon! This dragon – as dragons usually are – is more than a match for any ordinary opponent. Only a hero has a chance against such a powerful adversary, and heroes are few and far between these days. They are somewhat thin on the ground – this, it is fair to say, is not an age for heroes. Consciousness, it appears, is not about to be freed from its grim prison any time soon…

 

In this age, in this modern ‘enlightened’ era, we have no understanding of consciousness as being in any way different or separate from the lumbering thinking mind. The suggestion that consciousness has its own life outside of thought and the realm created by thought does not tend to resonate particular strongly with us. It does not tend to resonate at all. Without the over-arching framework of thought (so we ‘think’!) what could consciousness possibly get up to? How could it be any use – what ends could it serve?

 

As we have just indicated, this is what we think, and the thinking mind never sees its own limitations. It never sees that there could be any life outside of it and its tiresome machinations. As far as thought is concerned everything has to be directed towards an end; if something isn’t serving some end or other then what use is it, what’s the point of it? This is the way rationality looks at things. Because we live in a world that is governed by thought, has been constructed by thought, nothing is given any value unless it serves some end. Thus, to say that something is ‘pointless’ or ‘useless’ is to roundly denigrate it; when we say this there is real viciousness, real unpleasantness in it – the thinking mind has no time for anything ‘useless’. But when we consider the bigger picture – which is something that the thinking mind cannot ever do, since it can only ever concern itself with a single slice of the pie, not the pie itself – we see that all this talk of things ‘having a purpose’ or ‘serving some end’ is quite ridiculous. When we gain a bit of perspective all of this talk becomes utterly nonsensical.

 

When we consider the whole pie (i.e. life as a whole) rather than just the slice then we see that the notion of purpose (or ‘having a purpose’) is pure foolishness. It is not simply foolish, it is deranged. ‘Uses’ or ‘purposes’ exist only in relation to the narrow view of things; they only come into being when we are looking at the relationship between the elements that we see as existing when we look at a partial  (or fractional) view of life. I can say that I am doing X because of Y, that Y is the reason for X and this works fine just as long as we are looking at the fractional view of the world (which is to say, when we are unconsciously excluding anything that does not fit into or have any bearing on this narrow viewpoint). Causality (or ‘purposefulness’) only has any meaning when we take the part to be the whole, in other words; it only has any validity when we are not relating to life / the world as a Whole, which is of course what it is.

 

Living life on the basis of ‘purposes’ or ‘uses’ is like robbing Peter to pay Paul – it only seems to work on the small scale of things. In reality – as we all know perfectly well – it doesn’t work at all!  In exactly the same way we can generate the illusion of ‘progress’ by taking a very narrow view of what’s going on , but this again is pure trickery – we’re only chasing ourselves around in circles. All we’re ever doing is keeping ourselves perpetually busy, perpetually ‘on the hop’. The thinking mind is always working towards some end or other; the thing about this however is that – in reality – there are no ends!

 

What happens when we reach one of these supposed ‘ends’? Clearly when we get to the end we stop; we stop because we have to stop, we stop because there’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. So we just sit there in our imaginary ‘end-point’, satisfied that we have now ‘got there’, satisfied that we have now ‘arrived’. We dig in, we set up camp; we get entrenched and start erecting heavy-duty fortifications (just in case something or someone wants to dislodge us). We’ve attained the prize and we’re not about to let someone take it away from us! So we make a meal of not moving on, of staying stuck in our so-called ‘end’ that isn’t an end at all but only something that the thinking mind has made up. We make a virtue of being stuck, aggressively ignoring or pushing away all the other possibilities that life has to offer and this is the way that consciousness gets to be held prisoner so effectively by the thinking mind.

 

This ‘imprisoning mechanism’ functions (we could say) on two levels. The first and primary level is the one that we have just been talking about: because of the way we see the arbitrary mind-created position as ‘who we are’ and then spend all of our time defending and promoting it, trying to make everything in our environment serve it, we never see that we don’t have to be doing this. We have – because of what the thinking mind is telling us – made a virtue of our stuckness, our unfreeness, which means that we are now totally and implacably resistant to hearing a word said against it. We have become stubborn, we have become obstinate and the more pressure we’re under the more stubborn and obstinate we become! This is one way which in which we are imprisoned – by being brainwashed by the thinking mind (which loves concrete categories and fixed viewpoints) into implacably resisting change, or by ‘celebrating a fixed and reality-resistant self’ (which is of course the same thing).

 

The secondary way in which consciousness is imprisoned by thought follows on from the first. The thing is that when we are identified with a fixed and reality-resistant self (i.e. when we reach the ‘terminal destination’ of who and what thought says we are) then we find of course that we suffer greatly from our stuckness. Stuckness is suffering, ‘stuck’ is another word for suffering. We have become sterile, we have become barren of possibilities – all we can do is to keep on going through the same old manoeuvres, the same old stale and tortuously familiar routines. The compulsory repetition of the old, the familiar is torture, even if we are at the same time perversely fond of it, so at this point, rather than being about ‘exploring the new’, life becomes all about entertaining ourselves so as to distract ourselves from being aware of our terminal stuckness.

 

Our modality of entertaining ourselves follows exactly the same pattern we started off with when we identified with the fixed or final viewpoint that is the conditioned self – we pick out an arbitrary position as being ‘an end in itself’ and then work as hard as we can towards attaining or realizing this end. Once we have an ‘end’ in mind then everything else becomes subsidiary to it; nothing exists for us or has any relevance unless it has some sort of relation to the goal we are trying to attain. We develop ‘tunnel vision’, in other words, and this tunnel vision over-simplifies reality for us so that everything becomes about either succeeding in our task or not succeeding. This is a profoundly unreflective state of mind- we are in no way interested in asking questions about why it is so great if we attain the goal, or so bad if we don’t. All our attention goes into the ‘how’ of the situation not the ‘why’. Then when we have attained the goal we move on to the next, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

 

This terminal unreflectiveness is precisely what ‘consciousness’s prison’. This is what makes up the jail that we are perpetually languishing in – the compulsion that we do not see as a compulsion, but our own free will. The compulsion that we are talking about here is the compulsion to obey the rules of the game that has been set up for us to play, without ever questioning them. The game that we are playing is our prison, in other words. We think we’re playing the game but we’re not – the game is compulsory, which is to say, the tables have been turned without us realizing it and the game is playing us!

 

The thinking mind is the game creator. If we were to know the thinking mind for what it is, we would know it as the creator of games! It doesn’t let us know it as such however – it veils its true nature from us better than anything is ever veiled. We never see the mind’s productions as games! To suggest to someone that their thoughts are merely games, and that the mind-created picture they have of themselves and the world is also a game is to invite incredulity, if not outright hostility. Our thoughts are serious; our idea or beliefs about ourselves and the world are deadly serious – wars are fought over these arbitrary mental constructs. Actually, all the wars that have ever been fought are ultimately over ideas that we refuse to see as just ‘ideas’, thoughts that we take as seriously as can be. All aggression, all violence, all cruelty comes from taking the productions of the thinking mind seriously, and never ever looking beyond them to their mechanical creator, the rule-based mind.

 

When we do see beyond the humourless productions of the thinking mind then this is consciousness escaping from its prison of seriously, its prison of ‘a game that it cannot see to be only a game’. A game, as we have said earlier, is where we have a tunnel vision of reality. What attracts us to the tunnel vision of reality is the very thing that strangles and suffocates us – it’s closure. We are attracted to having everything decided for us, everything determined for us, because it is safe, because there’s nothing there that is ever going to take us by surprise, because we never going to learn that what we previously took to be true isn’t actually true at all. That really isn’t the type of surprise we want to have! What we’re forever chasing after are definites, outcomes that makes sense within the accepted framework, outcomes that reflect the values of the accepted framework, outcomes that are the concrete manifestation of the accepted framework. We don’t like to have the uncertainty of not knowing whether we should chase after these outcomes or whether we should not – we like to have all of these details ‘decided for us’ by the game. [We don’t like freedom, in other words.]Then all we have to do is put all our efforts and attention into achieving the designated goals, the designated outcomes.  All we have to do is ‘successfully obey the rules’…

 

So playing the game ensures that we will never have to be reflective, and this means that everything is going to be ‘safe’. ‘Safety’ comes out of never being reflective, which is the same thing as never being conscious. We could also say therefore that the thinking mind keeps consciousness in prison by constantly finding tasks for it to do. We are kept constantly busy; we are constantly tied up with petty tasks. Hence Socrates says, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” It doesn’t matter what game we are playing, or what the goals are – that’s not the point. The point isn’t the real point. The real point is to keep us busy, to keep us tied up. That is the point behind all games. The ‘horror’ is pointless never-ending self-validating busy-ness therefore and this is exactly what our culture or ‘civilization’ provides us with on a full-time basis. That’s what our culture is all about – empty distractions, empty entertainment, futile tasks, all dressed up and made somehow glamorous. We are in thrall to Norton Juster’s The Terrible Trivium.

 

The prison is unremitting concrete purposefulness. Purposefulness is the prison because when we’re caught up in it (i.e. when we’re taking our purposes seriously) – then we’re just not there. We’re absent.There is no consciousness in concrete unremitting purposefulness and yet consciousness is who we are.

 

What happens if we stop being busy? We notice the world around us with all its wonders. What happens if we don’t stop, if we stay locked up in our sterile games? Then we notice neither the world around us nor ourselves….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Cling To You Lose

mirage.jpg.scaled500

‘What you cling to you lose’, the Buddha is reported as saying (or ‘what you don’t let go of you lose‘, which comes to the same thing). “Aah,” we might reply in all our Western sophistication, “but if we’re not holding on to it then we don’t have it anyway and so what’s the difference?” What’s the difference between losing because we’re holding on to it and losing it because we never tried to win it in the first place?

 

Another thing the Buddha might have said however is that when we cling we create a false self. When we hold on we create the illusion of who we think we are but actually aren’t. Once this is taken into account then it changes everything – not only do we lose whatever it is we are so determinedly clinging to (and experience therefore the anguish of loss that goes with this), we’re suffering in vain because it wasn’t us who wanted it in the first place but ‘the mistaken notion of who we thought we are’. We’re suffering in vain because we’re not really the clinger who loses – we just think we are.

 

When we cling we create, by this act, ‘the clinger’, but this clinger is not at all who we are. The clinger is the false idea of who we are; the clinger is the false self, the ‘self who we are not’. To this false self, to this clinger, to this ‘attached one’, the thing that is being clung to is of course very important indeed. The strength of the clinging is a measure of this importance and the strength (or rather, the pure desperation) of this clinging goes off the scale. The urgency (or rather desperation) of our clinging has no end, no limits…

 

The ironic point about all this however is that ‘the thing that is being clung to’ is desperately important only to the clinger and the clinger (as we have been saying) isn’t who we are. The thing we are clinging to is desperately important to the false self, to the ‘mistaken idea of who we are’, but not at all important to who we really are. How can we be so sure of this? Simply because what the false self, the ‘clinger’, the ‘attached one’, is clinging to is actually itself.

 

The attached one, the clinger, only really cares about one thing and that is itself. What else would it be attached to? It is not attached to anything other than itself, and never could be. We can understand this very clearly just as soon as we see that clinging is how we create the self. That’s the whole point of clinging, that’s the ‘secret agenda’ behind this whole tiresome business of attachment. We naively imagine that when we grasp we are wanting to obtain something to benefit the self, something to enhance or augment or accessorize the self but this isn’t true. The bottom line is that what we’re doing when we cling (or strive) is to create the one who clings, to create the one who strives…

 

It could be said perhaps that from a psychological point of view what we’re  trying to obtain by our clinging and striving (to / for whatever it is that we’re clinging / striving to/for) is an increase in our sense of ontological security. This is true, but what constitutes ontological security for the false self is the belief that it actually exists when it doesn’t! ‘Striving for ontological security’ is the very same thing as ‘striving to exist’, therefore.

 

This is a tremendously frustrating sort of a business, obviously. When we play the game which we don’t know to be a game (the game that we exist as this concrete self when we don’t) there is only one thing that really matters to us and that thing is obtaining a type of security that just isn’t possible for us. Obtaining the sense of security that we are so painfully missing (necessarily missing, since the false or attached self doesn’t actually exist) is more important to us than anything else. It is desperately important to us in fact and at yet the same time as being desperately important it is at the same time flatly impossible. This isn’t just ‘a tremendously frustrating situation’, it’s the most frustrating situation there ever could be! It’s also the situation we find ourselves in every day.

 

In one way this strategy might be said to be working for us. It works for us in the sense that we get to believe very firmly indeed that we are this concrete self, for good or for bad, for better or for worse. We REALLY DO get to believe that we are the wanter, the striver, the clinger! The other side of the coin is however that we have to base our life on believing that we can obtain something that we can’t actually obtain, and at the same time avoid something that we can’t really avoid. We’re always ‘straining in a futile way’, therefore, and this straining is suffering.

 

The straining is futile because there is never a satisfactory outcome, because we can never ever get the result that we want to get (although it on occasion might for a while seem to us that we have). In another sense – as we have just said – the painful straining isn’t futile because we have created a self. As Alan Watts says in one of his talks, this painful knot of futile straining is the self! By striving to achieve the goal we create the striver, the wanter, the hoper. By planning and scheming we create the planner, the schemer. Is the planner or schemer ever happy? Plainly not, but who cares? Ultimately, it’s not being happy we care about but possessing – however temporarily – a misleading sense of ontological security. It’s believing that we are this ‘concrete self’ that matters, not anything else.

 

The wanter and the striver, the schemer and the planner, cannot ever be happy, obviously. If we’re wanting then by definition we’re not happy. By definition we are suffering. We haven’t got what we think we need, so how can we be happy? We have something else instead of happiness though – we have a workable substitute and the substitute is the excitement we experience when we (falsely) believe that we really are going obtain what we are so determinedly looking for. This ‘enjoyable excitement’ is a fool’s paradise, however – it’s all just a mirage that’s about to vanish into thin air the moment I close my hand on the prize. And the greater my excitement was beforehand, the greater the let-down is going to be afterwards when the mirage slips through my fingers (as it always does, as it always has done, as it always will do).

 

Once the prize has slipped (yet again) from my fingers then there is nothing for it but to go chasing after the next ‘object of desire’; I have to start playing the game again so that I can receive the next dose of enjoyable excitement. I have no choice apart from ‘playing the game all over again’ because this is the only way I know of getting to feel good again. I need this feeling of pleasurable anticipation – I am addicted to it, I am a slave to it. All I know is the euphoria of hope and the anguished let-down of loss and I crave the former just as much as a hate and the fear the latter. This attraction to euphoria and aversion to dysphoria is what traps me in the ultimately unfulfilling cycle of conditioned existence therefore. This is what traps me in the game of samsara.

 

Not only have I made myself into a slave of the enjoyable excitement (which is ‘the rapture of self-creation’) therefore, I have at the same time set up another master over me – that master being the negative excitement (or dysphoria) which is dread and anxiety. What I am in dread of is also only an empty mirage, but it is very real to me because that is the game I am playing. Because I want so much to believe in the concrete self, I have to be a slave to the fear that comes with it. The ‘addictive excitement’ of which we speak is nothing other than the excitement of creating the self but any pleasurable excitement which I manage to gain in the game is always going to be counterbalanced or cancelled out later on by unpleasant variety! This ‘pleasurable excitement’ is what Daisaku Ikeda calls the state of rapture. Because I crave euphoria so much, I have to make myself subject to the dreadful scourge of dysphoria. In order to have what like I also have to have what I don’t like. If I am to believe in the ‘positive’ euphoria-producing projections then I also have to believe in the ‘negative’ (dysphoria-producing) ones.

 

So in this game not only am I compelled to be forever chasing after attractive illusions, I am also compelled to be forever fleeing the frightening ones. This game – the game that I am playing – is the game of the self, and this is how I CREATE the self – by planning and scheming, by hoping and striving, by constantly chasing after attractive illusions and running away from repellent ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monkey-Trap

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What creates a sense of identity is being trapped – as soon as we cease to be trapped, we lose our identity! As Jean Baudrillard says, “It’s always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.”

 

This is a crucial insight – it is the crucial insight – without it we aren’t getting anywhere. Or rather, without it we are going to be continually thinking that we are getting somewhere when we aren’t, and aren’t ever going to be. Without this insight we are going to be continually thinking that we actually genuinely honestly do want to ‘get somewhere’ when the unpalatable truth is that – deep down – we don’t!

 

What we’re looking at here is nothing other than the ‘jinx’ behind everyday unconscious life, therefore – the jinx that we are permanently oblivious to, permanently ignorant of. Even psychologists – who we might expect to know all about this particular double-bind – know nothing of its existence, of its invisible centrality to human life. Any mention of it is conspicuously absence from the training manuals that health services require their therapists to follow. Therapy – or rather so-called ‘therapy’ – proceeds in the absence of any awareness of this fundamental jinx.

 

Our everyday existence is fundamentally self-contradictory and we know nothing of this. We remain sublimely ignorant of the glitch that we are talking about here – we couldn’t be more ignorant of it. We are maximally ignorant of it. We take it for granted that everything is all very straightforward so when we do run into a brick wall as far as this endeavour of  ‘changing ourselves’ goes all we can do is blame ourselves for not trying hard enough; all we can do is castigate ourselves for being weak or unaccountably ineffectual. Those around us are very much inclined to hold us accountable for our lack of progress too, although they may not say it in so many words…

 

The mental health industry is rife with this type of implicit blaming! There is no way for things to be otherwise if we hold (as we do hold) that it is possible for us to change ourselves from unhappy, self-sabotaging states of mind to happy and peaceful ones just by some straightforward application of effort via some kind established method or protocol. We are simply incapable of doubting our hallowed methods or protocols – rule-based procedures are God as far as we are concerned and we will not hear a word said against them! This being the case, how can we not blame – either implicitly or explicitly – those who are subjected to the therapeutic rationale and yet fail to change their thinking or behaviour?  We have no choice in our blaming because of our belief in the unquestionable efficacy of our mechanical methods.

 

The essential problem that we aren’t addressing with all our models and methodologies is that any genuine attempt to change is always going to involve the sacrifice of our identity, which is the one thing we never want to do. There is an unacknowledged paradox at the heart of all rational therapy – the paradox being that the self is fundamentally incapable of wanting to change itself. The self can never relinquish the self. The conditioned self only has one form of behaviour and that is behaviour that is geared towards securing its own advantage. The self always acts to maintain its own essential integrity, in other words. This is its ‘essential mechanism’.

 

The fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is the motivation to preserve and extend the self, the identity, and this motivation – for reasons that we have already given – is fundamentally incompatible with a genuine wish for freedom. We don’t really want freedom, as Erich Fromm has pointed out. Freedom is actually our greatest fear! We say that we value freedom above all else but we don’t really mean it. If the sense of identity which we are trying to optimize via rational thought and behaviour is created by being trapped, being limited without knowing that we are limited, and if the only way to escape the pain that comes with being trapped or unknowingly limited is by relinquishing these self-imposed limits, then this straightaway becomes a cure that we do not want. We no longer have any appetite for the cure, if this is what it entails…

 

This then is the dilemma that we find ourselves in. We can’t bear the misery that comes with being trapped but at the same time we are fundamentally dependent upon that trap for our sense of identity, which is the most important thing in the world for us. We really are caught here therefore – there’s no way we are ever going to sacrifice our precious sense of identity, our sense of ‘being this defined self’ and so there is no real possibility of us ever escaping the yoke of suffering that conditioned existence places upon us.

 

We don’t really want to change anything important, anything major, and yet at the same time we can’t simply ‘stay as we are’. We can’t stay where we are either because seeing that there is actually no way that we will ever be free from this pain, this unmitigated misery, would be fundamentally unbearable to us. We just couldn’t carry on the way we are if we had this insight – that’s how crushing it is. The awareness of the truth of our situation would totally banjax the mechanism of the conditioned self. We solve this dilemma in the only way we can therefore – by not facing up to the fact that we don’t actually want to change.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we solve the dilemma by being fundamentally insincere. It’s not that we ‘choose’ to be insincere – we don’t have any choice in the matter. Our nature as conditioned beings is such that we always want to be moving away from pain; this drive to avoid pain is ‘built into us’, so to speak. As we have already said, the fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is to maintain our sense of identity, our sense of being this defined self, and mental pain is pain to us precisely because it threatens this sense of self. Just as physical pain is as inimical to us as it is because it threatens our physical organism in some way, mental pain is as profoundly unwelcome to us as it is because it threats the integrity of our self-concept. Another way to put this is to say that our fundamental motivation is fear – fear is the self-concept’s relationship with unconditioned reality!

 

So we say one thing and do another. We might – as part of our strategy – go through the motions of doing whatever it is that we (supposedly) need to do in order to change but we don’t really mean it. It’s all an act that I am putting on – not so much to fool others as it is to fool myself. I need to believe that I am taking steps to better my situation, to make things more tolerable for myself. This is as we have said my basic tropism – I have to be moving away from pain (or rather, I have to believe that I am moving away from pain). Because as a conditioned being I am driven by fear in everything I do, I have no choice in doing anything other than running!

 

It’s all running as far as the conditioned self is concerned. Even if I run towards pain (or take on difficult stuff) it’s only because I believe that I can in this way ultimately reduce my pain. Even my moving towards pain is running, therefore! Even when I take part in therapy this is running. All purposeful behaviour is running because all purposeful behaviour is ultimately driven by the need to avoid pain (or fear). All my goals are pain-avoidance – my goals are attractive to me in the way that they are because they represent an escape from fear. My goals ARE my fear, therefore.

 

Being a slave to fear means that I have to run. But even though I am ostensibly running away from pain, at the same time, on a core level, I have absolutely no intention of ever relinquishing the pain-producing trap that I am in. All I can do therefore is to carry on living the theatre in which I am working to better my situation, and this means making sure that I remain unconscious of my true motivation. I have to split myself in two, so to speak – I have to exist on the theatrical level where I believe the cover story of what is going on, and I also have to operate on the level where I have to stick around to make sure that there is never any chance of anything ever changing…

 

This situation sounds utterly hopeless but of course it isn’t. What we are looking at here is the classic ‘monkey trap’ – the monkey is trapped because of his greed, he is trapped because of the way in which has greed will not let him relinquish the precious fistful of peanuts that he has just acquired. Because he cannot let go of the peanuts he cannot withdraw his hand from the narrow neck of the bottle in which he found the nuts; because of his stubborn refusal to let go of the prize the monkey cannot bring himself to free himself! Escaping from the trap is the easiest, most straightforward thing in the world – all we have to do is forfeit the peanuts. All we have to do is value freedom more than we value the claustrophobic illusion of the self-image!