Dropping Aggression

All we know is aggression but because we don’t see our aggression for what it actually is, we just we just see it as the normal way of being in the world. We don’t have any other modality of existence, we don’t know of any other modality…

 

‘Aggression’ means ‘trying to get things to be the way we want them to be’; on a deeper level, it means ‘imposing our own way of seeing things on the world without acknowledging that we are doing so’.

 

This sort of basic aggression is invisible, therefore – it forms the backdrop for everything, it’s the baseline for everything we do. It’s the baseline we work off. Any attempt to say to tell us that we are fundamentally aggressive, that we live in an aggression-based way world, will be met with honest incomprehension. Nobody will know what we talking about.

 

To not be aggressive is the ultimate ‘radical action’ therefore, even though it isn’t an action, strictly speaking. There’s nothing more radical, nothing more revolutionary, than ‘non-aggression’. Non-aggression changes everything, whilst aggression (even though the whole point of it is to make changes) changes nothing. Nonaggression freezer; aggression locks us into the very situation that we are fighting against.

 

This is illustrated by the Buddhist story of Prince Five-weapons, as related by Joseph Campbell. The Prince in the story adept in the use of five weapons, as the name of the story implies, but when he encounters the forest ogre known as ‘Sticky-hair’ he quickly discovers that none of them are any use to him. Everything sticks to this ogre (his name is Sticky-hair for a reason) including his two feet and his two fists, when he uses them as weapons. When both arms and legs are firmly stuck to the ogre’s hair, he uses his head as a last resort and then this get stuck too. He’s stuck to the ogre in five places!

 

Prince Five-weapons then has the insight that whatever he does to fight the ogre is always going to be turned against him, and the results of this insight is that he has a change of attitude that allowed him to practice non-aggression instead of aggression, and this transforms the situation in that his own aggression is no longer being turned against him. In modern psychotherapy parlance non-aggression is sometimes called ‘radical acceptance’ – we are no longer seeking to change the situation, either overtly or covertly, but instead we are wholeheartedly surrendering to it. We are assenting to it one hundred per cent, with no reservations; we are surrendering to it peacefully, with an open heart, not as a tactic, nor as an act of despair. This interpretation doesn’t entirely seem to tally with the last part of the story because in the story Prince Five-weapons tells the ogre Sticky-hair that the reason he isn’t afraid (which Sticky-hair is understandably worried about) is because he has an ultimate weapon in his belly – a thunderbolt which will tear the demon to pieces. This is no ordinary weapon however: in Tibetan Buddhism a thunderbolt means the Vajra (or Dorje) which is a battle club made of diamond. This diamond club sumbolizes ‘immutable wisdom’ or the power of enlightenment to see through illusion. According to Barbara O’Brien writing in thoughtco.com:

The term vajra is a Sanskrit word that is usually defined as “diamond” or “thunderbolt.” It also defines a kind of battle club that achieved its name through its reputation for hardness and invincibility. The vajra has special significance in Tibetan Buddhism, and the word is adopted as a label for the Vajrayana branch of Buddhism, one of the three major forms of Buddhism. The visual icon of the vajra club, along with the bell (ghanta), form a principal symbol of the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet.

 

A diamond is spotlessly pure and indestructible. The Sanskrit word means “unbreakable or impregnable, being durable and eternal”. As such, the word vajra sometimes signifies the lighting-bolt power of enlightenment and the absolute, indestructible reality of shunyata, “emptiness.”

In terms of the symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism we can say therefore that the thunderbolt weapon is not ‘aggressive’ in nature. It sounds odd to say that a tremendous weapon like this is not aggressive but the truth doesn’t threaten anything, and it doesn’t try to change anything. The only thing that is threatened by the Vajra weapon is illusion, and illusion isn’t there in the first place! The difficulty we have is in seeing how not wanting to change anything’ can result in the situation being totally transformed. In the case of demon Sticky-hair, we would be very much inclined to say that Prince was actually defeated, since he could not overcome his opponent by force of arms. What self-respecting ogre is going to be put off by us not fighting it, by us not opposing it with every means at our disposal? In the real world – surely – the ogre is going to walk all over us. The ogre is going to eat us for breakfast. Isn’t that the way that things work in this world? If we are aggressive enough then we will be triumphant whilst the weak and the timid and the inoffensive will have to put up with being eaten…

 

The ogre in the story is essentially ‘an inner demon’ however and to not be aggressive towards our own inner demons (but to unconditionally allow them to be what they are, and see them for what they are) is not cowardice (or ‘giving in’) but the ultimate act of courage. Who wants to come face to face with their inner demons after all? No one wishes to get intimately acquainted with their inner demons, and so what we do instead (by ‘default’, so to speak) is to deny their existence and thereby allow them to possess us. As Jung says, very few of us have the courage to own up to the darkness that is within us, and as a result this darkness is rejected (or ‘split off’) and becomes an autonomous agent that gets to walk the streets unchallenged, free to work evil in the world.

 

Non-aggression doesn’t just radically transform our relationship with the demon(s) that possess us (by making that relationship conscious rather than unconscious), it radically transforms our understanding of ourselves and the world. It radically transforms everything, in other words! The essence of aggression, as we have already said, is that it is ‘us imposing our own way of seeing things in the world without knowing that we are doing so’. Because we are imposing our own viewpoint on the world without knowing that we are doing so we are very effectively trapped it; we are trapped in a viewpoint that we do not know to be a viewpoint and this is what our ‘unconscious aggression’ does to us. It backfires on us in a big way, in the biggest possible way, and we never know it. We are the ‘prisoners of our own device’; we have checked in but we can’t check out…

 

Why are we so very quick to be always imposing a framework on the world, we might wonder? What is it that causes us to do to do this? Why do we always have to contextualize everything within an artificial context? The best way to answer this question is simply to say that it is due to our ‘insecurity’ – we are insecure and so we impose our own familiar way of seeing things on the world. We are insecure and so we project our ‘automatically assumed framework’ on the world, and so we only see things within the terms of this framework, this context. When we impose our old familiar way of looking at things on the world that makes us feel secure – it gives us a feeling of ‘being in control’, a sense that we are ‘playing a game that we know about’. When we project the same old predictable ‘framework of meaning’ onto the world then that makes us feel secure – nothing is ever going to radically surprise us because we are always going to be ‘explaining the new in terms of the old’.

 

We are protecting ourselves against the new (or the unknown), in other words – we are maintaining our own narrow way of understanding the world and this is aggression pure and simple. We’re not allowing things to be what they actually are, but instead we are covertly forcing them to be that way that we unconsciously want them to be. We’re doing this without admitting that we are doing this – we’re saying that ‘we aren’t doing anything’! We’re imposing our own brand of order, our own brand of ‘commonsense’ on the world. We do this by squeezing the whole universe through our narrow concepts, through our narrow ideas, through our narrow mental categories. If something doesn’t fit our unexamined expectations then we don’t give it the time of day. There is therefore an all-out war going on – there’s a war going on between the meaning we want, and everything that disagrees with this meaning, anything that undermines our preferred way of seeing things.

 

This is ‘fundamental aggression’ – this is the aggression we engaging in every single day of our lives without ever knowing that we are. This is the ‘invisible aggression’ that we are engaging in every second of every day of our lives, just about. This is the fundamental aggression that forms the very basis of our lives – it’s our baseline and so we never look at it. We never question it or remark on it. We don’t understand that there is any other way of being in the world – to us anything else simply means ‘defeat’ or ‘losing’.

 

And yet as we have been saying, all this visible aggression rebounds on us; it backfires on us with a vengeance. It’s not benefitting us at all really; quite the reverse is true – we’re ‘shooting ourselves in the foot; we’re ‘scoring an own-goal’.  We’re ‘self-harming’, so to speak – we’re self-sabotaging in a big way. We’re limiting ourselves cruelly and pointlessly without owning up to the fact that we are – we are putting ourselves into an airless sterile conceptual box and stubbornly pretending that the box is the whole world. We are suppressing our innate curiosity about what the world would be like if we left it alone and didn’t impose our own private meaning on it. We’re far too afraid, far too insecure to see what would happen if we did that. We can’t even allow ourselves to see that this is a possibility! That’s what aggression is therefore – it’s simply ‘fear in disguise’.

 

When we talk about ‘trying to get things to be the way we want them’ to be this is what we’re talking about – this is control in a nutshell. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong or unhealthy about control because clearly control has a vital part to play in life. We can’t just let ‘everything go to hell’! Control has a very specific domain of applicability however, which is to say, it’s good for some things but not for everything! When we have to control everything then – as we all know – this is profoundly unhealthy. We never apply this principle to the question of ‘how we perceive the world’ however; if we did then we’d see that ‘controlling the way that we see or understand the world without admitting to ourselves that we are doing so’ is the most ‘unhealthy’ thing there is? What could be unhealthier than ‘limiting ourselves for no other reason’? What could be unhealthier than ‘limiting ourselves because we’re afraid and don’t want to see that we’re afraid’? We can say that ‘non-aggression is the ultimately revolutionary act’ therefore because it marks the ending of this pointless limitation…

 

Image – Golden Vajra at Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

 

 

 

The Mythological Life


We’re living life in two ways at once and it is of absolutely crucial importance not to lose sight of either! One if these ways is  – we might say – when we live life on a down-to-earth pragmatic basis and only concern ourselves with issues that have undeniable ‘concrete’ significance to us. Pragmatic issues have a way of driving out all ‘non-pragmatic’ ones and when this happens we fall into seeing the concrete way of life as being the only way. Everything else gets dismissed as being ridiculous and fanciful – we don’t have time for people who talk about things in any other way, we very quickly lose patience with them…

 

‘Concrete mode’ is very easy to understand – it’s the default mode, the mode that everything very easily settles down into. It’s the mode in which we do everything ‘on purpose‘, as part of some prosaic logical plan.The other mode is what we might call ‘mythological mode’ and this isn’t so easy to understand – if the concrete mode is where we relate to everything in this down-to-earth, no-nonsense way as the down-to-earth practical everyday person we are, then the mythological mode is where everything unaccountably takes on some ‘bigger’ type of significance. Life in the mythological mode is more than just obtaining this concrete goal and then that concrete goal, and going from A to B and then B to C in the prescribed logical fashion and ticking all the boxes in an orderly fashion, it has some strange and essentially ‘impersonal’ meaning. It’s ‘impersonal’ in the sense that it’s not just on this tiny scale where we are living our mundane personal life where we are endlessly preoccupied with all these petty meaningless details – it is significant in a way that goes entirely beyond this mundane sphere. Our affairs are no longer ‘purely personal’ but meaningful in some epic sense, a sense that goes far, far beyond the trivial things that society says we are to concern ourselves with. This ‘non-trivial’ or ‘mythological’ aspect of life is the aspect that the everyday concrete mind dismisses out of hand.

 

As we have said, because of the overwhelming ‘pressure of the practical’ it is almost a foregone conclusion that we are going to ‘lose sight of the mythological’ – in our culture losing sight of the mythological is actually part of becoming an adult! If you don’t then you’re not considered to be an adult – you’ve got ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, you refuse to grow up and be sensible about things. When we lose sight of the mythological this isn’t a step towards maturity however – it’s a step towards inner death, which isn’t quite the same thing. When we live purely on the concrete-personal level then we diminish ourselves tremendously. Life is so very much more than we take it to be. We ourselves are so very much more than we take ourselves to be. We are so much more than our family and friends take us to be, which is why families and friendship groups very often inhibit any possibility of inner growth. We are so much more than society takes us to be and this is why society – despite being a necessary support to us on one level (the concrete level!) is a psychological threat to us on another, crucially important level. What’s the point in being kept alive and entertained and well-fed if our ‘inner life’ is totally suppressed and denied?

 

When we live purely on the concrete level we’re ‘living beneath ourselves’ and the consequences of this are tremendous. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

 

We cannot live beneath ourselves, and fail to bring forth what is with is us (because our rational society implicitly tells us every step of the way that there is nothing remarkable within us, nothing that needs to be brought out) with impunity – the consequence of this is our neurotic suffering, which gradually eats us alive, one way or another. It is no mere accident that the rates of depression and anxiety have been steadily increasing for the last one hundred years – we often like to say that there is a genetic component to mental disorders but how do we imagine that after millions of years of evolution our DNA is suddenly developing faults? Antidepressants are hardly going to prove a remedy for the fact that our modern way of living life is entirely shallow and neglectful of any non-trivial meaning! What Jung calls (not in his exact words) ‘an epidemic of soul-sickness the like of which we have never known’ is scarcely going to be cured by the judicious prescription of psychiatric drugs to dull our existential anguish!

 

On the other hand, if we lose sight of our ‘feet’ and get swallowed up by the mythological world, this has very great consequence too. If we lose our connection with our actual practical, pragmatic life and find ourselves adrift in what Jung calls ‘the realm of the unconscious’ then we may never come back to ourselves. This is a dangerous journey and we cannot treat it as if it were not; Joseph Campbell refers to this as ‘the hero’s journey’ for a reason – the reason being that it tests us to the limit. Since when did heroes have an easy time of it? The terrible dangers that we read about in myths and legends all have their psychological meaning and this comes down to our ‘sense of ourselves’ being overpowered by the tremendous forces that exist in the mythological realm. We cannot simply launch ourselves into this world, as we are, and naively expect it to somehow work out for us on this basis. The mythological realm is powerfully intoxicating to the everyday mind – either we get intoxicated with hubris or we get intoxicated with fear, and either way spells disaster.

 

Somehow, we have to live life both ways at the same time – we have to ‘walk the tightrope’, so to speak. As we have said, on either side lies disaster – if we fall to one side we get swallowed up by the banality of everyday life and disappear without a trace, and if we fall the other way we get swallowed up by the mythological realm and also disappear without a trace. By far the biggest danger – for most of us – is that we will be browbeaten and intimidated by the concrete world and prevailed upon to renounce the world within us that – on some level – we know to be true. We are bullied into abject submission by sheer peer-pressure – fifty million people (or however many it is) can’t be wrong, after all! But actually X million people can be ‘wrong’ and – from a psychological point of view – always will be. Only the individual can be ‘the carrier of virtue’, says Jung – the state (or the collective) never can be. Virtue can never reside in the collective or the social group because no one in the group is truly being themselves – the mass mind has no conscience, no sense of responsibility and there is no way that it can be compelled to be conscientious or responsible by legislation. To be subsumed with ‘group-mind’ is to lose yourself – if we have lost ourselves then we’re simply not there and if we’re not there then how can we possibly ever ‘take responsibility’?

 

The process of social adaptation is the process of losing the mythological aspect of life because the mythological aspect of life can never be consciously experienced (or acknowledged) on the level of mass consciousness. It can be experienced unconsciously, as Jung of course says, but this is another matter entirely! We are not consciously participating in life in this case, but merely resigning ourselves to the fate of being puppeted by external forces which we have zero awareness of. We are ‘mere mechanical units’ and the reason we think we are doing things is not the real reason. Instead of a genuine inner life, we internalize some crude external script (the ready-made narrative that our society provides for us) and we imagine that this tawdry second-hand generic artefact is our inner life. We imagine that when we read from this script then that is ‘free will’…

 

The mythological mode of living life cannot be taken from a script or template and it cannot be the same for ten million people – somehow, we have to discover it ourselves and in order to discover it for ourselves we have to see the reality that lies beyond the concrete, matter-of-fact one. This can only happen when we find the courage to stop believing automatically in everything the super-pragmatic rational mind tells – rationality is what represses us, in other words, and at the same time that it represses us it will not let us know that it does, but rather (like a bad parent!) it always persuades us that it is acting in our best interests! If we do allow ourselves to be thus persuaded then this is the same thing as ‘losing touch with the mythological dimension of life’ and when we lose touch with the mythological dimension of life then we are consigned to an existence of ‘merely surviving’, and existence in which the only option left to us is to entertain ourselves as best we can until we die. The rational mind – if we let it reign over us – will always reduce us to this level; the rational mind is a device for carrying out pragmatic or concrete tasks and so if we let it ‘take over’ and ‘run everything for us’ then it will turn our lives into no more than ‘a concrete or pragmatic task’. What else can it do?

 

Rationality, by its very nature, always denies anything that it cannot – in principle, at least – understand and it is crucially important to see this. Rational thought – as is often said – is a very powerful servant but an appalling bad master. It’s a bad master because when it takes control it permanently (and invisibly) limits us to a very narrow little world – the narrow little world that it itself creates for us. In this world the only purposes are logical purposes, rational purposes, concrete purposes and no one can live their life on such an arid basis. Or rather we can, but when we do we end up suffering from the all-pervading sense of meaningless and alienation from life that Jung calls ‘soul-sickness’. Soul-sickness is the inevitable result of being confined to that narrow and juice-less world that the rational mind creates for us. It is the inevitable result of living life without the mythological dimension, which is the one thing the RT cannot provide us with. It can provide us with rules and regulations aplenty, but not a mythological dimension…

 

To the logical mind any talk of ‘mythological dimensions’ is simply nonsense, as we have already said.  Myths are not real, it says. Myths are just myths! The logical mind will inform us over and over again that only cold hard facts are real, that only the concrete everyday world is real. Its argument is very persuasive – and ultimately crushingly persuasive – but at the same time what it lead us to believe in is entirely false. There’s something silly about us if we believe it. ‘Facts and figures’ are not real at all – they are mind-created abstractions. The concrete world that we are compelled from an early age to believe in is similarly a fiction – it’s a world that is made up purely of our own descriptions and our descriptions are our own. They have nothing to do with the world as it is in itself. The world as it is in itself is an inscrutable mystery and it can never be penetrated by us. It can never be rationalized and explained and if we fall into the trap of doing this then we end up prisoners in a dead world. We end up as inmates serving a life sentence in the ‘prison of the rational mind’. We can’t rationalize or explain the world as it is in itself, but we can live it, which is the complete antithesis of existing exclusively in ‘concrete mode’, through the profoundly dubious auspices of the thinking mind…

 

 

Art: Ann Marie Zilberman

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering Lost Wholeness

TheLotusEater

By being unreflectively purposeful all the time we lose the ‘essence’ of who we are – which is to say, we identify more and more with the quantitative thinking mind and as a result lose touch with the qualitative nature of our true nature. The more of our lives we spend in purposeful mode the more essence we lose until we have identified completely with what Colin Wilson calls ‘the robot’ and ‘who we really are has become a total stranger. And it is not just that who we really are has become a stranger, it has become an unwelcome stranger, a rejected stranger…

 

Purposefulness is a dangerous dish to nibble on, therefore! It is a dish with a drug in it that can send us to sleep very quickly, a drug of forgetfulness. It tastes very good – addictively good in fact – but the price we pay for it is our ‘inner freedom’ and our inner freedom (to not be who or what our thinking says we are) is who we really are. The more we nibble away on the dish of purposefulness the less essence we have, the less inner freedom we have, the less Wholeness we have. Very quickly we’ve been compromised; before we know it (literally) we have none left at all…

 

When we’ve lost our inner freedom (our inner connectedness with who we really are) in this way then the only thing that’s left for us to do is to keep on snacking on the dish of purposefulness. The only thing that is left for us is to keep on drinking the wine of forgetfulness, so that we keep on forgetting who we really are. We keep on with our ‘unreflective purposeful behaviour’ in the unexamined hope of recovering our lost Wholeness, which is the Totality of who we truly are. This Wholeness is what we are really looking for with our ceaseless purposefulness; we’re caught in a trap therefore – we’re using the ‘purposeful mode’ to help us find what that same purposeful mode caused us to lose (or ‘forget’) in the first place!

 

We are of course going to deny this. We’re going to say that our purposes are legit – we’re going to say that our goals, our purposes are valuable and worthwhile in themselves, not because of what they ‘unconsciously represent’ to us. We’re going to say that there’s no game going on! We’re going to say that the reason we’re so busy all the time is because we’re doing important stuff, stuff that needs to be done. The truth is of course that what we’re really trying to do is to recover our lost Wholeness – that’s what we trying to do but we don’t know it. We’re trying to get back what we lost but don’t know we have lost! We’re scratching an itch we don’t acknowledge ourselves as having – the itch to be Whole when we’re not! In some kind of an unexamined way we imagine that our Wholeness can be found in our purposes, in our goals and this is why – in the Western world at least – we’re so frenetically busy all the time. If we’re not busy working we’re busy entertaining ourselves and we’re doing the same thing with our entertainment that we’re doing with our more serious, goal-orientated activity.

 

When we go into a city we see great activity all around us. There’s an awful lot of busy-ness going on. The world will tell us that this busy-ness in all about ‘the economy’, or ‘commerce’ or ‘industry’, or ‘progress’, and so on, but really it’s about us trying (in a perfectly futile way) to get our lost Wholeness back. If I get myself a new pair of top-of-the range Nike trainers I think this is me just trying to make sure I have the right gear, but really it’s me trying to get my Wholeness back. If I check into a nail bar to get my nails done I might think I’m treating myself, or making sure that I look the best I can, but again it’s my lost Wholeness that I’m after. I’m always after my lost Wholeness! If I get lots of ‘likes’ for the post I put up on Facebook the pleasant feeling of validation I get is really all about me trying to be Whole again. If people respect or approve of me because of the position I hold in society it’s the same thing. If I’m made keen for gambling it’s because I hope to get my inner freedom back when the dice fall right for me. If the team I support wins the match and I am ‘over the moon’ this represents to me – in an inaccessibly symbolic way – the recovery of my Wholeness. If I get a promotion in my job before my co-worker or manage to buy a better car than my neighbour can afford it’s the same thing...

 

In general (and even though it might on the face of it sound totally preposterous) whenever we achieve one of our ‘purposes’ we get a little jolt of satisfaction, a little jolt of pleasure and the reason for this is that we have unconsciously allowed ourselves to feel that in this way we have recovered a little bit of what we have lost (even though we do not consciously know that we have lost anything). This is of course also the reason we feel so aggrieved or annoyed when we have been thwarted in successfully carrying out our purposeful behaviour. This is the reason we get in bad form when things don’t work out for us in the way that we would have liked for them to – because (unconsciously) we feel that we have thereby been denied what is rightfully ours, i.e. our Wholenesss. We experience euphoria when we allow ourselves to unconsciously feel that we have regained a little bit of what we have lost but cannot admit to having lost, and we experience negative-euphoria (or dysphoria) when we are denied the possibility of conveniently fooling ourselves in this way!

 

If there wasn’t this unconscious agenda for me engaging in whatever purposeful activity it is that I am engaged in then there wouldn’t be the satisfaction on the one hand or the dissatisfaction on the other when my plans are either met or thwarted. There wouldn’t be the ‘up’ or ‘down’ in my mood that comes with getting my own way or not getting it. We’re so used to experiencing satisfaction / dissatisfaction with regard to whether things work out for us or not that saying what we have just said sounds rather strange to us. It sounds strange at first (perhaps) but when we reflect on the matter we can of course see the sense in it. If I am in genuinely good form (i.e. if I am genuinely happy in myself) then no matter how things work out for me in the arena of daily life I am going to have my peace of mind. I am OK in myself no matter whether I ‘do well’ or ‘don’t do well’. It’s equal. I’m not invested in outcomes – success or failure in my daily goal-orientated activities does not seem like a ‘life or death’ matter. I don’t get cranky when things fail to go my way, in other words. To give a more extreme example of the same thing – if another motorist slips into ‘my’ parking space before I do I don’t explode into sudden homicidal rage!

 

When we feel deep-down happiness then we have a ‘lighter touch’ in life. We’re not ‘heavy-handed’; we’re not being viciously competitive in every little thing. We’re not ‘playing to win’ the whole time (even though this attitude is culturally approved of) – winning isn’t actually that important to us (actually it isn’t important at all). People only want to win all the time (and feel the euphoria of winning) when they are miserable inside, when they are driven by unacknowledged inner pain. When we’re genuinely happy then we are no longer ‘heavy game-players’ – no longer are we being so ridiculously serious and humourless about everything. We’ve got nothing to prove, no axe to grind. We know that we’re already ‘rich inside’ and so we don’t have to obsessively chase after external treasures, external prizes. We’re not driven by an inner deficit and so we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to be devious and calculating, we don’t need to be strung out and mean…

 

We can express all of the above by saying that there are two modalities which we can be in – either we can be serious and driven, or we can be light and playful. Being light and playful doesn’t mean that we aren’t being ‘responsible’ or ‘mature’ or that we’re somehow being flippant about life – it simply means that we haven’t got a hidden agenda in everything we do! It means that we’re being honest with ourselves and others; it means that we have integrity; it means that we are conscious and sensitive rather than being goal-orientated and controlling. It means that we’re not cut off from who we really are. We’re Whole, rather than being ‘fractions who don’t know that they are fractions’ (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

 

There’s a kind of a Catch 22 in this though. If we hadn’t already ‘lost our qualitative essence’ then we wouldn’t be going around being heavily and humourless purposeful the whole time. We won’t be losing our inherent lightness in everything we do. But on the other hand if we already had lost our essential Wholeness (i.e. forgotten our true nature) then we are of course going to be invested in heavy-duty purposefulness, heavy-duty game-playing, heavy-duty rationality, and so we’re going to be in even more of a bad situation than we were to start off with. It’s a slippery slope and we’ve already started slipping! The thing we’re doing to help ourselves is the very thing that is getting us into more and more trouble. The remedy that we’re turning is creating more pain for us rather helping us – the ‘remedy’ is in fact the cause of the pain that we’re trying to escape from…

 

There is a way out from the Catch 22 however, but it just isn’t the one that we’re looking for. The fundamental cause of our addiction to unreflective purposefulness is our unconsciousness, which is to say our lack of insight into what we are actually doing and why. As long as we allow our attention to be magnetically fixated upon the ‘outer world’ of our goals and purposes (i.e. what we are supposedly hoping to achieve with our purposeful activity) then we are turning our back on what our real motivation is. Our real motivation – as we have been arguing – is to escape from a type of pain that we don’t actually admit to having. But suppose our motivation were different? Suppose that instead of the unconscious motivation to escape from a type of pain that we don’t admit to having we had the conscious motivation to find out what is really happening with us?

 

In this case, instead of constantly fleeing into the world of external goals we would pay attention to our own interiority (which is to say, the precious inner life that unreflective purposefulness ignores so thoroughly). Purposefulness (or ‘controlling’) has no role to play here, clearly. We’re not trying to do anything with this inner pain that we’re running away from, we’re just being sensitive to it being there. If the truth is that I am feeling pain inside, then I heed that truth. ‘Controlling’ and ‘truth’ aren’t two words that go together, after all! The lack of Wholeness is the injury that we do not admit to, that we dare not admit to. If ever an intimation of this loss comes our way it is tinged with such an intense ‘bitter-sweet flavour’ that we cannot bear it – we instantly move on from it, we habitually disregard it. It is as if we can see how we ourselves have betrayed ourselves and this is of course the one thing we don’t want to see. We therefore engage in unreflective purposeful behaviour and this straightaway causes us to forget! Unreflective purposeful behaviour is our Nepenthe. Keeping ourselves eternally busy (or entertained) is our nepenthe.  It is the lotus fruit / flower we are forever snacking on…

 

If we didn’t instantly turn away however then it would be a different story – if we didn’t turn away so heedlessly, so disinterestedly, we might realize that ‘seeing that we have forgotten something’ is the same as remembering it! We might realize that (as Kevin Ayers puts it in Eleanor’s Cake Which Ate Her) – ‘maybe what you’ve lost you’ve found’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Father

cronus

The ‘Dark Father’ of unbridled rationality eats his own children, just as Cronos did in the ancient legend. He might not actually physically eat them as Cronos the Titan did, but by the weight of his controlling and stultifying authority he represses their psychological growth – he prevents them from ever becoming what they could otherwise be. ‘Control’ – in this context – doesn’t just mean telling people what to do and what not to do, when to do it and when not to do it, it means telling us how to see the world. But it isn’t enough simply to say this. It’s not just that we have been told how to see the world, we are told in such a way that we don’t realize that we actually have been told how to see the world. We don’t realize that we have been controlled at all – we think that the world just is that way.

 

Cronos the archetypal dark father eats his own children. He devours them before they can amount to very much, he devours them before they can get to the stage of challenging his authority. Later on, as we know from the legends that have passed down to us, he slipped up (tricked by his wife) and failed to devour the infant Zeus and this ‘slip-up’ was the beginning of the end for him. Zeus – with the help of his mother who was naturally not happy to have all of her children eaten by their infanticidal father – and was reared elsewhere, in secret. Later, Zeus returned in all his strength to defeat his father and the rest of the Titans in the war to end all wars – the Titanomachy. So in a way we can say that Cronos was right to eat his children – he knew what would happen if he didn’t!

 

Cronos devouring his children – and the war between the Gods and the Titans that followed – has immense psychological significance, which is of course what gives the myth the power that it still has. Even in the second decade of the twenty-first century we are making films about this cosmic conflict – albeit not very good ones. The myth is a universal one – in the Norse tales the Gods (Odin, Thor, Loki, and the rest) had to contend with the Ice Giants, which was an another ‘titanic’ struggle. The significance that we’re talking about here has to do with the struggle between the dark, repressive force of unconsciousness, and the emergent consciousness, which despite being fragile in its beginnings is a force that in time – if allowed to grow and become strong – will overturn the whole order of things.

 

Consciousness is born in the dark cave of unconsciousness – it emerges from this suffocating darkness and all too easily returns to it. It flickers like a newly lit candle and is very easily extinguished again. It is not just that the newly emergent consciousness is precarious – the force of what we have called unconsciousness is actively opposed to it and is implacably resolved to snuff it out as if it had never existed. Jung draws upon European fairy-tales to highlight this archetypal scenario. The precarious situation of the emergent consciousness can be seen – according to Jung – in the motif of the young child abandoned in the forest, helpless before all the terrible dangers that have their home there. The motif of the child points to the archetype of the Self and what this type of story tells us is that in order for us to realize the Self in our lives (i.e. in order for us to become who we really are) we have to brave all these dangers as the abandoned child does and yet somehow come out on the other side...

 

That the child should survive all the dangers of the wild forest (just as Hansel and Gretel survived, just as the twins Romulus and Remus survived) seems incredibly unlikely to say the least! We might quite reasonably object that this is too improbable a story to take seriously, given the number of co-incidences that are needed for it to work. The point is however that whenever consciousness does come into its own (whenever the Self does miraculously come back into being after being broken apart and scattered to the four corners of the world) this is the only way that it could have happened – through an extraordinarily unlikely ‘chain of chance’. This is the same argument we meet in relation to the huge improbability of coming across a planet possessing the exact conditions necessary for the evolution of life. How unlikely is this? But the thing is of course that it is only after life has arisen and sentient beings have evolved that we can be in the position of asking the question. We’re looking at things backwards therefore – once consciousness has arisen then we can become aware of the difficulty in it ever arising in the face of all the forces that are ranged against it!

 

We can relate this point to Cronos eating his children. The odds against surviving as a child of Cronos were always formidably great. It is very nearly a sure thing that you will be immediately be eaten. But then again it only takes one helpless infant to beat the odds and you have a Zeus on your hands! Only one helpless child has to survive the tyranny of the Dark Father and there will to be a full-scale Titanomachy for him to reckon with later on! Or as we could also say, only one Romulus and Remus has to survive (or even just a Romulus) for there to be a Rome, and not just a Rome in fact but a fully-fledged Roman Empire with all the trimmings…

 

From a psychological point of view therefore we can say that the odds are very much against consciousness surviving very long before being devoured by the forces of unconsciousness. Consciousness is always being born, just has Cronos’s children were always being born, but it is very nearly inevitable that they will meet their end very quickly indeed, as a matter of course, as a matter of mere routine, we might say. We can see this drama (the annihilation of consciousness) being enacted all around us every day – or rather we can’t see it being enacted around us every day because we’d have to be consciously present to witness it and we aren’t. This is a crime without witnesses (a ‘perfect crime’, as Jean Baudrillard says) and so it is also a crime that goes widely unreported…

 

The reason for the lack of witnesses is because if we are not conscious in the first place then none of this talk of ‘consciousness being devoured’ makes any sense at all! When we’re safely unconscious then everything seems fine, everything seems dandy. Everything is as it should be. We can’t see that there is anything amiss with the world at all – everything seems to be in the proper and correct order and so there is simply no cause to be going on about this business of ‘consciousness being unceremoniously devoured shortly after it is born’. In a world where no one is their own true Self the lack of the Self is hardly likely to be commented upon! In a world where everyone is asleep being asleep is going to be seen as the right and proper way to be. In a world where everyone is telling the same lie, then that lie has become the truth…

 

Life – for us – has become a matter of ‘fitting into the format’ (although at the same time we don’t see that we have fitted ourselves into it or that there was any ‘format’ to fit into in the first place). The format has become invisible because we have fitted into it so well. When we adapt ourselves perfectly to the format then what this means is that we’re seeing the world in terms of that format (such that there is no element of our daily experience that remains unformatted) then this situation is simply seen as ‘the correct way to be’, ‘the only way to be’. Only it isn’t exactly seen as such but assumed as such so that the only time we bother our heads about the status quo is to notice when someone isn’t fitting in and is therefore standing out to everyone else because of this ‘failure to adapt’.

 

The formatted way of things is just taken for granted – we unquestioningly accept it without realizing that we have accepted anything. This is of course simply the way that ‘formatting’ works – to believe is not to know that we believe. As soon as we know that we are believing something then this is the beginning of us not believing it. As soon as we see that we have made an assumption about reality then we are ‘conscious of the assumption’ and when we are conscious of it then it is no longer an assumption. We are no longer ‘assuming’ anything in this case. We’re no longer taking it for granted.

 

This gives us a good way of what is meant by the term ‘consciousness’ therefore. Consciousness, we may say, is when the formatting that the rational mind is imposing upon us becomes visible as formatting. Normally, as we have said, the truths that make up our shared (or agreed-upon) world are so ‘self-evidently valid’ that it would never occur to us to question them. When we become conscious however this changes everything. The so-called ‘self-evident’ truths that everyone takes for granted all of a sudden get shown up as being not so true after all. They get shown up as being lies – lies that everyone automatically believes in, lies that everyone accepts as being true…

 

Becoming aware is an act of rebellion. Becoming conscious is as Krishnamurti says ‘the only revolution’. It’s the only revolution that is worth a damn – everything else is just empty posturing. Everything else is just a smoke-screen, everything else is just a red herring. Once we understand consciousness as the capacity to see our formatting (or ‘our ability to see a lie for a lie’) then we can see why unconsciousness has to react the way it does to the emerging consciousness. It can’t afford to do otherwise – it can’t afford to have the light turned on. The lie can pass itself off very easily indeed as the truth when there is no consciousness around to see it for what it really is. When there’s no consciousness then we all just accept the lie at face-value. We all just passively go along with the formatting, no matter what the formatting is. We don’t care what the formatting is – we just care about fitting into it. We don’t care what the rules are, we just care about how well we can obey them…

 

The ‘Dark Father’ is the male (or ‘rational’) authority that our society is based upon. It is the system that defines us, and regulates us once we have been defined. It is the system that tells us what life is and how we should live it. It is the system that tells us what is real and what is not real. Psychologically speaking, the reason we can say that society is based on masculine authority is because it is the expression of the rational mind – the rational mind’s essential property being that it defines (or ‘quantifies’). It ‘lays down the law’, which is the masculine (Yang-type) principle at work. The rational mind says what is, and saying what is also means saying what is not. By asserting a positive ‘truth’, therefore, the thinking mind restricts us absolutely. We become trapped in the stated world, the defined or ‘positive’ world, and being trapped means that we lose the ability to see what has been denied in order that this ‘positive world’ could be created. We lose the capacity to see what assumptions have been made, in other words. We lose ‘consciousness’.

 

This is not to say that the masculine principle is inherently evil in nature but simply that when it is overvalued (which means of course that the feminine principle has been denied) then it turns malign. The balance has been lost and the result is disaster – albeit a disaster that we cannot see! This idea of an imbalance in favour of the masculine principle was – according to Jung – well known to the ancient alchemists who spoke in terms of the need (as a certain point in the alchemical process) for the ‘Old King’ to be murdered and dismembered. The Young King uses his masculine power not in denial of the feminine but in order to protect the kingdom against misfortune and enemies. His is a wise, benevolent, tolerant authority, therefore. The Old King on the other hand has become a dark force, an embodiment of ‘restriction for the sake of restriction’, ‘control for the sake of control’, ‘power for the sake of power’. The Old King has come to love the exercise of power just for its own sake, and so the only thing he cares about is hanging on to his power, hanging on to the authority he abuses… As Paul Levi says in his article on the Dark Father motif on his website Awaken In The Dream

The figure of the dark father is traumatizing to others, as it traumatizes everyone under its dominion. Because it is attached to the position of power it finds itself in, this figure is not interested in change, and therefore has become calcified and rigid.

In Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda speaks of how the benevolent guardian all too easily morphs into the despotic guard, which is the same idea applied to the ego (the inner ruler) rather than any external figure –

We are born with the useful aspect of having an ego as our guardian. But too often a guardian becomes a guard. A guardian is broad-minded and understanding, a guard on the other hand, is a vigilante, narrow-minded and most of the time despotic.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks of the ‘Tyrant Holdfast’, whose name alone is enough to explain what he is about –

He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship and assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world – no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper.

 

Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then – more miserably – within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land.

The Tyrant Holdfast’s grip on his kingdom is absolute and nothing is permitted to thrive in it unless it serves him. The same is true for the Dark Father of our over-valued rationality – nothing is permitted breathing space unless it agrees with the unquestionable rules of the assumed formatting. Nothing is allowed unless it serves this formatting, unless it does this formatting’s work and not its own. Independence from the framework is not tolerated, under any circumstances. It’s prohibited. As soon as we are old enough to understand language we are subjected to this insidious formatting of reality, and before very long we have lost the ability to experience ourselves and the world in any other way than the way it permits. We see ourselves via the mechanical format, via the external framework and we lose ourselves in the process…

 

There can be no part of us that doesn’t make sense within the terms of the framework. Nothing that doesn’t make sense within the framework is given any credence, any credibility at all. The only part of us that is given credibility is the part that accords with our assumptions, that part that agrees with the rules of the game that we have unwittingly agreed to play. But the ‘part’ of which we speak actually isn’t a part of us at all – it isn’t actually a part of us at all because the game that we’ve unwittingly agreed to play is ‘the game of being what we’re not’.

 

Consciousness keeps on being born into the world and the system keeps on formatting it, turning it into ‘not-consciousness’, turning it into pseudo-consciousness, turning it into a parody of consciousness. And if we think we are already conscious (and that this whole idea of over-valued rationality being the Dark Father is ridiculous) then that’s because we’ve already been devoured. That’s because the thinking mind is telling us – which it does as a matter of routine – that we’re conscious already, when the truth is that we’re not…