The Treadmill of Runaway Thinking

When we think we do so because we’re trying to change things from being ‘the way that they are’ to some other way, some other way that corresponds to an idealized view or concept of reality that we have. Or we could just say that we’re trying to change things from being ‘the way that they are’ to ‘the way that we’d like them to be’.

 

Sometimes this is useful – sometimes it’s actually vitally important, in fact – but at other times it’s not at all useful, very often it could even be the opposite of useful. Most of the time our thinking is no more than what we might call ‘a habit’ or ‘an automatic reflex’. This ‘automatic reflex’ dominates our lives – we actually think all day long, from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go back to sleep again. We’re so used to this automatic thinking that we barely register it. To be thinking all the time is the normal way to be – if we weren’t thinking then this would come as rather a big shock to us!

 

Thinking can be very helpful at times, when it is specifically and practically needed, but when we think all the time, by pure force of habit, then it is not. It’s not helpful to think all the time (whether we want to or not) because doing this stops us living in the real world. Our thoughts don’t take us into reality after all, they take us deeper and deeper into what we might call ‘the world of our thoughts’. Thinking all the time is a kind of one-way ticket into a ‘purely conceptual reality’ and to be caught up in a full-time basis in a purely conceptual reality is not a healthy thing!

 

If thinking is all about trying to change things (as it of course is) then clearly it can never connect us with the way that things actually are. This is the one thing thought can never do!  Thinking occurs in response to an ‘irritation’, we might say, and this irritation is ‘the way things actually are’. We’re ‘irritated’ by the world being the way that it is and we’re responding to the irritation with our thinking – our thinking is our attempt to soothe things, to ‘smooth things over’, to make things be a bit more comfortable (or ‘acceptable’) to us. If ‘the world being the way that it actually is’ is the irritation, then our constant thinking is the ointment or balm that we keep applying…

 

The world ‘being the way that it is’ is the itch and we are constantly scratching this itch, in other words. Oddly enough, therefore, we’re ‘scratching away’ all day long and we’ve grown so used to our constant habitual scratching that we no longer notice it. If we were totally at peace with ‘things being the way that they are’ then – needless to say – there would be no need to think. If everything was ‘perfect just as it is’ then we’d leave it the way that it is, obviously! We might think “Oh, this is perfect!” it is true, but then to think this would take us away from the perfection, not towards it. The thought actually detracts from the perfection rather than adding to it; it detracts because it takes us away from reality into the world of our thoughts, into the world of our ‘running commentary’! Who needs a commentary when the commentary detracts from what is being commentated on?

 

We might of course agree with this but then point out that everyday very rarely is ‘perfect’! We all know this very well! If life were perfect the whole time then this would be a different story and we wouldn’t need to be thinking all the time, but this is very much like saying ‘If pigs could fly’… This objection  – solid as it might seem at first glance – brings us back to the nub of what we started off by saying in this discussion – sometimes we come across ‘imperfections’ that both need to be (and can be) rectified and in this cases thinking is the right man for the job. But most of the time the so-called ‘imperfections’ can’t be fixed and actually don’t need to be fixed anyway. We only think that they are ‘imperfections’ and that they need to be fixed…

 

Generally speaking, what we automatically relate to as ‘irritants’ or ‘imperfections’ are seen as such purely as a result of our ‘arbitrarily-biased viewpoint’, purely as a result of our ‘likes and dislikes’ (or what mindfulness teacher Rob Nairn calls ‘our preferences’). This being the case, there is no real need to try to get the world to accord with our idea or it, our concept of it. The world is the way that it is (whatever that way is) all by itself, and there really is no necessity at all for us to take responsibility for it, as regards its ‘essential nature’. We clearly can’t do this – and even if we could (which would be a ridiculous notion) – that wouldn’t be a good thing. We don’t really know what we’re doing, after all, so why would we want to ‘put ourselves in charge’?

 

To control or regulate a few specific (or ‘bounded’) aspects of the world is one thing, and no one’s going to argue about the necessity to do this, but when we automatically try to try to control or regulate the whole of reality (without having a clue that this is what we are actually doing or why we might be wanting to do it) then this is another thing entirely. What we’re looking at here is the difference – we might say – between conscious and unconscious controlling. In ‘conscious controlling’ I do know what I am doing and why – it’s a practical thing that I’m doing here! I’m trying to obtain a pragmatically useful outcome such as ‘cooking the dinner’ or ‘avoiding a pothole in the road’. With ‘unconscious controlling’, as we have just said, I don’t know what I am doing or why I am trying to do it. I don’t even know that I am controlling, most of the time!

 

When I ‘m controlling and I know that I am then there’s a god chance that I will stop controlling once I have achieved what I want to achieve. When I’ve cooked the dinner I’ll let go of the idea of doing so; when I have successfully avoided the pothole in the road then I no longer have to strive to achieve this outcome! When I don’t know that I am controlling then how am I ever going to stop?  In this case we can say that ‘the controlling has taken over’ – the controlling has got the upper hand and it’s actually controlling me! The need to control is controlling me and so my constant controlling (or attempting to control) is really something that has been forced upon me. Very clearly, this is not a healthy state of affairs. Very clearly, no helpful outcome is ever going to be achieved as a result of ‘unconscious controlling’!

 

What we’re really talking about in this discussion is of course our thinking, and the unconscious habit that we have of ‘thinking all the time without paying attention to the fact that we are doing so’. Thinking and controlling are the same thing – we think in order to try to gain control and we can’t gain control without thinking. Just as runaway controlling can’t ever be helpful, neither can runaway thinking. How could runaway thinking ever possibly be ‘helpful’? We don’t even know what we trying to achieve with our thinking – we’re so lost in our thinking that most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re doing so. As Eckhart Tolle says, the human condition is to be ‘lost in thought’. Because we’re ‘lost in thinking’ there isn’t ever going to be an end to it!  When we’re ‘controlling for the sake of controlling’ then there’s no end to the controlling and when we’re ‘thinking for the sake of thinking’ then there’s never ever going to be any end to the thinking! We’re stuck on the treadmill of thought and we’re not going to get anything for it – there’s no prize, no jackpot, no bonus waiting for us at the other end…

 

When we are on the treadmill of runaway thinking then we’re disconnected from the world as it actually is in itself on a full-time basis. This doesn’t mean that we’re in a state of total dissociation (although this is of course a particular, extreme example of being disconnected), it just means that we’re living exclusively in the world of rational representations, which is the Conceptualized World (or ‘the world of our abstract ideas about reality’). The Conceptual World can match the real world so well (on a superficial level at least) that it is perfectly possible to get on in life and appear to be perfectly ‘well’ in ourselves, but there is nevertheless always going to be something important missing. What’s missing is the awareness of the actual freshness of life as it is in itself, which is an awareness that children have but which we as adults have almost entirely forgotten about. We lost our unconditioned awareness and we’re making do with conditioned consciousness instead, which will allow us to ‘go through the motions of life’ it is true, but as we go through the motions we nevertheless miss what life is really about. This constitutes a rather major ‘malaise’ therefore, and it’s a malaise that almost all of us are suffering from. It’s the malaise that comes about as a result of living life in a purely rational or conceptual way and the way it affects us is – as Jung says – in terms of ‘loss of meaning’.

 

We can live with this ‘loss of meaning’ because we can fill our lives with all sorts of empty distractions and entertainments (and this is exactly what we do do) but the price we pay is a lack of joy and peace in ourselves, a lack of any true ‘ease’. We may (and often do) deny this of course, and proclaim ourselves to be living happy and fulfilling lives but this is more of an image we feel obliged to project than anything else. If we’re all so fulfilled then why are more and more people presenting to doctors with anxiety and depression? Are we really as fulfilled as we like to say we are? Over-thinking means that our ‘quality of life’ has been tremendously degraded but because this has become ‘the norm’ no one ever remarks on it. What else do we have to go on, after all?

 

The percentage of the population suffering from depression and anxiety has been on the increase for the last sixty years and is expected to go on increasing, according to the World Health Organization, but still we go looking for an answer in all the wrong places. The medical approach suggests that it is mainly to do with our genes and how these genes affect our brain chemistry, for example. It certainly doesn’t suggest that our problem is that we all think too much! But how much simpler would it be if this was the reason – if this was the case we could all do something about it! We could start to become aware of our thinking for a start, and the more aware we become of our thinking the less it gets to control us…

 

 

Art: Mel Chin, Wake

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Overthinking Life

When we think “How do I be in the world?” this jinxes us. As soon as we have this thought (or any variant of it) we are jinxed – we’re jinxed and we can’t back-track out of it again, no matter how clever we might get, no matter what tricks we might try. Once we start trying to solve this problem we can’t ever stop, in other words.

 

As soon as we think “How do I be in the world?” or “What is the right way to live life?” we are overthinking it. This is a simple enough point to make (it’s the simplest point anyone could ever make, actually) but it also doesn’t happen to be a point that we want to hear! It doesn’t make any sense to us, and even if it did make sense we wouldn’t how make use of it. We’ve already gone down the slippery slope and there’s nothing that we can (deliberately) do to get out of the trap. Deliberation is the trap, after all!

 

The reason we are so averse to hearing this message, or any variant of it, is because we are convinced on a very deep level that there is a right way to think about things, that there is a right way to ‘approach life’. This is so obvious to us that we don’t even need to go around saying it. The fact that we have never actually hit upon this ‘right way’ doesn’t seem to discourage us with regard to this belief in the slightest! We’re convinced that there must be a rational (or thought-based) way to approach life, so we keep on doggedly looking for it…

 

This is the snag in a nutshell – that we believe that there must be some special angle that we can cleverly utilize, some special ‘Get-out-of-jail-free’ card that we can play. It makes so much sense to us that we should be able to find the right angle, the right approach. Our whole way of life is based on this unspoken assumption; our very ‘modality of existence’ is founded upon this premise. Our ‘modality of existing in this world’ is based on thought and thought – by its very nature – is always looking for answers, always looking for solutions.

 

Of course, ‘looking for answers’ or ‘looking for solutions’ sounds like a very good thing to us – it sounds like an admirable attitude to have. It sounds right and proper, and the fact that it sounds right and proper shows us something important about ourselves – it shows us that we have become divorced from reality itself. The point is that reality itself is neither right nor wrong, neither this nor that, and yet – when we are in the grip of thought – we go around assuming that everything must be either one way or the other. Because we see the world in this polar (or ‘split’) way we are constantly analysing and controlling; analysing / controlling has, in other words, become ‘our way of being in the world’.

 

The whole world has to fit into our categories of good/bad, right/wrong, valuable/not valuable therefore and this is an absolutely crazy situation. How can we do this to the world? Why would we want to? What is possessing us? And if we do this to the world then this means that we are also doing it to ourselves; we’re going to try to fit ourselves into these categories as well – we’re going to be either good or bad, right or wrong, valuable or not valuable and this is equally crazy. The world has nothing to do with our absurd categories and neither do we, and yet we’re making our sense of well-being dependent upon how well be are doing at the task of trying to make everything (and ourselves) be the way we think it should be (whether this ‘way’ is absurd or not).

 

All angles – without exception – do this to the world and so if we’re coming at everything from an angle (as we almost always are) then we are imposing this false duality both on ourselves and the world. That’s what ‘angles’ do – they split the world into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; that’s the whole point of an angle, after all. So one the one hand we feel that we are going to gain the advantage by ‘having an angle on things’ but on the other hand this cleverness of ours rebounds on us in a way that is not to our advantage at all! Our classifications end up classifying us, just as Carlos Castaneda says. The tool of thought very neatly ‘turns the tables on us’ and we end up being on the receiving end of the stick and catching a whack in the head rather than dishing one out, as we had intended to.

 

This doesn’t (as we have already pointed out) means that we don’t ever need to have an angle. That isn’t the point at all. It’s not that we never ever need an angle but rather that we don’t need to be ‘looking for the right angle’ on a nonstop basis. Specific situations arise in which we do need an angle (problems arise which do need a solution) but then once the matter has been dealt with one way or another the need is no longer there. Life itself is not ‘a problem to be solved’, in other words, even though we generally end up treating it as such. We end up treating life as if it were a problem to be solved because this is how thought works. This is what thought always does – thought always treats everything as a problem!

 

Thought always treats everything as a problem because that’s just the kind of phenomenon it is – it has to fit everything into boxes of its own making when stuff just doesn’t come ‘in boxes’, when life doesn’t come in boxes. More than this however, life becomes a serious problem to us when we have identified with thought and the products of thought. Life (very much) becomes a problem to me when I identify with the idea of myself that the thinking mind furnishes me with. The problem is really with life of course but with ourselves. The problem is with me, not the world! This is of course a classic example of how the conditioned mind always perceives the truth backwards – I say that the problem is with you, or with the world in general, but really the problem is in me.

 

The problem that we always need to be fixing (or trying to fix) when we have identified ourselves with thought (and the image of ourselves that thought provides us with) is that we’re always placing certain demands on life; we’re always wanting things to work out for us in a particular way, in our words. We have very serious ‘preferences’ – not just with regard to the way things work out for us, but with regard to what we unconsciously require reality to be. Being identified with thought means that we’re always seeing reality in a very narrow and stilted fashion – to us, this is what reality actually is and so we don’t see ourselves as imposing our own arbitrary brand of order onto the world around us.

 

The ‘problem’ that we’re trying to fix with our thinking is how to get reality to be the way we think it ought to be, therefore. We’re trying to twist things to be the way we assume they should be and we’re doing this without having the slightest awareness that this is what we’re doing, and this means that we’re locked into a never-ending series of problems, not just the one, because things are never going to inherently be the way that we unconsciously assume that they should be. This is an ongoing problem that we’re never going to solve because we’re looking at it all wrong – as we have said, the problem isn’t out there in the world but in ourselves and we’re never looking at ourselves. We’re only ever looking outwards at the problems that we ourselves have unwittingly projected onto the world. The problem isn’t that the universe doesn’t play ball, the problem is the fact that we are constantly trying to impose our absurdly narrow and stilted viewpoint onto it!

 

Trying to impose our own brand of order onto the world but not seeing that this is what we are doing (because we genuinely do think that this is the way reality should be) is the very essence of what is meant by the word ‘aggression’. This is aggression in a nutshell. When I aggressively try to correct a problem that I wrongly see as existing out there in the world (and all fixing, all correcting is ultimately aggression) then what I’m really doing is fighting against myself. I’m creating the problem and then I’m trying very seriously, very humourlessly to find the solution as if it wasn’t me who created the need for a solution in the first place. I’m fighting myself but I haven’t a clue that this is what I’m doing. I think that the ‘problem’ is out there, but actually it’s my own aggression (or my own ‘unconsciousness’) that’s the problem…

 

This is why any amount of thinking about ‘how to be in the world’ is ‘overthinking’! Thinking is good (sometimes) for small tasks, but not for the ‘big task’ (so to speak) of how to be yourself, or how to be in the world. Thought is no good for existential questions, in other words, only down-to-earth practicalities. Thinking is generally appropriate for practical matters but it most certainly has no applicability at all to any challenges of what we might call an ‘existential’ nature! Within this context, thought is simply unwarranted and painfully counterproductive aggression. We assume certain things to be true (without of course ever properly examining them) and then we automatically start trying to control the world on the basis of these unconsciously-made assumptions of ours. We automatically start trying to fix everything on the basis of ‘how we think it should be’. This is what ‘unconscious living’ is all about – it’s all about conflict, it’s all about us projecting our assumptions on everything without seeing that this is what we’re doing.

 

When we’re living this way (i.e. on the basis of thought) then we never see beyond the conflict, we never see beyond the struggle. Our own assumed reality is the only reality we know, the only one we have any awareness of, and so all we ever know of life is this constant fighting, this constant struggling. The only world we ever know is this unhappy ‘battleground’, this ‘conflict-zone’ of us unconsciously trying to impose our own patented form of order on everything (and everyone) we encounter. When the struggle seems to be going our way (which it never really is of course because our patented brand of order is an artificial construct that couldn’t survive a second on its own) we experience pleasure and satisfaction and feel that all is well with the world, and when we see that things aren’t going our way then we experience the reverse of this – we experience pain and frustration, anguish and demoralization and so on – and we feel that things are fundamentally not right with the world.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we’re in the conditioned or unconscious mode of existing in the world then we never see beyond ‘good and bad’, ‘right and wrong’, ‘like and dislike’. No other reality exists for us. No reality other than this false ‘polar’ one exists – we actually incapable (when we’re in the conditioned modality) of understanding how there could be any other way of looking at things than the dualist or polar viewpoint that is provided for us by the thinking mind. We completely fail to see that this duality is our own projection that we’re imposing on the world, and as a result we never ever see beyond the ongoing struggle or conflict that is us. By thinking at all (when it comes to this question of ‘how to be in the world’) we isolate ourselves from reality as it is in itself, which is infinitely serene, infinitely profound, infinitely harmonious. As the Buddhist teachings say, ‘the nature of all phenomena is perfectly tranquil’. The world we create for ourselves with our aggression however is not serene, not profound, not harmonious. It is – on the contrary – both utterly shallow and irredeemably conflicted. And just so long as we remain helplessly identified with the tool of thought, as we have already said, this is the only reality we are ever going to know…

 

 

 

 

 

The Mythological Life


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Art: Ann Marie Zilberman

 

 

 

 

The Illusion Of Things

The rational mind – which is our way of knowing about the world around us – sings only the one song to us, and it sings it over and over again. We think that this mind of ours is telling us accurate and useful information about the world, and – up to a point – it usually is, but along with this function it is doing something else that is too subliminal for us to be able to pick up on – it is singing this very repetitive ‘siren-song’ for us, a song that is keeping is very effectively trapped.

 

What is this song then? What kind of a song is it? The first point that we could make is to say that it isn’t really very much of a song – it isn’t exactly what you would call ‘melodious’. What it is is an ‘affirmation’, or a ‘confirmation’. There is a starting-off point, a type of a basic assumption, and then thought confirms this assumption over and over again, come what may. Thought always confirms this starting-off point of ours – that’s all it ever can do.

 

The rational mind can never not confirm its own starting-off point – rational thought is after all an extension of that point, a projection of that point out onto the world. If we wanted to be very clear about it then we could say that the rational mind is this starting-off point, this static framework. It is its own fixed point of reference and so it can never leave this reference point behind. To say that the rational mind always confirms or affirms its own starting-off point is rather missing the point therefore – the rational mind is the starting-off point, it is the basic assumption.

 

What then is this ‘song’ that the thinking mind keeps on singing to us over and over again? What exactly are we on about here? Talking about affirming or confirming our basic assumptions is one way of putting it but this is rather dry and intellectual. It is somewhat removed from the realm of human experience – it doesn’t really make that much sense on a personal level. So if we were to use more everyday down-to-earth terms what we’re talking about here is the ‘feedback’ that tells us who we are…

 

The ‘song’ of the rational mind is all about affirming that we are this self, in other words – this self that we started out thinking we were. Everything we think – without any exception – tells us this basic message. There isn’t a thought that we ever thought that didn’t affirm the existence of the thinker that thought the thought! It never happens that we discover anything else through thinking. This then is just another of saying, as Krishnamurti says, that the thinker and the thought are one.

 

It is therefore entirely misleading to say, as we always do say, that the thinker creates the thought! It would be more accurate, more to the point, to say that the thought thinks the thinker (or that ‘thoughts think us’). The thinker is a construct of the thought; thought goes on, thought happens and then we assume (and identify with) the one who is responsible for thinking the thought. But the truth of the matter is that thought isn’t causally and volitionally produced by some autonomous ‘thinker’ – that isn’t it at all! As David Bohm says, the perception that we are there in the driving seat (or the ‘thinking seat’), freely deciding to think this or that thought, is an illusion produced by thought. This illusion comes as ‘part of the package’ – thought tells us that we are thinking the thought when actually thought is thinking us…

 

Sometimes we call the song of the thinking mind ‘the personal narrative’. The personal narrative – which is the ongoing story of ourselves that thought spins for us – can go one of two ways – it can make us feel good about ourselves or it can make us feel bad. It can be ‘positive’ and it can be ‘negative’ (as we commonly say). Naturally we see this as being an ‘all-important’ difference – we actually see it as the all-important difference – but when we look at it from the perspective that we have been exploring here in this discussion we can see that it doesn’t matter at all which way around the personal narrative works – it is confirming our basic assumptions either way.

 

It makes no difference what type of song the rational mind is singing to us – it doesn’t matter whether it is making us feel good or feel bad, whether it is optimistic or pessimistic, whether it makes us love ourselves or hate ourselves – it is the same either way because either way we’re being told that this thinker, this ‘decider’, this ‘enactor of purposes and goals’ is an actual real bone fide ‘entity’ in its own right and not merely an artefact of the thinking mind. The mind-created self is being reified in both cases in other words, one way positively as ‘the winner self’ and the other way negatively as the ‘loser self’, as the ‘failed self’.

 

The song is always telling us that we are either doing well or not doing well, that we are either winning or losing, and this is an entrapping message for us to take on board because both ways we get tricked into identifying with the mind-created self. This is a difficult point for us to understand of course because we are so very identified with the MCS that the notion that this is not who we are is frankly incomprehensible to us. We have no way of grasping what that means. It is as if we are sitting there in our living room in our favourite armchair (in our only armchair) and we have somehow become so extraordinarily habituated to sitting there (watching TV or whatever) that we can no longer see ourselves as being essentially different to and independent of this deeply familiar armchair of ours. We’ve forgotten that we have the possibility of acting independently from it, we’ve forgotten that we have legs and that we can have the ability to get up and walk freely around the place!

 

This might seem like a very far-fetched and not particularly plausible analogy but it is all the same exactly our situation with regard to the MCS. We’ve just got lazy! The MCS is, when it comes down to it, nothing other than a viewpoint, nothing more than a static position that we have gotten used to, nothing more than a set of assumptions that we can’t see beyond anymore. We stood in this spot so long that we’ve forgotten that it is possible to move around, to change our position and look at the world in a different way, see things from a different viewpoint. We have somehow grown into the armchair, our behinds – due to lack of movement – have got stuck fast to the armchair and so now it’s not just that we can’t ever get up out of this all-too—comfortable position, we’ve become incapable of seeing that this is even a possibility.

 

The ‘problem’ – so to speak – is that the thinking mind always presents everything (its vision of the word) in terms of static viewpoints, whilst the nature of reality itself – which is not a category, not a construct of the thinking mind – could be less ‘static’. The principle of reality is, we might say, antithetical to that of thought. This doesn’t means that reality is the ‘opposite’ of what we think it is because opposites exist only in thought, nowhere else. ‘Yes’ is the opposite of ‘no’ but there is neither yes or no in the world itself! The world itself is neither right nor wrong. ‘Yes’ means that the thing fits into the category that we have made and ‘no’ means that it doesn’t but our categories are our own affair – reality itself has nothing to do with our categories. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are both equally irrelevant; the thinking mind can’t actually relate to reality, in other words. It has no terms for reality – it has no terms for reality because reality doesn’t have any ‘terms’…

 

Reality has no place within the static framework and neither do we. How could we have possibly imagined that it does, or that we do? How could we have been that crazy? We are so very used to seeing and understanding everything in terms of the static framework of thought that we just can’t ‘get it’ that this is a wholly artificial (and therefore fundamentally misrepresentative) way of presenting the world. A good way to look at this is by saying, as Alan Watts has done, that the universe isn’t a noun (i.e. a subject or an object in the sentence) but a verb. The universe, in other words, is ‘a happening not a thing’. The verb (e.g. running, jumping, loving, laughing) can contain nouns but it is not produced by them. There is no one doing the running, the jumping, the loving, the laughing, there is just the ‘happening’ of it. There is the happening of the happening and that is it. ‘The verbs are verbing’,as David Mermin says here (quote taken from Jason Silva’s short video):

Matter acts, but there are no actors behind the actions:the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns. Actions act upon their actions. Properties are all there is. Indeed: there are no things.

There is therefore no isolated or abstracted entity there in the background causing the happening to happen – that’s just an erroneous perception caused by the way thought works. ‘God is a verb‘ as Buckminster Fuller says!To quote Piet Hut, professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton:

No thing exists, there are only actions. We live in a world of verbs, and nouns are only shorthand for those verbs whose actions are sufficiently stationary to show some thing-like behavior. These statements may seem like philosophy or poetry, but in fact they are an accurate description of the material world, when we take into account the quantum nature of reality.

In the same way then we can say who we are is a verb not a noun, not a subject or object. Who we are is a happening, with no one ‘making it happen’. We are actually the very same happening as the universe – there’s only the one happening happening, not a whole bunch of them, not a collection of them! How could there be any ‘separate happenings’, anyway? ‘Separation’ belongs only to the world of things – separation is what makes things into things. In the Great Happening which is every-‘thing’ there is no separation. In the Great Happening which is everything there are no things! As Bodhidharma said one thousand five hundred years ago, ‘From the very beginning, not a thing was’. There never was any ‘thing’ – it’s only the rational/categorical mind that says there was. Even though there never was any ‘thing’, the rational mind keeps on telling is that there was, and is, and will be. This is its song. The rational mind keeps on telling us that there are such things as things and furthermore, it keeps on telling us that we are one of them!

 

 

Image: Jeda Villa Painting by Jan Wils. Photo Credit: Wiki Commons.
Taken from: refinethemind.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being There Without A Reason

Whenever we’re doing something for a reason we’re not ‘in reality’ – we’re not in reality because we’re not in the present moment and there’s no reality other than the present moment. We can only be in reality if we let go of all the ideas that we might have of what we are doing and why so if we’re here for some reason or other then quite simply we are not actually here, we’re not actually ‘present’. We’re in our heads – we’re ‘there for a reason’ and this means that we’re not there. We’re not really anywhere – we’re absent rather than present. Doing stuff for a reason ensures that we’re not in the present moment…

 

And yet we’re always doing stuff for a reason – we’re doing it because of this, we’re doing it because of that, we’re doing it because of whatever. Even when we think we’re doing something for no reason that chances are that we still have an agenda there somewhere or other. We might be unconscious of this agenda but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Lots and lots of our activity occurs as a result of unconscious motivation – most of it in fact – so not being able to see what our reason is, not having any awareness of it – doesn’t mean anything. Truly spontaneous  behaviour is rare in adults – everything has become contaminated with some kind of agenda, some kind of calculation, some kind of rational validation.

 

To let go of all our agendas – both of the conscious and unconscious variety – is the hardest thing there is. In one way it could be argued that dropping our agendas is easy since we don’t actually have to ‘do’ anything – all that is needed is for us to stop doing something (i.e. all we need to ‘do’ is stop holding on). This ‘not doing’ turns out to be much more difficult that we might have thought however. It’s a very curious thing because we always think that the challenge in life is to fulfil our agendas, not let go of them. That’s what we’re always being told, that’s the kind of message that we have been brought up on. The basic assumption in our culture is that when we successfully realize our goals then we will be happy. Everything then will be OK – all problems will then disappear.

 

The message we are always given is that goal-attainment equals the ultimate fulfilment, the ultimate satisfaction, in other words. It means everything to us. But this just isn’t true – the only thing that brings joy and peace is letting go, not holding on. Holding on only ever brings misery – we hold on out of greed, out of fear, out of insecurity and this is never going bring anything but suffering. Holding on we do by reflex – letting go, on the other hand, has to be a conscious thing. It is an expression of being present in the situation, not being absent! ‘Letting go’ is the challenge; ‘letting go’ is the challenge because it is the one thing we don’t want to do. As Eckhart Tolle says, everything hinges upon our relationship with the reality of the present moment. If our attitude is that we are refusing to surrender to the present moment, just as it is, then it is as if we are fighting with life itself. It isn’t just ‘as if’ – we are fighting with life itself and this the most gruelling and thankless task there is. There’s nothing more futile than this; fighting with life is the ultimate ‘fruitless endeavour’ – the only fruit we are ever going to pick from this tree is the fruit of suffering!

 

When we refuse to surrender to the reality of the present moment (and this ‘surrendering is a profoundly courageous rather than a cowardly act) then what this means is that we are trying to live life on our terms and we don’t even know what these terms are! We don’t know what the terms which we are trying to hold life to are because we‘ve never examined them, because we’ve never really looked at them. If we had looked at these terms of ours we would no longer be clinging so stubbornly to them – we would have dropped them immediately because they are so ridiculous! This is the whole thing about ‘holding onto our agendas’ – we hold onto them alright but we never look at why we are holding onto them so tightly or what exactly the expectations are that we are imposing on life. This is because ‘holding on’ (as we have said) always happens out of fear and when we are doing something out of fear we do not want to examine what we are doing and why. We just ‘do it’ – the reflex is triggered and we just go along with it. Fear is all about going along with automatic reflexes – to act on fear is to hand over responsibility to a set of mechanical responses. To act on fear is to become mechanical, in other words. When we are obeying fear then we are moving away from being aware – awareness moves towards looking at what is going on whilst fear runs in the other direction!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are afraid and we go along with this fear, then we are handing over our autonomy to rules. We are giving away our power to some external authority. We trust that the rules (or the ‘external authority’) will save us and – at the same time – we make sure never to look at the rule (or the behaviour) too closely. Naturally we don’t want to look at the rules (or behaviour) too closely because if we did then we would be running the risk of seeing that what we have placed our trust in is never in a million years going to help us! To examine the rules or behaviours or reflexes that we have handed over our autonomy to is to run the risk of losing our faith in them (since they don’t by their very nature ‘stand up to scrutiny’) and then what would we do? We’d be thrown back on our own resources again; we’d have to face up to the difficulty all by ourselves, without some handy formula that is supposedly going to save us…

 

This is why no one can ever tell us what to do in order to ‘beat anxiety’, or in order to ‘overcome fear’. If they do then we will straightaway cling to the instructions (or rules) that they have given us; we will hold on tightly to the  formula that we have been given and holding on tightly to some formula, to some reassuring ‘external authority’, means that we are running away from fear not up facing it. So how is this supposed to help us? How is running away from what we are afraid of going to free us from fear? We are desperate to give away our power, our autonomy in the matter and at the same time we are expecting this to save us from the fear or from the anxiety. Our anxiety is a symptom of our refusal to relate directly to whatever is frightening us (it is a symptom of our attempted running away, in other words) so how can someone trying to help us in our ‘running away’ ever be expected to help us? When we try to give someone methods to deal with fear or anxiety all we are doing is colluding with them in their efforts to run away in the opposite direction of the source of the fear and so this isn’t helpful at all. ‘Methods’ are always an abdication of autonomy; ‘methods’ mean becoming more not less mechanical.

 

How can we possibly hope to become free from fear or anxiety by moving in the direction of becoming more mechanical? The root cause of anxiety is our fear of being present in the situation whilst being mechanical means moving even further away from the reality of the present moment, so utilizing methods and skills and ‘tools’ to deal with anxiety isn’t any sort of a cure at all – it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of our very great reluctance to surrender to the present moment. It’s a symptom of our (unexamined) refusal to live life on life’s terms. What helps isn’t to invest in methods of dealing or ‘coping’ with life’s difficulties – what helps is to be present with these difficulties. Being present with the difficulty – whatever that difficulty might be – is the only thing that helps. Anything else is an attempted escape from something that can’t be escaped from!

 

‘Being present’ means not running away and so of course this is the only thing that is actually going to help us. The big challenge is however – as we have said – that no one can tell us how to be present with ourselves. There’s no set of rules we can follow. There’s no method for it – there’s no method for ‘being there without a reason’. If there was a method then there would be a reason, the reason being that it suits us to be there without a reason, and this itself constitutes a reason. This itself constitutes an agenda and so we have ‘an agenda for dropping our agenda’. This simply shows that ‘being present’ can never come out of the head, out of the thinking mind. Everything that comes out of the thinking mind comes with an agenda – there is no way that the thinking, purposeful mind can ever do anything without having a purpose in mind. The problem is therefore that we do everything out of our heads – we’re a ‘heady’ culture! We even try to ‘assent to life’ with our heads. The thinking mind – like some sort of terrible interfering busybody – wants to be involved in everything…

 

Much of what passes for mindfulness comes down to this glitched business of us trying to assent to life with our heads (which means ‘trying to assent to life for a reason’). Because we are so very used to seeing ourselves to seeing ourselves as ‘this mind’ (and we are brought up to see ourselves this very limited way) we simply don’t know any other way to be. The sense of ourselves as a ‘rounded and irrational whole’ rather than a type of ‘disembodied sharp-edged intellect’ is a stranger to us. It’s as if we live in a big house and never come out of the cramped and cluttered little room we use as an office. We don’t know ‘our Father’s house’ in all its spaciousness. Assenting to life is very clearly something that comes out of the Whole of us, not just a meagre part of us (i.e. not just the narrow rational intellect). Being here without a reason comes out of our heart, not our head! This is at the same time both an involuntary (or spontaneous) act of deep assent from the heart and a profoundly liberating insight – the insight being that there never was any possibility of us not being in the reality of our own lives.