Mental Health Is Not A Goal

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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The Devaluation Of Consciousness

Consciousness is the least valuable commodity there is – we can sell just about everything else but we can’t sell this! Consciousness is garbage to us; we would not stoop to pick it off the street. It’s worse than garbage actually – consciousness is something that we have put on the banned list, it is something that we make every effort to keep at a safe distance. Consciousness is the uninvited guest at the party who will be thrown out unceremoniously by heavily armed security men if she ever dares to show her face…

 

To say that consciousness is inconvenient to us is of course to put it very mildly indeed! Consciousness is the one thing that is guaranteed to upset every apple-cart. It is guaranteed to throw all of our structures into disarray, and reduce them to rubble in moments. Consciousness destabilizes our structures to the point where they are not able to exist anymore. It falsifies all of the assumptions that our systems rest upon. How then can we possibly value consciousness, given that we are so very heavily invested in all of these structures and systems that we have created? To value consciousness is to value truth and truth is the very last thing we want to know about in this modern world of ours, no matter what we say.

 

It might seem that we live in an enlightened era which exists in stark contrast to earlier times when the human race was ruled by ignorance, prejudice and superstition, but if we think this then we’re looking at things with rose-tinted spectacles. People are not behaving very differently, when it comes down to it. What has happened (and it is admittedly very dramatic) is that we have got a lot better at controlling our physical environment and manipulating whatever we are able to manipulate. We can pull off a lot of tricks and they are quite spectacular. We have become very skilful at carrying out certain technical manoeuvres but if this skilfulness exists without any relationship to actual consciousness, then we’re in big trouble – to put it mildly. When there is no consciousness in the picture (and there isn’t) then things can hardly be expected to work out well…

 

If we have this hugely enhanced ability to manipulate the physical world but at the same time our actual level of awareness hasn’t changed very much (if at all) then we are in heading in one direction only and that is the direction of deceiving ourselves, and then enslaving ourselves with our self-deceptions. It has been said many times that when our cleverness outstrips our wisdom then we’re headed for disaster and how could this be otherwise? We don’t tend to see this because we imagine that technological prowess and understanding is the same thing as wisdom, but this is very far from being the case. The tools might be impressive but the user of the tool most definitely is not; our agenda for using all of the tools that we have access to is not impressive – on the contrary, it is distinctly uninspiring. It’s all pretty squalid. We’re only ever concerned with personal advantage; we’re only ever concerned with promoting the interests of the narrow little group that we’re affiliated with and this allegiance to the self or the group is a symptom of unconsciousness not consciousness.

 

Consciousness has no agenda whilst the rational mind always does. The rational mind cannot not have an agenda and its agenda has nothing to do with becoming conscious. The only way we can become conscious (or ‘globally aware’) is when we drop all of our rational agendas and it can be readily seen that our contemporary rational/technology culture has absolutely interest in doing any such thing. If we have an enhanced ability to control, and we are moreover very much invested in control and the outcome of controlling, then why on earth would we want to relinquish all our agendas? Actually, dropping our agendas turns out to be the very same thing as dropping the rational-conceptual mind and we definitely aren’t about to do this anytime soon! When it comes down to it, we think that we are the rational-conceptual mind and so of course we aren’t about to drop it – that would be the psychological equivalent to suicide. That would be throwing away the thing we hold most precious.

 

This – we might say – is our biggest delusion – the delusion that we are the thinking mind, that we are the same as our thoughts about who we are. As long as this is the case then it goes without saying that we won’t have any genuine interest in becoming conscious. Becoming conscious would mean sacrificing our precious illusions about who we are. Instead, we’re going to be very interested indeed in controlling because we imagine that if we get very good at controlling then we will be able to produce some especially favourable conditions for ourselves. Producing especially advantageous circumstances or conditions for ourselves is our chief interest; it’s just about our only interest. Although we may not necessarily put it quite like this, our Number One Assumption in life is the belief that if we get very good at controlling then this will mean that we will be able to bring about the ultimately beneficial situation for ourselves. Naturally enough, this (thoroughly deluded) thought has an enormous amount of appeal! It’s quite intoxicating…

 

We could hardly get things more wrong, however. We couldn’t get things more wrong – that would be an impossibility! The more we invest in controlling the more deluded we are, and the more trapped by our delusions we are. We are always looking for better and better outcomes and because of the intoxicating lure of ‘improving our situation’ we are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in cleverness and controlling. We are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in the rational mind, in other words. The more we invest ourselves in the rational mind however the more alienated from actual reality we become – our viewpoint is getting narrower and narrower the whole time as we focus more and more on the particular details that we are interested in. The more we specialize the less we are aware we are of the indefinable Whole; to know everything (or nearly everything) about one particular set of details at the expense of having any awareness or appreciation of the bigger picture is to be not-conscious. That is to be unconscious and being ‘unconscious’ is very clearly what we as a culture are all about. We’re not about the bigger picture at all – we think that our narrow rational understanding of the world is the bigger picture! We call anything else an illusion…

 

Our assumption is then that the outcome, the special conditions that we will have brought about with our skilful controlling, will be highly beneficial for us, highly advantageous for us. We are on this accounted highly attracted to the goal or outcome that we see in front of us – it exerts a tremendous magnetic effect on our attention. But how can a mind-created illusion (because that’s what it is) possibly be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’? How can it possibly do us any good? The answer is of course that it can’t do us any good; it will actually do us harm – over-valuing a mind-created illusion is bound to cause us harm because we’re neglecting what matters in favour of what doesn’t matter. Only the Whole can be beneficial, only the Whole can do us any good, but we have no regard for it. We have no regard or respect for the Whole – all we care about is our controlling and what this controlling is supposed to bring about for us. We’re obsessed with our narrow agenda and this agenda is purely toxic.

 

On the face of it, what we value is the desired goal-state, as we have just said; we value the special conditions that are going to be so beneficial to us. If we go deeper into it however we can see that this means we must also value the abstract viewpoint that gives rise to the mirage of the goal (or to which this goal seems so meaningful and so important). Without this narrow, abstracted way of looking at the world the goal means nothing at all. In simple terms – if we value the goal at which we are aiming, and which is exciting us so much, then we also have to value the state of ignorance that gives rise to it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we actually value our own ignorance and so – this being the case – of course we don’t value consciousness.

 

We either have it one way or the other therefore – we can’t have it both ways and the way that we have chosen to have it is to protect and preserve our own ignorance at all costs. The thinking mind can’t operate any other way, strange as it may sound to say this. The thinking mind has to ignore the Whole Picture because if it doesn’t then all its deliberations, all its activities, immediately become entirely meaningless. What ‘goal’, what ‘outcome’, what ‘specially-engineered situation’ can hold a candle to the Whole, after all? The ‘Whole’ we’re talking about here isn’t some kind of metaphysical fancy – it’s what actually exists. It’s the only thing that exists. The part, the fraction, the detail, only seems to exist when we pretend that the Whole isn’t there – this is the game that thought is playing. Reality itself doesn’t not contain any divisions; it does not come with any boundaries or limits.

 

The thinking mind is a jealous god and it doesn’t look kindly upon any extra-curricular activities, anything that doesn’t support the party line, anything that doesn’t have anything to do its all-important goals, anything that doesn’t support it’s all-important agenda. As we read in Saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. …

Once we’re in the business of controlling then consciousness goes out of the window straightaway because consciousness is what lies outside of the framework of thought. Consciousness is what doesn’t serve the master of the thinking mind. The engine of thought and all of its devices requires a lot of investment; as we keep saying, this means that anything which has ‘no relevance’ to our viewpoint (i.e. anything that doesn’t fit with our prosaic assumptions) has to be forgotten about. We have no time for it; we have no regard for it. We’re far too busy with the endeavours that the mind sees as important. Yet what we’re forgetting about is Everything because the special goal-state we’re lavishing our attention on isn’t real. It’s not part of ‘Everything’ because it’s a mind-created abstraction. What we think is important is never ‘where it’s happening’ – on the contrary, it’s always where it isn’t happening! There’s nothing more sterile than thought’s creations.

 

We’re always looking in the wrong direction – we’re always looking in a direction that isn’t even a direction. We’re deludely convinced we’re onto something but we’re not. We’re gambling everything on the wrong thing because even if we did win the prize it wouldn’t do us any good. It wouldn’t do us any good because the prize is a mind-created abstraction and so we would have to become a mind-created abstraction too in order to believe in it, in order for it to seem substantial to us. We would have to become a ghost, in other words – we would have to become a ghost whilst still alive. Chasing the glittering images which the mind creates in such abundance means that we have turned our back on reality itself, and what possible good do we expect to come from this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Therapy For Life

The most counterproductive thing we can do with regard to our own emotional pain and mental suffering is to get ‘clever’ about it – which is to say, the most counterproductive thing we can do is to think about it! When we hear about ‘not thinking about our emotional pain’ we are very likely to take this to be the same thing as denying our emotional pain but this isn’t the case. Denial starts with a thought, it doesn’t come out of anything else other than our thinking. Everything else that happens afterwards comes out of that original thought, and therefore is that original thought. That original thought never goes away therefore – it might be unconscious, it might be buried deep, but it will continue nevertheless to have an enormous effect on our everyday lives. The more unconscious the thought (i.e. the more deeply buried it is) the more it will determine the course of our lives.

 

We place far too much reliance on thinking as a way of dealing with our difficulties; our reliance on thinking is of course just a manifestation of our desperate hope that we can escape from the difficult situation that we’re in. ‘Thinking’ equals ‘our attempt to escape’, in other words – it’s the same thing. We are all great believers is escaping – we call it ‘problem solving’ or ‘finding solutions’ and the very sound of these phrases make us feel better! We immediately feel better upon hearing phrases such as these because by using then we have legitimized escaping and made it seem both possible and the right thing to do. As soon as we hear the word ‘solving’ or ‘fixing’ we know we are barking up the wrong tree! Because our thoughts are more powerful the more unconscious they are the helpful direction to go in is the direction of bringing consciousness to these thoughts and this is not a ‘doing’, not a ‘goal-driven activity’. ‘Goal’ is a code word for ‘escaping our predicament’ after all so whenever we find ourselves being orientated towards some outcome or other then we should beware of this because we’re actually running away from our life.

 

Consciousness has no goal, just as life has no goal. Goals are solutions and solutions are fear. Solution-focussed therapies are fear-based therapies therefore and the search for solutions (or belief in solutions) is the sickness not the cure. The root of the sickness – we might say – is that there are parts of our life that we are fundamentally opposed to living. We REALLY don’t want to live these parts of our life and we never question why we don’t want to live them. We don’t question or examine our refusal or resistance and the more caught up in the resistance we are the more unconscious we become. Very quickly we become totally unconscious and our activity becomes nothing more than a reflex that has been triggered, an all-powerful reflex that has been ‘ruling the roost’ for a very long time. This is the time-honoured ‘reflex of trying to escape’!

 

When we come across part of our life that we don’t want to live then this is where all the ‘thinking’ comes in. This is what all the thinking is about – skipping over the unwanted bit of our life is ‘the goal’ and the thinking is our attempt to find an effective way of doing this. Escaping from the bit of our life that we don’t like is our ‘clever plan’. Solution-focussed therapies are – we could therefore say – ways of facilitating us not to live the parts of our life that we don’t want to live, that we have resistance to living. They are our way of ‘being clever about things’! It’s not that we actually see things like this, of course. We don’t see ourselves as wanting to pick and choose over which parts of our life we want to live and which we don’t want to live (as if we had the choice!) but rather we see the bits of our life we want to get rid of as being wholly negative and worthless, as deserving zero attention or care or interest on our part. Labelling an experience as being absolutely negative is of course the perfect justification for wanting to eliminate or escape from it – this part of our life is ‘a fault’, ‘a mistake’, ‘an error,’ a ‘bad thing’, and so naturally we don’t want to have anything to do with it. That goes without saying…

 

The logic behind this ‘rejection of the negative’ is extremely plausible, extremely convincing – we never question this way of looking at things for a moment. This way of looking at things EQUALS not questioning. ‘Thinking about things’ equals not questioning. There is a snag in this logic however – a glitch that we are always going to be unconscious of when we are busy dividing life into the parts we like and want to keep versus the parts we don’t like and want to get rid of. The glitch arises out of the fact that we CAN’T separate or divide life according to our preferences – this is just not a possible thing we can do and when we try we get caught up in the glitch. Life always comes as a whole – it’s all of one piece and we abstract only the elements that we like or find enjoyable. It’s all life, to paraphrase what Kurt Vonnegut says in Breakfast of Champions, there’s no part of it which isn’t, no part which is ‘something else other than life’.  All that’s happening when we reject one part of our life as not being worth living is that we are exercising prejudice, but that prejudice is entirely ours – it does not represent or correspond to anything in reality. That’s a glitch that comes out of our attitude, not out of life itself.

 

When we try to eliminate or escape from a part of our life that we have automatically labelled as unacceptable what happens is that our tactic rebounds on us. Resistance is always going to rebound on us! It can’t not rebound on us – all that’s happened is that we have put a kind of twist in things to make life even more difficult for us than it was before e started rejecting it. By refusing to live part of our own lives we have created a twist (or glitch) that we just can’t get past. What do we imagine happens to the unlived bits of our life, after all? Where do we imagine they go? Unlived life is still life whether we like it or not and because it is still life it has to be lived sooner or later. All that has happened when we reject it is that we have put it ‘on hold’…

 

There is more to it than just this, however. ‘Unlived life’ changes the way it subjectively appears to us – it becomes dark, it becomes subjectively hostile or threatening. It manifests as an enemy that persecutes us. The ‘demonic’ character of the life that we have rejected isn’t a property of that unlived life itself however – it’s simply a reflection of our own aggression. Aggression – as Chogyam Trungpa says – can be seen as a ‘refusal to communicate’. There’s no communication in the situation and this refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as a terrible hostility. Our own refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as the demonic quality that we are either trying to fight or run away from; fighting or running away doesn’t help the situation however because both fighting and running away equal ‘not communicating’! The demonic, persecutory aspect of our environment is really nothing other than our own attitude, our own aggression mirrored back at  us but we perceive it to be something that exists independently in the world around us – something that can be successfully eliminated if we try hard enough!

 

When unlived life takes on this persecutory nature that makes us resist it all the more, in other words, and this is the ‘glitch’ that we have been talking about, the glitch that we can’t help getting caught up in when we are living unconsciously. The rejected parts of our life take on the appearances of ‘avenging furies’, as M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Travelled and the more we run (or the more we fight) the more furiously these demons (the demons that have been created by our rejection) pursue and terrorize us. We are at war with ourselves and we cannot win! Aggression is the same thing as ‘the absence of communication’ because we are always projecting our own meaning, our own categories on whatever is happening to us. We are perpetuating our own closed viewpoint, our own fixed framework of interpretation in everything we do and this means that there is zero possibility of communication. If we reject one part of our life as it unfolds then we reject all of our life. This has to be the case – if life is ‘all the one’, if it cannot be conveniently subdivided, then we cannot reject any supposed ‘part’ of it without rejecting all of it. It’s all or nothing, therefore. And the moment we start ‘picking and choosing’ which bits of life we want to live then it’s going to be ‘nothing’ rather than ‘everything’, therefore! This is the inevitable result of exercising ‘the mind of preference’.

 

Trying to pick and choose, trying to ‘get clever about things’, is the root cause of our sufferings, not the cure for it. That’s how ‘backwards’ we have got everything! If we saw things clearly then we would see that we don’t need a cure – as we have already said, what we fondly call ‘a cure’ or ‘a solution’ is simply our hoped-for escape from the parts of our life that we don’t like, the parts of our life that we have automatically rejected. There is no solution (or ‘therapy’) for life. Interference or control or manipulation is only going to multiply our woes – it’s only our fear that is driving this control, this interference, after all. It is not ‘therapy’ we need therefore but simply the willingness to live each moment of our lives exactly as it unfolds

 

This is what Pema Chodron calls ‘the fearless heart’. This panoramic fearlessness is also symbolized by ‘the lion that looks in all four directions at once’ – the Lion of  Ashoka that has been adopted as the state emblem of India. Rather than our customary one-sided ‘rational approach’ (which is based on always having plenty of clever strategies at our disposal), all that is required therefore is for us to live our lives ‘consciously rather than unconsciously’. We aren’t partisan, we aren’t mean-minded, we don’t exclude anything. And if we find ourselves rejecting or resisting life as it unfolds (as of course we will do), then we bring consciousness to that rejection, that resistance, too! That automatic resistance, that ‘attempted manipulation or control’, that ‘running away’ is after all as much part of life as anything else…

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Increasing Perspective

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What is perspective? Most people would probably answer that perspective has something to do with ‘seeing things from more than just one angle’ – of being able to get the true picture, i.e. not just a one-sided or narrow view of what we are looking at. There is also the implication of not being too ‘up close’ to our problem, perspective means being able to pull back so that we do not get trapped by one way of looking at what is going on. This means that perspective is basically a way of talking about freedom, we might say ‘freedom of perception.’ When I have freedom of perception I can look at an object in lots of different ways, and when I add up all these different viewpoints I get an ‘all-round’ view.  Once I have an all-round view, I am not so likely to jump to conclusions about my situation. I am not so likely to subscribe to a distorted view of reality, and therefore I will be able to act more effectively. If I have a problem, I will be able to see that problem (and my own part in it) that much more clearly.

BUMPING INTO ELEPHANTS IN THE DARK

There is a story about four men and an elephant that is sometimes used to illustrate this idea.  The story goes like this: Four men bump into an elephant one day, in the dark. None of them has ever heard of an elephant before, and they are all very interested in the strange creature that they have encountered. They have a meeting to try to come to some basic agreement about what sort of beast they have discovered. The first man bumped into the side of the elephant and he says that the elephant is a bit like a wall. The second man met the trunk and so he says that an elephant is rather like a giant snake. The third man came across an ear and he thinks that an elephant is just like a huge fan. The forth man found a leg and so he says that an elephant is like nothing so much as a massive tree trunk. All four are right, given the perspective they were operating from, and yet at the same time none of them are right, because they each try to use their limited perspective to explain the whole thing.  Complete perspective in this case would be to examine the elephant from every single side, and then take all the different aspects into account to see what they add up to.

 

If I jump to the (understandable) conclusion that an elephant is best pictured as a ‘wall-like creature’, and then proceed to interact with all the elephants I ever meet on the basis of this premature and incomplete understanding, then all my future dealing with elephants are going to fraught with difficulties. This is because I will not actually be interacting with an elephant, but only with my idea of an elephant – which is not at all the same thing! For this reason my actions will backfire on me – unexpected problems will keep coming up that I am quite unable to understand, and which, naturally enough, I never will be able to understand just as long as I stick to my one-sided theory (or ‘model’) of elephants.

THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY

This example is of course rather over-simplified and not entirely plausible either, but we can apply it to real-life situations all the same.  Everyone of us interacts with the world on the basis of an incomplete or premature understanding. That is to say, every single person has a model for what is going on.  It is a fact that models, without exception, are always incomplete; there is inevitably going to be a difference between reality and our idea of it – no one can get around that. If this wasn’t so then life could never surprise us, and it always does, sooner or later; that is how we learn stuff – through being surprised!  The trouble is, of course, that there is a part of us which doesn’t like surprises very much, and this is why we have a natural tendency to want to have a theory that ‘explains everything’.  Another way to put this would be to say that we really want to believe that our map matches the territory exactly, and that there is nothing significant that we have left out, lurking in the twilight zone somewhere. Once we believe that we have a map that matches reality in every detail, then we are able to do what we really want to do, i.e. hand over responsibility to it. Life is under control, I say to myself, I have it licked!  There is a big danger here, though: when we completely identify with our map of reality we can’t actually tell the difference between the idea and the truth any more. Our thoughts become the word, they become all there is – we never go beyond them any more. This is ‘loss of perspective,’ big time. When we think we know it all, we are no longer capable of learning and growing; as a result, life has lost its flavour – it becomes a technicality, a job, a foregone conclusion one way or the other.

KNOWING IT ALL

Usually when we hear of someone who thinks they know it all, we think that they must be big-headed or arrogant. There is however, another, more common, reason for us jumping to the unwarranted conclusion that we know it all, and that reason is fear! This might seem like a bit of an odd suggestion, but let us consider it a bit further. When I am frightened I feel that I can’t afford to hang around in the ‘scared place,’ I have to do something fast to get out of there. Now, there is no way that I can hit upon a plan and put that plan into action without jumping to the conclusion that I know what is happening – I need a map in order to act, and once I start acting there is no time to question whether that map was right in the first place. I cannot afford, at that stage, to question my basic assumptions; at least, I don’t feel as if I can. As long as I am doing something ‘definite’  about my situation I feel a bit more secure and the last thing I want to do is consider the possibility that my action is based on an inaccurate representation of reality, and therefore useless, or even worse-than-useless. I’d rather carry on acting, and feeling secure in acting – ignorance is bliss, as they say! This sort of unquestioning action is mechanical in nature, it is unconscious and automatic.

 

Fear comes in many guises – it might be that we really want (or need) something, in which case the fear is the fear of not getting it, the fear of not having our needs met.  Generally speaking, fear occurs because of the awareness of uncertainty, or ‘lack of security,’ and the behaviour it tends to inspire is action that is geared towards increasing our sense of security and control. It is my need for control (i.e. my insecurity) that makes me want a theory that explains everything.

TOTAL CONTROL IS NOT FREEDOM

If my theory explains (and therefore predicts) everything, then the possibility of ‘total control’ is only one step away. Total control is our dream – it equals ‘total security’. Or so we think. Total control means that we can have everything ‘our own way,’ and who does not want this?  This is what we tend to think of when we hear the word freedom – we think of ‘the freedom to have everything the way we want it…’  Put another way, we think of the freedom to have whatever we want. Great…..  Fantastic…… But is this really freedom? What if our underlying understanding is incomplete? What if we’ve missed out something important out in our haste to feel that we have things ‘under control’?  If all maps are incomplete, as we have said that they are, then the ‘freedom to have things the way we want them to be’ actually means ‘the freedom to escape reality,’ or ‘the freedom to live in an imaginary place’.  What we are dreaming of is the freedom to live in a world which exactly matches our incomplete idea of it, which sounds a bit strange, to say the least. Even if we could have this so-called ‘freedom’ to be in a place where reality cannot reach us, would that turn out to be as great as we think, or would it not turn out to be some kind of ghastly nightmare?  After all, if I am not in reality, then just where the hell am I?

THE SECURITY OF KNOWING WHO I AM

There is another question I could ask. If I am not in a real place, then perhaps I am not being my real self either. And when I am not being my true self, then just who am I being? When I am completely identified with my map of myself, I am not being myself, but only my false idea of myself. In other words, I am putting on a show, or an act. True happiness, it is said, comes about through discovering who one really is, being true to oneself.  “If only I could just be myself…” I say.  “Just act naturally, be yourself…” advise my friends (in the fond belief that they are saying something helpful).  But how do I go about discovering my true self? ‘Being myself’ sounds so simple, yet everything I do seems to take me further away from it; the more I try to control myself to be myself (or, more accurately, what I think ‘myself’ should be) the more wrong I seem to go.  This is the very root of the problem – my inability to be myself through trying is the very thing which stands in the way of my happiness. ‘Trying’ means that I act purposefully on the basis of my ideas, and because my idea about who I am is not who I am, trying only makes me more artificial.

 

Just like there is a feeling of security in having a 100% reliable map of reality, so too there is security in ‘knowing who I am’.  Society itself provides us with well-defined roles and identities: I am a father, a patient, an income tax accountant, a Hell’s Angel, a free-mason, a communist, an alcoholic, a sports-fan, etc. I also have a nationality: I am German, or Irish, or Japanese! All of these descriptions provide security and predictability, the only problem being that they are not really who I am at all. Okay, so I can take on these roles, but they do not define me – there is always more to me than just a father or or just a patient.  Someone may point at me and say “so, you are English…” and then think that this says something important about me, but it doesn’t.  It leaves an awful lot out! Because our roles are not the whole truth about us, this is a guaranteed recipe for trouble. There is a conflict going on between my map and the reality which it is trying to explain.

 

As we have said, there is always a strong tendency for us to identify with our descriptions of reality and take them to be 100% reliable. When we are under any kind of stress we do this, and then the actions that we take on the basis of our narrow view of ourselves becomes increasingly ‘at odds’ with who we really are, which has the effect of making the original problem even worse.  A lot of the distress involved in ‘mental illness’ arises out of this mismatch between idea and reality: we are trying to fulfil some idea of who we are; we are provided with a set of assumptions about ‘who we are,’ and then we try to live up to them. Therapy, we might think, ought to allow us to play out our roles and games without any conflict or ‘role-stress’. But this conflict cannot be eliminated, and, even if it could, that in itself would be a disaster – we would be truly lost then, with no helpful pain to remind us that we have lost our authenticity somewhere along the line.

NEUROSIS AS LOSS OF PERSPECTIVE

When I identify with a fixed idea of ‘who I am,’ then I lose vital perspective, and this loss of perspective causes inflexibility, the inability to grow and change as a person. Identification provides a feeling of security; identification gives us something to grab hold of – a solid, non-ambiguous structure to rely on in times of trouble. The disadvantages, as we have said, are that I lose contact with my true self, and with the true nature of the ‘troublesome’ situation that I find myself in. This means that the conflict is actually perpetuated, and exacerbated, despite the illusory feeling that we are dong something positive.  This basic idea, that we reduce our own perspective deliberately (yet without really knowing what we are doing) in order to cope with stress, gives us a good way of looking at all neurotic states of mind. Phobias, depression, anxiety, obsessions, compulsions – all of these come down to ‘loss of perspective’. We are not just talking about the more unusual extremes of neurotic disturbance either – everyday neuroticism involves exactly the same principle, and so do the common negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, bitterness, self-pity, sulking, and so on. In all of these emotional states we experience a collapse of perspective which makes it impossible to see anything that can help us get out of the mood that we are in.  We can take a few examples:

[1]    ANGER    When I am angry I focus on stuff that makes me angry, and lose awareness of all the things that don’t help me in justifying myself in my anger. I see only one side of the story!

[2]   JEALOUSY    When I am jealous all the information I receive seems to support my idea that my partner is betraying me – there is no such thing as an ‘innocent explanation’. All the other explanations are simply unbelievable to me, I am no longer able to keep a balanced outlook.

[3]    SULKING   When I am sulking or bitter, everything I see serves to remind me of the wrong that has been done to me. I make myself into the centre of the universe and as a result I cannot get beyond this ‘poor me’ story even though there might be things happening around me that are fun and exciting.

 

Perspective means ‘freedom of perception’, and so the loss of perspective means being trapped in just the one way of seeing things.  I am not free to move from one viewpoint to another; I am restricted; am in a hole and I can’t climb out.  Normally, the viewpoints listed above such as anger, jealousy, etc, still exist, but so do all of the others, too. The difference is that I don’t dally with them – they hold no special attraction to them, and so I move on effortlessly. Nothing is excluded from my view of the world, and it is precisely this lack of exclusion that makes it a free-flowing situation; once I want to (consciously or unconsciously) block out certain ways of seeing the world, then the fluidity and freedom is lost. Therefore, the answer to being stuck in a negative mood or a neurotic, obsessive state of mind, might be said to be to increase perspective. When someone tells me this my most likely response will be to say “Fine, but how do I do this? How do I increase my perspective?”

 

This sounds like a helpful question to ask, but actually it isn’t all. In fact if I ask this question then what this really means is that I am looking for a way to increase my perspective that I can understand with the perspective that I already have. Asking ‘how’ means that I want to understand how to increase my perspective using the limited perspective (i.e. the map) that I am starting off from because any answer you give me will automatically be understood using ‘the limited way of understanding the world that is my usual everyday rational mind’. There is no way to get around this – if I can understand something then this means that it makes sense within the terms of my current map, and so I am never going to go beyond my map. Asking closed questions (questions that require a specific answer) re-affirms the validity of my habitual way of understanding the world, and so there is obviously no way in which this can ever lead to an increase in perspective (or ‘an increase in consciousness’, which is the same thing).

 

The only way to increase perspective is not by active ‘doing’, but by allowing the situation to be exactly the way it already is. So rather than ‘muscling in’ in a heavy-handed way and trying to control the situation  – whatever that situation might be – I remain sensitive to what is going on without doing what I normally do, which is automatically (and insensitively) trying to gain some sort of advantage. Even if I do nothing apart from mental reacting to the situation I find myself in, this too is keeping in control of what is going on because I am insisting on having my say. I am insisting on interpreting things in my way – the way that suits me. This is a way of staying in control because I am controlling the way I see the world so that I don’t have to see things in a way that I don’t like. As soon as I ease up on reacting, or trying to put my own slant on the proceedings then my understanding straight-away starts to develop in an unusual direction and this ‘unusual direction’ is due to the fact that I am allowing myself an extra bit of perspective on matters – I am allowing myself perspective that I would normally be struggling to suppress by staying in control.

 

Another way of explaining this point is to say that our perspective increases when we pay attention to whatever is making us feel bad. We tend to think that mental pain such as fear, anxiety or sadness causes us to lose perspective and get trapped as a result in a smaller world but really it is our reaction to mental pain that causes loss of perspective. Actually, losing perspective is something we do ‘secretly on purpose’ in order to escape from whatever it is that is troubling us – even though having very little perspective is thoroughly rotten in an oppressively cramped, dismally predictable, wretchedly unfree and claustrophobic sort of a way we choose (without really knowing what we are doing) this self-created prison rather than facing whatever it is that we are afraid to face. This is a good thing to understand for the reason that if we understand that loss of perspective is due to pain-avoidance then we know what the key to increasing perspective is purely and simply to pay careful attention to whatever it is that is causing us pain.

 

This tends to sound awfully morbid and unhealthy – we naturally assume that the way to go is to concentrate on the positive and the uplifting and try hard not to be preoccupied with all the rotten old negative stuff. It seems positively reprehensible to pay attention to feeling bad when there are so many wonderful – or potentially wonderful – sides to life. Why focus on misery as a way to increase perspective when we could gaze on the splendour of the stars, or immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, or listen to glorious music? Gazing at the stars, going for a walk in the country, and listening to music can of course on occasion miraculously increase our sense of perspective on life but this does not mean that we can use them as ‘methods’. If we could then every time we felt bad which could just do one of these things and straightaway we would feel wonderful but the point is that it is just plain impossible to increase perspective as a way of escaping pain. I can’t use such a sublime thing as perspective for petty personal reasons – if my motivation is simply personal gain then the stark ‘lack of perspective’ inherent in this motivation will ensure that my attempt to increase my perspective comes to nothing. The same is true for creativity – if I try to tap into creativity in order to deliberately benefit myself in some way it just won’t work. The motivation behind the attempt to be creative is itself uncreative – personal gain (or pain-avoidance, which is the same thing) is always uncreative because its agenda is always fixed in advance. In fact there is nothing as profoundly uncreative as the motivation of greed-for-personal-benefit or fear-of-personal-loss. Nothing helpful can ever come from either greed or fear – fear and greed are states of mind that derive from a fundamental ‘lack of perspective’ and so any action that comes about as a result of this closed (or uncreative) type of motivation is bound simply to indefinitely perpetuate that lack of perspective. Greed cannot be used to escape greed any more than fear can be used to escape fear!

 

One reason we give for not paying attention to painful feelings or thoughts is that it puts us in danger of becoming obsessively fixated on our own misery. But this isn’t really true at all because what causes us to become fixated (or ‘stuck’) is the fact that we are fighting against these feelings or thoughts. When we find ourselves with an inner state that is unhappy or fearful or painful in any way we automatically resist that state – we struggle to change it to a state that is easier to bear, in other words. This tactic is perfectly understandable but it is also the worst thing that we could possibly do because fighting against my inner state means that I am negatively attached to it, and if I am attached to it clearly it is going to stay with me. Paying attention to my inner state is not at all the same as fighting against it, or complaining about it. Paying attention is, on the contrary, a fundamentally non-aggressive sort of a thing and for this reason it dissolves the existing attachment rather than creating additional attachment. Actually there is absolutely no way to aggressively or violently dissolve attachment because aggression and violence are themselves prime manifestations of attachment. The only way to dissolve attachment is by peaceful means and a peaceful approach basically involves remaining open to whatever the state is, without reacting, without ‘doing anything about it’. The temptation is of course to either ‘do something about the painful state of mind’ or to ‘ignore it’. Ignoring your state of mind is aggressive just as distracting yourself from your state of mind is aggressive and so ignoring and self-distracting create attachment just as much as fighting or complaining do.

INCREASING ‘ACCURATE PERCEPTION’

The way Krishnamurti explains this is to say that we always bring our own agenda to the situation, and it is this agenda that ensures that we get stuck. Therefore, if I am feeling bad in any way I don’t accurately perceive what this bad feeling is about, and I don’t accurately perceive what it feels like to feel like this. What I do perceive is what the situation feels like from the point of view of a person who can’t drop his agenda, and what this means is that I am only getting a ‘distorted’ picture of things. Obviously, anything I do on the basis of this distortion is bound simply to make things worse by translating this distortion into reality. The distortion is a distortion because it is a misrepresentative or ‘one-sided’ view of things  – basically it is how things look to me when I have lost all perspective and any reaction that I make faithfully ‘echoes’ my original lack of perspective and perpetuates it indefinitely.

 

So what is the distorting agenda that we unnecessarily bring with us into difficult situations, and which guarantees that we get hopelessly stuck in the misery of counterproductive or ‘self-defeating’ behaviour? One way to answer this question is to say that the agenda always has to do with acting as if something matters very much indeed (or matters ‘absolutely’) when actually it doesn’t very matter at all. We can make this clear by giving a slightly silly example: suppose I have mislaid my special platinum pen that was given to me as a first prize in some sort of writing competition. This annoys me and I cannot rest until I find it, even though I could get by equally well using a biro, of which there are many on my desk. In this situation what happens is that I get upset and frustrated and do not get on with the work that I have to do and the reason I have such a hard time of it is because I have insisted on finding the pen that I had lost. No other pen will do.  The ‘distorting influence’ here is the allocation of a huge amount of importance to something that isn’t in reality as important as we say it is. The reason finding my special pen is so important to me – so important to me that I waste a whole morning looking for it and getting in thoroughly bad form in the process of not finding it – is because I have said that it is important. I have set my heart on having it, and so I ‘have to’ have it, but it was me who freely decided to insist on having it in the first place so there isn’t really a ‘have to’ at all. Or to put it another way – finding the pen is only important because I have made it important (i.e. it only matters because I have said that it does).

 

The ‘unnecessary’ nature of the agenda, along with all the unnecessary trouble it causes for us, can be easily seen in the case of the special platinum pen but what exactly is the agenda that causes us to get stuck in miserable, self-frustrating states of mind – states of mind that are characterized by what we might call ‘futile or counterproductive struggling’? In the case of these miserable states of mind, which are commonly referred as ‘bad moods’, ‘negative emotions’ and ‘neuroticism’, the agenda is that a particular type of mental pain should not be felt. This tends to sound utterly ridiculous because we think that of course it matters that mental pain, or physical pain for that matter, should not be felt by us. Physical pain usually means that there is some sort threat to our bodily integrity and therefore because it makes sense to avoid threats to our bodily integrity, it also makes sense to avoid physical pain if we can. Mental pain, however, is a different kettle of fish because it does not signify a threat to our ‘mental health’ that needs be avoided at all costs – on the contrary, if we avoid mental pain then this avoidance itself becomes a threat to our mental health.  What ‘mental pain’ actually comes down to is a type of awareness that for some reason we find threatening and that we are utterly determined not to feel, without knowing (or even caring) why it is that we are so determined not to feel it.

 

Strangely enough, this sort of reaction, the reaction where we automatically fight against certain possibilities of awareness without knowing or caring why we are so dead set against them is inherent in the very nature of the everyday self which – when it comes right down to it – has its allegiance to repeating or reiterating the patterns of the past, whether or not these patterns are useful, or even make sense at all. The reason that the conditioned (i.e. habitual) self is able to successfully do this lies in its indefatigable ability to validate its own patterns of thinking and behaviour to itself, no matter how absurdly counterproductive they might be!

 

The way that the conditioned self does this is by looking at things only in a particular narrow way, which means making sure that it does not look at things in any other way. It is for this reason that ‘increasing perspective’ is actually the very last thing that the conditioned self wants to do! A good example of what we mean when we say this is provided by anger – if I get angry because you have taken my parking space then the only reason that I am able to get so self-righteously angry is because I believe that the parking space was mine not yours. I have set my heart on having it and then you come along and take it from me under my very nose, so to speak. This makes me feel very bad and I blame you for this bad feeling, but actually the only reason I feel so bad is because I have said to myself that the parking space is rightfully mine, end of story.

DE-VALIDATING THE SELF

If I didn’t insist on taking this position I wouldn’t feel the intense upsurge of righteous anger that I do feel, but rather than seeing that I am ‘doing it all myself’ (by refusing to look at things any other way) I say that my mental pain is your fault, and so my anger justifies itself, over and over again. An increase in perspective would mean that I would lose all justification, and so the mechanism of anger is one in which the possibility of me looking at things in any other way other than the anger-producing one is effectively prevented. I am ‘permanently validated’, in other words, and this gimmick of being ‘permanently validated’ is what being ‘the conditioned self’ is all about. We are always justifying our position to ourselves, even though this position is at all times perfectly arbitrary, perfectly gratuitous!

 

If we were to become ‘aware of ourselves’ (i.e. accurately perceive what we are actually doing) this act of observation would therefore increase our perspective on what is going on, and this increase in perspective would de-validate us! This feels bad because we are deeply invested in ‘being right’, but even though it feels bad, it is profoundly freeing at the same time because we are now free from the onerous task of always having to be propping up an untenable position, a position that is ultimately unworkable because it is arbitrary, because it is ‘gratuitous’. Gaining perspective hurts, in other words, because gaining perspective shines awareness on mechanical processes that (as P.D. Ouspensky says) no longer function in the light. And yet this ‘pain’ – even though we do not see it at the time – is really nothing other than the joyful dawning of our dawning freedom…

 

Image taken from: wraunyblogspot.ie

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paradox of ‘Turning Towards’

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In The Mystics Of Islam, Reynold A. Nicholson (1914) relates the following Sufi story:

Someone said to Rabi‘a:

 

“I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?” “Nay,” she replied,” but if He shall turn towards thee, thou wilt turn towards Him.”

So God doesn’t bestow his grace on us because we ask, we ask because he has bestowed his grace. We find ourselves turning towards God because of God’s grace, not because of any connivance on our part. This Sufi teaching is applicable to all situations where we are trying to find peace of mind – we first need the peace of mind, the ‘inner stillness’, before we even know that inner stillness is what we are missing. Otherwise we won’t be thinking this way; it simply won’t be a concern of ours. Eckhart Tolle says somewhere that some stillness within us is needed before we can meditate – without it, all we know is forcing. Without some little seed of stillness within us all we know is aggression and manipulation…

 

Everything in mindfulness is based on us taking a genuine interest in our own inner process. This is why we hear words like ‘gentle’ so much – because the interest, the curiosity, the kindness has to be genuine rather than forced. It has to ‘come from the heart’, so to speak. Mindfulness – inasmuch as it has been taken over by clinical psychology – is invariably presented as a ‘technology’. In other words, it is presented as a ‘rationale for intervention’ along with a set of procedures or methodologies that when executed correctly will bring about the desired outcome.

 

So what’s wrong with this, we might ask? Isn’t this exactly what we want – isn’t this the whole point? If we think this however then we’ve missed the point. Mindfulness isn’t a technology – it isn’t a strategy (or set of strategies) that we can use to bring about a desired outcome. Mindfulness has nothing to do with outcomes; it has nothing to do with bringing about a particular or special state of affairs. This is the one thing that it isn’t! Mindful practice is actually the complete antithesis of this – it has to do with the dropping of our agendas, not the effective enacting of them. Mindfulness is about noticing the way things really are – not for any reason, not because we want to change the way things are, but just because that IS the way they are!

 

Our problem is that we only want to take an interest in the way things are because that might be a way of changing them. We can hardly deny that this is the case? If we have to ‘take an interest’ then we will do so. If we have to ‘allow stuff to be there, in a gentle, patient and non-judgemental way’, then we will give this a go. We will do our best to be accepting and non-judgemental, and all the rest. But would we be interested in our own inner state otherwise? Would we take an interest if it were not for the fact that we think it will do us some good? The answer is of course that we almost certainly would not be – we’re only taking an interest because we think that there is going to be some sort of pay-off, because we think that there is going to be some sort of advantage in it for us. That’s the whole point, after all. That is why – as a culture – we are interested in mindfulness, because of its benefits. Being an eminently practical culture, with very little interest in philosophy or mysticism, we just wouldn’t have cared otherwise!

 

Mindfulness (as far as we in the West are concerned) is a strategy and strategies are always carried out for a reason. Whoever heard of a strategy being carried out for no reason? Strategies are always carried out with an aim in mind; they’re all about the aim, in fact. Really – if we were to be totally honest – we would have to admit that we’re not interested in the way we are at all; on the contrary, we’re fundamentally disinterested. We’re fundamentally orientated towards heading off at top speed in the opposite direction – this is inherent in what we might call ‘the mechanics of the everyday or conditioned self’. This self maintains its integrity by not being interested in its own pain; it is only interested in a closed way, which is to say, it is interested only in learning how to do whatever it needs to do in order to make it go away. As G.I. Gurdjieff has indicated, the conditioned or everyday self is a ‘pain-avoiding machine’. Running away from pain (or insecurity) is the basic rule, the basic motivation. That’s our ‘essential tropism’.

 

Why – might ask – should this be so? Why should the everyday self be so fundamentally disinterested in its own pain, its own inner process? This seems like a rather dim view of things, to say the least. It has to be understood however that having an interest in our own pain, our own inner process, is a very big thing! Being interested in our own pain (without having an agenda behind the interest) constitutes a veritable revolution; it constitutes what the ancient alchemists called the ‘opus contra naturam’, the work against nature. We have to go against our own fundamental (conditioned) nature, and there can be no task harder (or more tricky) than this. Things will never be the same after we learn to go against our bed-rock psychological conditioning – the world becomes a very different place. Everything gets reversed – instead of automatically seeking security in all things, we become genuinely courageous (or ‘fearless’, as Pema Chodren says). We no longer go around doing stuff for a reason, always with an agenda, since when you are fearless you no longer need an agenda!

 

Inasmuch as our automatic allegiance to ‘preserving the status quo’ (which comes down to ‘preserving ourselves as we already – by default – understand ourselves to be’) we are absolutely NOT going to be fearless. We can’t have an agenda to preserve the way things are and at the same time be fearless, at the same time be ‘genuinely curious’ about the world. As we have indicated, the basic motivation of the everyday self is to preserve and perpetuate itself at all costs and ‘taking a genuine interest in oneself’ is going completely against this. We’d be going against the grain in a big way if we allowed ourselves to become genuinely curious; being curious is the biggest risk we’ll ever take – who knows what we might find out if we start getting genuinely interested in things (rather than just being ‘interested-with-an-agenda’)? Existence itself is the risk, as the existential philosophers have told us, and the conditioned self is never going to be ready to take that particular gamble…

 

We’re really making the same point over and over again here, in a number of different ways. Everything we do we do ‘for our own sake’ – we might like to imagine that this is not the case, but it is. As conditioned beings, we are fundamentally motivated by self-interest, as Anthony De Mello has said. Another way of putting this would be to say that any rational action we undertake necessarily involves taking our starting-off point (which is to say, the basis upon which we make all of our decisions) absolutely for granted. It just wouldn’t work any other way – we cannot proceed in a logical / rational way unless we first assume our starting-off point to be valid, or ‘right’. Otherwise we’d never get started; otherwise the whole endeavour falls to pieces before it gets anywhere. This is a basic principle in logic as well as in the mechanics of the conditioned (or rule-based) self – the axiom, the rock-solid basis has to be assumed; if we didn’t ‘assume it’ then it just wouldn’t be there…

 

When we apply any rationally-conceived / purposeful action therefore, we are necessarily going to be both conceiving and carrying out this action for the benefit of our taken-for-granted starting-off point. The action is an extension of our starting-off point, an extension of our hidden assumptions. We are – whether we care to admit it or not – ‘striving to uphold the status quo’ – the status quo being ‘everything in our life that we assume, everything in our life that we take for granted without ever realizing that we do’. Fundamentally, therefore, we’re not ‘risk-taking’, we’re ‘risk-avoiding’; anything we do on a rational/purposeful basis is always going to be for the sake of preserving and perpetuating the self which is who we think we are, the self that we’re very much in the business of ‘taking for granted’ in everything we do. There isn’t anything more inescapable than this. That’s what the purposeful self’ is – it’s something that takes itself absolutely for granted in everything it does!

 

As soon as we understand this point we understand why mindfulness can never be a system, can never be a strategy, can never be a technology. The moment we understand that the purposeful / conditioned self always takes itself absolutely for granted in everything it does we understand that mindfulness is by no means as straightforward a business as we might previously imagined. How do we turn around to face the source of our pain when our motivation for doing so is when it comes right down to it the motivation to run away from pain? How are we ever going to be genuinely interested in ‘what’s going on’ when – unbeknownst to us – our fundamental bedrock motivation is to preserve and perpetuate the standpoint that we’re coming from, which is ‘the self that we assume we are’? How can we be both ‘genuinely interested in seeing what’s going on’ and ‘fundamentally committed to preserving and perpetuating that self that we assume we are’? It’s either one or the other – it can’t be both.

 

This brings us back to the Sufi story that we started off with – if we are to sincerely ask forgiveness this does not come about as a result of our own agency; it is God’s grace that we do so. In the same way, if we are to take an interest in ourselves, in what’s really going on with us, this isn’t by our own agency. It is a grace that is bestowed upon us. This perfectly illustrates the difference between the Western and the Eastern / Middle-Eastern ways of looking at life – in the West it is all about the technology, the skills, the strategies, the tools, etc. But what have any of these to do with a grace that descends from above? What good are our technologies, our systems, our clever theories and models with regard to receiving grace?

 

We in the West are full of a type of false confidence, a type of confidence that looks good on the surface but which is really just empty bravado. We make everything sound so cut-and-dried, but it isn’t. We make it sound as if we are ‘in control’, but we’re not. We’re not in control and we never will be; after all, how can ‘who I assume myself to be’ be in control when this idea of ‘self’ is a wrong assumption to start off with? Controlling isn’t ever going to get us anywhere because it always proceeds on the basis of what we assume to be true but yet cannot ever verify. It jumps, but it never looks at where it has jumped from. It proceeds, but it can never examine its basis. The big snag here is therefore that everything we do is done (as we have been saying) on the basis of the self which we think we are and any journey from a false starting off point is guaranteed to get us nowhere! This ‘snag’ is inherent in the nature of the controlling or purposeful self, which is the self on whose basis we are doing the controlling. We should be a bit more careful before setting off on our journey; we should be a bit more careful before trying to control or manipulate everything in sight. Our ‘technology’ doesn’t really serve us, after all – it only serves the illusion!

 

 

 

 

The Good Mind

boddhisattva-of-compassion

According to Tibetan Buddhism we each have two minds – the good mind and the bad one. As simplistic as this may sound, this turns out to be a far more helpful psychological model than anything we in the West have come up with. It is ‘helpful’ in the sense that the thorough understanding of the principle actually makes us happy! Whatever else Western psychology may do for us, it certainly doesn’t ever do this. Whatever else we as a culture might be experts in, we are most definitely not ‘experts’ in being happy…

 

The good mind is so-called because its use creates happiness, whilst the bad mind is called ‘bad’ because it unfailingly creates suffering – both for ourselves and others. If we use one mind we move in the direction of becoming happier and more peaceful; if we use the other then we head inexorably (like a self-guiding homing device) into a world of ever-increasing misery. The key thing to grasp therefore is what constitutes the ‘good mind’ and how is it different from the bad mind? The answer given by Tibetan Buddhism is that when we think about how we can benefit other beings this is ‘the good mind’ and when we are concerned with how we can benefit ourselves then this is ‘the bad mind’.

 

This is not a question of morality however, no matter how it may sound. It tends to sound – to our Western ears – like “You should be unselfish rather than selfish” or “You should try to be better people” which is the stale old message that we in the Western world have been receiving for the last two thousand years. The basic Christian message – as it was very unambiguously preached from the pulpit in times past – was that if we are good we will go to heaven and if we are bad we will go to the other place, the place where things are not so much fun, the place where the devil will be sticking a red-hot pitch-fork up your ass. The Christian mystics didn’t say this, but the rank and file clergy most certainly did, and it was the clergy we listened to. This message sound very similar to what we have just said about the good mind leading us to happiness and the bad mind leading us straight into a morass of unendurable misery but it is not the same thing at all. One is a ‘moral message’, the other simply an observation…

 

The point is (the point that we so easily miss) is that it is only ‘the bad mind’ that wants to be good and go to heaven! Of course it is the bad mind that wants to be good and go to heaven because it is the bad mind that is all concerned with benefitting oneself. This is what this mind does the whole time, after all! Whenever I say “I should do this” or “I should do that” this is always about the mind that is trying to benefit itself. It is always this mind that is behind such statements. If I do what I ‘should’ do then this will bring benefit to myself and – on the other hand – I fail to do what I ought to do then this failure will be very much to my detriment. This type of crude ‘carrot and stick’ business is the stock in trade of the bad mind, the self-cherishing mind. Clearly this type of motivation is based upon self-interest – I am greedy for the prize and scared of the lash, and this is therefore all about me. We could also say that this type of motivation is all about fear, which means that the ‘bad mind’ is the mind that is secretly ruled by fear. It is the fearful mind that cannot admit the reality of its own fear to itself.

 

Compassion (or loving-kindness) has nothing to do with ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ however. How can we say “You should be compassionate” – that sounds wrong as soon as we say it. It sounds wrong as soon as we say it because it’s a non-compassionate statement! Essentially, I’m blaming myself (or the other person) for not being compassionate and blaming is the bad mind in action… As far as compassion is concerned, ‘should’ doesn’t come into it – if it does come into it then this jinxes everything, it effectively prevents compassion from arising. We have started off on the wrong foot and so it’s all going to be down-hill from this point onwards. The self-centred mind can’t tap into the compassionate mind to further its own ends – that’s just not the way things work. Compassion happens all by itself if it is given the space to do so – it doesn’t need to be egged on or cajoled by the moralistic self-centred mind…

 

This is our basic problem in the West – in our culture everything comes out of thinking and anything that doesn’t come out of thinking gets very quickly assimilated by the rational mind. We don’t really believe in anything in the West unless it can be checked up and verified by the thinking mind, unless the thinking mind is satisfied as to its credentials. When we talk about compassion we do so in an intellectual way; we’re using the well-oiled rational mind to say cogent things about it, to explain what it is and how it works. Compassion isn’t something we think about, or write academic articles about – it’s something we do. It has to do with the way we actually are. It goes beyond any logical framework.

 

There is no logical reason for compassion or ‘other-centeredness’ – it as we have said not something that can come out of a rational agenda. On the contrary, it is something that arises all by itself just as soon as we shake ourselves free from the small, self-contained world of the thinking mind. Life itself arises all by itself once rationality withdraws from centre stage – if this were not so then we could have ‘an agenda to live’ and what could be more ridiculous than this? Having an agenda to live life is the very thing that stands in the way of life; having an agenda to live life blocks everything because life can’t come out of thinking. We can live and then think – which is to say, thought can follow in the footsteps of life but it can’t precede it. Life is always bigger than what we think about it, in other words.

 

The point is that we can’t ‘make it happen’ just because we want it to, just because we think it would be a good thing for it to. As Jung says, we can’t control the psyche – we can’t switch it on or off to suit us. This is however very much at odds with our Western way of looking at things – we are forever talking about managing emotions, managing anxiety or anger or self-destructive behaviour but there is no managing the psyche. That’s putting the cart before the horse, that’s the tail wagging the dog! If we push the problem down in one place it’s simply going to pop up somewhere else, and we can go on playing this game forever. “Management” is completely the wrong approach, completely the wrong way to be looking at things…

 

Management is control and control is aggression and all of these terms are ways of talking about the ‘bad mind’, the mind which creates suffering just like the internal combustion engine creates exhaust fumes. The ‘bad mind’ is the conservative mind – the mind which is at all times wholly and completely dedicated to preserving and promoting the existing structure, the existing system. This is the mind that is forever fixated upon the task of protecting its core assumptions – the core assumptions that its very existence is based on – which comes down to stating them and re-stating them in lots of different way, but never questioning them. James Carse calls this ‘playing the finite game’, i.e. ‘playing so cleverly that one will never be taken by surprise’. The whole ethos of control is conservative – control is about protecting our core position, our core beliefs. If the bottom line of everything we do wasn’t about protecting our core position at any cost then we would be interacting with the world (and other people) in a totally different way. We would in this case be genuinely interested in the world, genuinely interested in other people, rather than only being interested in how we may best exploit it / them. These two approaches (the ‘explorative’ and the ‘conservative’ approaches) are mutually incompatible for the simple reason that if we become genuinely interested in the world or other people then we run the risk of jeopardizing the thing that we are trying to conserve. This is not a risk that the conservative mind ever wishes to take!

 

When we talk – as we always do talk – in terms of ‘management’, in terms of ‘tools’ and ‘skills’, in terms of ‘methods’ and ‘techniques’, we are always talking about being aggressive. This aggression is inherent in the nature of the conservative mind. Finite game playing is inherently aggressive…. Compassion – or ‘other-directedness’ – isn’t a tool, isn’t a skill, isn’t a strategy or management technique. It isn’t yet another form of ‘hanging on to what we already have (or rather, what we mistakenly believe ourselves to already have). Rather, it is the expression of our true nature. Compassion is the spontaneous expression of who we really are, which is something that our rational way of living has distanced us from, disconnected us from. Disconnected from who we really are, how are we ever going to be happy or at peace?  The very reason we placed all our trust in control and manipulation, in strategies and methods, is because we are disconnected from who we really are, and are trying in an unconscious way to ‘get ourselves back’. We don’t know that this is what we are doing, we don’t know that this is the reason for all our striving, all our driven ‘grasping-type’ behaviour, but it is. As Rumi says,

All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things – fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink – the saint knows that these are desires for God and that these things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing… They will see all things face to face.

When we think about other people, concern ourselves with other people, act for the genuine benefit of other people (instead of what the conservative mind says is for their benefit) then we are tapping into our true nature. Otherwise we’re not. To be genuinely interested in others is the same thing as being compassionate – it’s only when our outlook is closed, when we are guarding our beliefs, that we cannot be compassionate. In this case we cannot afford to be compassionate. That door is closed. The door to our true self is closed and what this means is that we are buying into the ‘suffering-producing mind’, which Philip K Dick calls ‘service in error’. Chapter 35 in the Dao De Ching says,

He who holds the great sign
Attracts a great following.
He who helps the followers avoid harm
Enjoys great peace.
Music and good food can stop passers-by on their way.
The Dao, on the contrary, offers only a bland taste.
It can hardly be seen or heard.
Yet if one uses it, it is inexhaustible.

The Dao (or ‘the Way’) is of course another way of talking about our essential nature – how could our essential nature not be the way? And by the same token, how could what is not our true nature be any sort of a ‘way’ at all? When we draw upon our essential nature (which cannot be presented and re-presented as an image can be, or talked about as a concept can be talked about) our strength in inexhaustible. There is nothing we can’t do – the Dao is the source of all energy, all intelligence, all strength in the universe. When we call upon our true nature then we don’t need to be clever, to be conniving, to be an expert in the ways of manipulating the world or other people. We don’t need to be aggressive or controlling – we only need that bag of tricks when we don’t know who we are, which is when we are identified with the false, mind-created self, which has no strength or genuine intelligence in it at all. All it has is its ‘trickiness,’ its reflex-type cunning….

 

Once we see this then we can see straight way that we have gone wrong in the West with all our psychological techniques, skills at ‘self-soothing or self-calming’, our so-called ‘evidence-based’ methods of getting the result we want, the standardized result we are told we should want. Our approach is exclusively directed towards ‘saving the mind-created self’, rescuing the conservative or ‘finite game-playing’ self from the consequences of its activities. This is always the agenda of official psychotherapy. As a culture we’re caught up in playing what we might call ‘an infinite delaying game’ – we putting off the inevitable consequences of following what in Tibetan Buddhism is called the ‘bad mind’ for as long as possible. We’re pretending to ourselves that the path we’re on isn’t going to end in disaster – both collectively and individually. Essentially – in our blindness – we are trying to ‘have our cake and eat it’. We want to carry on playing our games and yet somehow be free from the suffering that comes about as a result of doing this. Or as Anthony de Mello puts it,

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

The whole of society, our whole way of life, exists for the benefit of the mind-created self (or ‘I-concept’) – it is all is geared towards the development, elaboration and consolidation of this particular suffering-producing illusion. Nothing we do has anything to do with happiness, therefore. Happiness is not an option when our primary (if unacknowledged!) aim is to preserve our core assumptions at any cost. Our over-riding concern is with the creation and maintenance of a two-dimensional image of ourselves, a generic concept of ourselves, an idea of ‘who we are’ that doesn’t actually exist. If we wanted to know (which we don’t!) what the whole show is about, what all this ceaseless frenetic aggressive busy-ness is about, then this is it! All of our ‘education’, all of our knowledge, all of our expertise, all of our technology – our entire way of life in fact – is geared towards promoting and perpetuating this suffering producing fiction of ‘who the rational mind says we are’.

 

Happiness is of no interest to us at all therefore, no matter what we might say, no matter what we might claim. How could it be when in order to be happy we would have to let go of the mind-created, fear-driven self and its sterile, narcissistic games?