You Can’t Escape On Purpose

There exist certain situations from which it is impossible to escape on purpose – these situations are traps because the harder we try to extricate ourselves the more tightly we get caught up in them. There are many examples of this sort of thing that we could look at. One would be the situation where I am trying to ‘act cool’ when something happens to embarrass me. I say or do something completely stupid in front of a whole crowd of people. Now if I don’t mind being shown up in this way then there is no problem but because I am ‘putting up a front’ then I most definitely am going to mind making a fool of myself. I am going to mind big time!

 

This is where the trap comes in because the more I try to distance myself from the embarrassing incident by saying “It doesn’t matter” the more obvious it will be to everyone that it does matter. The more effort I put into trying to convince myself and others that it isn’t important, the more important I make it. After all, if it really doesn’t matter to me then why does it matter to me so much to say that it doesn’t matter? If it really isn’t important to me then why is it so important that it isn’t important?

 

Another example of this sort of thing would be where I discover that I am prejudiced towards somebody. Maybe they belong to a different race than me, or a different sexual orientation, or a different social status. Now if I am happy being prejudiced then there is no problem (at least, not as far as I am concerned!), but if I don’t want to be prejudiced, then I am in trouble because it is totally impossible to be unprejudiced on purpose. Why this should be is easy to understand: being prejudiced means that I treat someone (or something) in a special way. Now, either I am positively prejudiced or negatively prejudiced – these are the two possibilities. Either I ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’. Therefore, if I discover to my horror that I am negatively biased towards you, and I try to ‘correct’ this attitude by being positively biased instead, I straightaway demonstrate to everyone that I am prejudiced, because I am treating you in a special way! The fact is that I cannot treat you in a ‘non-special’ way on purpose because if I my attitude is ‘on purpose’, then obviously there is an issue there.

 

There is a very important principle behind these two examples. There is absolutely no way that I can make something not matter to me on purpose: if I say “I don’t need to take a position on that” then I have proved myself a liar just as soon as I open my mouth because deliberately not taking a position is a position.  If something genuinely doesn’t matter to me then I have no position with regard to it, but I do not get to have ‘no position’ as a result of a deliberate act. If it matters, then it matters, and no amount of twisting and turning will get me out of it! This is an important principle to understand because it applies to all of the ‘negative’ mental states that we are prone to getting trapped in.

ANXIETY

Anxiety is a classic example of this: if I am worried by something then trying to be ‘not worried’ by taking a different position towards the source of my anxiety is simply not going to work. Contrary to popular belief, there is no ‘new improved’ viewpoint that I can take, no ‘new improved’ way of thinking about my situation that is going to make me feel better. After all, if I am worried enough about the source of anxiety to be looking for new ‘non-anxious’ ways of looking at the problem, all I am doing is re-affirming the thing that I am worried about as something worth being anxious about! The fact of the matter is that the only reason I am adopting this new viewpoint that ‘everything is okay really’ is because I actually think that ‘everything is not okay’. So the whole enterprise of trying to find a new, more ‘rational’ and less anxiety-making way of looking at the world is based on fear, which is hardly a good basis to start off on. In a nutshell, the more determinedly I assert to myself that “I am not worried” the more worried I must be to be making the statement in the first place. What this means, in plain language, is that we cannot escape from anxiety on purpose.

NEGATIVE BELIEFS

Another example of the principle has to do with self-esteem. It is common practice to try to ‘cure’ low self-esteem by making self-affirming statements. So every morning I look in the mirror and say in a loud confident voice, “I am going to be a success” or “I am a good person!” or something like that. The problem with this ought to be obvious by now – if the only reason I am affirming that I am a good person is because I secretly (or not-so-secretly suspect that I am a bad person, then exactly how much is my positive self-affirming statement worth?  Obviously, if I am standing there telling myself that everything is fine, then everything is not fine and I would be a hell of a lot better off acknowledging this fact in an honest way. Okay, so I will have to feel bad then but at least the bad feeling will be out in the open and not hidden under a layer of self-deception.

 

Of course, it is also possible to take a more sophisticated approach to correcting my low self-esteem, and instead of flatly contradicting my beliefs about my inadequacy as a person, I can try to be reasonable about it. I might say to myself “Well, it is true that I make mistakes and do stupid things, but then so does everybody else too – no one is perfect”. Now this statement is of course perfectly true, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how true or how logical the argument is because the only reason I am saying it is to escape from the pain of my negative beliefs. My negative beliefs may be irrational and distorted and all the rest of it, but that doesn’t mean I can just dismiss them with a wave of my hand. The beliefs may be ‘untrue’ (or ‘illusory’), but what is true is that I do have such beliefs, and I cannot just walk away from them as if I don’t. The attachment to the negative thoughts is there, and I cannot get rid of this attachment just because I don’t want it to be there.

 

The fact of the matter is that I cannot escape from a belief system on purpose, and this applies to any belief system whatsoever. All I can do is honestly see that I am having negative (or distorted) thoughts, without either [1] believing in them or [2] struggling against them. I am not free to escape my beliefs any time I want, but I am free to see what these beliefs are, and I am free to taste the pain that they bring me.

MENTAL STATES ARE CHOICELESS

Somehow, I think that I can pick and choice how I feel about myself, in the same way that I can pick an orange cream out of a box of Black Magic chocolates. I assume that just because I don’t like feeling bad about myself I can decide instead to feel good about myself, but the truth is that I have no such freedom. What I don’t seem to understand (or don’t seem to want to understand) is that my mental state is ‘choiceless’. I am not in control of my feelings – I cannot choose to be happy, or choose to be loving, or choose to be unselfish, or non-anxious, or non-angry or non self-hating.

 

A moment’s reflection will show that the principle which we have been looking at applies across the board to all negative emotions. All such unhappy ego-states are the result of a refusal to honestly accept pain – they are the result of a deep-seated belief that I can choose what we want ‘the truth’ to be, that I can arrange things so that they will be convenient to me. Because I am insisting so single-mindedly on having things my own way  (which inevitably means ‘a way in which there is no pain’) I am stuck in the position of looking for a way out that doesn’t exist. Another way of putting it is to say that I am ‘stuck in denial’ and it is my unexamined belief that I can escape from where I am that constitutes the denial.

 

This can be a hard thing to understand because we always look at it backwards. Thinking that we can escape on purpose seems like such a positive thing that we want to encourage it. It seems like a healthy attitude. In reality, though, what this attitude means is that I never move on because I am afraid to be where I actually am. Psychologically speaking, the attempt to escape from ‘the way which things are’ is not positive at all, and the belief that it is actually possible to do this is a deadly trap which causes us to waste a huge amount of time trying to do something that just isn’t possible.

CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS SUFFERING

Insight into the fact that I am attempting to do an impossible thing is a tremendously liberating thing. Suppose I am caught up in a sulk, or self-pity, or some other similarly miserable state of mind. If I have insight into what is actually going on with me, this is a totally different state of affairs to when I am in a sulk, but unconscious of what is actually going on. The difference is the difference between conscious and unconscious suffering. When I am unconsciously suffering, I am just blindly reacting against the pain, I am stuck in the automatic attempt to escape from the reality of my situation, and this ‘reflex reaction’ is not helping me at all, but only making me feel worse. When I am consciously suffering, I am still automatically struggling to escape from my situation, but the difference is that I can see perfectly well that I am caught up in the futile struggle to escape. I can see myself automatically reacting – I can see what is going on.

 

It is important to emphasize that this does not mean that I try to stop myself automatically reacting. That would be an attempt to escape from the reality of my futile reacting, and that would be quite futile as well. That would be ‘reacting against my reacting’. The point is not to change what is happening, but to see what is happening. Therefore, I see that my attempt to escape is futile, and I also see that any attempt to escape from my escaping would also be futile. What we are talking about here is ‘the perception of impossibility’, which, despite sounding terrible, is actually a great break-through. It is at this point that I stop being stuck.

 

Blind or automatic reacting equals ‘being stuck’ but seeing that you are blindly or automatically reacting is never the same thing as being stuck. I might be blindly struggling, but if I can see that I am blindly struggling, then my eyes must be open! The principle here is simple – if I can see that I am unconsciously suffering, then this awareness in itself equals conscious suffering. We’re seeing – very clearly – that our position is untenable (and that there is therefore ‘no escape’) and that (paradoxically) frees us from this position – this position that we had for so very long been trapped in because we mistakenly thought that there were possibilities in it…

 

 

Art: Trapped, by Mila K.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Looking For Freedom Outside Ourselves

It isn’t just that who we are (or the way that we are) is in itself ‘good enough’, and so on this account we don’t need to be constantly striving to ‘better ourselves’ or ‘improve ourselves’ (and be constantly recriminating against ourselves if we can’t do so) but rather that who we are (or the way that we are) is our only possible means of liberation, our only possible way to freedom and happiness! We need look no further than the way we actually are – right at this very moment, in other words.

 

The chances are of course that most of us would immediately dismiss this bold assertion as being utterly nonsensical. How could anything be that easy? How could ‘being the crappy old way that we already are’ be enough to release us from our suffering? If nothing else, we would probably say, this will prove to be a recipe for total self-indulgent laziness. Another thing that we might say is that we know lots of people who already think that they are ‘fine just the way they are’ and that this complacent attitude of theirs hasn’t done them any good at all. People who think that they are great the way they are generally jerks, after all!

 

The first thing that we could say about these objections is that ‘accepting ourselves’ is not an easy thing at all – it’s actually the hardest thing we could ever do. Climbing Mount Everest is easy in comparison! The second thing we could point out is that people we might know who seem to think that they’re perfectly fine just the way that they are – and consequently make no effort at all to change – aren’t accepting themselves at all. They might seem to be but what’s really happening is that they have some kind of image of themselves which seems acceptable (or even pretty wonderful!) but which is completely illusory, completely unreal. They aren’t accepting themselves at all therefore – they’re accepting their illusion of ‘who they would like to believe they are’ and obviously this can’t be beneficial to anyone.

 

We usually don’t come anywhere close to seeing ourselves as we really are, never mind ‘accepting ourselves’. We have a concept about ourselves, an idea or image of who we are, and we relate to this instead. There is therefore a ‘gap’ between ‘us as we actually are’ and ‘us as we perceive ourselves to be’ and this gap tends to grow bigger and bigger with time. In this ‘image-based’ world of ours we ‘grow into the false idea of ourselves’ because that’s what we are presented with – we are given an identity that matches the type of world we happen to find ourselves in. This is convenient for sure when it comes to operating within that world, but still isn’t who we are. We have ‘convenience’ instead of truth, therefore, but convenience only goes so far.

 

Another aspect of this process is that we become more and more separated from the painfully ‘underdeveloped’ aspect of ourselves as a result of social adaptation and this separation grows bigger with time because the pain associated with that neglected part of ourselves can only ever grow as long as it remains neglected. In the consensus reality we get rewarded (or validated) for developing in line with what society requires from us, and disincentivized from developing our true nature, which has consequences that are beneficial from the point of view of society but profoundly ‘non-beneficial’ from the point of view of the individual. The pressure to adapt to the social world is the same thing as the pressure to turn our backs on our core nature and this systematic neglect causes pain that we don’t want to look at. It’s painful to see what we have done, in other words, and our keenness to run away from this pain means that the gap between us as we are and us as we’d like to imagine we are just keeps on getting bigger. The rejection of the pain that stems from betraying our true nature forces us and more into the societal world because this is the only place we’re going to obtain validation for the false ‘image of who we are’.

 

We might naively think that it’s a fairly straightforward thing to ‘accept ourselves’ but nothing could be further from the truth. If we could find it within ourselves to ‘be ourselves as we actually are’ then we have already – just in this humble act – done something completely tremendous. Our instinct is to go completely the other way and strain to achieve some ideal, some idea we have (or society has) about how we should be. Our instinct is always to do the very opposite of ‘just being ourselves’ and this is because we fundamentally believe that there is no good at all to come from ‘just being ourselves’. As we are (we believe) we are ‘unredeemed’; we are ‘awaiting salvation’. We might not know that this is what we believe but we believe it all the same – our ‘orientation’ is pointing fundamentally away from ourselves, and this is true for almost all of us. It’s the prescribed way to be…

 

What we are saying here is therefore that – on a subconscious level – we don’t believe that there is any great value in us being the way that we actually are. The way that we actually are doesn’t have any possibilities in it; it is disregarded, dismissed without even the slightest consideration. Our personal reality ‘as it is’ is dismissed as being intrinsically worthless (even though we don’t see ourselves doing this) and we are constantly ‘reaching out’ to somewhere else where we think the advantage must be. Everything worthwhile – we imagine – lies in ‘the realm of what is yet to be achieved’ (i.e. ‘the realm of improvement’) and this keeps us in a constant state of anticipation. Either we are hopefully anticipating the result that we want or we’re anxiously anticipating the result that we don’t want. We’re always ‘directed externally’ – our attention is always on whatever advantages or disadvantages might come from the outside.

 

This brings to mind Jung’s often-repeated quote ‘Who looks outside dreams; who looks within awakes’. Our ‘dream-state’ is to be hypnotised by the false perception that ‘how we are in ourselves’ can be either improved or disimproved by events occurring on the outside of us (or – as we could also say – by the erroneous belief that the possibility for change lies outside of how we actually are, within the domain of control). We all want to be happy and lead fulfilling lives and we imagine that this can be achieved by successfully controlling things – and by things we include ourselves. We might not be foolish enough to think that we can buy a happier or more meaningful state of existence but we do nevertheless have this deep-seated belief that if we try hard enough in the right way we can improve ourselves to become the sort of person we’d like to be. Essentially – as we have said – we straining towards some sort of mental image, and we imagine that this projected ‘image’ can actually become a reality for us. We’re looking for salvation ‘outside of ourselves’. We’re looking for freedom outside ourselves…

 

Isn’t ‘looking outside of ourselves’ what self-help books and online seminars are all about, after all? Isn’t this what therapy is all about? If I go to therapy then in most cases what happens is that I’m presented with a certain set of ideas and theories and techniques that I can use – with the support of the therapist – to improve my situation, to make it less painfully conflicted or blocked than it was before. That’s why I’m going to therapy, after all. This idea makes plenty of sense – it makes complete sense to us in fact. Whether it ‘makes sense’ to us or not makes no difference however because what we are trying to do is completely absurd! It is completely absurd because our orientation is all back-to-front – it is (as we have been saying) orientated away from ourselves and towards the ‘realm of improvement’. It’s quite natural that we should be orientated in this way – our state of being is a painful one after all, and the nature of pain is that it makes us want to move away from it!

 

It’s perfectly natural that we should be orientated away from pain (away from the way that we actually are) and towards the possibility of escaping this pain, but for this to be somehow seen as a legitimate therapeutic modality, for this orientation be actively encouraged by those whose job is it is to be of help to people who have suffering from ongoing emotional or psychological pain is something of an irony. No one should tell us or imply to us that we ought to ‘stay with the pain’, but at the same time it is not our job as mental healthcare workers to encourage people suffering from mental pain to try to escape from it, via whatever so-called ‘legitimate methods’ it is that we are supplying them with. If we do this then we are simply adding ‘delusion on top of delusion’; if we do this then we are adding a whole new level of neurotic avoidance to the mix – a ‘legitimised’ or ‘officially-correct’ or ‘societally-sanctioned’ form of avoidance…

 

The trouble is that we are being aggressive  either way – if I say to someone that they should ‘sit with the pain’ (because that’s the right or helpful thing to do) then this is pure counter-productive aggression on my part, and if I go the other route and say that it is their responsibility to do ‘X, Y, and Z’ and thereby work constructively with their difficulties so as to improve their situation this is still ‘pure counter-productive aggression’! I’m being violent either way, and ‘violence’ (i.e. ‘trying to force things to be the way we want them to be’) always adds to the underlying suffering rather than lessening it in any way. The root of the dilemma that we are in (both both as ‘the therapist’ and ‘the sufferer’) is therefore that we’re ‘hung up on making the right choice’. No matter what choice we go with we’re still trying to wrestle with the situation and change it from being the way that it actually is – either we try to making ourselves stay with the pain, or try to make ourselves get away from the pain. Either way we are at loggerheads with ourselves, either way we are having an argument with reality! Aggression always comes out of thought – if we are being aggressive or controlling with reality then this is always because we are ‘thinking about it’; it’s because we are trying to work out what ‘the right answer’ to our situation is. If this is what we doing then we will be doing it forever; we’ll be ‘doing it forever’ because if we’re trying to find out what the right answer is then this means that were stuck in our heads, stuck in our thinking, and thinking is never more than a crowbar which we are using to try to change things.

 

It’s so very hard for us to see this! If we could see it then straightaway we’d laugh at the utter absurdity of what we trying to do! We’re trying to use the ‘crowbar of thought’ to change the way reality is. We trying to use the crowbar of thought to change ‘the way things are right now’ to be ‘some other way’, and yet what is ‘thinking’ other than coming up with a particular way of describing the world to ourselves and then acting on the basis of that description? When we try to change ourselves (or control ourselves) we first have to describe (or ‘model’) ourselves, therefore. This, as we all know, works very with some things – technical understanding gives rise to the possibility of controlling what we understand – but we can’t turn this trick  on ourselves because (counter-intuitively, in this rational culture of ours) we cannot gain a ‘technical understanding of ourselves’!  We are in some way that we completely fail to see ‘our own blind-spot’; as Alan Watts says – the eye cannot see itself, the tooth cannot bite itself and the tongue cannot taste itself.

 

Nobody can control their own state of mind because controlling would only work if we first had a complete understanding (obtained from some kind of theoretical external viewpoint) of ourselves – which is something that we believe to be totally possible since we aren’t able to see the limitations of thought or the logical mind. The problem is this however – if it were possible for us to ‘completely understand ourselves’ from some external (or ‘abstract’) theoretical viewpoint then ‘who we are’ would be no more than a logical extension of that external, abstract viewpoint. This is what creates the blind-spot because who we really are – which is neither ‘external’ nor ‘theoretical’ nor ‘abstract’ – has now been left out of our calculations. ‘Who we really are’ has been forgotten about in the course of the rational game we are playing – the rational game we are playing and can’t help playing!

 

What we can’t see is that ‘what’s happening is just what’s happening!’ What could be simpler than this? This is actually too simple for us – we have to add the complication (or the ‘twist’) of thinking about it. We have to ask ourselves ‘what the right answer is’, or ‘what the right way to look at things is’, and this confuses us. This confuses us right from the word ‘go’ because it implies that there is such a thing as ‘the right answer’ or ‘the right way to look at things’ and that’s just plain nonsense. What’s happening is just what’s happening – our descriptions or deliberations aren’t necessary! When we try to shove thought in there, in order to gain some kind of advantage or foothold, all we gain is ongoing confusion and paralysis.

 

When we ask what the right way to be with ourselves is therefore what we are doing is adding another level of complication, another level of neurotic avoidance. We are banjaxing ourselves just as soon as we ask this question because we are approaching everything from the point of view of the thinking mind and, as we have just pointed out, this has the immediate and distinctly unhelpful effect of placing us ‘outside of ourselves’.  We’re stuck in some kind of disconnected (or ‘alienated’) abstract mental space. We are ‘on the outside looking in’, and who doesn’t know what this feels like? This is ‘neurotic hell’ in a nutshell, and everyone knows what neurotic hell is like…

 

The way the world is is the way the world is and the way we are is the way we are…  It’s as simple as that. If someone waves hello at us then they’re waving hello, if a dog barks then a dog barks, if a gust of wind blows your hat off then a gust of wind blows your hat off. If we’re happy then we’re happy and if we’re sad then we’re sad! This isn’t ‘fatalism’ or anything ridiculous like that (fatalism is just an artificial mind-created attitude, after all) – it’s just ‘being in the moment’ and the moment is only place we can be. There is no choice there; there’s no ‘right or wrong way’ in it! Instead of choice, there’s actual freedom. It’s a mark of our own colossal stupidity if we think that there is ‘a right way and a wrong way’ to be in the present moment!

 

At the very core of all our confusion is therefore this very profound inability that we have to understand what freedom is. We’re clueless about freedom, even though we keep on talking about it. We’ve got the wrong idea about it entirely. We have – very foolishly – confused freedom with ‘choice’ and ‘choice’ – as we have said – is just ‘thought trying to shoehorn its way into the picture’. It’s ‘the thin end of the wedge’. Choice after all can only exist between ‘known alternatives’; it can only be found within the realm of the rational mind. so if we can never really know ‘what’s going on’ (because the unfolding present moment is always fundamentally unknowable) then how can we ‘choose’? What kind of foolishness is this? What is this great ‘hang-up’ about control that we have anyway other than ‘the neurotic refusal to live life unless we can first ‘know’ it’??!

 

Bizarrely, we imagine that freedom is something that exists within thought, within the closed and artificial domain of the thinking mind, whilst the truth of the matter is that freedom only exists where there is no thought. Freedom is freedom from thought; freedom is freedom from ‘known alternatives’…

 

Art: Eduardo Martinez, taken from creativebloom.com

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety

One way to explain understand anxiety is to say that it’s an indication that we aren’t engaging with life (or ‘facing’ life) as ‘who we really are’ but rather as some sort of ‘idea’ (or concept) of who we are, which is clearly not the same thing at all! If we were consciously connected with our true selves then we wouldn’t be experiencing this anxiety, in other words. Or – conversely – who we truly are in our ‘Wholeness’ doesn’t experience anxiety.

 

This is not a way of looking at things that makes much sense within our highly rational culture. The suggestion that anxiety in particular (or neurosis in general) is the result of ‘us thinking that we are somebody who we are not’ isn’t something that we can easily relate to, generally speaking. We are very naïve that way! We can easily see this to be true, however. One simple way to approach this matter is to say that we are never actually in the present moment. This would of course be a very familiar idea to anyone who’s ever practice meditation. ‘Being in the present moment’ sounds easy enough, but even a beginner in meditation very quickly learns that we aren’t in the present moment anywhere near as often as we might believe. Usually, we’re shifted slightly out of the present moment and into the abstract framework of thought, and when we’ve been ‘shifted into the abstract framework of thought’ in this way then we are no longer connected to the actual Wholeness of ourselves. Two things can’t go together – ‘being connected with the Wholeness of ourselves’ and ‘living wholly within the context of the rational mind’!

 

This suggestion (the suggestion that anxiety is a ‘warning light’ showing us when we have the come adrift from our core, our true nature) doesn’t ring true straightaway. It doesn’t seem to fit. There are after all lots of folks around who are living exclusively in the rational modality – most of us are – and yet who are not anxious. They seem to be ‘getting away with it’! It’s quite possible – more than possible, in fact – to be ‘rationally dissociated’ yet at the same time be completely confident in ourselves (even though the confidence in question may not be worth a hell of a lot). How then does the rather simplistic-sounding theory that we have just put forward stand-up to examination?

 

What we are really looking at here – although we’re using unfamiliar language – is the life of the everyday ego or ‘self-concept’. When we operate exclusively within the rational mode (i.e. when we are ‘rationally dissociated’) then we are identified with a concept of ourselves. That’s how the everyday ego comes into existence – by virtue of the fact that there is a ‘disconnect’ going on. No disconnect (with ‘who we really are’) means no rational ego. Why this should be so is straightforward enough – I am simply not going to be able to identify with the rationally-defined ego (which is the ‘mind-created self’) if I am the same time connected with the true essence of who I am. The rational ego can only survive ‘in the shadows’, so to speak; it can only operate under conditions of ignorance, where there is not much too much ‘truth’ floating around. I can’t go around believing that I am this ‘self-concept’ and at the same time remember ‘who I really am’.

 

So to come back to the life of the everyday rationally ego (or ‘dissociated self’), in its natural habitat, we can say that there are two phases of existence that it can exist in. There’s nothing new in this observation; all we are really saying here is that the rational ego can either be in ‘good form’, or it can be in ‘bad form’. We all know this well enough – obviously! This isn’t a trivial thing to observe either, even though it sounds like it – the ‘bipolar nature’ of the self-construct actually relates to the nature of logic (or rationality) itself, which can only ever manifest either as YES or NO.

 

Logic itself is bipolar, as is abundantly obvious just as soon as we start looking into it. Logic is all about ‘boundaries’ and boundaries always have two sides. The choice between the one possibility and the other (the choice between one side of the boundary and the other) is actually the only form of freedom that is available to a logical system – either a thing IS a particular way, or it ISN’T, either the answer to the question is YES or it is NO. This is of course generally the only kind of freedom that we understand; the suggestion that real freedom hasn’t actually got anything to do with either YES or NO doesn’t make any sense to us when we are operating in rational mode! The suggestion that there is anything beyond YES and NO doesn’t make any sense at all to the thinking mind, and it never can.

 

Suppose that I am concerned with some issue or other; what’s going on here is that I am trapped between two poles – the pole of ‘successfully solving the problem’ and the pole of ‘failing to solve it’. The only type of freedom I care about here therefore is the freedom to have things work out for me the way I want them to. What I can’t see is that this is not real freedom at all – it’s actually ‘the freedom to keep on getting trapped in the issue’! That’s actually the antithesis of freedom. True freedom would be the freedom not to care about either pole, which is ‘the freedom that exists beyond RIGHT and WRONG, beyond YES and NO’.

 

The point that we are making here is therefore that when we are wholly subsumed within the realm of rationality the freedom to have YES rather than NO (or RIGHT rather than WRONG) is the only type of freedom we can ever understand (for all that it isn’t really freedom at all but actually the ‘disguised antithesis’ of it). Having got this far in our argument, it’s not any leap at all to come to the point of being able to clearly see that – in this rational domain – the only two options of possibilities for this self-concept are for it to either ‘feel good because things are working out for it’, or ‘bad because they are not. ‘Freedom’ for the self-concept means one thing and one thing only and this is ‘the freedom to succeed at whatever arbitrary task it is that the rational mind is setting us to solve’.

 

The world inhabited by the self-concept is a very crude one, therefore – there’s not a lot to it at all! Either we ‘succeed’ in relation to some goal or other (or believe rightly or wrongly that we are able to) and we experience euphoria as a result, or we ‘fail’ (or believe that we are probably going to fail) and experience dysphoria as a result. Here is the ‘emotional life’ of the rational ego in a nutshell, therefore – its perceived state of well-being is always determined by how the rational mind tells it it is doing in relation to the ‘all-important task’ that it has been set. We have no independent life whatsoever when we are identified with thought and its activities. Our whole life exists on the continuum of thought – strung out between the two poles of YES and NO, as we keep saying. Nothing else matters to us!

 

The self-concept can be euphoric or it can be dysphoric, but the one thing it can never be is ‘at peace’, which equals ‘neither being elated nor despairing’. We often hear it said – when discussion turns to the subject of ‘living without attachments’ – that this sort of life this sounds very drab, very lacklustre. How could anyone put up with the tedium of living without elation on the one hand and despair on the other!? What a dismal prospect that is! It is of course the prospect of living always stretched out between hollow elation at one end and an equally hollow despair at the other that is dismal – perversely, we have turned our back on real life and instead are making do with the empty dramas of the thinking mind. Either I feel good because I believe that I am able to succeed at whatever task thought has set me, or I feel bad because it seems to me that I can’t, and this ‘up-and-down,’ win-or-lose. goal-orientated life is the only life I want.

 

Everything is a task when we are living within the domain of thought. Even recreation is a task. ‘Passing the time’ as a task – passing the time is actually a major task, as Eric Berne points out. The biggest task of all that thought gives us is the task of ‘maintaining the self-concept’. This is a full-time job if ever there was one! It’s not just a matter of maintaining our physical organism and sorting out the issues that are attendant upon this; maintaining the self-construct means:

[1] Maintaining the illusion that the SC actually exists when it doesn’t, and
[2] Maintaining the illusion that the SC is who we actually are!

This is the trickiest task of all because not only do we have to keep on pushing this particular ‘heavily-laden wheelbarrow’ ahead of us wherever we go, we also can’t ever let ourselves know that we are doing it. We’ve got to keep it all rolling along smoothly, and yet at the same time we can’t ever let ourselves know that we are shouldering this most onerous of responsibilities – a ‘responsibility that we don’t know we’re responsible for’! The ‘responsibility’ that we’re taking on here – without knowing that we are – is precisely that responsibility of not letting ourselves know what it is that we’re responsible for…

 

Anxiety is not what we think it is, therefore. It’s not just a matter of ‘adrenaline surges’ or ‘increased cortisol levels’ or ‘flight-or-fight responses’ or ‘Type-1 or Type-2 personalities’ or ‘catastrophizing’ or ‘maladaptive thinking patterns’ or any of that sort of stuff. It’s not as simple as that, not as ‘obvious’ as that. There’s no way that we can get to the bottom of anxiety unless we first gain insight in the ‘secret task’ that we have been charged with, which is the task of having to maintain an idea of concept of ourselves that we wrongly imagine to be who we really are…

 

 

Art: Taken from Street Art // Kansas City, in leftbankmag.com

 

 

 

How Do We Disengage From The Mechanical World?

How do we disengage from the mechanical world? We concern ourselves with lots of questions, but rarely this. Very possibly, never this. The question of how to disengage from the mechanical world isn’t very high up on our list of priorities. Actually, it isn’t anywhere on our list of priorities; we’d concern ourselves with anything rather than this – how many boiled eggs we can eat in the one sitting perhaps, or which celebrities have been spotted with the telltale signs of visible cellulite…

 

We might not wonder how to disengage from the mechanical world but we do however ask ourselves how we might free ourselves from the unbearable neurotic misery that is created by our immersion in the mechanical realm, which is a closely related matter. Until we see that the neurotic pain that we are suffering from so dreadfully is caused by the situation of us being in thrall to mechanical processes we are never going to get very far in our efforts to help ourselves. We’re never going to get anywhere; we’re never going to find an answer. This is because there are no mechanical answers to the question of how to free ourselves from the sheer unholy misery of being immersed on a full-time basis in the mechanical world. There’s no ‘fix’ for this predicament.

 

The problem (or glitch) that we cannot recognize the mechanical as being the mechanical just as long as we are immersed in it – it’s all we know, after all. We just can’t spot it. Naturally we can’t spot it – we don’t have anything else to go on, we don’t have any perspective on the matter. When all we know is the mechanical world then there is no way we can recognize this world for what it is. Instead, we take it to be something else – although what exactly this ‘something else’ might be is another question entirely! When a simulation dreams of non-simulated reality its dreams of ‘non-simulation’ are every bit as simulated as everything else that it produces. When we dream of waking up there is of course no more ‘wakefulness’ in this part of dream than there is in any other part. Just as we can dream of anything at all but when it comes right down to it it’s still just ‘the dream’, so to the mechanical realm can simulate anything at all but no matter how hard it labours (no matter how sophisticated its algorithms might be) it’s never going to produce an unsimulated (or non-mechanical) reality.

 

Just as a non-mechanical system has zero means of relating to the ‘non-mechanical’ it also has no means of guessing or inferring that there even might be such a thing – as far as it sees the matter, what it knows is all that can be known and so the suggestion that there might be ‘something else’ is a complete non-contender. This suggestion can never be made. Just as long as we are immersed in the simulation the idea of ‘disengaging with the mechanical world’ can never arise therefore. When we are immersed in this world however then neurotic suffering is an absolute given; that we will suffer neurotically is an absolute certainty, just as it is an absolute certainty that a cart will always follow the horse that is pulling it, to use the Buddhist metaphor. This suffering is showing us (in a very practical way) that we are in a situation that is utterly inimical to our very being, even though we don’t recognize this as being so, and for this reason the curse is not really the unmitigated curse that we take it to be. Being unable to understand this message however – as we are when we are stuck in ‘mechanical mode’ – we do see this suffering as being a curse and we do our level best to get rid of it. All of our attempts to rid ourselves of the ‘curse’ of neurotic suffering fail however because we don’t understand the nature that we are trying (in vain) to free ourselves from…

 

Neurotic suffering is the suffering that comes about as a result of have no freedom. Without freedom we are compelled to ‘be what we are not’ because in our essence we are freedom. The mechanical world can be succinctly defined as ‘a world without freedom’. It can also be described therefore as ‘a world in which we are always being compelled to be what we are not’. In this world we can never be ourselves – that’s the one thing that we can never be. It’s not hard to see why the MW is a world without freedom – whatever happens in a mechanical system happens because it has to happen. Events happen because they have been instructed to happen by the constraints written into the system so if the events haven’t been specifically instructed to happen then they don’t. This is fine for the various components of a spring-driven watch or the parts of a car engine (that’s the only way a watch or a car engine can get to work, after all; they can’t work when freedom is allowed back into the situation) but it’s not fine for human beings. Lack of freedom is not fine for human beings at all!

 

The problem is however – as we have already said – that when we are immersed in mechanicalness then we can’t recognize the mechanical for being mechanical. We really don’t get it that the world which we have created for ourselves is a world without freedom. We don’t get it at all – we just can’t see the unfree nature of our situation and we won’t believe it if someone comes up and tells us. We will fervently deny it to the end of our days; we will deny it with our dying breath – “I am free”, we will say. We say this however because we are not free to see that we have no freedom. Our heartfelt claim that we are already free (our fervent and aggressive believing of this) is a symptom of our lack of freedom, a symptom of our conditioned inability to see the truth. The reason we aren’t free to see the truth is a very easy thing to explain – we aren’t free to see the truth because we live in a world that has been made by thought and thought is a mechanical thing. Thought proceeds by logic alone and there is no freedom in logic. The whole point of logic is that there is no freedom in it!

 

We simply don’t recognize that we live in a world that has been entirely organized by thought – to say that we ‘underestimate the role of thought’ is an understatement of the most immense proportions. We don’t relate to the world as it is in itself (or to other people as they are in themselves) but to our mental image of the world, our mental image of other people. Life comes as no surprise to us and the reason it comes as no surprise is because we already have it all figured out. We’re not surprised because nothing is happening to surprise us and the reason nothing is happening to surprise us is because we’re only ever seeing what we expect to see. We are only ever encountering what we already expect to encounter. The thinking mind has its categories and everything we see, everything we encounter, always matches these categories, always gets to be processed in terms of these categories. If it didn’t then we’d know about it – we’d know about it because we’d realize to our very great surprise that we really don’t know what’s going on. We’d be gobsmacked in a big way. When we realize on a very deep level that we don’t know what’s going on then this is called ‘being alive’, this is called ‘actually being conscious’…

 

Thought has overrun us – the servant is dictating terms to the master. Instead of using thought as and when it serves us we have unwittingly allowed thought to create a whole world for us and we have become immersed in this false world without realized that anything untoward has happened. We have been hoisted by our own petard, as the French say – we have been hoisted good and proper. It’s not just that we’re ‘thinking all the time’ (as people often say) – that doesn’t make the point properly at all. Rather, it’s that we have made everything in our lives to be subservient to thought and this is a very terrible thing. We don’t even have the imagination to see just how terrible it is. If there is something that doesn’t agree with thought, something that doesn’t accord with our categories, then that ‘something’ doesn’t exist. Unless thought gives its ‘say so’ first, then nothing gets to exist. As we have just said, the chances are that we don’t see the true horror of this situation; very possibly we don’t see anything wrong with it at all. We are after all perfectly happy – it would seem – to sit back and let the thinking take responsibility for steering the ship in this way. We certainly don’t seem to be very concerned with the situation. We might be concerned by a lot of things but we aren’t in the least bit concerned about letting thought be the undisputed master of our lives!

 

Despite the evident fact that we seem perfectly OK about thought being in charge of everything it isn’t really OK. It isn’t really OK because – as we have already said – there is no freedom at all in thought and because there’s no freedom in thought there’s also no freedom in ‘the world that thought has’. Thought has made this world for us to live in, and it compels us to believe in this world (we haven’t got the wherewithal to even start questioning it) and this world is fundamentally lacking in freedom. It is a very strange thing to observe that we are so happy to go along this world that we have been provided with – it’s as if we don’t care what uses are made of us by thought (or by society, which is its production). And yet deep down, we do care – we care very much. Deep-down we care and we know this because we are suffering – the suffering is our caring, it is our ‘not being OK about having no freedom. Neurotic suffering isn’t a curse in the way we take it to be therefore, it’s how we get to be aware of something that otherwise we would simply have no way of ever being aware of…

 

So the art of disengaging from the mechanical world has nothing at all to do with getting rid of this suffering, in whatever way we might try to do so (be it via therapy or via medication). Instead, it involves listening to it, and appreciating where it comes from. Instead of taking against our pain, and roundly condemning it as ‘an evil’, perhaps we can begin to relate to it a bit more respectfully, since to respect our suffering is to respect ourselves. Perhaps we can begin see the neurotic pain that we are experiencing in a more positive way (whilst at the same time acknowledging that it is pain and acknowledging that we would very much like for it to go away) and instead of a curse see it as ‘an invitation to freedom’…

 

 

 

 

 

The Displaced Insecurity of the Self-Concept

Anxiety is of course nothing more than the insecurity of the self-concept projected outwards onto the world at large. It is ‘displaced insecurity’, in other words; if it wasn’t displaced then it wouldn’t be anxiety – it would on the contrary be an accurate (and thus valuable) perception of reality. Until we can see the insecurity where it belongs therefore we cannot avail of this valuable perception – we’re left chasing red herrings instead and even if we do catch them (which we won’t!) that isn’t going to do us any good…

 

Just as long as we can see that there is such a thing as the ‘self-concept’ then it is very straightforward to also see that anxiety is the displaced insecurity of this self-concept, and that we don’t on this account have to go looking for any other explanation for it (or indeed go looking for any fancy ‘cures’ or ‘solutions’ for it). Everything then falls into place and we realize that any effort we put into fixing the situation is actually feeding into the cause of the anxiety in the first place (as is always the way when we try to ‘fix insecurity’). But the difficulty is that we are fundamentally resistant to looking at our everyday ‘sense of self’ in this way – we are both culturally and personally fundamentally averse to questioning or examining this taken-for-granted sense of self.

 

In the Wikipedia entry on the Apollonian dictum ‘Know Thyself’ we read: “Socrates says, as he did in Phaedrus, that people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” The actual quote from Phaedrus reads:

But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.

When we try to know anything when we neither know ourselves nor have the slightest interest in knowing ourselves is necessarily to make ourselves ridiculous. When we try to understand anxiety without first seeing the nature of the self-concept this is to make ourselves doubly ridiculous since anxiety is – as we have said – the result of our lack of insight into ourselves in the first place. If we try to understand the anxiety that comes about because of our lack of insight into what is really going on with ourselves whilst maintaining this wilful ignorance of ourselves then matters can only get worse! All of our purposeful activity (including our misguided attempts to do something about our anxiety) stems from our ‘lack of awareness of the true nature of the self-concept’ and this is not an easy thing to do anything about since we don’t actually want to have this awareness! We’re always heading in completely the opposite direction to that of  ‘increased awareness of the insecurity of the self-concept’…

 

If we allow just for the sake of the argument there is such a thing as the ‘self-concept’ then it stands to reason that it would be insecure! Being a self-concept is a very precarious business – I am whatever I think I am (or whatever you think I am) and so how precarious, how insecure is this? When we look at life from the POV of the self-concept then all we see is a long list of things that could go wrong. It is of course equally true to say that when we look at life from the POV of the SC then all we see is a long list of things that could go right. That is equally true thing to say and it is also – when we look further into it – equally deluded. It is ‘deluded’ because what goes wrong for the SC (or right for it) doesn’t really have anything to do with us. It’s all hypothetical – we will feel good if the SC incurs an advantage in life but this good feeling relies totally upon the proposition that who we genuinely are is this SC, and that just isn’t true! Both good luck and bad luck (or ‘things going well’ and ‘things going badly’) are nothing more than spin.

 

The SC can put one of two different types of spin on the world – it can put the ‘optimistic’ sort of spin on things or it can apply the ‘pessimistic’ sort. It can be hopeful of the positive outcome, or fearful of the negative, both of which represent perfectly legitimate motivations. The SC can just as easily go one way or the other – it is equally ‘at home’ in going both ways, so to speak. We of course think that the answer to anxiety (or ‘preoccupation with the negative outcome’) is to find a way to switch the spin back around to the optimistic or hopeful sort; then – we naively imagine – everything will be OK again and we can carry on with our lives in a happier and healthier way.

 

This isn’t the case, however. It is very far from being the case! The optimistic (or positive) spin and the pessimistic (or negative) one are both equally unrealistic, and for this reason neither can lead to happiness. An unrealistic attitude to life can hardly be expected to lead to anything wholesome, after all! Unrealistic thinking is never a recipe for happiness, even if it is unrealistic thinking of the optimistic kind. The point that we are making here is that all spins are unrealistic – they wouldn’t be spins otherwise! The only view of things that isn’t unrealistic is the view that is not based on any type of spin, either negative or positive. The question is therefore – how do we see the world then? What does ‘no spin’ look like?

 

Well, if the optimistic view equals what we might call ‘positive certainty’ and the pessimistic view equals ‘negative certainty’ then having no spin (or no bias) equals uncertainty (or openness). ‘Positive certainty’ is when we strongly feel that we are going to obtain an outcome that is favourable to us and ‘negative certainty’ is when we equally strongly feel that we are going to incur an outcome that is unfavourable, and so zero certainty (or zero bias) must mean that we have no conception of any sort of outcome either advantageous or disadvantageous. Outcomes – of any kind – just don’t exist for us. They don’t come into the picture…

 

It goes further than this though. Not only is it the case that outcomes don’t come into the picture, it is also very much the case that the one for whom the outcome exists (the outcome which can either be advantageous or disadvantageous) doesn’t come into the picture either. Not only is it the case that there are no ‘goals’ (or no ‘feared outcomes’), it is also the case that there one to either ‘hope for the desired outcome’ nor ‘dread the feared one’. This is what radical uncertainty means – it means that there is no controller and nothing to control, no goal and no ‘seeker after the goal’. This is where we really come to the crunch, therefore – uncertainty is more disagreeable to us than negative certainty. Or as we could also say, ‘radical not-knowing’ is worse than ‘’knowing the worse’ (or ‘failure’).

 

If we can see this (our undisclosed preference a situation that is judged as ‘bad’ rather than a situation that is radically unknown) then we can see right into the very heart of anxiety. What is going on in anxiety is that there is a basic confusion occurring between two very different types of uncertainty, and the two types of ‘insecurity’ that are associated with these two types of uncertainty. The reason that this confusion exists is because we are strategically displacing our fear about the radical uncertainty regarding ‘how things are when we don’t put any spin on them’ onto the level of trivial uncertainty with regard to the question of whether the goal is attained or not – which is clearly not the same thing at all! Trivial uncertainty isn’t the same thing at all because it doesn’t really matter one way or the other; it doesn’t really matter one way or the other but we can’t help reacting as if it does!

 

So rather than feeling the insecurity where it is, we’re feeling it where it isn’t. We’re feeling it where it’s safe to feel it! In one way it could be said that nothing very much has been achieved by this displacement manoeuvre – we were insecure before and we’re still insecure now – the only thing that has changed is the arena. Being pointlessly worried about outcomes that don’t really matter very much is after all a distinctly unpleasant form of suffering in its own right! Who likes worrying? Who likes being in the throes of anxiety the whole time? In order to see the ‘gain’ that is being made here we have to understand why trivial uncertainty (or trivial risk) is so vastly more preferable to radical uncertainty (or radical risk). What is the difference between ‘uncertainty with regard to specific outcomes’ and ‘uncertainty in relation to the validity of the self-concept itself’?

 

Very clearly, the advantage in trivial uncertainty is that at no point in the proceedings are we risking the SC itself. Even if the outcome is a total and failure that doesn’t actually jeopardize the SC – we just become a ‘loser-self’ rather than a ‘winner-self’, in this case! The spin is switched over one way to the other. We may feel pretty bad about ourselves, but we still don’t doubt our existence as this ‘idea’ that we have about ourselves; a loser is after all just as much a real thing as a winner and what we’re playing for (even though the rules of the game mean that we can’t ever admit this to ourselves) is not ‘success with regard to designated outcomes’ but ‘success with regard to proving that the SC is an actual real entity in the first place’. That’s the type of ‘success’ that we’re really interested in…

 

The SC is however not a real thing and this is where its vulnerability lies – the vulnerability that gives rise to its chronic ontological insecurity. It’s easy to see that the SC is not actually real, if only we were prepared to look into it. No one who has ever gone to the trouble of paying attention to the self-concept and its antics (no one who has taken the trouble to observe the Apollonian Edit of ‘Know Thyself’) will ever try to say that the SC has any stability (or ‘substance’) of its own. One might as well try to claim that a shadow has stability or substance! The only existence it has is the existence we give it and this is itself a highly unstable situation! What could be more unstable than something which relies on our ongoing efforts in maintaining it if it is not immediately to vanish into thin air?

 

And it is not – as we have implied – just that we are committed, on a full-time basis, to maintaining the SC; we are committed, on a full-time basis, to maintaining it whilst not letting on to ourselves that we are doing so (which is another kettle of fish entirely). Maintaining the SC whilst at the same time not disclosing to ourselves that we are maintaining the SC is the only way that we can believe that the SC is who we genuinely are, after all. This is the only way that it going to work, when we don’t see our own hand, when we don’t see our own involvement. The same is true for all belief-structures of course – as James Carse says, to see that we have chosen to believe in a particular thing (a particular structure or statement about reality) is not to believe in it…

 

This whole business of creating our own basis for understanding and perceiving the world and then not disclosing to ourselves that we are responsible for this basis, and that it wouldn’t be there if we didn’t continue with our efforts to make it be there, is of course the most insecure situation that there ever could be. What could possibly be more insecure than this? Insecurity like this cannot be contained and so it spills out into our everyday life and when it does so we will talk in terms of anxiety. Anxiety is seen as a kind of pathology in its own right – we look at in exclusion of all other factors, trying to locate some discrete cause so that we can cure it with drugs or with rational therapy of some sort. We come out with all sorts of convoluted theories, and all sorts of elaborate methods based on these theories. But how does any of this help us with the real issue – which is our unacknowledged ontological insecurity?

 

Being identified with the self-concept places us, as we have just said, in the most insecure situation there ever could be. It is extra-insecure because we have illegitimately removed ourselves from the genuine insecurity, so as to obtain for ourselves a ‘false or phoney type of security’. This ‘false or phoney type of security’ is however a form of super-insecurity – it’s insecurity that we can’t see as such, and all this does is to give the fear that we’re hiding from extra power over us. All we’ve achieved with our cleverness is extra suffering. Being identified as we are to the SC is nothing more than a refined and extra-tortuous form of suffering. We’re all wedded to the self-concept – that is the ‘default situation’, so to speak. We’re all ‘wedded to the SC’ and no matter what efforts we may in morality or self-development there’s nothing we can do about that; we can’t will ourselves to ‘change our spots’ in some way so that we’re not so abysmally self-orientated. If we do make an effort in morality (so as to ‘improve’ ourselves) then this effort of will is only for the sake of the self that we’re trying to change. As Alan Watts says, the one who has been tasked with carrying out the change is the very one who needs changing.

 

Nothing ever happens when we try to change ourselves because whenever we try to change ourselves it is always in accordance with some idea that we have and we can never go beyond the self-concept by thinking! The suggestion that who we are in our essence has nothing to do with any idea or thought that we might have (or with any structure of any kind) is not one that we are in any hurry to take seriously. The thinking mind is running the show, after all, and the thinking mind is hardly going to acknowledge that there might be something out there that it can never know about, and which is infinitely more significant that all the things that it can know about. The thinking mind isn’t about to put itself into second place like this – even if we waited a billion years it would never do this. Thought is ‘top dog’ and if it has anything to do with it it’s going to stay that way! Just as long as thought (or the ‘rational mind’) is top dog there is going to be no questioning of the self-concept…

 

Because the rational mind is running the show we aren’t about to look at anxiety in a helpful way anytime soon. As far as mental health is concerned everything we do and say is purely for show – it’s purely theatrical, it’s not really intended to get to the heart of matters, it’s not really intended to free us from our neurosis. We will of course insist that it is – we will insist until we’re blue in the face that we’re sincere in our efforts to free ourselves from the suffering of neurosis. This is all mere bluster however – what else is the self-concept capable of other than bluster (or bluff) after all?

 

The thing about all of this – as we have been saying – is that the one thing we are most definitely NOT prepared to do is to investigate the self-concept. We will investigate (and form elaborate theories about) all sorts of things – you name it, we will investigate it, and produce super-dense bodies of opaque theory in relation to it – but we won’t look at ourselves (not in any non-rational way, that is). This brings us back to what Socrates said two thousand four hundred years ago about forming theories of the world without first investigating the assumptions – our only achievement when we do this is to make ourselves appear quite ridiculous. Just as long as we are identified with the self-concept (which is a state of ‘pseudo-being’ that relies upon our continued psychological unconsciousness) all our pretensions at wisdom are going to be ridiculous…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Mind

How can computation, calculation, and data-gathering be the centre of all things; how can the measuring or quantifying mind be the basis for the whole world? And yet it is. There can be no doubt that this is the way things are – all we have to do is to pay careful attention to our day-to-day experience of what it feels like to be us, what it feels like to be a person. What the experience of being a person usually means is that we are always in the middle of a whirlwind of mental activity – evaluating things, judging things, analysing things, categorizing things, quantifying things, thinking about things…

 

We have made computing or calculating (or ‘measuring’) the centre of all things. We have done this without realizing what we have done, without appreciating that this is in any way strange. Whatever happens, we’re in a hurry to measure it, to compare it with the evaluating yardstick of the concept-making mind and see what we make of it. “What is this, what is this, what it this?” the mind is asking all the time. Every time a new datum comes along the mind tries to fit it into its overall picture of reality, to consolidate that picture. All the activity that goes on in the thinking mind is geared towards this end.

 

The questioning that the thinking mind engages in isn’t questioning of a philosophical type – it is on the contrary a pragmatic questioning, a form of questioning that is directed towards consolidating our conceptual ‘grip’ upon the world. We’re not asking open questions with our thinking in other words, but rather what we’re doing is that we’re trying to makes sense of the world within the same narrow framework of understanding that we always use to make sense of things, and this is a different matter entirely. There is no doubt whatsoever that our experience of being in the world is one of being in the centre of this maelstrom of thinking and evaluating – we can hardly pretend otherwise since if this were true then we would be going around in the centre of an oceanic sense of calm and serenity, and how often is this the case? The way things usually are is that we are agitated rather than calm, busy in the head rather than peaceful.

 

The question this raises is “Why?” Why is all this activity going on? Why have we made computation and measuring the centre of all things when it is clearly not necessary that we do so? We don’t need to be thinking about life the whole time, after all – we could just be living it. We don’t need to be analysing and evaluating and second-guessing our situation – we could just be taking it as it comes and enjoying it! Since everything is already perfect at being what it is, what is all this mind-created commotion about? What’s to be gained by it? What are we trying to achieve? What’s behind it all?

 

We have of course already alluded to what the answer to all these questions might be – we’re mentally busy in the way that we are because we’re trying to squeeze everything into a framework when it doesn’t really belong there. All the activity is because we’re trying to make sense of the world so that it makes sense in the way that we want it to. One thing is absolutely for sure and that is that if we were happy for everything to be the way that it already is then we would immediately be in a state of the most wonderful inner peace. Words would not be able to describe how peaceful we would feel – we would be at the centre of a veritable ocean of peacefulness. There would be a quality of serenity such as we are unlikely ever to experience in life. If we did experience it then we would be unlikely to forget it in a hurry…

 

We know that this oceanic sense of serenity and unity with the world comes our way only very rarely therefore – if at all – and so what this shows us is, very clearly, is that we aren’t OK about things being ‘the way that they already are’. Our day-to-day state of mind indicates clearly that we aren’t ‘accepting of things as they are’ but resisting of things as they are. Because we aren’t OK about things be the way that they are we are compelled, instead, to be forever trying to control and manage and regulate them instead. This draws our attention to a very curious thing therefore – how could we be resistant to reality across the board, and only be in favour of it when it meets our special requirements?

 

Even to ask this question is to begin to be aware of what it is that’s going on here. The point (which we have already alluded to) is that our relationship with reality is a controlling one, not a respectful one. If I am in a relationship with you and I am trying to control you (as is often the case in relationships) then I am only going to be happy with you when you do what I want. I’m not happy with you the way you actually are; I’m only happy with you when you’re the way that I want you to be and this is exactly what our relationship with reality is like, whether we like to see it or not.

 

Needless to say, a controlling relationship isn’t any sort of relationship at all, and yet we’re constantly fooling ourselves that it is. We’re constantly fooling ourselves to think that our relationship with reality is an honest and respectful one when this very much isn’t the case. The truth is that we don’t care what reality is in itself – we’re actually frightened to find out – we only care about what we say it is. As long as we have this type of controlling ‘relationship’ with reality we’re never going to be happy; happiness is out of the question, as is peace of mind. Everything is on a strictly conditional footing when we’re in ‘control mode’ – everything is conditional upon how well we do in our controlling. So if our controlling goes well then we’re ‘happy’ but this is only conditional happiness. It’s conditional happiness because it depends upon us getting our own way and what this means is that the so-called ‘happiness’ will turn around at the drop of a hat and become its opposite when things don’t work out according to plan. Satisfaction then turns into dissatisfaction, apparent ‘good’ humour turns sour. Contentment turns into angry frustration, and so on. All conditioned emotions are like this, all are liable to turn around at the drop of a hat, depending on circumstances. There is never any chance of genuine peace or happiness when our relationship with the world is a controlling one, therefore.

 

Peace of mind is alien to the conditioned mentality; it doesn’t belong there – any sense of peace or well-being that might seem to be there can be taken away in an instant and ‘peace that can be taken away in an instant’ isn’t peace! We can fool ourselves that it is, we can tell ourselves that all is well with the world and that the basis of our well-being is as solid as a rock but this just isn’t true. The basis for our sense of well-being is ‘us being successful in our controlling’ and there’s nothing rock solid about this. Our well-being is dependent upon external factors, upon ‘things going a certain way’, and a less reliable basis than this is impossible to imagine. When our sense of well-being is dependent upon successful controlling then, pretty obviously, peace of mind is not going to be the result! This is actually the recipe for anxiety, not peacefulness…

 

The thing that we generally have difficulty in understanding is this assertion that our relationship with reality (or the world) is almost always one of controlling – we don’t see things this way. Obviously we can see that sometimes we are controlling, or trying to control, but we certainly have the perception that this is always the case. This is because we don’t understand that thinking is in its essence all about controlling. Thinking is controlling because it always interprets reality on its own terms. Of course thinking always interprets reality on its own terms – that’s what thinking is. Thinking is the process whereby we subject the world to our rules, to our criteria, in order to it to compel it ‘make sense’. It is so normal for us to do this that we don’t really focus on what we’re doing, but what we’re doing is pulling everything into a framework of reference that we ourselves have decided upon. We’re making sense of things in a way that suits us.

 

If we didn’t think about the world all the time then it wouldn’t look the same at all. Our thoughts don’t exist ‘out there’ in the world, our concepts and ideas and beliefs don’t have an existence of their own – it’s us that make them, it’s us that have put them there. If we didn’t engage in all this mental activity then the picture of reality that we take for granted would wink out of existence immediately, as if it had never existed. This picture of reality – no matter how familiar it might be to us – is a conditioned one. It is conditional upon us making it be there, it is conditional upon the way that we choose to look out at the world.

 

To put this in really simple terms – the simplest possible terms – what we’re trying to do is make something be what it isn’t. This is the big endeavour that we are all engaged upon. Is it any wonder that we are kept so busy at? The bottom line here of course is that we just can’t make something be what it isn’t. That’s just not going to happen, plainly. But what we can do – for a while at least – is make it seem as if we’re getting somewhere, and this illusion will allow us to feel motivated and positive. What we’re actually doing however is that we’re rolling a boulder up a hill – by putting a lot of effort into it we can apparently get somewhere, but the moment we start to slacken it’s all going to go into reverse again. Things are going to start slipping…

 

So straightaway we have two types of activity that are possible, two types of activity that can arise. The first type of activity we can call ‘optimistic’ or ‘hopeful’ activity, the second ‘pessimistic’ or ‘anxious’ activity. ‘Hopeful’ activity is activity is activity that is motivated by the belief that we can roll the boulder up the hill until we reach a point at which it won’t come rolling all the way back down again. This is the outcome that we are working towards, this is the outcome called ‘success’. Anxious activity – needless to say – is still activity where we’re struggling to get that boulder up the hill but we no longer believe that we’re going to be successful at it. This doesn’t mean that we stop trying, it just means that we are now trying on two levels not just the one. We’re fighting to roll the boulder up the hill and we’re also fighting not to see that this can endeavour is never going to work.

 

Both of these are equally strong motivations – when we have our eye on the prize and we’re pressing home for the final advantage this is a strong motivation, and when we’re struggling to avoid missing out on the prize this too is a powerful motivational incentive! But it can be seen all the same that both motivations are also equally illusory – the ‘prize’ that I’m striving for doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist neither does the possibility of avoiding the threat of missing out on it. I can’t avoid not attaining the prize because attaining it was never a real possibility in the first place. The prize we’ve got our eyes on is – as we have said – the prize of not having to be working away forever at rolling the boulder up the hill. The prize is when we finally ‘get there’ but this just isn’t going to happen; we’re never going to reach the summit of the mountain in the way that we hope to and the reason we’re never going to be able to do this is self-explanatory – no matter how long and how hard we work away at maintaining a mental construct that construct is never going to grow legs and stand up all by itself!

 

This then explains why there is always so much thinking, so much mental activity going on – it’s because we’re engaged in a job that has no end to it, it’s because we’re engaged in a non-terminating task. We can look at this in two ways – either we can say that we’re struggling to fit everything into our narrow little framework of reference and that this is a NTT, or we can say that we’re struggling to maintain the artificial construct of who we think we are but aren’t, and this is a NTT as well. It all comes down to the same thing in the end because it’s only by looking at the world via our narrow frame of reference (as if it were the only way to look at things) that we can carry on believing in the reality of the self-construct. The bottom line is that mental activity – both conscious and unconscious – is needed on a constant basis. The best we can hope for is that the unconscious mental activity will carry on without us having to be made aware of it and that the conscious mental activity (the day-to-day thinking) will continue to appear entirely volitional and unconnected with the secret task of maintaining the self-construct. This is ‘unconscious living with no visible snags’, so to speak.

 

The worst that can happen, on the other hand, is where we do begin to become aware of what is going on and have to painfully escalate the thinking activity in order to try to cover up the true nature of what is going on, even though this escalation actually draws attention to what is going on all the more. This situation is called ‘neurotic mental illness’ – this is when our comfort zones start to fail us and we begin the slow and painful movement back to reality – however reluctantly. The irony underlying all this of course is that the thing we’re protecting isn’t really worth it. It isn’t really worth it because it isn’t real – what we’re struggling to protect is a knot of tension and struggling and stress which exists purely in order to maintain the fiction of who the thinking mind says we are, and yet who we really are – behind all this struggling and stress – is something far, far greater than we could ever even begin to imagine! We’re protecting the shoddy copy at the expense of the priceless original! This is the true nature of the ‘ironic struggle’ upon which we are perpetually engaged…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conventional Therapy Is ‘Therapy To Keep Us Asleep’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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