Conventional Therapy Is ‘Therapy To Keep Us Asleep’

Therapy’s a funny thing. It’s a funny thing because it isn’t really what we think it is; very often, what we call ‘therapy’ is just a way of confusing ourselves! Or as we could also say, it’s very often a way of delaying or postponing the moment when we get to see the truth about ourselves, and if we’re ‘delaying the moment when we finally get to see the truth about ourselves’ then this isn’t therapy, it’s merely a way of keeping ourselves asleep!

 

‘Therapy’ is a very comfortable and familiar word to us. It sounds like giving ourselves a bit of a treat, it sounds like something that’s going to take all those mental aches and pains away. Sometimes it is. But the problem is that these aches and pains have some sort of message to give us – they’re telling us something we need to know about. The pain we’re experiencing is serving a function rather than just being an annoyance or irritation to be gotten rid of. As Anthony De Mello says, most of us go to see a psychotherapist to get our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We don’t want to grow up and leave the safety of our beloved play pen!  We don’t want to face reality. We understand the outcome of effective therapy as being the elimination of all the symptoms that are afflicting us so that we can go back to the way we were before things started getting difficult for us…

 

What does it mean to ‘leave the play pen’ though? What is the ‘playpen’ that we are talking about here? The play pen – we could say, by way of a simple answer – is everything we know, everything we are familiar with, everything we habitually see as ‘being true’. It’s the status quo; it’s what we want to hang onto. The movement of life, on the other hand, is the movement of adventure, which is the movement away from all this. What could be more natural than to want to explore the world beyond the known, the world that lies outside of the safe perimeters of our well-managed everyday world? And yet there is of course another tendency at work here too and this is the tendency to flee from the unknown and pretend that it doesn’t exist. This ‘tendency’ is more commonly known simply as fear.

 

When therapy becomes synonymous with ‘returning us safely to the play pen’ (which is what professor of nursing Margaret Newman calls linear-interventionalism) it is no more than ‘fear in disguise’, therefore. It is us obeying fear. Linear interventionalism with regard to psychological therapy is in effect the legitimization of fear, the legitimization of ‘security-seeking’. The symptoms of neurotic pain that we are experiencing – and which we, naturally enough, want to see cured – are the inevitable side-effects of ‘hanging on’, the inevitable side-effects of fearing the unknown, legitimizing this fear, and resisting it for all we’re worth. There is no way that we can free ourselves from neurotic suffering and yet at the same time hold on to the known (or stay safely resident in the play pen) – that would be a perfect example of ‘wanting to have our cake and eat it’! When we resist the natural movement of life – which is of course our prerogative – then we are going to taste the lash of neurotic suffering, which is ‘the pain of having our growth arbitrarily restricted’.

 

Just as the yearning to go beyond our boundaries and move out into the Great Unknown is a natural impulse, so too is the impulse to run in the opposite direction. There are the two forces of life – the conservative and the exploratory (or ‘fear and love’, as Bill Hicks puts it). It’s all a natural process – it’s all the same natural process, working itself out. What happens in this process is that we resist our natural impulse to let go of the known and so instead we end up clinging to it for dear life. We attempt to make the play-pen the whole world and deny that anything else exists – we validate our ‘holding on’, in other words. We make a virtue of it and blame anyone who doesn’t do the same as us. We call them bad names. But what happens then is that the pain of trying to cling onto what can’t be clung onto (because it isn’t a real thing, even though we say it is) gets more and more unbearable – it grows and grows until in the end it becomes quite untenable. We finally see that what we’re fighting against is our own true self, our own true nature, and then it naturally happens – as part of the process – that we accord with our own true nature rather than fighting against it. To see that we are not according with our own true nature is the same thing as according with it! So then we become the explorers that we truly are and we embrace what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey rather than shirking it, rather than outlawing it, or pretending that ‘there is no such thing’.

 

There is a ‘problem’ with the unfolding of this process however and this ‘problem’ is our collective way of seeing things. The problem is society, to put it bluntly. The problem is our culture. Our collective understanding of ‘therapy’ is that it ought to be something to help return us safely to the equilibrium values from which we have accidently departed. Our understanding of therapy is that it is an essentially normative process, that it is an intervention designed to return us to the linear time-line of our normatively defined lives. The symptoms of neurotic pain – whatever they are – are seen as ‘errors’ to be eliminated. We have no interest in these symptoms, beyond what we need to know in order to eliminate them. We have no curiosity about what they might be implying. When we have been effectively therapized then we can get back to so-called normal life again; we can take up our allotted roles in society where we left off. The only thing is, normal life equals ‘the play pen’; normal life equals ‘the known which we are afraid to let go of’. We make a whole world out of our equilibrium values and we (implicitly) say that there is no other legitimate world, no other legitimate way of doing things, when the truth is that our established, collectively-validated way of life (i.e. society) is an exercise in conservatism and nothing more. It’s ‘conservatism for the sake of conservatism’. It’s the rule of fear. It’s what Joe Campbell calls ‘the refusal’ – it’s refusing the call on a grand scale. It’s global refusal. We are refusing the call to be who we are and the price we pay for this refusal is neurotic pain  – instead of life all we’re going to get is a shoddy and degraded copy of the true thing. Anything else is a ‘cheap debased counterfeit’, as Rashid Dossett says. That’s our lot – that’s all we’re going to get…

 

Our way of understanding mental health perfectly illustrates our confusion. Mental health is implicitly seen as being the same thing as ‘being adapted to the reality that society has defined for us’. It is seen as being adapted to the reality that society presents us with in such a way that we don’t have any problems with it. We are supposed to value our lives (to see our lives as being ‘worthwhile’) on this basis.  A good illustration of this is the way in which we are widely supposed to find our lives meaningful (i.e. ‘worth living’) on the basis of our goals, which are when it comes down to it provided for us by society itself. It’s not put quite like this of course – the meaning of life is said to come from us being ‘free to pursue our goals’, whatever those goals (or ‘dreams’, as it is also said) might be. The thing about this however is that these goals are the goals that make sense to us within the structure or framework of society, which is itself an avoidance of reality. Our goals never have anything to do with ‘leaving the play pen’ – they are on the contrary ways of distracting ourselves from seeing that we’re in the play-pen. Our goals are the play pen…

 

Our goals and dreams are society’s goals and dreams because we see the world in the way that society wants us to. Society has given us its mind. That this should be so if pretty much a foregone conclusion seeing that the social milieu has been telling us ‘how things are’ from the cradle onwards. My map of reality has been given to me by society and this ‘map’ doesn’t permit me to see beyond it. In another way, it doesn’t matter whose goals they are anyway – the notion that we can obtain our sense of meaning in life with regard to a bunch of goals (whether they are ours or not) is fundamentally nonsensical. Waiting for our agendas to be fulfilled (or not fulfilled, as the case may be) does provide us with a type of ‘meaning’ of course – it’s just not a very wholesome one! This isn’t a wholesome type of meaning because it’s based on delusion. How can I possibly base my sense that life is ‘meaningful’ on something that hasn’t happened yet, something that only exists in my own head, something that is nothing more than a projection of my unconscious programming? What kind of craziness is this?

 

The sense of meaningfulness (or ‘worthwhileness’) we get from goals is an illusory sense of meaningfulness, an illusory sense of worthwhileness. It’s based on shadows, on fictions. It’s only a game that we are playing – whatever way I am feeling now, I think that there’s going to be some value added to it (hopefully a lot of value!) when I attain the goal, when I reach that special destination that I am aiming at. I live in expectation of this happening therefore – I live in expectation of the great thing happening and it is my belief in this happy eventuality that provides me with my motivation in life. The more I believe the more motivation I feel, the more ‘anticipatory excitement’ I feel. I’m essentially trying to ‘solve life’ therefore; I’m trying to solve life with my goal-orientated activities, although I won’t see it like this. But whether I see what I’m doing or not doesn’t change anything – it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very shaky basis for feeling good about things, a very shaky basis for me to say that ‘my life is meaningful’…

 

Goals don’t make our life meaningful. That’s the Western Delusion. That’s samsara. If my life didn’t feel OK before I get the outcome that I want then it certainly isn’t going to feel OK because of this! Life can’t feel meaningful (or ‘worthwhile’) because of something outside of me – it is completely nonsensical to think this! We might imagine – in some half-baked kind of a fashion – that good mental health can be obtained by ‘filling the hole inside of us’ but this is just not going to work for us. It is good for capitalism, it’s good for all the corporations that sell us stuff, it is good for the ‘Consumer Society’, but it’s not good for us. Looking for solutions for our emotional / mental pain outside of us just isn’t going to work. Therapy isn’t supposed to provides answers or solutions to our inner pain –that’s a false understanding of therapy. It’s sleep we’re looking for, not any type of psychological growth. Getting rid of the symptoms is just playing a delaying game, as we have already said – what’s needed is for us to get to the root of our suffering, and see clearly what this root is. Waking up is what helps, not taking more sleeping pills!

 

This doesn’t tend to sound too good to us. Looking into the root of our suffering (rather than ‘solving it’ or ‘making it go away’) doesn’t sound very good at all – it sounds suspiciously like saying that we have to sit with our pain, it sounds as if we’re saying that we’re stuck with our pain and can’t get rid of it. It comes across (perhaps) as a pessimistic message that tells us we just have to put up with the misery and learn to live with it, as far as that is possible. This is understanding things the wrong way around, though. The root cause of our suffering is that we just want to get rid of our symptoms every time they arise so that we can go back to our beloved play-pen, and carry on ‘playing with our toys’, as Tony De Mello puts it. This is the attitude that created the pain and misery in the first place. But when we understand this clearly then we don’t have to keep on suffering – if we weren’t 100% invested in clinging to the world of the known and pretending to ourselves (and each other) that this is the right thing to do then there would be no more neurotic misery. All of these neurotic ‘problems’ only exist because of our refusal to see the bigger picture, because of our resistance to change. ‘Not resisting’ doesn’t mean that we have to ‘put up with the pain forever’ (which is what the thinking, problem-solving mind tells us), it means that the pain doesn’t arise in the first place…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing The Truth

maat-arte-papyrys-s

We don’t have to ‘accept ourselves’ in order to find peace – we just have to see ourselves the way we are. That turns out to be a lot less problematical! ‘Accepting ourselves’ is actually very problematical (impossibly problematical, in fact) since as Alan Watts says the desire to accept ourselves arises from our non-acceptance of our own non-accepting selves! That’s an irresolvable paradox but we don’t like to see paradoxes. We prefer to think that they don’t exist – paradoxes upset our nice, over-simplified scheme of things! And yet if we don’t confront the inescapable paradoxes that the rational-purposeful mind is founded on, how are we ever going to escape the morass of self-deception that we generally exist within? We like to think that we can accept ourselves – that we can ‘do’ this as a kind of perfectly regular and straightforward ‘volitional act’, just as we can put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. We like to think we can do this, but we can’t! What we can do however – although again not on a ‘regular straightforward volitional or intentional basis’ – is see ourselves. Seeing isn’t an intentional act on our part – it’s something that happens all by itself just as long as we don’t block it.

 

 

This of course presents a difficulty since inasmuch as we suspect or fear that we might see something that we don’t like we are going to be inclined to block the spontaneous process of awareness, of becoming aware. We are inclined (more than inclined) to block without even knowing that we are, and for the reason ‘seeing’ ourselves as we actually we are isn’t by any means as straightforward as it may sound. We have reframed the well-known formula of ‘accepting oneself’ because of the implication that this is something that can actually be ‘done’, in the same way that we might be able to tie our shoelaces or comb our hair. Actually, to tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘accept themselves’ is a meaningless instruction – it’s meaningless because it’s self-contradictory! So instead of talking about ‘accepting oneself’ we’re saying that what actually helps is to simply see ourselves just as we are in this moment. We might not like ourselves for being the way that we are, but then again if we see that we don’t like ourselves being the way that we are then this too is simply ‘the way that we are’ and so all we have to do is see this. This is a helpful approach precisely because it shows that there is no question whatsoever of us having to change ourselves, or of having any obligation or responsibility to change ourselves. We just see ourselves as we actually are, and this is NOT a self-contradictory instruction!

 

 

So the ‘original formula’ is that if you accept yourself then you will find peace, but – as we usually understand it – this ‘instruction’ it doesn’t lead to peace at all. On the contrary, if we try to follow the instruction, we end up caught in endless conflict and self-contradiction. We’re ‘up against ourselves’ the whole time if we try to accept ourselves. We’re fighting an enemy and the enemy is ourselves, and all this in the name of ‘acceptance’! Our ‘reframed’ version of the formula is therefore “If you see yourself as you really are then you will find peace’” If we’re ‘allowing ourselves to see the truth’ then clearly we are no longer struggling against the truth, and ‘not struggling against what is true’ is of course the same thing as peace!

 

 

Just to summarize one more time, what we’re saying here is that peace lies in ‘seeing the truth of our situation’ and not in some problematic (hypothetical) act of ‘accepting ourselves’. If I am deliberately trying to accept myself then this means that I believe that it is possible for me to be some other way than thee way that I actually am, by wanting to be a different way, by willing myself to be ‘other than I am’. Because I believe this, I try to accept myself in order to become ‘accepting’, which I understand – quite rightly – to be a more peaceful state than the state of non-accepting. If I didn’t believe that it was possible for me to change myself to become ‘accepting of myself’ when I am not then I wouldn’t try. Why would I try to do something that I know to be impossible? I might of course try half-heartedly (out of habit, so to speak); I might ‘go through the motions’, but I won’t ‘wholeheartedly’ try to change myself. I won’t be as invested in it as I might otherwise be because I can clearly see that it’s an insane (or self-contradictory) instruction.  Being 100% invested in the attempt to change ourselves is never a healthy thing therefore, no matter what people might say. Being ‘100% invested in trying to change ourselves’ comes out of an unexamined commitment in not seeing the truth!

 

 

All purposeful activity is ‘aggressive’ in this way, therefore. Purposeful activity comes out of having an agenda and having an agenda comes out of an unwillingness to let go of our ideas of ‘how things should be’. If we are unwilling in this way to let go of our assumptions of how things should be there is only ever one reason for this and that reason is fear. Unwillingness to let go is always due to fear; unwillingness to let go actually IS fear! This gives us a nice simple way of understanding our own behaviour – it is simple without being simplistic; it is simple without oversimplifying, as most models do. The point is that we only have these two ways of being in the world – one is aggressive and is based on fear, and the other is honestly and this is based on fearlessness. Being fearless in the way we are talking about it doesn’t mean acting bravely on the outside in terms of what we either do or don’t do (although of course it could do) – it means being able to see (to some degree) what we are doing and why. Being ‘psychologically fearless’ is all about being honest with ourselves about the way we are, therefore, and as we have just said this is not at all the same thing as wanting to change the way we are! It’s not just ‘not the same thing’ as wanting to change ourselves, it is the complete antithesis of this…

 

 

When we are straining and striving to change ourselves this is never coming out of fearlessness; it is always fear (or rather the aggression that comes out of fear). Being fearless doesn’t mean that we stop trying to change the way we are either – it just means that we are able to bring consciousness to our situation and see what we are doing. Seeing that our activity is aggressive is not itself aggressive, whilst fighting against our aggression – so as to try to stop it or modify it – is. This is almost always a very confusing thing for us to understand since struggling is second nature for us, and we always tend to see struggling (or controlling) as ‘the right thing to do’. Sometimes controlling is the right thing to do – if I am losing control of the car that I’m driving then bringing it back under control is of course extremely important. As regards how we feel, and what is going on in our heads, struggling or straining or striving or controlling is all only ‘fear by any other name’ and it is patently ridiculous to imagine otherwise! If we are ‘fighting against the truth’ then this necessarily means that we are running away from the truth (what else could we be doing), and running away from the truth equals fear.

 

 

Because struggling to control (or ‘regulate’) how we are in ourselves is only ever ‘fear in disguise’ this means that no benefit can ever come from it, no matter how good we are at struggling / striving / controlling! Regulating oneself always means unwittingly creating suffering. How can obeying fear ever possibly produce a ‘beneficial result’? How can good come out of running away from fear? Obeying fear can’t – from a psychological point of view – ever lead to a beneficial because if we’re doing this then we’re ‘stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future’ and we wouldn’t normally see this type of thing as being ‘beneficial’! Clearly there is a kind of an incentive – actually an extraordinarily compelling one – to doing this otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it and that incentive has to do with the way in which we feel good when we (temporarily) succeed at hiding from fear. Of course we feel good – hiding from what frightens us tastes sweeter than sweet! It’s sweeter than honey… So there is this immediate very welcome relief of thinking that we have got somewhere, or ‘accomplished something’ (i.e. succeeded in hiding from the fear, although we do not of course admit this to ourselves) and this relief sets us up – so to speak – from the disappointment, disillusionment and dismay that comes when we realize that we haven’t actually got anywhere, that we have in fact only been successful at fooling ourselves that everything is sorted (that everything is OK) when the truth is that it very much isn’t…

 

 

If our sense of well-being comes from believing that we have accomplished something real when we haven’t (that we haven’t just been deceiving ourselves because we’re too scared to confront the truth) then truth is going to be a very unwelcome visitor at the door. If the pleasure or sense of relief that we are experiencing is the result of fear-driven self-deception, then clearly this type of ‘good feeling’ is nothing more than a preliminary stage to profound suffering and so what this means – even though we don’t ever look at it like this – all of our efforts to obtain the short-term relief (that we don’t perceive as ‘short-term relief’) are actually efforts that are directed towards obtaining pain and suffering. Every time we chase a goal that has something to do with us feeling more in control, more secure or well set-up in the world, we are in pursuit of our own suffering. The ‘urge to control’ (when it comes to our own inner states of being, at least) is itself nothing more than a perverse tropism towards pain, a reaching out for pain, an inexorable ‘seeking out’ of pain…

 

 

This is just another way of saying therefore that when we run away from our fear we are stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future. We don’t allow ourselves to see that we are stacking up pain and suffering for ourselves in the future because we are focussed so intently on the short term goal of gaining relief – gaining that short-term relief is all we care about.  This is actually the way our minds work generally; all of our strategizing in life is short-term strategizing. We’re always working to secure comfort for ourselves in the immediate future at the cost of great hardship later on – this is our modus operandi. When it comes down to it, all strategizing is short-term strategizing. There’s no such thing as ‘a genuine long-term strategy’. This might seem like a strange thing to say but the point is that all of our understanding is incomplete since it is based only on our present, very limited way of looking at things, and so whenever we act on the basis of this limited viewpoint (this closed viewpoint) we are simply pushing trouble ahead of us, stacking in up for ourselves in the future. It is inevitable that we are storing trouble for ourselves in the future when we act out of the rational mind because this mind always acts as if it does not represent a fragmentary viewpoint on reality, when it always is. We crave the security of thinking that our viewpoint is not fragmentary, is complete (because we fear what we do not and cannot know) and the result of clutching onto this false mind-created sense of security in the way that we always do is as we have said the creating of suffering.

 

 

A more ‘essential’ way of putting all this is to say that this suffering-producing limited-or-closed viewpoint that we are holding onto so desperately (for the sake of the false sense of security it gives us) is nothing other than the everyday self. How tightly do we hold onto the everyday self? How tight is our grip? Obviously this is a rhetorical question since ‘holding on’ is what we mainly do! Our grip is pretty much absolute. That’s our stock-in-trade’ – all of our controlling is holding on, all of our goals and rational purposes are holding on, all of our theories are beliefs are holding on. All of our ‘certainties’ are holding on. And what this ‘holding on’ is doing for us is protecting us from the Big Unknown that we don’t want to let ourselves know about. And why are we so dead set on ‘protecting’ ourselves from this ‘Big unknown’? We have of course already looked at this question – ‘fear’ and ‘a false sense of ontological security’ (i.e. a sense of security where there is none) always go together. More than ‘go together’, ‘fear’ and a ‘false sense of security’ are one and the same thing. There is no separating them! We cling to a false sense of security because we are afraid and clinging to a false sense of security creates fear…

 

 

Everything we do out of the limited (or closed) everyday sense of self we do for the covert sake of proving that this sense of self is actually real, is actually genuine, that it isn’t just something that ‘comes about’ as a result of our fear-driven holding on. All attempts to control or regulate ourselves are necessarily going to be based on our limited (or closed) idea of who we are, and for this reason all theorizing, all planning, all controlling and regulating and strategizing, are always going to be for the sake of ‘propping up the illusion that we are so attached to’. This controlling / regulating / strategizing is all a manifestation of the ‘mode of being’ in which we are fighting against reality, therefore. In this mode of being we have no interest in seeing the truth; when we are in this mode of being (which is the mode of being / mode of existence most of us are in most of the time) we are very interested in not seeing the truth! Our allegiance is to the comforting illusion, even if it does so happen that this ‘comforting illusion’ is also a suffering-generating illusion…

 

 

To come back to our original point then – the everyday self cannot accept itself because its whole ethos is based on ‘not seeing the truth’ or ‘not seeing the Big Picture’. The idea of it ‘accepting itself’ is utterly ludicrous, utterly ridiculous… If it were to accept itself it would have to accept itself as it actually is, and this would involve seeing the truth! If on the other hand we did find it within ourselves to ‘allow ourselves to see ourselves as we actually are’, then this would mean that we are now seeing that in our ordinary, everyday life we are constantly being driven by the need to hide from our own fear. This would mean seeing that what we call our own ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is nothing more than fear in disguise. But if we are able to see that our everyday motivation is ‘fear in disguise’ then THIS would mean that we are no longer afraid!

 

 

 

 

The Problem the Self is Trying to Fix is Itself

don quixote-illustration

The problem the self is forever trying to fix is itself. Not that there is a problem in it, but rather that it itself is the problem. Naturally this is the last thing the self is ever going to allow itself to be aware of! Instead, the so-called ‘problem’ is displaced outwards into the world at large and we ride out like don Quixote on his steed to fix it, with our trusty sword in one hand and our lance in the other…

 

The fact that we have displaced the so-called ‘problem’ onto the outside world means that there is endless mileage in the quest. This is something that we will never get to the end of, something that we will never complete – for all that we have our hopes pinned on doing just this. We’ll never complete this quest because the problem we’re trying so determinedly to fix isn’t the problem at all. The real ‘problem’ (if we can call it that) is something we are never going to face. We make sure we never confront the true issue by the way we always let ourselves get caught up in all the false ones. As soon as we solve one surrogate problem, there is another ten waiting around the corner to be fixed!

 

Every time we get excited about some great goal it’s never the actual stated goal itself that we’re getting excited about: we’re actually fighting a different battle entirely to the one we think we’re fighting. The goal we’re getting so excited about is actually standing in for something else – it’s a surrogate for something that we can’t let ourselves know about. It’s a theatre. It’s a displacement of the real problem and so if we succeed at it then we get to feel (in some unacknowledged way) that we’ve licked the original problem, the original problem being the ‘big one’, the one that we can’t ever let ourselves know about, the one we’re running away from, the one we know deep down that we can’t ever solve…

 

We’re always banging on in the most tiresome way about ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ and ‘agendas’ and ‘planning’ and ‘solutions’ and all that sort of stuff. We’re forever getting worked up, all ‘gung-ho’, about this type of heroic purposeful activity – it’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s practically irresistible. We’re intoxicated with the notion of success, intoxicated with the idea that we’re going to achieve something great, intoxicated with the notion of being a winner in life rather than a loser, a nobody, or whatever, and the reason for this is that we’re playing the game of denial for all we’re worth. What we’re doing with all of our ostentatious gung-ho ‘in your face’-type purposefulness is denying that the problem is really ourselves.

 

All of this super-confident talk of goals and targets and solutions to this, that and the other ought to give the game away. It’s all pretty suspicious, really. What exactly are we fighting against all the time? Why is our language so very aggressive? Why can’t we just chill out and enjoy life? Why do we have to be forever ‘improving’ stuff or ‘fixing’ stuff or looking for ‘solutions’? What the hell are we at? What’s our issue?

 

Aggression always stems from concealed or denied weakness. If there is inner strength (or ‘honesty’) then there is no need for aggression. If there wasn’t some kind of inner deficit then there wouldn’t be the burning need to be forever improving things. There would be no need to charge around being intoxicated by goals and ideas the whole time, no need to be getting forever worked up by them. If I am getting all fired up by some goal, by some idea, by some theory or system then what this plainly means is that I am suffering from some inner deficit that I am not willing to look at. The helpful thing to do would therefore be to attend to that ‘problem’ where it is rather than projecting it out onto the outside world where it then becomes invertied so that it turns into some kind of an attractive or seductive promise that I can then get excited about, euphoric about, aggressive about.

 

The point is here of course that attending to the inner deficit requires courage, whereas it is so very much easier to run away from the challenge, so very much easier to chase off madly in the opposite direction and distract ourselves with some kind of superficial theatre. Trying to fix external problems (or chasing after glittering goals) looks positive, looks brave, looks ‘heroic’, but it isn’t. Really it’s just fear in disguise! I’m afraid of facing the real issue and so I ride off in the opposite direction fighting a thousand and one surrogate battles, acting like I’m ‘tackling the problem,’ acting like the hero, when the truth is that I’m just running away…

 

Forever trying to win, forever trying to ‘succeed’, looks positive but the truth is that it is the easy option – it’s the option of ‘avoiding the essential existential challenge’ rather than facing it head on. It’s the big cop-out, the one we’re all involved in. What then – we might ask – is this ‘essential existential challenge’ that we’re talking about? What is this ‘inner deficit’ that we all find so terrifying? What is it that we’re so afraid of looking at? What could be so scary? There are a number of ways in which we could try to get at this. One very straightforward way would be to say that we’re afraid of seeing that who we think we are isn’t who we are at all, afraid of seeing the person we take ourselves to be only an empty fiction. Another way is to say that we’re afraid of finding out that everything we’ve ever believed to be true actually isn’t true at all. We‘re afraid of discovering that our existence is based on lies, on falsehoods, on made-up stories; we’re afraid – in other words – of finding out that the foundation we’ve built our lives on doesn’t actually exist. It could also be said (as the existential philosophers did) that what we’re afraid of is freedom. We’d much rather be slaves to the mediocre lies and crappy self-limiting deceptions that we tell ourselves than face up to the reality of our own freedom…

 

Carlos Castaneda puts this point across by saying that we’re afraid of seeing the Immensity that is reality, and so we hide away from it with the help of our petty concrete preoccupations. We keep ourselves busy with nonsense, with trivialities, with banalities. We bury our heads in the sand rather than face up to the vastness of the universe. We invest big time in ‘small concerns’. According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, what we’re running away from is our own true nature, which is the same thing as ‘the pure white light of unmitigated reality’. Rather than facing this dazzling white light, and recognizing it as our own true nature (the Buddha-nature), we develop an attraction towards the various dull or opaque lights of the lower worlds. We opt for the particular ‘style of distraction’ (to use Chogyam Trungpa’s phrase) that corresponds to whichever of these lower worlds we are attracted to, and stick to this particular distraction modality like glue. We stick to it through thick and through thin, in the hope that it will see us through, in the unspoken hope that we can avoid reality forever…

 

Another way of explaining why we’re distracting ourselves with dramas the whole time is to say that we’re fundamentally terrified of Radical Uncertainty – the electric all-consuming uncertainty that falsifies all our constructs, all of our conceptions, including the construct or concept of ourselves. We could therefore say that the idea which we have of ourselves is our defence against Radical Uncertainty – that it is our way of blocking it out, our way of shielding or barricading ourselves from it. As long as we continue to believe in this little self (and the concrete world that it lives in, and the very familiar activities that it continually engages in) then we are successfully keeping Radical Uncertainty at bay. We are denying it. With our unremitting purposeful activities we are saying that there is no such thing as Radical Uncertainty (since purposes or goals are by their very nature always certain).

 

The error right at the core of our scheme is however that we aren’t this little self. We aren’t who we say we are, no matter how many times we might say it. This is the error that we cannot fix – we can’t fix it because fixing it means ‘making what is not true be true’, and that is beyond our power. Nobody can do that. Since we can’t fix the central problem we deflect it outwards to make sure that we encounter it only in camouflaged form, in disguised form. We externalize the problem in other words – we ‘analogize’ it in a thousand and one different ways and then we lose ourselves in the futile task of trying our hardest to fix what can never be fixed…

 

There is always going to be an error in the system, a fly in the ointment, a spanner in the works. And from the point of view of the game this is a good thing! It’s not just a good thing, it’s an essential thing. What would we do if everything was already perfect, and we didn’t need to do anything anymore? Of course, we’re all going to all say that this would be great, that this would be wonderful. We’re going to pay lip service to the idea that it’s going to be great. This is very much like the idea of heaven – of course we all say that getting to heaven will be great, that it will be wonderful, etc, but we never think beyond this. We never consider what exactly we’d do in heaven, when there is no need to be continually having plans to make things better anymore, no need to carry on with our characteristic (or defining) patterns of thinking and behaviour any more.

 

Nominally speaking being in heaven is great but it doesn’t go beyond this, it doesn’t go beyond the label. Why is it great? What would we do with ourselves? How would we live without all our goals and plans and agendas and solutions? That goal-driven stuff is our bread and butter. It’s what we do. Even more to the point, what would we do without thinking since all of that problem-solving stuff is essentially thinking? ‘No problem’ means no need for thinking and the scary thing about this is (even if we can’t see things quite as clearly as this) is that thinking is who we are. Or rather, ‘thinking is who we think we are’, which – on the pragmatic level – comes down to exactly the same thing. Without problems, without goals, without some kind of agenda, without some kind of system to be buying into, there is no self, and this is the real problem for us. This is the problem we are making very sure never to address, the problem we are always running away from…

 

This is of course only a problem from the point of view of our thinking (which is to say, from the point of view of the thought-created self). Outside of this context, there is no problem at all. Or as the Zen saying has it, “No self, no problem”…