Not Looking Outside Ourselves For Answers

If there is one thing we need to understand about mental health it is this: we can’t change our mental state on purpose. If we were to understand this then at least we would be halfway to finding that great blessing we call ‘peace of mind’. If on the other hand we don’t understand this point then it’s unending neurotic torment that we are going to find instead!


The mystery is how we think we are going to find peace of mind by taking it into our own hands to try and fix our own mental difficulties, as if the insidious mental activity of ‘fixing’ could ever live lead to peace! ‘Fixing’ can no more lead to peace than lots and lots of sexual activity can lead to virginity! Do we really – honestly – believe that we can create peace of mind by our own efforts, by our own striving, by our own activities? Is it not much more likely that it is simply fear that is driving us here? Isn’t fear what always lies behind unwise action? Fixing only ever occurs as an expression of our attempts to avoid the unwanted outcome, after all. We don’t as invest as much as we are doing in fixing (or controlling) because we feel equally free to either ‘fix’ or not fix’. That’s not the way it is at all! We’re very biased here and the name of this bias is ‘fear’…


The alchemists called ‘trying to find peace of mind (or salvation) through our own efforts’ the via erratum, or ‘way of error’. This is the ‘easy’ road to go down, for sure – it’s the road which we are almost a hundred percent certain to go down. To try to fix, or try to correct, is a reflex reaction, after all – and not only this, it’s a completely overwhelming reflex reaction’! We see something that isn’t the way we want it to be, and so we try to make it be the way that we wanted to be. What could be easier to understand than this? The question remains however – do we really think peace of mind can be obtained in this way? Can we have peace simply because we will ourselves to? Isn’t this willing (this desiring) itself the lack of peace? How can we not see this?


When we try to change our state of mind then we become the prisoner of the device that we use in order to try to do this. We use some sort of instrument in order to accomplish our will on this matter, and then the next thing is that we have to find some way of freeing ourselves from that instrument in turn. When I am anxious then my anxious thoughts are my ‘instrument’ to help me become free from whatever I am anxious about, but then I have to find a way to try to free myself from my anxious thoughts (i.e. my ‘fixing’). It just goes around in circles forever. The one thing the instrument can never do is get rid of itself, after all. If I use a psychological method to obtain some modicum of relief from the mental pain that I am in, then this means that I am now dependent upon that method. We’re not talking about peace here therefore but ‘dependency’!


Having a dependency and having peace are hardly the same thing; and it’s not just that they ‘aren’t the same thing’ either, they’re opposite things. Peace is where we don’t have any dependencies; peace is where we don’t need anything outside of ourselves. Throughout the whole of human history our situation has been the same – when one of our man-made systems becomes too oppressive for us then we swap it for another, in the hope that it will do what the old wouldn’t (or couldn’t). Whilst it is true that one belief can displace another, it never takes too long for us to discover that the new belief is in fact every bit as restrictive as the old. We are always looking for systems to save us and we go from one system to another, from one mode of dependency to the other, always hoping that the latest will be different from ones that came before it. All systems (be they political, religious, or philosophical) are tyrannical and disempowering however – none of them can give us what we really want, which is our own autonomy.


Autonomy is of course the only the one thing a system can never give us! The very essence of ‘a system’ is that it ‘tells us what to do’ and the state of being in which we are told what to do is the exact reverse of autonomy. Rules can’t ever set us free because ‘a rule’ and ‘freedom’ are antithetical principles! Our core problem is therefore that we want something that is fundamentally impossible– we want the peace that comes with being free from external pressure, external coercion, external control, but we want a system to tell us to how to go about obtaining it. We want someone else to tell us how to be free!


There is of course no shortage of systems that will step up to offer to do this for us. They will ALL do this – there will all promise this. They always promise the same thing: “Do what I say and I will set you free” or “Do what I say and I will bring you happiness / salvation / redemption from your sins…” Of course they will always say this – they are exploiting our core weakness, which is – as we have said – that we want someone else to tell us how to be free. What a dangerous thing to want! The systems keep on promising us to free us and we keep on believing them, we keep on ‘handing all our responsibility over to them’ (because ‘taking responsibility ourselves’ is the one thing we don’t want to do), and so life continues as normal. Nothing ever changes – the human situation proceeds as always…


We absolutely insist on thinking that the answer must come from outside and so it is only to be expected that there will be a long line of charlatans at our front door, each one assuring us with their hand on their heart that their answer is the right one! We might think that after thousands upon thousands of years of this carry on you might have learned a bit of sense, but not a bit of it. We’re as gullible now as we ever were. This is as true for religion (that great source of oppression and restriction in the past) as it also is for these newfangled ‘psychological therapies’ that promise us peace of mind or relief from what troubles us if we ‘do what they say’, or if we ‘think in the way that they tell us to think’. We even go so far as to call this ‘scientific’! But how can it possibly be ‘scientific’ to assume that mental health can be brought about by subscribing to some system, and thereby acquiring a dependency upon ‘a method’?


‘Not looking for an answer that comes from the outside’ is the same thing as ‘not trying to fix ourselves’ or ‘not trying to change the way that we actually are’. When we stop thinking that the answer must lie outside ourselves (or that it lies in us being some kind of way that is different from the way that we actually are) then this always brings us back to ourselves. We don’t need any system in this case. We are free from the need to buy into any system. We don’t need a system to help us to be the way that we actually are, after all! At this point we are self-sufficient therefore – we’re not handing over responsibility for our lives to anyone or anything; we’re not putting our faith in any sort of rational ‘mumbo-jumbo’ or ‘hocus-pocus’.


At this point we come back to our own mental state. It’s not an easy state to be in, it’s true, but by having this change of attitude whereby we are not straightaway looking for answers ‘on the outside’ or looking for ‘someone else to tell us what to do or think’ something very important has changed – we have regained our autonomy. Peace of mind and autonomy are inseparable, they can never be treated as separate deals, separate issues. A whole process starts up when we stop looking outside of ourselves for answers – an autonomous (or ‘spontaneous’) process. When we give up our fear-driven allegiance to the way of error the only thing left is ‘the way of truth’!


No one has to tell this spontaneous process what to do or how to work. No ‘expert’ needs to come along with their patented brand of psychobabble to get the process to do what it is ‘supposed’ to do (according to the textbooks). None of that is needed. All that’s needed is for us to ‘step out of our own way’ and stop tripping ourselves up with our constant attempts to ‘help’ ourselves with our automatic never-ending ‘fixing-type’ activities (since as we have said, fixing never brings peace or cessation of suffering). ‘Taking matters into our own hands’ never brings peace or freedom from suffering – it’s only a form of ‘self-sabotaging due to anxiety’! What we’re talking about here might be a very slow process it’s true, but it’s also a real one, and there’s no substitute for that!



















Living In The Bubble

The usual way for us to be in the world is within a sealed bubble of ‘positive pressure’. This might sound like a strange way of putting things on the first hearing, but all that we’re saying here is that we go around in daily life continuously ‘asserting ourselves’. That’s what we actually think life is all about! ‘Our-self’ is an idea and we have to keep on asserting it because the thing about ideas is that if we ever take a break from asserting them, then they stop being there. It’s like ‘putting on an act’ – an act won’t act itself so if we stop acting it then it simply won’t be there anymore! There will be no act.


Keeping up the act is a constant effort therefore, even if we don’t feel it; keeping up the idea of who we think we are is constant effort, even though it’s an effort that we’re so used to that we don’t usually notice it. When we are able to successfully assert our selves then we feel good, and when we aren’t able to we feel bad, and this just about sums up all we need to know about the self. People go on and on about ‘psychology’ but – really – when we understand this point then we see all that we need to see about the rules that govern our everyday existence. Contrariwise, if we don’t understand this point then we don’t really understand anything.


When things are going well for us and we are able to ‘successfully assert the self’ then this because is euphorically rewarding we don’t notice the effort of having to keep up the positive pressure; we’re getting the payback so we don’t register the unrelenting strain of what we are having to do. When on the other hand we aren’t able to successfully assert our idea of ourselves and this situation lasts for any appreciable length of time then of course we are not getting the payback – we are investing all the energy but we’re getting nowhere, we’re fighting a losing battle and in this case the strain of having to maintain the idea of ourselves does start to make itself known to us. Not only do we have the original suffering to contend with, but there is also the suffering of being aware of the thankless task of ‘having to maintain the bubble’.


To exist is to suffer, which is a rephrasing of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. This – which is clearly the part we have to understand first in the Buddhist message – has always been particularly unpalatable to our Western sensibilities! No matter what else we might be interested in hearing about in the Buddhist teachings, we don’t hear this. We might be super-keen on learning all there is to learn about mindfulness, for example, but we don’t really want to be brought face-to-face with the First Noble Truth, and we don’t really want to hear any mention of it made in any mindfulness course that we might sign up for. But if we don’t take this essential teaching on board (which, as the First Noble truth, we clearly have to) what good is anything we learn going to be to us?


The suffering of existence is the suffering of having to keep on asserting the self, come what may. It’s rather like a heavy wheelbarrow that we have to keep on pushing ahead of us wherever we go. Maintaining the self construct is the task that we have to keep on labouring at even though we don’t know that we are labouring at anything, and this ‘invisible’ (or ‘unconscious’) task is suffering. The only possible pay-off is the sense of gratification that we will get when we do the job satisfactorily, but this is simply ‘the pleasure of a slave who is rewarded doing his or her job well’! And then following on from the suffering of having to keep up the positive pressure the whole time, other secondary sources of suffering follow-on from this – ‘positive pressure’ equals aggression and aggression always rebounds  back onto us at some stage. Aggression always rebounds on the winner just as it always rebounds on the loser; both are operating on the basis of aggression – successfully in one case and unsuccessfully in the other. There’s no such thing as ‘successful aggression’, in other words – not when we take the long view. It’s just like talking about ‘successfully stretching a length of elastic band’ – we can stretch an elastic band only by storing up potential energy in the fabric of the material, potential energy that will one day have to be released again.


Sometimes (generally within the context of religion or morality) we try to deny the positive pressure mechanism because we recognise that ‘blind self-assertion no matter what’ (i.e. self-assertion as ‘an answer to everything’) isn’t ever going to help anyone, least of all ourselves, but when we try this all that happens is that we find ourselves trying to ‘use aggression to defeat aggression’. We might well feel good about ourselves if we think that we are succeeding at the task, but really we’re doing the same thing we are always doing – we’ve just twisted things around so that it so that what we doing seems justified and laudable in the name of ‘morality’. The amount of suffering created is even greater when we engage in this type of deliberate morality however because all that we’ve done is add another level of self-deception into the mix – somehow we imagine that by getting aggressive towards own fundamental aggression we have somehow ‘improved’ ourselves and are ‘better people’ as a result.


Another way in which the fundamental aggression of self-assertion gets turned against itself is when we become self-critical or self-recriminatory – what happens here is that the ‘positive pressure’ gets flipped back on itself to become ‘negative pressure’. We’re going around recriminating against ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time. Instead of spraying out our aggression onto the world wherever we go we are directing it against ourselves; we automatically devalidate and repress all of our impulses instead of automatically ‘acting them out’. When we turn our aggression against ourselves in this way (and get to feel that we are unworthy or ‘bad’) we suffer a lot more (or so it would seem) than a person who is always assuming that the fault or error lies outside of them, and who feels good about themselves on this account, but the essential suffering is still there. It’s plainly visible in the first case whilst hidden in the second. We are just running over everyone else with the heavily-laden wheelbarrow instead of letting it slip back down the hill and getting squashed under it ourselves instead. The wheelbarrow is doing damage either way.


Ultimately, there is no difference between positive and negative pressure – something artificial has been created either way. On the one hand we have the ‘justified’ sense of self, and on the other we have the ‘unjustified or unworthy sense of the self’. Both modalities work equally well – the self can just as easily see itself as being ‘always right’ as it can as being always wrong’ – these are simply the two sides of the same coin, the two sides of the artificial or contrived sense of self. We can change our metaphor slightly at this point and talk about a heavily-laden rickshaw instead of a wheel-barrow (the difference being of course that we can sit on a rickshaw and pedal it like a bicycle). There are two possibilities here therefore: one is where we are cycling the rickshaw down a long incline and so the weight we are carrying is actually working in our favour – we’re at the mercy of our own momentum but going in the right direction so we’re happy! We can just enjoy the ride… The other possibility is the less happy possibility where the effort to cycle the heavily laden rickshaw up the steep gradient becomes too much for us and we slip back down the hill going the opposite way to the way that we want to. We lose ground rather than gaining it. Because we perceive ourselves to be losing ground rather than gaining it (because we’re moving in a negative rather than the positive direction) we experience dysphoria rather than euphoria – it’s the reverse of what we want to see happening and yet to our dismay we can’t do anything about it. What the rickshaw metaphor shows us however is that the movement in question is a downhill movement in both cases! The movement of the self-concept is always downhill, whatever happens always happens mechanically. The self is a mechanical thing and it can’t ever behave in a way that is non-mechanical, and mechanical movement – by definition – is movement that is downhill. A rule is being obeyed and this means that we are heading towards an equilibrium state – we’re not going anywhere new, we’re not going anywhere that’s going to surprise us, we’re only ever going to stay trapped within the gravitational pull of the equilibrium system.


The ‘pressure’ that we started off talking about is a rule – rules are pressure because we have to obey them ‘no matter what’. The rule here is that the self (whenever that might be!) has to be asserted, has to be propagated, has to be maintained. When we obey this rule, when we obey this pressure, then we’re heading to the bottom of the hill, we’re heading straight towards the ultimate equilibrium state. Reacting to the relentless pressure to assert the self – as we always do react – never leads to anything new, very clearly! It’s not supposed to lead somewhere new – how can a rule following the rule lead us ‘somewhere new’? The whole point of a rule is that it won’t lead us somewhere new. The whole point of ‘the Task’ is that we fulfil that task, not that we do something different, something unrelated to the task, something that will lead us in a direction that is unrelated to the all-important fulfilment of that task.


What we are really talking about therefore, when we talk about ‘the task of asserting the self’, is simply fear of the new (or we just say ‘fear’, because all fear is ultimately ‘fear of the new’). So are we saying here is that psychological pressure – of whatever sort – equals fear. Fear denies life.  Fear denies life because life is always new, because life is always about ‘becoming something different’. The pressure we are obeying is the pressure to avoid life therefore and it doesn’t matter whether the pressure in question is positive or negative. The true nature of the task that we are engaged in (without knowing that we are) is the task of avoiding life, in other words. Succeeding at the task is therefore perpetuating the basic problem, perpetuating the fundamental source of our suffering.


What we can’t understand is that life ISN’T a task, and that ‘being who we are’ ISN’T a task either. How can ‘being who we are’ be a task? How did we ever fall into the trap of believing such a thing? What sort of craziness is that? And if life isn’t a task then this perceived necessity to keep on struggling as hard as we can  to maintain the bubble of ‘the positively-defined self’ is the biggest (and most costly) misunderstanding that it is possible for us to make!






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…







We Live In A ‘Content-Free’ World

What happens when we create worlds for ourselves that are existentially ‘non-challenging’ is that we promptly fall asleep on our feet. This isn’t just something that is probable (or even very likely) – it is an inevitability. It happens every time…


An ‘existentially unchallenging environment’ is one in which everything is defined for us and if everything is defined, if everything is ‘in its right conceptual box’, then where’s the existential challenge in this? Everything just becomes an exercise in accounting.  Because there’s no challenge in the moment there is no ‘being present’; because there is no more than ‘what superficially appears to be there’ there is similarly no more to us than ‘what superficially appears to be there’. We are (pretty much) the products of our environment – when we adapt to an environment that is only skin-deep then the same becomes true of us, when the only world we know is a world that has no actual content then neither do we. This is because – in the absence of an effort in the direction of self-inquiry – we can’t help using our environment to define ourselves.


This tends to be a point we don’t immediately get – we’re only too used to realities that have already been defined for us, predigested realities, realities in which there is never any more than ‘what superficially appears to be’. Because of this it is hard for us to see that there is anything peculiar or untoward about this situation. The reason the ‘world of appearances’ is a peculiar one is because reality itself is not merely ‘an appearance’ and so we’re diverting from what is real without knowing it. Appearances are what we see and relate to but that is strictly our own affair – what we see or understand as ‘being real’ has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do the actual nature of reality itself. Appearances have a particular form to them – they have hard edges which we can focus on to the exclusion of anything else. We ourselves create these ‘edges’ and having created them we proceed to treat them as if they are the only important thing in life – we treat the edges that we’ve made as if they themselves are reality. The ‘edges’ that we’re talking about here come out of our thinking, needless to say, because thinking is all about edges, or ‘cut-off points for our attention’.


When ‘an edge’ equals reality then everything straightaway becomes flat. The world becomes flat – there’s no depth involved. Depth doesn’t come into it – the idea of ‘depth itself is lost. Where the edge is then that’s what’s real and behind that sharply uncompromising edge there’s nothing, nothing has been defined, nothing has been presented and that means that as far as we are concerned there is nothing. It’s as if we have turned up the focus on our focussing mechanism to make the image we’re seeing as sharp as possible; it’s only the mechanism (i.e. the conceptual mind) that does this however – this two-dimensional sharpness doesn’t exist in the world itself. The world itself has nothing in common with the image that is presented on a flat plane, as if nothing else existed but that flat plane.


If we take the time to relate to the world without the help of this focussing mechanism (and hitting a flat-plane representation with nothing behind it) then we will encounter this unfocussed phenomenon that we have called depth. Depth means that ‘the more you look, the more you see’ (as Robert M Pirsig says); reality reveals itself when we give it the space to do so, when we don’t hurry it along by ‘pressing for a conclusion’. If we press for a conclusion then we get the conclusion that we have pressed for and that’s all we get. We never go beyond it, we never get surprised. When we don’t ‘take charge of the process’ in this way then we keep on being surprised, we keep on seeing more than we thought there was to see. This quality of there being more in the situation than we initially perceived there to be constitutes what we have called ‘depth’ and depth is therefore the existential challenge that we have said designed environments don’t contain.


The essentially open nature of reality constitutes an existential challenge for us because of the demand that is being made on us to be present with a reality that has no precedence and which on this account we are not prepared to deal with. All we have is ourselves and this is a challenge because we not used to dealing with reality ourselves – we’re used to dealing with it with the help of external authority of the thinking mind, which is a collection of gimmicks and procedures and formulae that have been passed down to us, not ‘all on own’, which is what is required of us now. Life is making a demand and that demand is that we attend to what is happened right now, which has never happened before, rather than assuming that we know what is going on and moving on to the next (known) thing, which is what we usually do. The demand to attend to an unknown present moment is also the demand to attend to (or question) ourselves, and this is the one thing we never want to do. This then is the boon that the constructed environment bestows upon us – the constructed (or ‘designed’) environment bestows upon us the boon of not ever having to look at ourselves. Because the world we are relating to is made up of sharply-defined surfaces with nothing behind them so too have we become a ‘sharply-defined surface with nothing behind it’ and because there’s ‘nothing behind it’ we don’t need to examine ourselves. There’s no point because we already know everything there is to know. We are thereby protected from what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘a direct perception of what is‘.


The question here is then, why is the challenge of having to examine who or what we are so very frightening to us? Why are we so very keen to run away from it? One way of explaining our ‘reluctance to examine things too deeply’ is to say that we simply don’t want the apple-cart to get upset. Seeing that the world is other than the way that we took it to be means that we have to go right back to the drawing board and that means a lot of hard work. It also means seeing that we have wasted a huge amount of time and effort on the wrong idea of who we are and what life is all about, and seeing this is in itself hard work. That is actually the hardest work of all! Everything we thought was wrong. Having to let go of everything we thought we knew and go back to the drawing board is the hardest work there is and so it is hardly surprising that we would want to run away from something like this. Faced with the two possibilities of either carrying on in our denial and ‘putting off the moment of truth’ for as long as we possibly can, and deciding to turn around from the road of denial and go back to start again it is clear what the easiest (and therefore most attractive) option is going to be…


We had this comfortable little illusion going for us there – we thought we had everything sussed out, we thought we had a handle on everything, when all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from under us and we discover that we were only fooling ourselves. We’d been asleep, in other words, so now is the time to wake up. This is still puzzling however because when we wake up there’s a whole interesting world there to find out about and this has got to be the most exciting challenge ever! Why then do we react so badly to this challenge? Admittedly – as we have just said – we have to overcome our initial resistance to seeing the truth, but is this enough by itself to explain our tremendous antipathy to encountering ‘reality as it actually is’? The world that is made up of defined surfaces isn’t that great a world, after all; far from being in any way ‘great’ it is completely sterile, completely lacking in anything that can ever genuinely surprise us, and so why are we so very keen to stay in it, not knowing of any other world and not wanting to know either? Why do we refuse the richness of the non-conceptual mind in favour of the generic ten-a-penny two-dimensional pseudo-world that the thinking mind constructs for us? What the hell – we might well ask – is going on here?


What we’re really asking here is “Why is psychological work so very inimical to us?” Why is the existential challenge that is inherent in life itself something that we are just not prepared – under any circumstances – to countenance? The answer to this question is very simple – when we have identified with the mind-created self, which is the self that is constructed out of edges, out of hard-and-fast boundaries, then psychological work is a complete impossibility for us. There couldn’t be a more complete impossibility than this. Psychological work (or ‘conscious work’) means going beyond our boundaries and the mind-created self can’t do this – it can’t do this because it IS its boundaries. That’s the whole point of the defined self – that it can’t be what it isn’t defined as being! The defined self is only what it is defined as being and so it can’t ever go beyond these limitations (no matter how much pain and frustration they might entail) – going beyond its own boundaries is the same for the defined self as dying. To embrace the new is to let go of the old and the bottom line is that we just don’t want to do this – our resistance (or ‘inflexibility’) here is absolute…


As soon as we being to attend to the world around us we are challenged. Our idea of ourselves is challenged and that idea is sacred to us. That idea IS us. Our orientation towards life is totally based on this idea of ourselves – our interest is totally in the direction of ‘acting on behalf of this idea’, not ‘questioning it’. That would be going in the other direction entirely! There are two entirely distinct modes here – ‘doing mode’ and ‘reflecting mode’ – and if we’re in the first mode, the purposeful mode, then questioning ourselves doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s giving up or sacrificing the very thing that’s most important to us (the only thing that’s important to us!) because it’s only through unreflective purposeful doing that we can perpetuate the illusion of the controller, the illusion of the doer, the illusion of the purposeful self. The purposeful self only gets to exist because of the way it always defines itself by consistently relating itself / orientating itself to the sharply defined surfaces of the constructed world, as we said earlier.


‘Being asleep’ means that we have identified ourselves with a whole bunch of mental constructs. We can’t even differentiate between what we have called ‘the constructed world’ and the idea of who we are (i.e. who it is that inhabits this world) because each requires the other in order to carry on existing. The purposeful self and the defined world within which it lives are mutually conditioning phenomena – they are the two sides of the same coin. Inasmuch as I experience myself to be this ‘mind-created me’ I am going to have no interest in what lies beyond the sharply-defined representations of the world that the mind has created for me; not only am I ‘not interested’ in the reality that lies beyond my concepts, I am mortally afraid of it. I am never going to admit its existence, no matter how much pressure I am under. Admitting the existence of a reality that lies beyond my concepts is the same thing as admitting my own non-existence!


Our relationship with unconditioned reality – when we are identified with the defined self – is the relationship of fear. ‘Fear’ is relating by not relating – we don’t know what we are relating to because we aren’t relating to it, but at the same time we can’t help knowing about it for the very same reason, because we are so deliberately not relating to it. To consistently turn away from something is to orientate oneself towards it in a negative or reverse fashion so when we are afraid of the unconditioned reality (which is the world beyond our constructs) then our whole lives are based on fear, even though we can’t see it. Fear is what lies behind our rigid posture in life, our constant tedious tropism towards defined goals or definite outcomes, but at the same time we never look at why we are the way that we are. We have no curiosity towards ourselves; fear does not examine itself, after all – if I am afraid I do not want to see deeply into the nature of this fear! We don’t see what we are afraid of for what it is – we don’t see unconditioned reality for what it is, we simply know that we need to avoid it at all costs… If we saw that what we were so afraid of is actually reality itself, then this would tend to give the game away big time, and that’s what we don’t want!


It is because we don’t want the game to be ‘given away’ that we are so very fond of conditioned environments, environments that we have created for ourselves out of the thinking mind, environments which are seamlessly defined so that there is no radical mystery in them anywhere. To gaze upon a radical mystery would be to gaze upon the beginning of our own non-existence – the self-which-is-a-construct-of thought cannot afford to have any dealings with the Great Mystery which is reality! The constructed self is most emphatically not a philosophically-minded type of an entity – it is – as we have been saying – purely practical in its approach. It just wants to know what the goal is, and how it is to obtain it, and then it is happy. It is like a wind-up clockwork toy in this regard – we just have to prime it and then we can let it off to ‘do its thing’. Being wound-up clockwork toys, all we want is to ‘do our thing’! We don’t want to know why we are to do it – we just want to ‘get on with the job’, we just want for there to be nothing obstructing us in the fulfilment of our mechanical task. If something stands in the way of us going through our predefined routine then this is immensely irritating, immensely frustrating to us. There’s nothing worse!


‘Going through our predetermined routines’ equals being asleep and when we’re asleep we want to carry on being asleep. We don’t want to be disturbed. Beware waking up sleeping people, as Anthony De Mello says! They won’t like it, they won’t be happy with you. When we’re asleep we just want to whizz around and around and around on the tracks that have been laid down for us. We don’t want anything to get in our way. We just want to play our games. It is for this reason that we have created a world for ourselves that is made up entirely of defined surfaces, which is a world that has had all the actual content taken out of it…



Art: Sean Norvet



The Monkey-Trap

monkey trap

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






Seeing The Truth


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!





Thinking Because We Have To

prison mind

We all tend to have an odd sort of relationship with our thinking in the sense that we tend to think compulsively rather than ‘thinking freely’. This is a point that may not immediately make sense to us, but it is nonetheless a point that is very helpful to understand. A compulsive action – we may say – is an action that we carry out because we feel irritated in some way, and the only way to get relief from this irritation is to perform the action, to ‘get it over with’ so we can have some sort of peace as a result. We are a ‘slave to the irritation’, in other words, in that we have no choice other than ‘doing what we have to in order to make it leave us alone’. It’s the boss, not us. This – needless to say – is a very familiar scenario.

With regard to physical actions this idea is of course very easy to understand – a lot of our behaviour is of this nature, more than we would usually realize. We are hungry and so we eat, we are thirsty and so we drink, we have an itch and so we scratch, and so on. Or perhaps someone keeps on bugging us to do something, and so we give in and do it! This principle operates psychologically as well as physiologically and socially. We might for example sometimes talk compulsively – we say something or other because we are irritated and what we say is a response to this feeling of irritation (or ‘nervous tension’) rather than anything else. There is an ‘internal pressure’ that makes us do it. This is exactly the same thing as ‘scratching an itch’ – an itch comes along and we automatically scratch it so as to get some relief. Or perhaps we are nervous or ill at ease, and so we come out with something to break the tension. Needless to say, this sort of thing is very familiar to us all.

So what we’re saying here therefore is that most of our thinking is the result of the same sort of automatic process as scratching an itch, even though this isn’t at all how we usually see things. Most (if not practically all) of our thinking is the result of ‘internal pressure’. The proof of this assertion is simply to sit still for ten minutes and pay attention to the thinking process and how it happens – I normally think that I am in charge of my own thinking, that I am directing it, that I am the ‘voluntary creator’ of it, but all I need to do to correct this viewpoint is to actually pay attention instead of assuming I know what is going on. I don’t think the thoughts at all – they pop up and I simply go along with them. I go along with them because I don’t have any choice in the matter! The only reason I don’t see that I have no choice in the matter is because I am usually so agreeable to go along with them. I go along – quite automatically – with whatever comes along. There is no conflict – the thought comes and I go along with it with perfect unreflective compliance.

What’s actually happening here is that the thinking process is leading me, just as an obedient dog is taken for a walk by its master. I think compulsively, in other words – I think because I don’t have the choice not to think. I can easily discover this fact if I try not to think – what invariably happens in this case is that I end up ‘thinking despite myself’, I end up thinking against my own will, thinking even though I don’t want to be thinking. I think despite my intention not to. This is similar to what happens when I get angry with someone – as long as I go along with my anger I feel that I am ‘in control’, that I am calling the shots, that I am the one who has decided to get angry, but if I then decide to stop being angry then I discover that I simply can’t help it. Anger, in other words, is a compulsive sort of a thing and it only appears to be voluntary when we passively go along with it. It is very easy indeed to go around being angry and not realize that the anger is controlling us and not the other way around. This happens all the time!

Our everyday thinking is exactly the same as anger (or any other compulsive emotion) in this respect – it only appears to be voluntary when we passively go along with it. It is natural therefore that we feel perfectly convinced that ‘we are in control of our thinking’ and not vice versa; in order to lose this impression or this understanding we would have to have experience of being at odds with the thinking process, which generally only happens when our thinking starts to distress us and we find that we are unable to do anything to stop the thoughts that are causing us to suffer. Just so long as our thoughts are not causing us any distress it is unlikely that we shall ever discover the inherently compulsive nature of the thinking process. ‘Out of conflict comes consciousness’, says Jung. When I discover that I am not free, then I wake up out of the ‘fool’s paradise’ of unconsciousness, and actual awareness is born.

When my thoughts start to upset me then of course I do my best to ‘switch off’ the upsetting thoughts, but what happens then is that I find out that they do not come with a handy ‘off button’. I am forced to endure them, and put up with the unhappy or agitated states of mind that they are producing in me. Wherever the thought takes me, there I have to go – I’m like an ‘involuntary passenger’ who has to go along with the ride, whether I want to or not. When I see this then I have learned an important lesson, although it is definitely not a lesson that I am going to enjoy learning. Almost always we hear people talking of ‘fighting against the negative thinking’, or ‘fighting to stay positive’, and this is of course one way which we have to try to ‘switch off’ the distressing thoughts. What we don’t tend to see so clearly however is that our desire to think about things in a ‘positive’ way is the very same thing as our desire not to be thinking in the negative way, which means that the big emphasis on positive thinking (which sounds healthy) is really a disguised form of our fear of the negative thinking. It’s only ‘fear in disguise’.

So this leads to the question – is a fear of negative thinking ‘healthy’? It is certainly very natural but we can’t say that it is healthy (i.e. leading to a state of mental health or well-being) because when we experience aversion towards the ‘negative thoughts’ all that this means is that the thoughts in question are controlling us. It’s as simple as this. The aversion to the negative thought is a direct manifestation of that thought, so by running from it we are feeding it, we are making it stronger. We all know that fleeing from fears causes these fears to have a stronger grip on us, but somehow we don’t see that trying to force ourselves to think positively is just another way of ‘obeying the fear’. If we did see this then we would also see that tying to think positively isn’t a manifestation of mental health at all. It’s a manifestation of fear!

It’s remarkable how hard it is to see that positive thinking is really just negative thinking in surprise – it’s not ‘hard’, it seems nearly impossible! Nobody gets it! A clue lies in the way that we would usually say something like “I have to be positive”. Even if we don’t use these exact words there is a ‘have to’ lurking in the background somewhere – I certainly don’t say “I can be positive if I want to but I don’t have to”! It’s not playful, it’s serious! It’s grim! There is a perceived urgency in it, a strong – if not to say overwhelming – need. But if there is this need, this compulsion for me to think a positive thought instead of the negative one then in what way is this type of ‘compulsivity’ any better than the type I am trying to get rid of? I am unfree either way – I am being compelled to ‘think the thought’ either way, and so how is this an improvement?


We could of course answer that being compelled to think the positive thought is preferable to being compelled to think the negative one because it’s not as frightening and this – when it comes to the crunch – seems like a very persuasive reason! When fear is the motivation then we never look beyond the relief of escaping fear – if we can escape, that is. This is the sort of motivation that fear is – it’s a ‘mechanical’ motivation, a ‘reactive’ motivation, the type of motivation that doesn’t actually have any intelligence to it! We will – when it comes to the crunch – do whatever we can do to get away from whatever it is that is frightening us and so as long as forcing ourselves to think positively seems to be a way of doing this then this is what we will do (or at least, try to do).

The positive thinking is however (as we have said) simply a way of covering up the negative thinking and so what happens is that we get locked into a cycle in which we (at best) temporarily seem to be getting away from what is frightening, only to come back to it later when our ‘energy for escaping’ runs out, as it must to. This is exactly like holding a heavy iron spring down – we can do it for a while, until our arms get tired, but then, when our strength runs out, the spring uncoils again. So with the frightening thought, we can hold it at bay by thinking the positive thought for as long as we can, but as soon as we run out of strength it’s going to suddenly jump out at us again, just like a jack-in-the-box. It’s only a matter of time – the jack-in-the-box is only just waiting to jump out…

Any time we force something it’s not going to work. Whenever we force (or try to force) our mental state to be a certain way we’re going to find ourselves in the same situation – it’s going to work for a while (maybe) and then it’s going to back-fire on us. It’s going to go in reverse. This happens so many times – it happens over and over again – and yet we keep doing the same thing. It is as if we somehow manage to cling to the hope that the next time – perhaps – it’s going to be different. Maybe the next time we push the frightening thought away it’s not going to rebound on us like a boomerang! For sure the easiest thing (by far) is just to go along with this well-established mechanical reflex and keep on hoping (in some kind of faint, ill-examined way) that it’s going to work out for us, despite the fact that we know really that it won’t, and so this is what we almost always do. We keep on trying to force it, and allowing ourselves to believe that – this time – it’s somehow going to work…

Forcing always comes out of fear and fear is – as we have said – a motivation without any actual intelligence in it. It’s just something that mechanically happens because that’s the way the system is set up. It’s set up that way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. But because there is so much pain in this mechanical cycle (the cycle in which we first think negatively and then think positively in the attempt to fight back against the negative thoughts and then keep going around in this loop) we end up learning that it doesn’t work. The mechanical motivation isn’t intelligent but we are, and because there is so much suffering in being caught up in the cycle of compulsive thinking we start to learn from it. What we learn is that ‘forcing’ isn’t a way to escape from mental pain. On the contrary, it’s a very good way of exacerbating it! Forcing is us running away from fear and when we run away from fear we perpetuate it…

We could also say that what we learn as a result of being put through the wringer of compulsive thinking (of thinking because we have no choice but to think) is that we need to examine our relationship with the thinking process, and take more careful notice of it. Usually, as we have said, our relationship with thinking is peculiar in that we don’t have any freedom with regard to it; we just automatically go along with it wherever it takes us and what is even more peculiar is that we don’t ever notice that this is the nature of our relationship. There is a kind of blankness here – a kind of a ‘blind-spot’. If it weren’t for the fact that our thinking did start to create suffering for us, the chances are that we would never look at the nature of our relationship with it at all. The question is – therefore – when we see that we are powerless with regard to our thinking (and that even if we try to switch positive thoughts for negative ones this isn’t going to help us to escape the cycle) – what are we to do?

It’s all very well to say thinking positively is no help (and that it actually increases the power thinking has over us), but where does this leave us? Doesn’t it leave us feeling more powerless than ever? We’ve had our only hope taken away from us and this doesn’t feel good. This might feel like ‘a bad thing’ but the truth of the matter is that having insight actually leaves us in a much better place. It leaves us in a hugely better place, in fact. If we didn’t have any insight into the way that we ‘can’t use thinking to help us escape from thinking’ then we’d keep on at this forever, without ever getting anywhere. Without insight, there is ZERO chance of freedom. Without insight there is only the absolute certainty of continued mechanical bondage, which we can’t see as such.

Insight (i.e. seeing what is actually going on) doesn’t seem as important to us as ‘effective action’ – it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as important as doing. When things get fraught we automatically look for ‘the right thing to do’, ‘the right way of changing or fixing the situation’. We look for the remedy. We look for the formula. This is our bias and it is a very powerful bias. It is an overwhelmingly powerful bias. And yet the thing is – as we have just said – that forcing cannot ever help us escape from mental pain. Forcing doesn’t work because it always sets up a rebound, a backlash, and ‘doing’ is really just another word for forcing. It’s all just us trying to run away from fear, and what’s so ‘effective’ (or ‘positive’) about this?

So when I ask “What do I do?” this is really just another way of asking “How do I force things to happen the way I want them to?” What kind of doing isn’t a type of forcing, after all? How could there be a type of doing that isn’t forcing? Once we see this clearly it really does take the wind out of our sails. As we’ve said, it seems to leave us in a very powerless place. The truth is however that this apparently ‘powerless’ place is the only place that actually contains freedom in it. It contains freedom because I’m not caught up in the trap of trying to control; it contains freedom because I’m not caught up in the trap of compulsive thinking (either of the negative or positive variety). The reason we find this as hard to understand as we do is because we’re seeing everything backwards – we see controlling as a way of obtaining freedom instead of seeing that controlling is actually a way of losing freedom.

Controlling is an unfree place! We are controlled by our need to control! If I am attempting to be in control then what this means is that I have to get things to work out the way I want them to work out. I’m trapped in it – the only way I can ‘get out’ of this constrained situation (this strait-jacket) is if I control successfully, and so I put all my energy, all my attention on doing this. The implication is that when I control successfully then I’ll be free so I am chasing freedom with my controlling, but then if I stopped to reflect on this I would see that it’s contradictory because what I’m doing is that I’m giving away my freedom in order to become free! So how does this make sense? How is this going to work? How is ‘giving away’ freedom ever going to lead to freedom?


When we switch into ‘control mode’ (or ‘doing mode’) we are delivering ourselves into the power of the thinking mind. Obviously this has to be the case – the thinking mind supplies us with the goal and it also supplies us with the means by which the goal is to be attained. It tells us where to go and how to get there. It supplies us with the goal, the method, the formula, the procedure, the strategy, the lot. The thinking mind supplies us with everything – it supplies us with our whole picture of reality, it supplies us with our ideas of what’s important and what’s not important, what we have to do and what we must not do.

The one thing the thinking mind does not supply us with is freedom! The thinking mind – when it comes right down to it – is entirely rigid – it is all about rules. It is all about black-and-white certainties and black-and-white certainties have nothing to do freedom. So what this means is that ‘control mode’ isn’t as empowering for us as we might have thought. The thinking mind sells itself to us as if it is going to empower us but really it’s disempowering. How can it be ‘empowering’ to hand over our freedom to a rigid system of rules? How can it be empowering to give away our freedom? So when we give up trying to control (because we realize that forcing always rebounds on us, because we realize that there is no way to use controlling to escape from a painful or unhappy state of mind) then although this initially feels like a very powerless place to be we are actually taking our power back. We are no longer afraid to be ourselves ‘just as we are’ in all our vulnerability – without strategies and without defences – and this is empowering rather than disempowering. We’re coming back to ourselves.

This point becomes very clear when we look at relationships – if I can only be in a relationship when I am heavily defended, or when I am controlling what is happening then although on the surface of things it may look as if I am in a ‘powerful’ position the truth is of course simply that I am acting out of weakness, out of fear. I’m scared to be genuinely in the relationship – I’m scared of taking the risk that it implies so I play ‘power games’. The only way to genuinely relate to another human being is by being open and vulnerable and by not playing any games – otherwise there’s simply no relationship, there’s only control.

The same essential principle applies to our relationship with life, and our relationship with our own feelings. If I try to be secure then I replace the relationship – which works both ways – with controlling, and this just isn’t going to work out for me. If I am afraid to let things happen as they will then I have to invest in control, and this means handing over my freedom to the thinking, game-playing mind. This is the hold that thought has on us – the only reason we think (in the rational/analytical way rather than the intuitive way) is because we are trying to change things. This can of course be helpful in some cases (where it relates to what’s going on outside of us, in the physical world) but it is not helpful when it comes to the inner world of our mental states, for reasons that we have discussed. Once we have gained this key insight into the ‘unhelpfulness’ of forcing and control in relation to how we feel then the incentive for us to buy into the thinking mind and its strategies is no longer there. Why would I be thinking all the time if I no longer want to change things? Why would be planning and analysing and calculating on a constant basis if I am not afraid to ‘take the risk’?

When we no longer feel that we have to be in control then our relationship with our thoughts changes in a radical way. Because we no longer feel that we need to be in control we don’t have to automatically hand over freedom to them. We don’t have to take our thoughts so seriously, in other words. Instead of taking our thoughts seriously we have a playful, curious relationship with them – we don’t fight against them and neither do we clutch hold of them in the hope that they are going to somehow save us. We’re not pushing them away and we’re not holding onto them – we have ‘taken back our power’ as a result of our equanimity, as a result of our fearlessness, and so we’re free to think if we want to, but we’re also ‘free not to think’…









What’s My Motivation?

When we talk about motivation, and the importance of ‘being motivated’ there is immense scope for confusion here because what we don’t normally realise is that there are two totally different types of motivation. The key thing is not that we should be motivated (which is what we usually think) but that we should know how we are being motivated (i.e. what ‘exactly is motivating us’). Motivation is generally seen as being good ‘no matter what’ – in fact it is just about seen as seen as the secret of everything, the key to success and happiness, etc. That is why there are ‘motivational speakers’ – to provide us (at a cost, naturally!) the magic ingredient of motivation. It’s all about the motivation, so we’re told, and what we really need – if we are ever to amount to anything – is to work out how to get it.


The question that we don’t usually ask is “What sort of motivation is it that is being sold to us?” The most common type of motivation is where we incentivize ourselves to do stuff. This really comes down to coercing or compelling ourselves to carry out some task and the reason we need to coerce or compel ourselves is of course because we don’t really want to do it. We can call this type of motivation extrinsic because it doesn’t come from within us – if it has to be imposed from outside, by the thinking mind, by the use of incentives, then obviously it doesn’t come from within. It’s an ‘external adjunct’. In the case of extrinsic motivation we are essentially doing something that we don’t want to do for the sake of some reward (or for the sake of avoiding a punishment, which is of course a reward in itself). We are not doing what we’re doing for the sake of doing it, in other words, but for the sake of what we’re going to get out of it…


The other type of motivation is therefore motivation that does come from within and so we can call it intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is of course exactly the other way around to the extrinsic sort – we’re not doing what we’re doing reluctantly, because of what we think we’re going to get out of it, but because we genuinely do want to do it, whatever the outcome. We’re not doing it because there is a reward if we do it right, or because there is a penalty if we don’t – we’re doing it because it’s in accord with our true inner nature. We don’t need motivational speakers to give us the key for this type of motivation therefore! We don’t need to go to talks or workshops or attend courses or anything like that because there is no standardized or formulaic way to get in touch with our own intrinsic motivation. No strategy can help us here, much as we love strategies. No angle will help, fond as we are of angles. There is no ‘trick’ or ‘gimmick’ to getting in touch with our own intrinsic motivation – the only thing that is needed is sincerity and no one else can tell us how to be sincere! There are no methods to being sincere – in fact if there is a method (i.e. if there is any forcing, if there is any coercion or compulsion) then there can be no sincerity.


Sincerity isn’t really amenable to coercion or manipulation in this way – I can’t make myself be sincere. Neither I become sincere because I think that it’s the right thing to do – if I think that it is ‘the right thing to do’ then all that this means is that my thinking mind is trying to artificially impose some ‘game-plan’ on the rest of me. It is coming from outside of me, not inside. I can’t be sincere ‘for a reason’, or because it suits me, in other words. I can’t be sincere because I am going to get something out of it!  I can’t tap into intrinsic motivation because I’m going to get something out of it, either. Intrinsic motivation isn’t an ‘external’ sort of thing anymore than sincerity is, and so I can’t buy it for myself in the same way that I can go to a shop and buy a new jumper.  I can’t learn it on a course. It isn’t an ‘adjunct’ or an ‘add on’, but rather it is something that is inseparable from our own true nature, if we can only connect with that nature.


So what we are saying here is that we can connect with our intrinsic motivation only through our sincerity and we can’t be sincere on purpose, or because it suits us to be. So this is really just another way of saying that ‘we can’t use extrinsic motivation to connect us with our intrinsic motivation’, which of course makes a lot of sense when we reflect on it! Naturally I can’t coerce myself to act in a non-coerced way. I can’t ‘control myself to be uncontrolled’ (or ‘force myself to be free’) – that is clearly absurd. I can’t cure myself of always doing stuff for a reason by using extrinsic motivation because the definition of extrinsic motivation is that it is always driven by a reason, by an agenda.


Once we have established that there are these two types of motivation, and that we rarely – if ever – distinguish between them, then the next thing to consider is what difference this might make to the way we live our lives. As soon as we ask this question however the answer becomes clear – we all know what it feels like to be living life in a controlled way, doing things because we think we ‘have to’, doing things unwillingly but under some kind of compulsion, doing things because it is our ‘duty’ to do them, etc, and so one and we all know (on some level or other) that there is another way, a way that isn’t so forced and heavy-handed. The other way of living life is of course not by telling ourselves what to do every step of the way, not by planning and calculating everything the whole time, not by ‘doing it because we think we have to’. This other – freer – way of life (which we so easily forget about) is the spontaneous way and whilst lip-service is always paid to the idea of living spontaneously (rather than living as if life were a forced march towards some kind of known destination), this is generally as far as it gets! For the most part we don’t live freely, we live under compulsion, as if we were in the army and a commanding officer has to be barking orders to us every step of the way. The ‘commanding officer’ might be someone else, it might be society in general, or it might be our own rational minds, but it comes down to the exact same thing in each case – we are living under compulsion.


Another way of talking about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is to say that latter is conscious whilst the former is unconscious. As we have said it is the second type of motivation that we are most familiar with in our daily lives and so what we are talking about here is essentially compulsion. Compulsion is unfree motivation; it means, as we all know, that we have no choice in the matter, that we are forced or coerced to do something or other. We can be coerced in two ways, we can be bribed (or ‘lured’) or we can be threatened (or ‘scared’). This is another way of saying that compulsions can be either positive or negative – in the first case we are gripped by desire, in the second case, fear. Both desire and fear are unfree (or non-volitional), as is very obvious if we ever try to go against them and not do whatever it is that the desire or fear wants us to do. Desire and fear both control us – they both ‘motivate us from the outside’. Desire and fear are both ‘motivations’, it is true, but they are motivations of the extrinsic variety.


Why we should call compulsion an ‘unconscious’ motivation takes a little bit of explaining. One way to explain it is to say that when we are craving something intensely we go straight into ‘unquestioning mode’ and then all we care about is ‘obtaining whatever it is we want to obtain’. Similarly, when we are terrified we similarly lose all interest in anything other than ‘escaping from the thing that we are terrified of’. There is no consciousness in either of these situations because being conscious means that we are free to take an interest in stuff OTHER than what the greed or fear is telling us to be interested in! Consciousness implies autonomy, in other words, which means that we are NOT being totally controlled or coerced by some type of extrinsic motivation. Being ‘totally controlled but not knowing that we are’ is a very good definition of what it means to be ‘psychologically unconscious’. It is not so easy to say what it means to be conscious on the other hand but we can make a start by saying that it has something to do (a lot to do) with being free to act (or not act) in accordance with our own true nature.


If both the way that we see the world, and what we want to do in the world (i.e. the goals that we see as being important in the world) are being 100% controlled by some external factor (i.e. the conditioned mind) then we can say that there is no consciousness in this situation – there is only the ‘external factor’ which is determining everything about my reality and anything other than this we neither know nor care about. We could therefore compare the unconscious situation to water when it is forced to flow down a canal and perform various tasks (such as turning a water-wheel) – in this case the water is only what the canal says it is, and does only what the canal says it is to do. It is not given the freedom to be (or to do) anything else. When our awareness is totally regulated or determined in this way (i.e. when it is conditioned in this way) then we could say that this is the state of unconsciousness, which is our usual way of being.


We could also say that compulsion is unconscious motivation because when we are craving that we don’t really know what it is that we are craving for, and when we are afraid we don’t really know what we are afraid of. This is a more difficult point to grasp because we automatically assume that we do know what we are greedy for, and that we do know what we are afraid of! The thing about this however is that we only know the prize we are craving to get our hands on is good because our thinking mind tells us that it is, and we only know that the threat which we are running away from is bad because this same mind informs us that it is so. We just go along with this way of seeing things – we go along with it because this is the understanding that we have been provided with and we never stop to question it. The conditioned mind says what is good and what is bad and this is how it controls us! Whatever labels, whatever evaluations the mind automatically provides us with are taken as being ‘synonymous with reality’, and so we are left with no choice but to act (or try to act) in accordance with these labels, these evaluations. In this situation it could be said that we are being ‘controlled by our thinking’ (or that we are being ‘controlled by our conditioned minds’) and this is just another way of talking about extrinsic motivation.


So – just to repeat this point – when we are driven by fear or desire we have already taken it for granted that we know what the object of our fear or desire is, and we are now acting on this basis. This basis is never questioned; this is after all the whole thing about ‘a basis’ – it constitutes a ‘jumping off point’ (or ‘launching pad’) that is never going to be examined. All of our energy goes into the jumping and none into reflecting on ‘why it is so important that we should do this’. We don’t reflect on the ‘why?’ because we are now 100% preoccupied with either trying to ‘avoid the thing’ or trying to ‘obtain the thing’. We’re not ‘curious’, we’re ‘cunning’!


Under the influence of fear or desire we close our minds to anything other than this very black-and-white picture and it is this ‘closing of our minds’ that gives rise to the force of compulsion. It is this that gives rise to the ‘extrinsic motivation’. In essence, the ‘black and white picture’ (which equals ‘our thoughts about the world’) is being acted out through us, without us having any say whatsoever in the matter. We are therefore no more than ‘the passive vehicle through which our thoughts or ideas or beliefs are being enacted’. This of course means that they are not ‘our’ thoughts or ideas or beliefs at all – it’s completely the other way around! We are their vehicles: they don’t belong to us, we belong to them!


We can therefore talk about the phenomenon of the ‘closed mindedness’ (which is the hallmark of the unconscious state) by saying that it is all to do with the mechanical process by which a label is allocated to whatever is going on. It has to do with the way in which we are ‘slaves to the evaluation process’. The ‘label’ is our ‘definite’ (i.e. ‘black-and-white’) description of reality and once the ‘definite description of reality’ has been arrived at we never look back – from this point onwards we are not in touch with reality but only with our description of reality. This is what ‘having a closed mind’ means!


Extrinsic motivation is never about ‘learning something new’ therefore; it’s always about ‘acting out the old’ and ‘the old’ boils down to the impressions that we have formed (or have absorbed) about reality. ‘The old’ is ‘mechanical mind-stuff’ in other words, and extrinsic motivation is the way that this ‘mechanical mind-stuff’ (which is stuff which is not us, but which pretends to be us) gets to reproduce itself and perpetuate itself, just like a virus reproduces and perpetuates itself, just like any habitual pattern reproduces and perpetuates itself. Krishnamurti talks about ‘the old triumphing over the new’ and this is exactly what he is speaking of – the mind (which as Krishnamurti says ‘is always old’) reproduces itself over and over again to the exclusion of anything else, and the type of compulsive motivation which almost always dominates our lives is all about compelling us (out of either fear or desire) to keep on reinstating the old. We have allegiance not to the real but to the conditioned mind’s version of ‘what is real’ and this allegiance shows itself in the way in which we never look into the difference between ‘the thought’ and ‘the reality’.


We very rarely give much thought to the difference between ‘the reality’ and ‘the thought’ but actually there is all the difference in the world. When we can see the difference then this is when freedom comes into the picture, and when we can’t then this is when what we have called extrinsic motivation continues to rule the roost. When we don’t know the difference between reality and the ‘version’ of reality that our conditioned minds provide us with then ‘compulsion which we can’t see as compulsion’ comes into play.  ‘Seeing the difference’ actually comes down to seeing the world that exists beyond our thinking – it comes down to seeing that there is a world beyond the world that we ‘think’ is there, and this is a very good definition of what it means to be ‘conscious’ rather than ‘unconscious’.


Just to sum up, what we have just been saying is that the motivation which is compulsion is based on an assumption (or a description, or a thought) which is not at all the same thing as reality. It’s not coming out of reality at all, but something else – it’s coming out of an ‘extraneous version’ of reality which is based on the unexamined assumptions that exist in our everyday thinking mind. Or we could equivalently say that the compulsion is coming out of the automatic evaluations that are constantly being performed by this mind – actually these evaluations are the compulsions. They are our own unreal creations.


When we react on the basis of these automatic evaluations then needless to say we don’t perceive reality as it is in itself, but rather we perceive reality as it is represented by our own mental projections. If unconscious motivation comes from the relationship between me and my mental projections, then conscious motivation must (as we have already suggested) have something to do with the relationship between me and what lies beyond my projections. In order to relate directly to the reality which lies beyond our mental projections all that is needed – it could be said – is curiosity, which is a quality (like sincerity) that is inseparable from who we really are.


The state of mind in which we are not curious (and as a result react helplessly and mechanically to our own mental projections as if they were not mental projections but reality itself) is the state of psychological unconsciousness, and as the psychologist Carl Jung has noted, this ubiquitous state of being is in itself the primary cause of all our neurotic pain and suffering.


Jung says somewhere that ‘Man’s worse sin is unconsciousness’, which tends to sound rather odd to our modern ears. This however is not a ‘sin’ in the usual religious sense, it is not a sin that we commit consciously but one that we get caught up in despite ourselves, with no knowledge of what we are doing. Yet whether we know what we are doing or whether we don’t makes no difference to the outcome, according to Jung; we suffer the consequences just the same, and the ‘consequences’ are all the various forms of neurotic suffering that descend upon us as a result of living unconsciously.


Really, when we live unconsciously – when we live on the basis of extrinsic motivation rather than on the basis of genuine volition – then we are – in effect – our own enemies. How could this not be the case, when we are ignoring our true volition in favour of what the conditioned mind is telling us to do? This is a very old idea – “To thine own self be true” as Shakespeare famously says in Hamlet, and if we fail to be true to our own selves then how can we ever expect to be happy? If we turn our backs on ‘who we really are’ then how can we ever expect to find peace or meaning or fulfillment in life? How can a false mind-produced version of myself (living in a false mind-produced version of reality) ever be happy?


All this fuss about ‘motivation’ and how it is the key to everything in life is really just part of the hoax therefore. The reason motivation becomes a big issue is because we’re cut off from our true selves, cut off from who we really are. Because of this ‘dissociation’ between ‘who we think we are’ and ‘who we truly are’ everything has to be forced to happen, compelled to happen, in accordance with whatever ideas we have in our heads about what should be happening, or about what we should be doing. We have been cut off from our sincerity and as a result we have to ‘fake it’ – and as everyone knows ‘faking it’ doesn’t bring any energy with it…


If we could only reconnect then ‘motivation’ wouldn’t be an issue. We wouldn’t need to go on about it the whole time, or attend courses on it, or read books about it, or whatever else. If we could only reconnect with ourselves then we wouldn’t feel that we needed to be more motivated. After all, motivation happens all by itself, just as soon as we’re free to be who we really are…



Art: JR