The Old Brick Wall

How can self-observation help us, or free us, when we’re trapped in painful states of mind? This is definitely counterintuitive – when feeling bad in ourselves then the priority always seems to be correct what’s going on, to fix whatever it is that’s making us feel so bad. This is what the logical mind will always tell us. It’s pretty much what everyone else will always tell us as well!

 

The first thing we can say about this is that – as logically compelling as this argument might be (and it is very compelling indeed) – it just doesn’t work. The second thing that we can say here is that not only does it not work, trying to fix ourselves in the way that we have just describe actually makes things worse. Straightaway therefore, we can see that we have two very good reasons not to head off down this particular road! Trying to fix (or improve) painful states of mind is NOT the helpful thing to do…

 

It’s not quite as simple as this in practice, of course. The urge to fix is so strong that we never have a chance to get any perspective on it. The impulse to correct whatever what is going wrong drives us and drives us – the thinking mind tells us that this is the only chance we have of getting free from the pain. The thinking mind is like a megaphone in our year in this regard and it just keeps roaring on and on at us. We just can’t see any other option in other words. And even if we can’t fix our situation (which as we just said we can’t, at least not in the long run) then we analyse the problem instead of fixing. Actually there is no difference between ‘trying to fix’ and ‘analysing’ – they are of course both the same thing.

 

Understanding that we can’t deliberately free ourselves from painful states of mind isn’t a ‘logical’ kind of a thing, anyway. This is not an understanding that comes out of the logical/thinking mind. There is actually no point in trying to tell someone that this doesn’t work until they have learned this for themselves and how we learn it is through the lesson of actual experience, not through a classroom situation or attending a seminar or from reading a book or someone else telling us. We can only learn this lesson the slow way, which is on a level deeper than that of the thinking mind. We have to learn it in our bones, so to speak…

 

So when we have got an intuitive, gut-level understanding that ‘fixing’ (or ‘trying to fix’) ourselves just isn’t going to work (any more than ‘analysing our situation’ is going to work) then this is no longer going to be our ‘number one priority’. The intense compulsion to ‘try to fix’ is no longer going to be totally overwhelming us and blinding us to any other possibilities. We have at this stage become a little bit more ‘psychologically aware’; we are not banging our heads on a brick wall in the way that we used to be and so we can say that things have got better in this way.

 

Even so – even though we have seen through the compulsive fixing (or analysing) reaction to mental pain – it still isn’t necessarily going to be clear how ‘self observation’ could help us when everything else has failed. The question remains – ‘how can self-observation free us from the mental pain and suffering that we are in?’ As always, the first thought that occurs to us is that merely observing what is going on (i.e. observing our own pain) will simply exacerbate our suffering because we now giving it our full undivided attention. Our automatic assumption is therefore that we would be better off distracting ourselves in some way and not focussing on the pain.

 

When we are talking about our actual mental health however, then ‘automatic assumptions’ (which is simply another way of talking about ‘automatic reflexes’) invariably prove themselves to be entirely wrong, entirely counter-productive. Mental health (or ‘inner freedom’, if we want to call it that) isn’t something that can be achieved by ‘acting on our involuntary reflexes’ (which always come down to involuntarily trying to fix the problem). We have to learn not to buy into these compulsive mechanical impulses if we are to free ourselves from the suffering-producing habits of the thinking mind.

 

Observing our situation rather than trying to distract ourselves from it is therefore ‘going against the grain’ with regard to our habitual pattern of reacting and this is a good thing. We are on the right track if we are not going along with our habitual pattern of reacting, our habitual pattern of thinking. Contrary to popular belief, being gently aware of our situation (rather than involuntarily fighting against it) frees us from the pain that we are in rather than embroiling us in it even further. It is ‘struggling to free ourselves from the pain that we are in’ that embroils us further in it’!

 

Why being gently aware of our situation the situation that we are in frees us rather than trapping us more is because it is our attempts to either ‘fix’ or ‘flee’ the pain that traps us in it. As Carl Jung has said, ‘what we resist persists’. Acting on fear always solidifies the apparent reality of the situation that we are afraid of, just as acting on desire always solidifies (and makes more important) the object of our desire. Our attention gets narrowed down and narrowed down until we can’t see beyond the thing that we are reacting against (either positively or negatively). Acting on attachment (i.e. acting with regard to what we either like or dislike) inevitably reduces our perspective on the matter and the more our perspective on the matter gets reduced the more trapped we get, obviously enough!

 

There is a very deep principle here we never, ever see and this ‘principle’ has to do with what happens when we lose perspective on the way that we have just described. When we lose perspective two things happen (two things that are actually complimentary sides of the very same thing) – [1] is that the yet of false or illusionary picture of the world around us, and [2] is that we get a false or illusory picture of ourselves. This puts us in a very peculiar kind of predicament – that peculiar predicament of having to escape from something that isn’t real on the basis of ‘who we aren’t’.

 

Straightaway we can see that there is no ‘winning’ in this situation – we understand ‘winning’ to mean that the false or illusory picture of ourselves that we have of ourselves gets to successfully escape from the situation that we think this illusionary image of ourselves is in. Apart from the fact that this can never work since the illusory picture of who we are who we think we are is at root the very same thing as the illusory picture of what ever situation it is that we want to get away from (since these are two sides of the very same illusion, as we have just said) it wouldn’t help us any even if our ‘fantasy escaping’ were to be successful since the one who hopes and yearns to escape isn’t who we really are anyway!

 

Self-observation (rather than goal-orientated action) is what frees us from the trap we are in – it’s the only thing that can free us! Self-observation – with no goals, with no hidden agenda – gives us back the perspective that we have lost and it is this perspective, this ability to ‘see what’s really going on’, that frees us. Perspective frees us because it enables us to differentiate between the false and the true, the real and the unreal. The root of the trap that we’re talking about here is, as we’ve said, that we lose sight of the Big Picture and get caught up in ‘sticky’ delusions instead, delusions that we can’t unstick ourselves from. In fact the more we try to unstick ourselves the more stuck we get.

 

Awareness allows us to see who we are not, and this is the key to everything. The only thing that it can ever free us is awareness really, as we keep saying. What else could free us? In the absence of awareness what is ever going to do us any good? We are constantly caught up in all the struggles, all these dramas and all our energy goes into trying to resolve them. As we have said, the more we struggle to resolve the dramas the more we ‘solidify’ them around us. The more we try to resolve the dramas the more real they will seem to us and the more real they seem to us the more we will get caught up in them.

 

Awareness (or self-observation) has nothing to do with ‘resolving the dramas that we are perennially caught up in’. Awareness is just about noticing what’s going on – we see the game rather than playing it. Playing the game just traps in it, and there’s no benefit to be had from this. The game equals pain, the drama equals pain – there is the constant tantalising (but false) possibility of winning the game, resolving the drama, but that’s never going to happen. That’s just a lure which has the function of leading us deeper into the trap. The drama or game is really just a brick wall for us to go on banging our heads against but we can’t see that! As long as we have no perspective on the matter we’ll be banging our heads against this old brick wall forever! We’re wanting something we can never have (we’re thinking that there’s something good to be had there but there’s only pain) and what else is ‘neurotic’ suffering other than this?

 

Awareness (or self-observation) teaches us to see a subtler aspect of the world – a subtle aspect that straightaway becomes known to us just as soon as perspective comes back into the picture. Perspective changes everything! When we observe carefully enough we discover something totally unexpected – we discover that we aren’t who we thought we were. There is this kind of gross identity that we have, the kind of clunky, ‘block-like’ identity that is created for us by the thinking mind. And as G. I. Gurdjieff says, this identity (or ‘personality construct’) is really nothing more than a machineit’s a machine because all it can ever do is obey the mechanical rules that have been laid down for it to follow. There is no freedom at all to be found here therefore – what freedom can there be in following rules? We’re promised ‘something good’ if we obey all the rules correctly of course (just as true believers are promised an eternity in Paradise) but this is of course just a ruse. It’s just ‘a ruse’ because it would never work – the so-called ‘paradise’ that we are promised is just a mental construct, just as the gross, mind-created identity (or persona) which is supposed to enjoy it.

 

The subtler aspect of the world which we notice when we start paying attention is actually the same phenomenon as ‘the subtle aspect of who we are’ – it is the subtle aspect of reality that does not fit into the thinking mind’s boxes and which does not need to obey any of the rules of the game that thought has set up for us to play. Once we realise that we are not this ‘gross identity’ but are actually something much, much deeper than this then that awareness changes everything by 180°, so to speak. It’s not just some kind of ‘minor readjustment’ that goes on here, in other words! Immediately – just to give one example – we recover our sense of humour and stop being so terribly driven about things. We also recover our gentleness and kind-heartedness and our ability to feel compassion for everyone around us. We no longer feel that we have to fight against the universe and other people.

 

What we talking about here isn’t some ‘exalted’ state of being, either. Some Buddhist texts refer to this subtle nature simply as ‘ordinary mind’. It’s just ‘who we are’; it’s our inherent nature. It’s our inherent nature but we never – in the ordinary run of things – realise this. We never notice our true nature, even though it has all of these wonderful attributes or qualities that our conditioned (or mechanical) nature doesn’t. It’s not just as if ‘we’re not really interested enough to notice our true nature; it actually IS that we not interested enough! We’re too ‘busy’ for that. We not in the least bit interested in being aware of our true nature because we always too preoccupied with ‘the game’, because we’re always too caught up in the ‘mind-produced drama’.

 

 

 

 

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Working With Anxiety

There is no such thing as a ‘technical fix for anxiety’. There can be on the short term, to be sure, but only at the price of ‘aggravating the original problem and causing it to rebound onus even more painfully in the future’. The so-called ‘technical fix’ isn’t any kind of ‘fix’ at all therefore, it’s only a postponement.

 

The only thing that can really help with anxiety is gaining perspective, and a gain in perspective doesn’t come about as a result of any technical procedure or methodology that we might engage in! Technical procedures only ever reduce our perspective; the ‘problem-solving approach’ only ever reduces our perspective. The reason for this is nothing if not obvious – by going all-out to ‘fix’ a problem we automatically reaffirm the importance, the centrality, the validity of that problem! We ‘narrow things down’…

 

Anxiety – we might say – is where problems or issues get ‘blown up out of all proportion’. This might seem like a rather childishly simplistic or ‘non-technical’ way of talking about anxiety (i.e. it may not sound fancy enough for us) but it is all the same an excellent, down-to-earth definition of what it means to be anxious. Things bother us that really oughtn’t to bother us, and not only did they ‘bother’ us and completely disturb our peace of mind, they put us through the ringer. This is no small inconvenience we’re talking about here –  if anything that comes into our head is liable to get blown up out of all proportion (and as a result cause us maximum distress) then life very quickly becomes all but impossible. We run into a brick wall.

 

Saying that things get ‘blown up out of all proportion when we are anxious’ is of course just another way of saying that anxiety comes out of our ‘lack of perspective’. Who could possibly argue with this? And what this means – as we have said – is that they cannot be any such thing as a ‘technical fix’. This ought to be obvious to us but somehow it isn’t – in this excessively rational world of ours we fondly imagine that ‘technical fixes’ are the answer to everything. We fondly imagine that control is the answer to everything, so that if only we can get good enough at controlling (and have the right strategies at hand) then all our problems will be at an end.

 

When we try to solve something then as we have said this automatically reaffirms whatever problem it is that we are trying to solve as being important, as having the status of ‘needing to be solved’. The issue in question undergoes a shift and becomes ‘absolutely important’ rather than instead of just ‘relatively important’, which is its true status. Fixing immediately narrows our focus, narrows our sense of perspective, and so the anxiety around the issue in question gets aggravated rather than lessened and there is no way that this cannot be the case! This is always, always, always what happens when we try to control.

 

When we try to fix (or solve) anxiety then we doing the most unhelpful thing we could ever possibly do! Straightaway we are losing perspective – straightaway anxiety is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, straightaway everything is becoming very ‘black-and-white’, which is another way of saying that they are only two possibilities for us – either we ‘fix’ the anxiety (which is that ‘good outcome’) so we fail to fix it (which is the ‘bad outcome’). Black and white thinking lies at the very heart of anxiety, at the very heart of neurosis. Black-and-white thinking actually IS anxiety!

 

The only thing that helps to ‘loosen the knot of anxiety’ is perspective, and there’s no technical fix for this, as we keep saying. They can’t be a technical fix for the increasing of perspective for the reasons that we have just gone into. The very idea that there could a technical way of increasing perspective is utterly absurd, utterly ridiculous. Perspective is what we get when we aren’t trying to control. We’d have to be suffering from a chronic lack of perspective not to see this! What this term ‘perspective’ means is that we’re not being hemmed in by any biases or prejudices; it means that we have lots of possible different ways of seeing or relating to the world, and as soon as we start thinking in terms of ‘defined outcomes’ and ‘specified ways of obtaining these outcomes’ (i.e. strategies’) then we end up with only the one way of seeing things. We end up with only the one way of seeing the world and this is the ‘black-and-white way’, the polar viewpoint which says there is either ‘winning’ or ‘losing’, ‘getting it right’ or ‘getting it wrong’.

 

This view of things (which equals ‘the fixing view’ or ‘the controlling view’) is the very epitome of an unfree state of mind, even though we can’t generally see it as such. We don’t see this black-and-white state of mind as being ‘unfree’ (and therefore ‘suffering-producing’) because we are so hypnotised by the prospect of the so-called ‘positive outcome’. We think that if we obtain the positive outcome then everything will be OK. We think that if we can just ‘tick this box’ then we will finally be free, then we will finally be at peace. This is completely and utterly untrue however – this belief is actually what is stopping us from being free, stopping us from being peace. What’s stopping us from being free is our black and white way of seeing the world, and straining after a defined outcome (or goal’) is not going to take us out of our black-and-white thinking! Straining to obtain the goal is only going to aggravate the problem yet further, as we keep saying.

 

When we try to ‘solve anxiety’ what we really trying to do, unbeknownst to ourselves, is ‘solve life’ and the reason we say this is because ‘life’ (or ‘reality’) is a state of unconditional open-endedness, which is to say, it is ‘the unbounded state in which there are an infinite number of possibilities, none of which have been decided upon yet’. Trying to ‘solve life’ isn’t a good road that to go down, obviously enough – it isn’t a good idea to treat life as ‘a problem that needs to be solved’! ‘Solving life’ means ‘narrowing it down to manageable proportions’; it means restricting it so that there aren’t so many different possibilities in it any more. ‘Solving’ life means closing it down, in other words, and this is what we are constantly trying to do with all our black-and-white thinking, with all our busy-busy goal-orientated activity.

 

When we reduce life down to ‘only the one possibility’ what we’re actually doing is turning it into something that isn’t life. This is our solution to life’s existential challenge – to hide away in our beliefs, our routines, our narrow way of interacting with the world. This solution – as any psychotherapist will tell you – is no solution at all when it comes down to it; it is no solution at all because instead of actually helping ourselves we are creating extra problems! By ‘running away from openness’ we are actually creating problems that aren’t really there; we are ‘reducing our perspective as a means of making things better for us’ and yet this lack of perspective – as we have said – is the root cause of all our neurosis, the root cause of all our anxiety and existential dread. Closing down life (i.e. ignoring it, or ‘living it only on our terms’!) creates all our problems rather than solving them.

 

This discussion is all very well, but what we really want to know is how to go about regaining the perspective that we have lost. What can we do to help ourselves when ‘straining for outcomes’ isn’t the answer? The very first thing that we need to know – and understand very clearly – is that ‘methods’ and ‘strategies’ and ‘procedures’ aren’t going to be of any help at all. This is a tremendous thing to understand – we are all so very convinced that controlling is the answer to everything that it takes an awful lot to shake this monumental belief! When we do see this then it naturally happens that we stop investing so very much in control, and this eases our anxiety straightaway. A precious bit of perspective comes back into the picture, like a ray of sunshine falling in a dark cave. We’ve come back to ourselves a bit.

 

It is the unexamined belief in the power of controlling to fix all our problems that fuels our anxiety – trying to control is ‘adding petrol to the fire in the misguided attempt to put it out’. When our absolute unquestioned allegiance to (or investment in) control as ‘the way to go’ has had a dent put in it then our ‘mechanical reacting’ no longer has the vicious force in it that it used to have. There’s still plenty of force there, there’s still plenty of momentum, but is not the same – the ‘dark spell’ that kept us trapped in this business of ‘blind mechanical reacting’ is now been broken and as a result things can only get better. What helps anxiety is not to compulsively try to fix it (or fix the particular problems that we are worried about) but to ‘practice staying in the present moment’ and this is not a strategy.

 

There is a ‘simple rule of thumb’ that we can apply here. There are (we might say) only two things that can be going on with us at any point in time – either there is ‘trying to control’ or there is ‘staying in the present moment’. When we ‘try to control’ then we are reaching out for defined goals, defined outcomes, and this is reducing our perspective on things and creating black-and-white (i.e. compulsive) thinking. Our attempts to control engenders anxiety in other words and this is the ‘basic equation’ that we need to remember – “the attempt to control equals anxiety”. There is no controlling involved in staying in the present moment – the present moment has already been obtained, after all! It’s already there! All we need to do is ‘notice what’s happening, no matter what is happening’ and there is no controlling in this. This is called ‘being in the world’ and this no controlling involved in ‘being in the world’! This is the very thing that we keep forgetting. We forget that we don’t need to do anything in order just to ‘be’ and as a result we get caught in the trap of trying to control our own reality.

 

Anxiety – we might say – arises out of unconsciousness. By ‘unconsciousness’ we mean ‘investing everything in controlling, and thereby turning our backs on the present moment’. Controlling may take us into the future, or it may take us back into the past, but it will never bring it into the present moment! Being conscious, on the other hand, means that we aren’t forever trying to stay in control. ‘Control’ and ‘consciousness’ exist in inverse proportion, therefore, and this is just another way of saying that consciousness is the same thing as perspective. This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever control, or that it somehow ‘wrong’ to seek to control, it just means that we don’t try to control what doesn’t need to be controlled. It means that we don’t try to solve life itself. We are controlling out of awareness, in other words, rather than out of blind reflexive compulsion. We control when it is helpful to do so and we ‘let go’ when it isn’t helpful and we are able to do this because we have a bit of perspective on things. Without perspective the inevitable result is that we try to control all the time; we try to control all the time because we have forgotten that we don’t actually need to! We are ‘slaves to the need to control’ and the need isn’t a real one – it comes out of lack of perspective, lack of awareness. We live in a world where everything is controlling in other words, and this is because we have lost sight of any other world.

 

It might seem rather ‘over-simplistic’ or ‘inadequate’ to talk about the answer to anxiety being something as nebulous as ‘staying in the present moment’. When we are suffering from anxiety it definitely doesn’t sound concrete enough (or technical enough) to be of any use! No one is telling us things that we need to do, steps that we ought to take. We have not been handed any method or strategy which we can place our trust in. But if someone did give us some concrete method or strategy then they wouldn’t be helping us, they would merely be adding to our suffering, as if there wasn’t enough of it there already.

 

Our usual approach is to narrow down the field of possibilities until only two possible outcomes exist; we ‘narrow things down’ until it seems to us that only the two possible outcomes exist – ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’, ‘win’ or ‘lose’. All that’s left for us then is to hope that we get the right rather than wrong! Neither of these outcomes are ‘real things’ however – they are simply ‘ideas’, they are ‘over-simplified mental projections of an imaginary future’. Out of our complete lack of perspective we have personalised life into only two things  – ‘fixing the problem’ and ‘not fixing it’, ‘getting it right’ and  ‘getting it wrong’. If we had our precious perspective back again however we would immediately see that life has got nothing whatsoever to do with fixing problems, we would see that it has nothing to do with ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

 

The only real thing there ever could be is the ‘wide-open field of undecided possibilities’ that is the present moment. There’s nothing over-simplistic or inadequate about this therefore – what IS over-simplistic is our regular approach to life, which is to try to reduce it into a set of abstract polarities, such as yes and no, win or lose, right and wrong. Staying in the present moment means disengaging from our thinking therefore and this isn’t a strategy because if it were then we would be engaging with our thinking rather than disengaging! When we disengage from our thinking we come back into the world where there is no right and no wrong, no need to control, no need to ‘automatically fix’, and this is a world which isn’t ruled by anxiety. This is the world that exists outside of our thinking.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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…