The Good Mind

boddhisattva-of-compassion

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Taking the Mickey

mickey-mouse

Happiness is a funny sort of a thing. It’s a funny sort of a thing because despite the fact that happiness is (supposedly) so very important to us, we don’t actually know anything about it! We have ideas about it for sure, but these ideas have nothing to do with the actual reality. Even psychologists have odd ideas about happiness; especially psychologists, we might say! Anyone who studies happiness (and other states of mind) in a rational / intellectual sort of a way is bound to be wide of the mark; they’re bound to be wide of the mark because happiness is in no way a rational / intellectual sort of a thing. That would be like a respected academic professor delivering a lecture on humour – it’s not an academic we want for this job but a stand-up comedian! It’s no good talking about being funny; the guy actually has to be funny!

 

Where we miss the mark is by being serious about humour, or serious about happiness. Seriousness has no happiness in it, any more than it has any humour in it. Happiness is not in any way something that can be studied or ‘understood from the outside’. If you are happy yourself then you know all there is to know about it and if you’re not then all the study, all the intellectualization in the world isn’t going to bring you any closer. We even hear sometimes (from ‘the experts’!) that happiness is a mechanical sort of a thing – the result of endorphin molecules acting on brain cells. This truly is the most spectacular nonsense – how can a neuro-chemical ‘reward system’ ever give rise to happiness? How can there be such a thing as a ‘biology of happiness’, or a ‘neuro-anatomy of happiness’? If this were so then taking a drug such as heroin or morphine or methadone would make us happy and it doesn’t. Ask any long-term heroin user – the heroin buzz has nothing to do with happiness. It produces pleasure, that’s all, and pleasure is not at all the same thing as happiness. How could we as a culture be foolish enough to confuse pleasure with happiness? It says something about us that we talk about happiness in this mechanical way, as if it were something that could be pre-programmed, as if it were something that could be produced to order by manipulating molecules. We demean happiness by assuming that it is just part of our brain chemistry, something that evolution has put there in order to motivate us to play the biological survival game.

 

Happiness – as we would know if we had any wisdom in us at all – cannot be deliberately brought about, either by biological hard-wired programmes or by psychological means. There can be no such thing as ‘a method to make us happy’, for all that every charlatan under the sun is forever trying to tell us that there is. They are of course only trying to tell us that there is so that they can make a quick buck out of us, but the irony here is that they assume ‘making a quick buck’ will make them happy, and it won’t! There is no such thing as a method to make us happy any more than there is such a thing as a ‘therapy’ to make us happy. Happiness is completely out of our control, which for a control-based culture such as ours is a very hard thing to swallow. This is not at all what we want to hear – in fact we’re determined not to hear it, which is why we are so prepared to listen to all of the spurious ten-a-penny experts we have spouting nonsense on the subject at every available opportunity.

 

The simple (if unpalatable) truth is that the more addicted to control we are the less happy we are going to be. Addiction to control, addiction to the need to manipulate everything all the time, only brings about misery, in various shades and colours. The reason for this is because happiness is about letting go and the rational mind has nothing to contribute as far as letting go. It only gets in the way. Happiness – we might say – is when the thinking mind (which is all about ‘holding on’) has no involvement at all with what is going on. If the thinking mind has anything at all to do with what is going on then there will be no happiness. This is like the question of ‘how much involvement vampires ought to have in the management of the national blood-bank?’ – this is clearly a trick question because the only degree of involvement that works is no involvement! If the thinking mind gets any sort of foot-hold at all then you can forget it – its misery not happiness we’re going to get if we enlist the help of the thinking mind…

 

Everything thought touches becomes old, as Krishnamurti says. It becomes instantly old and there’s no happiness in the old. There might be nostalgia – but nostalgia is really just a disguised form of misery. Thought can’t help making everything old – that’s what it does, that’s how it works. Thought only registers data that that has been filed away in the appropriate mental category and nothing that is made up of mental categories can ever be new! The system of thought turns everything into a bureaucracy and bureaucracy is always the enemy of life. Life is after all a spontaneous process and the one thing bureaucracy is never going to tolerate is a spontaneous process. If the appropriate forms haven’t been correctly filled in then you can forget about it!

 

Thought creates a ready-made world for us to live in and everything in that world is old. There is absolutely no way that anything new (anything that has not been pre-programmed) can ever happen in the realm of thought. Not if we waited a billion billion years could this ever get to happen! This being the case – as we can plainly see it to be – how could we possible hope to obtain happiness via the mechanisms and pathways of thought? This being the case, why – we might ask – are we all sitting around patiently waiting for this to happen, for this to come to pass? Why are we listening so obediently to all of these so-called experts telling us about what happiness is and telling us what steps we need to take, what ‘helpful habits’ we need to be cultivating? All they are doing is selling us the system and there is no happiness to be had in the system. This is the one ingredient that’s not in it. No one ever got to be happy by going along with the accepted way of seeing things; no one ever got to be happy (or ‘mentally healthy’) by conforming to the system.

 

Naturally we can’t say anything (or know anything) about happiness. All saying, all knowing is done by the thinking mind and the thinking mind is the fly in the ointment as far as happiness is concerned. A bigger and fatter fly there never was – it’s practically the size of a pigeon! What need would there would there be to describe or define or in any way commentate upon happiness? When we are happy there is no need for analysis. Analysis both comes out of unhappiness and goes on to create further unhappiness. When we’re happy there’s no need to be saying anything, thinking anything. All thought, all analysis, all commentary is redundant. All descriptions or definitions are beside the point. Do you need someone to come and analyze a joke for you when you’re enjoying it? Descriptions and definitions are not just ‘beside the point’ – they unfailingly take us into the world of thought, which is a sterile world, a world in which nothing new can ever happen…

 

We keep on imagining that there can be such a thing as happiness within the world which thought has created (which is – generally speaking – the only world that we know). Everything in this world is a ‘mind-created image’ and there can a ‘mind-created image of happiness’ just the same as there can be a mind-created image of anything. In this ‘simulated world’ there can be a mind-created image of happiness and a mind-created image of ‘who we are’, and we can often enough put the two together and imagine as a result that we genuinely are happy, that everything really is rosy in the garden. This however is no more than just another fiction. Everything in the realm of thought is a fiction – fiction is what it is made of. Imaging that we can find happiness in this consensual mind-created world is like imagining that Mickey Mouse is a real person!

 

Every adult you meet lives in ‘the world of thought’. We all do. That’s what makes us ‘adults’ – the fact that we’re taking the socially-prescribed game seriously. This is what deadens our creativity and our spontaneity. That’s what cuts us off from our ‘inner child’. Entering into this world (without knowing that we are doing so) is part of what we call ‘growing up’; we all buy into ‘the world that thought has created’ and once we have bought into it it’s very hard to leave – it’s very hard to leave because we don’t know we’re in it! We’ve forgotten how not to be in it. We think that this is the only world there is, and that’s why we’re as miserable and cantankerous as we are…

 

Happiness is not a chemical any more than it is a mental image, any more than it is a reward for being a good organism, or a good consumer, or for performing appropriately in whatever socially-prescribed role we’ve been given. Happiness has nothing to do with evolution and ‘the survival of the fittest’ any more than it has something to do with the consensus social reality by whose rules we are artificially bound. The only way we can ever find happiness is by going beyond the game, not by learning to play it better! The only way to find happiness is by venturing beyond the consensus reality, which is the world that has been created by thought, and no one can tell us how to do this. This is what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the Hero’s Journey‘. How can we be instructed how to go beyond instructions? How can there be a rule telling us how to venture beyond the programmed world, the known world, which is the world of rules?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Losing

Speech

We are all very familiar with the ‘self-empowerment’ model in popular psychology which basically puts across the idea that ‘you can do anything you want once you put your mind to it’. Success and positive living are the key words here and we are encouraged to believe that we have every right to want to be successful in life, and that there is actually nothing to stop us if we drop all of the negative stuff inside us that is holding us back. Interestingly enough, advertising slogans often use the same sort message, urging us to ‘be whatever we want to be’. The reason advertising likes this self-empowerment model is of course because doing whatever we want to do (or being whatever we want to be) is giving us – in theory anyway – both the freedom to fulfil our needs, and the unquestionable right to want to fulfil our needs. This makes us exactly what the advertising men and women want us to be – slaves to whatever whim or desire comes drifting into our head.

 

 

Our so-called ‘needs’ are actually conditioned needs, which is to say, we are given needs which before we didn’t have, and then all our attention goes on satisfying these needs, rather than on questioning if we really need the needs. A person with very few needs is no good to the advertising industry, and so naturally they are going to do their best to sell the idea that personal fulfilment comes out of having a rake of needs, and then being able to satisfy them all. If I am ruled by my desires for this, that and the other, then this makes me an ideal member of the consumer society. A desire for some product or service comes into my head, and because of my belief in the self-empowerment model, I take it as my divine right to have that product or service. Wishes exist to be translated into reality, or so it seems to me…

 

FALLING INTO THE TRAP OF ‘WANTING TO WIN’

 

This is all a sneaky trick of course, because although I think that I am the winner (since I have successfully obtained whatever useless piece of inconsequential rubbish the advertising industry has convinced me that I wanted to obtain) actually they are the winner, because they have got me to do what they wanted me to do. I feel great because I got whatever it was I needed, but actually since the need in question was programmed into me, as part of a clever strategy of manipulation, any good feeling that I might have as a result of being ‘successful’ is only evidence of my own utter foolishness. The problem is that ‘success’ is such a powerful kind of a word – as soon as I hear it I find myself thinking “Yes – I want to be successful…” and so I am hooked. Because the right button has been pushed (the button of self-interest), I rush right in without reflecting on what I am doing.

 

 

What we are talking about is of course pretty obvious with regard to marketing but what is the relevance to self-empowerment models in popular psychology, models which encourage us to say “I can do…” and “I can be…” ? Our natural inclination is to think that self-empowerment is a legitimate product, to think that it is something that we quite rightly ought to be interested in. However, just as there is a sneaky trick going on when advertising campaigns urge us to stop short-changing ourselves and “be exactly what we want to be” so too is there a trick being perpetrated in ‘can do’ self-empowerment models.

 

 

We can try to explain the trick in the following way. Advertising campaigns work by validating certain needs which I have within me and which are clamouring to be satisfied. Rather than question these needs, I am encouraged to go all-out in satisfying them. Similarly, popular self-help type psychology inevitably works by validating certain basic needs that I have. The reason that I am turning to self-help popular psychology in the first place is probably because I find myself dissatisfied, confused and frustrated in what I have set out to ‘do’ in life, or undermined and discouraged in what I am trying to ‘be’. Life seems to consist of an endless series of knock-backs, an endless repetition of blows to my confidence and self-esteem – I find myself thwarted somehow in terms of how I thought life ought to turn out. And then I hear someone telling me that if I do things their way it will all come right for me, and I will be able to actualize all those ideas and goals that I have never been able to actualize up to now. The message is “No longer need you be frustrated…” Instead of being one of life’s losers, destined for mediocrity or worse, you can aim high and actually achieve what you have aimed for.

 

 

This is of course just what we have wanted to hear all along and so naturally we go for the bait, but in our hurry to benefit ourselves we don’t do ourselves any favours at all. My most deeply ingrained instinct is the instinct that I have to struggle to benefit myself – this ‘self-saving instinct’ is a reaction that is so basic to me that it happens all by itself, it actually happens whether I want it to or not, but because I immediately get sucked into the urge, and identify with the logic of it, in practice I never find out that I have no choice in the matter. Sometimes the reaction to try to save ourselves is very strong and this is what we call a ‘panic reaction’, and at other times it is more reasoned and methodical and we call this self-development or self-help or something of that nature. Panic is well known for being a totally dysfunctional response (which is to say, we know very well that it is a reaction that does nothing but harm), but with regard to the more methodical type of panicking that we call self-help we somehow imagine that this is not dysfunctional but that it is actually exactly what we should be doing under the circumstances. This is not to say that we shouldn’t ever help ourselves – if my car needs petrol I have to fill the tank and if I am hungry I need to eat. What we are talking about here is something quite different, i.e. the systematic attempt to orchestrate or organize my life so that I benefit as a result. Taking charge of my own ‘self-development’ in this way sounds like a good idea, but in reality it is a disaster. If I go all out in a systematic and methodical attempt to ‘sort myself out’ according to my ideas about what my problems are and how I would like them to be resolved I might naively assume that this response is going to help me, but actually all that is going to happen is that I am going to get hopelessly bogged down and go around in circles. Basically, by fixating narrowly on my ideas of what is best, I am going to thwart my own growth.

 

HANGING ON TO ‘THE CORE ASSUMPTION’

 

Methodically and logically trying to free ourselves from whatever problems and difficulties we feel are holding us back comes down to the ‘actualization of goals’ and this, as we have said, is the hallmark of popular self-help psychology. It’s all about forging triumphantly onwards! It doesn’t matter whether we call this sort of thing ‘problem solving’ or ‘self-empowerment’ – it all comes down to exactly the same thing and that is ‘the unreflective re-iteration of our core assumptions’. ‘Forging triumphantly onwards’ means not questioning ourselves in any deep way… Unreflectively iterating and reiterating our core assumptions suits us down to the ground because, as a rule, we would rather do anything than question the basis of what we’re doing in life. In fact far from questioning our assumptions, we don’t even want to know that they are capable of being questioned!

 

 

Actually even this isn’t putting it strongly enough because our core assumptions are so very much taken for granted that we don’t even know that they are there, let alone that they could be questioned. Once this is understood, then it can easily be seen that ‘wanting to win’ – which sounds so innocent – isn’t so innocent after all because what it really means is ‘wanting to win within the particular framework which I have decided is important to me’. In other words, when I say “I want to succeed” this statement masks the fact that I want to succeed on my own terms and so what I am really saying (without admitting it to myself) is that I want the world to be the way I want it to be, i.e. I am covertly insisting on reality matching my assumptions about it.  I don’t want to be disturbed in my safe and secure view of things – I want to ‘stay asleep’ in other words. I’ve got the ‘Do not disturb’ sign hung around my neck…

 

 

This is actually our Number One problem when it comes down to it – everyone wants to be happy but as it turns out a lot of the time we are not that happy at all, and even when we think that we are happy we probably aren’t, we are probably just kidding ourselves. It is inevitably the case that being a person means feeling frustrated and thwarted in all sorts of ways and we generally cope either by distracting ourselves from the fact that we aren’t happy and kidding ourselves that we are or by hoping that things will get better, or, if all else fails, by complaining about the fact that they aren’t getting better. But the reason happiness is so hard to come by is because we insist on having happiness on our own terms and ‘our own terms’ always precludes the possibility of genuine happiness. It is of course very hard for us to see this, mainly because on a very deep level we simply do not want to see it. Basically, the bottom line is that our allegiance is to ‘not questioning our key assumptions’ and if not questioning our key assumptions means that we are going to go through hell then we will go through hell. We won’t like it, and we will complain about it and despair about it, but that still won’t be enough to cause us to drop whatever it is that we are refusing to drop. To put this another way, my refusal to questions my key assumptions means that I will look anywhere and everywhere else for the answer to my problems, other than in this one place. I will tackle any other job that I can possibly think of, rather than the one job that really matters. This is sometimes called ‘pseudo-solution’.

 

ATTACHMENT TO A VIEWPOINT

 

So what the hell are these key assumptions that supposedly lie at the root of all my problems? One way of approaching the matter is to talk in terms of ‘the system of thought’, as Professor David Bohm does. The system of thought is basically our way of looking at and understanding the world and the idea is that this way of understanding the world provides us with a particular type of security that we have a tremendous unconscious need for. This is type of security is sometimes called ‘ontological security’, which means ‘security of being’. On a very deep level, we believe that we cannot ever afford to sacrifice this security-providing way of understanding the world, and in fact we are so attached to the viewpoint that we don’t actually see it as a viewpoint at all. Instead of seeing the system of thought as a particular way of seeing the world (which is to say, a set of assumptions that we have chosen to adopt) we take it totally for granted as ‘the only possible way’ and as a result of this the assumptions that we have made become totally invisible to us. It is therefore the fact that we don’t see our taken-for-granted viewpoint as ‘a viewpoint that provides us with the ontological security which we are so addicted to’.

 

WINNING FOR THE SAKE OF WINNING

 

This still doesn’t answer the question as to what the key assumptions are that we are talking about. But the point is that wanting to know what these assumptions are is a red-herring because whatever I am told I will inevitably understand on the basis of the system of thought, and so really I will be learning nothing at all. It is the system of thought which wants to know and the system of thought can never ever see its own assumptions, not matter how it tries. If the truth be known, it doesn’t really want to know at all, all it wants to do is to keep on distracting itself with ceaseless bogus mental activity, endless red-herrings, in other words. It is committed to looking in the wrong place.

 

 

‘Wanting to know the answer to some question that seems to be of crucial importance’ is exactly the same as ‘wanting to win’ – in the first case I fixate my attention entirely on the search for the answer to this question whilst totally assuming the context within which the answer is to come, and in the second case I fixate all my attention on the attempt to succeed or win, whilst totally assuming the terms which I think constitute ‘success’. Basically, everything we do comes down to ‘trying to win’, and for this reason everything we do acts against us. Everything we do acts against us because the more we try to win, the more unconscious we become, i.e. –

The more we throw ourselves into trying to win the less insight we have into what it is that we are really trying to do…

 

On one level this sounds like an utterly crazy assertion, but on another level it makes perfect sense; after all, that is exactly why we all like to throw ourselves into routine tasks sometimes – because when we focus narrowly on whatever it is that we are trying to do we there is a type of comfort in it that comes from ‘not having to think too deeply’. Focussing on goals is a comfort because it is essentially ‘non-challenging’ and for this reason when we feel bad our goals (and the activity that is geared to achieving them) become intensely, magnetically attractive to us. In a nutshell –

We are so in love with the superficial idea of ‘winning’ that we don’t really care what it actually is that we are winning at – we don’t want to ask questions like that because that would spoil the whole game!

 

THE ‘PSEUDO-SOLUTION’ OF LIFE

 

Our coping strategy when we feel bad is to retreat into an oversimplified, black-and-white sort of a world, a superficial world that serves as a surrogate for the reality we do not want to face. To put this another way, our unacknowledged insecurity (i.e. our hidden fear) causes us to completely preoccupy ourselves with routines and goals that actually have nothing to do with life at all. This black and white world is attractive to us because it seems to offer us the possibility of a neat solution to our problems, but in reality the oversimplified so-called ‘problem solving responses’ that we preoccupy ourselves with don’t solve anything – they merely provide us with the temporary comfort of thinking that we have solved something, which is to say, they provide us with a ‘pseudo-solution’ to the inherent difficulty of life.

 

 

Not only is pseudosolution useless (useless because it doesn’t solve anything) it actually creates no end of fresh problems or difficulties that need to be solved. In fact it is not the apparent problems that seem to be afflicting us that are the real problem – the real problem is the way in which we substitute a crudely oversimplified black and white version of reality for the real thing and then start reacting mechanically on that false basis. Curiously, although the oversimplified approach to life has the psychological function of helping us to avoid pain, the remedy actually causes us misery. This is like a person who drinks or gambles to help forget the misery caused by his drinking or gambling habit; in fact when we think about it a bit more it becomes clear that this sort of vicious circle isn’t such an uncommon thing after all – it is a cycle we are all locked into one way or another.

 

LOSING

 

Since the underlying cause of the trouble is the invisible ‘system of thought’ that lies behind how we see the world, how we think about it, and how we react, our conditioned perceptions, thoughts and actions cannot help us to be free from that cause. For example, if there is a vicious psychopathic bully terrorizing the neighbourhood, and I find an even more viciously psychopathic individual to get rid of the first one, I am no better off at all because I have only replaced one bully with another! The key to weakening and undermining the system of thought so that it no longer controls and bullies us is losing. When I feel the urge to win, that is the invisible framework of thinking within me that wants to win, it wants to be indispensable for ever and ever, that’s all it cares about, after all. Therefore, if I let myself be beaten by whatever adverse situation is threatening me, if I surrender to it, then it is the system of thought which has been controlling my life which has been beaten, not my true self.

 

 

This is not really such a strange idea either, although it might seem so at first. Suppose I am a heroin addict and after hours and hours of waiting I fail to score the drug that I am craving. The feeling that I experience when I go home empty handed is one of bitter disappointment but actually this ‘failure’ is a good thing because the habit that has been controlling my life has been weakened as a direct result of it. I haven’t been adversely affected by my failure to score some heroin, my habit has! This is in fact a very good way of demonstrating that the apparently positive word ‘success’ can translate into bad news in a big way – a successful heroin addict isn’t really such a great thing to be, any more than it is a great thing to be a successful anorexic, or a successful self-harmer, or a successful self-deluder. ‘Success’ is actually a very dumb word indeed because the surface-level glamour of it totally distracts from what it actually means…. When it comes right down to it, what the hell are we actually being ‘successful’ about? Do we even care?

 

THE SOCIAL GAME

 

Just to recapitulate what we have been saying – when we focus on being successful at whatever goals we want to be successful at, the irresistible motivation that spurs us onwards (and which makes us feel so bad when we are thwarted or denied) is actually not about the goals themselves, even though we think it is, but more about the idea of winning, or rather the feeling of winning (or being a winner). I am so keen to feel like a winner that what I actually do is to look at life in a very over-simplified (or superficial) way, so as to over-value the importance of certain virtually meaningless accomplishments. Society as a whole is a perfect example of this – the social system is created – we might say – when we all agree to be ‘small-minded’ in the same sort of way, so that we all value the same sort of petty, inconsequential things.

 

 

We all strive mightily to do well (succeed) within the terms of the social game, so that we can as a result get to feel good about this and we don’t ever question this small-minded game because if we did we would not be able to get a good feeling from winning at it! This ‘inability to question the game’ backfires on me however because if don’t do well then I get to feel bad instead – if somebody looks down on me for being ‘a loser’ this feels absolutely terrible (it feels like the worst thing in the world) despite the fact that the concept of being a loser is quite meaningless outside of the absurdly trivial social game that we all take for granted.

 

 

We take the social system (i.e. the social game) as seriously as we do because it is our way of obtaining a ‘pseudo-solution’ for life, in which there are no nice and easy clear categories of winning or losing. After all, if I am wealthy and powerful but at the same time repellently selfish and callously exploitative in my attitude to the world then how can I possibly be said to be ‘a winner’? What is so great about this so-called ‘attainment’? But on the other hand if I am good-hearted and well-loved by all around me I still can’t be said to be ‘a winner’ because this strongly implies that I have managed to obtain some coveted prize or status as a result of being unselfish or good-hearted, which is missing the point completely. The point is that life isn’t about ‘winning’, any more than it is about ‘losing’. It is very bizarre indeed that we think it is.

 

CONTROL FOR THE SAKE OF CONTROL

 

The social game which we spend most of our lives playing is only one manifestation of the closed (i.e. fundamentally limited) system of thinking that we use to understand things, and to direct or organize our interactions with the universe at large. Just as in the social game we strive to ‘win just for the sake of winning’ (which is just like overtaking every car you meet on the road just for the sake of the superficial good-feeling that you get when you overtake another driver) in the game that we play with life as a whole we very often strive to ‘be in control just for the sake of being in control’. When this tendency – which we all have – becomes exaggerated and easy to spot, it is called ‘neuroticism’ and recognized as the source of much unnecessary mental distress. Being in control (or trying to be in control) is our comfort zone, which means that I am not controlling for the reason I say I am, but rather I am controlling simply to provide myself with the shallow, false sense of security that I get from feeling that I am in control (or feeling that I at least stand a chance of being in control).

 

 

In general, having goals and trying to actualize those goals is healthy (or ‘genuinely useful’) just so long as we do not chase goals ‘just for the sake of chasing goals’. We might thing that ‘wanting to win just for the sake of winning’ and ‘wanting to have goals just for the sake of having them’ is an unusual state of affairs, but because we all tend to be unconsciously identified with the pattern of perceiving and understanding the world which is what Professor David Bohm calls ‘the system of thought’ the real reason for almost all of our activity -even though we do not know it – is to keep on validating (and therefore keep on repeating) that pattern.

 

 

The basic pattern behind everything we see, think, and do (which is also sometimes called ‘the rational mind’) has this incredibly strong tendency to it and that tendency is to take over completely. Any other ways of seeing the world are sneakily excluded and the established pattern just keeps repeating itself over and over again, for no reason other than the security of doing so. It repeats itself just for the sake of repeating itself, which is of course what ‘habits’ always do. Anything we do to improve or otherwise help ourselves – just so long as we do it on the basis of the way which we already have of understanding the world – only serves to keep keeps perpetuating and propping up that pattern, even though endlessly (and senselessly) repeating the same old pattern is the very antithesis of mental health. Our goals, which we are so very keen to attain, are nothing else at root than this endlessly repeating pattern and it is for this reason mental health can never be obtained by striving for what we see as ‘success’. Success simply means success for the pattern, for the old way of understanding things, and it is the fact that we are terminally addicted to this old way of understanding things that is causing us all our problems in the first place.

 

 

To be free from that pattern, and move beyond it, we do not need to win but to lose, and this is of course unpalatable to us in the extreme. All the same, the rational mind is very clever as well as being very stubborn, and so it is quite capable of trying to twist the idea of losing to its own advantage. If I start to believe that that losing is actually a good idea (whereas as before I would have had the more conventional idea that winning is the thing to aim for) then clearly I am going to try to lose rather than to win. But this of course doesn’t change anything at all because any goal that I attain – even if it is the goal of losing – still equals winning when it comes right down to it. If my intention is to lose, then if I do lose then I have obviously been successful at doing what I wanted to do. I have cleverly be managed to successful at losing, and so in this case my losing is really just  sneaky way of winning!

 

 

There is no way around this – if my new goal is to lose, and I then set out to achieve this goal, then my interest is purely on winning, just the same as it always is. Nothing has changed at all. The same is true for escaping: sometimes the pattern of my mind will create situations for me that are so hellish that I just want to escape, by drink or drugs or some other self-destructive addiction. I might want to end it all with the act of suicide. But the goal of ‘escape’ (in whatever form this might take) is a goal of the very same mind that I am trying to escape from. In other words, by trying to escape from the underlying pattern of cognition and behaviour I make that pattern stronger since trying to escape from the pattern is an essential part of the pattern.  There is nothing that I can deliberately do, or try to do, that will not exacerbate the original problem, which is my complete inability to look for an answer outside of my narrow and limited way of understanding the world.

 

 

Another way of looking at this is to say that the old way of understanding things which we keep trying to assert over and over again, even when it is the cause of so much trouble, is the conditioned self (i.e. the everyday old ‘me’). This sense of ‘me’ is the root of all my problems yet rather than let go of it I keep on trying to change everything else to suit it. The ‘me’ – which is basically the pattern of perception, cognition and behaviour that I have unwittingly identified with – is the most important thing in the world, despite the fact that it isn’t really who I am at all. It is the one thing I just WON’T let go of.

 

I’ll keep on promoting this delusory idea. I won’t let go of it no matter what, despite the fact that I don’t actually need to hang onto it, despite the fact that it doesn’t really exist, despite the fact that this false idea of who I am  is actually an inexhaustible source of unending confusion, misery and pain.