Beyond The Paradox Of Purposefulness

Anyone who is seriously trying to come to grips with what is called ‘therapy’ is always going to come up against the same intractable problem. It’s only a matter of time – everyone is going to find themselves – sooner or later – in the same impossible position. There is actually no way around this! Therapy isn’t as simple or straightforward as we think – it isn’t just a matter of ‘following the therapeutic protocols’ or ‘following the prescribed method’. If we think that it is then we’re never going to get anywhere. If we think that it is then we’re being super-naïve…


What we come up against is a paradox, and the essential form of this paradox is that we find ourselves trying to ‘let go on purpose’. We know that letting go (or surrendering) is the answer, but the problem is ‘how do we go about doing it?’ There is no way to deliberately ‘let go’ because everything we do deliberately is always ‘done for a reason’ and the whole point of letting go is that we aren’t doing something for a reason. The whole point is that that we aren’t acting in order to obtain some kind of desired outcome. How can we be ‘letting go’ and yet ‘trying to obtain some kind of desired outcome’? ‘Letting go’ is letting go – there are no ‘desired outcomes’ – if they were then it would be controlling that we are looking at here, not ‘getting go’.


Instead of talking in terms of ‘letting go’ we could equally well talk about accepting – it’s the same thing. When we ‘accept’ we let go of any idea that we might have of how we would like things to be different. We let go of any idea that we might have of things being different to the way that they actually are. That’s what ‘accepting’ means. Very often we hear of the notion of acceptance in therapy and that’s fine as far as it goes, but the problem comes when there is some sort of implication that we ought to be able to do this on purpose. First we have the idea, and then we put it into practice. ‘Letting go’ or ‘accepting’ is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, we are given to understand, so we just have to hurry up and accept. That’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do…


This is a joke however because no one in the entire course of human history has ever accepted because it was ‘the right thing to do,’ because we have gone ahead and made the informed decision to do so’. We can’t accept on purpose any more than we can let go on purpose. When we ‘accept’ we always do so because we are trying to obtain something as a result and if we are ‘trying to get something as a result’ then we are in a ‘fundamentally non-accepting’ frame of mind. We’re not accepting the possibility that we won’t get what we’re secretly trying to get as a result of our so-called ‘accepting’.


We assume that acceptance is a kind of choice that the thinking mind can make – “I choose to accept”, I say. Choice means preference (or bias) however – one thing we want, the other thing we don’t want. One possibility is good, the other bad. When we talk about acceptance in the psychological (or spiritual) sense of the world what we mean however is going beyond preference, going beyond ‘like and dislike’. How then can choice, which is the same thing as preference, take us beyond itself? How do we imagine that this is ever going to work? How can I ‘choose not to choose,’ because that’s what I’m really trying to do here? I can’t use attachment to free myself from attachment, or use the thinking mind to free me from the thinking mind.


Our problem is that we can’t see that there is a big fat paradox there. Most of us – even if we are in therapy, or have been in therapy, for a long time – don’t ever see this. Most therapists won’t ever see this – they will skip blandly over the paradox as if it didn’t exist. How often do we hear in therapy anyone talking about the insurmountable paradox that is inevitably to be found waiting for us when we try to accept on purpose, accept because it’s the right thing to do, or ‘because it’s part of the prescribed therapeutic protocol’? Therapists very rarely talk about paradoxicality. The very existence of the paradox we are talking about makes a complete nonsense of including the notion of acceptance in any psychotherapeutic protocol. ‘Methods’ and ‘paradoxes’ don’t mix! What’s the point of having acceptance as part of ‘what’s supposed to happen’ if there is absolutely no way in which we can go ahead and do it on purpose? And if trying to ‘go ahead and do it on purpose’ has the opposite effect to what we want? What kind of a joke is that?


The reason the paradox remains invisible to us is because is simply because we’re too identified with the thinking mind. The one thing the thinking mind can never see is the paradoxicality that is adherent in its very nature and so when we are 100% identified with the instrument of thought (as we almost always are) then any talk of the logical paradox inherent in the structure of thought itself will remain a profound mystery to us, and it’s not a mystery that we’re in the least bit interested in either! When we’re not consciously aware of the paradox inherent in thought then we are doomed to go on ‘unconsciously enacting the paradox’ in just about everything we do. We are bound to keep going around and around in circles forever, in other words.


In order to be aware of the paradoxicality inherent in thought (or in purposefulness) we have to be – to some degree – separate from the thinking mind. It can’t be our total or exclusive viewpoint; there has to be some possibility of seeing things in a way that is not conditioned by thought. How do we get to separate our consciousness from the rational mind however? Clearly this is just the same paradox all over again because anything we deliberately do in order to (supposedly) separate us from the thinking mind actually ties us to that mind all the more. If we do anything on purpose, as part of some kind of ‘rational design’, then this reinforces the thinking mind. To use the thinking mind is always to strengthen it, after all! We can’t free ourselves from the instrument of thought (and the suffering that it causes) by using that very same instrument, which is nevertheless what we always try to do.


This doesn’t mean that our situation is ‘hopeless’ though – it’s just hopeless if we keep on trying to help ourselves by using the thinking mind! There is – no matter what might think – a process going on the whole time that is acting to separate us from the instrument of thought, and demonstrating to us that we are not this instrument, and this is the process of ‘disillusionment’ (or the process of ‘becoming aware’). Curiously therefore, it’s the suffering-producing activity of the thinking mind which facilitates this process. We might not be directly aware of how using thought to (supposedly) solve of all our problems infallibly results in us being caught up in the jaws of logically paradoxicality, but we get chewed up by these crunching jaws all the same, whether we know what’s going on or not. Paradoxicality with regard to our purposefulness comes down to counterproductivity – we act so as to improve our situation but we improve it instead. We try to escape from discomfort or pain and find comfort or pleasure instead, but things just don’t work out like this. The more we try to be in control of our situation so as to make our lives happier or more peaceful or more secure the more miserably neurotic we become. Cleverness and control never lead us to happiness, and yet we never seem to learn this. It’s as if we are constitutionally unable to learn not to trust the thinking mind in the blind way that we always do trust it – we keep on believing that rational thought can do what it can’t, that it can lead us to freedom and happiness when it never will.


Inasmuch as we are 100% orientated towards believing the thinking mind to be ‘an infallible guide in all things’ then we are constitutionally incapable of learning, but as we have said, there is another force at work apart from our blinkered ‘conditioned will’, and that is the force which acts, persistently and patiently, against our will and in the direction of freedom instead, which is the direction the conditioned mind can never take us. We don’t of course feel favourably disposed towards a process that is bigger than us and stronger than us and which takes us in a direction that we very much don’t want to go in. We don’t like it at all, but when we develop enough wisdom and insight to see this process for what it is then this changes our attitude in a crucial way; we will still fight against the ‘helpful’ process of disillusionment on one level, on a ‘reflexive-level’, but at the same time – on a much more profound level of awareness – we will assent to it, we will be ‘at peace’ with it. We are no longer worshipping our conditioned will (or ‘the conditioned mind’) as if it were the most important thing in the world, as if it were the Divine Source of All Wisdom, and it is precisely this ‘demoting of the autocratic thinking mind’ to a subsidiary position that takes us ‘beyond the paradox of purposefulness’.



Art: St. George and the Dragon by Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526, Italy)








Aggressive Therapy

When we’re psychologically unconscious then the only kind of interaction we’re capable of is the coercive kind. We can’t in other words help ourselves from automatically trying to get other people to see the world in the same way that we do. This is both profoundly unconscious and profoundly involuntary on our part. This is because we are assuming that our way of seeing things is ‘the only way there is’. This is what it means to be psychologically unconsciousit means that we are stuck in the one narrow way of seeing things without knowing that we are. We’re ‘blinkered without knowing that we’re blinkered’ – which is of course the only way there is of being blinkered!


When we’re psychologically unconscious then we are slaves to our unexamined assumptions. We’re slaves to them because we serve them in everything we do. Everything we do is on the basis of these invisible assumptions and because we aren’t interested in making them visible (i.e. because we aren’t interested in looking at them) they are determining everything about us. Being unconscious means that we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world and because we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world we are also trying to control other people in the very same way. So if I am trying to communicate with you what I call ‘communication’ is actually ‘me attempting to unconsciously railroad you into serving the very same unsupported assumptions that I am serving’. I’m being coercive without acknowledging that I’m being coercive, in other words. My aggression is veiled, I’m acting as if it doesn’t exist; I’m claiming that everything is fair and above board….


I’m not doing this consciously – nothing that I’m doing is conscious! I don’t have the slightest idea that – by trying to ‘communicate’ with you what I am actually doing is attempting to coerce you into accepted my unexamined beliefs, the beliefs that I don’t even know I have. If I don’t know that I have them then naturally I won’t know that I am trying to foist them upon you! This the whole point that we’re trying to make here – that when we’re in the state of ‘psychological unconsciousness’ (which is the state of being narrow without knowing that we are narrow) we don’t know what we’re doing. Unconsciousness is referred to in Luke 23:34 (King James Version) where we read: ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ We are always going to be violent when we proceed on the basis of a very narrow viewpoint that we cannot see to be narrow because we assuming it to be the only viewpoint that there could ever be. From this basis, there’s no other way that we could behave. When we’re ‘unconscious’ we’re always going to be coercive, we’re always going to aggressive. To be ‘narrow without knowing that we are narrow’ is to be violent to the Whole – being unconsciously narrow (or unconsciously limited) equals ‘being violent to the Whole’. It’s the same thing.


We can of course see this sort of thing (the violence of the part against the Whole) happening all around us. When I am very narrow and rigid in my outlook then I am by definition aggressive – I am aggressive to everyone who has a different view to me. I am always aggressive to the world in as a whole because I am constantly fighting against it, constantly trying to impose my will on it. I am like ‘Western Man’ in general! To be very dogmatic or concrete in a religious or political sense is also a perfect example of this type of self-justifying violence. Anyone who is dominated by a particular idea or belief is going to be inherently violent in nature – all thought is aggressive, as Krishnamurti says; all thoughts are aggressive because all thoughts are ‘narrow without knowing that they are narrow’. That’s how a thought gets to be a thought, that’s how any definite viewpoint gets to be definite – by being narrow, by not taking the wider picture into account. There can be no such thing as a black-and-white statement about reality (i.e. a thought) unless we are narrow without acknowledging that we are narrow, and so all definite / concrete views of the world are violent. Our definitions of ourselves are inherently aggressive as Krishnamurti says here –

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Understanding this has immense implications, needless to say. It changes everything. It is an extremely challenging thing to take on board and most probably we won’t want to! If we did take this understanding on board then we’d have to radically revise our view of ourselves – we’d have to stop defining ourselves and it is only through defining ourselves that we have the (false) security of knowing who we are! That’s where all our good feelings about ourselves come from – our definitions of who or what we are! It doesn’t feel very good to learn that we are the slaves of our unconscious assumptions (the slaves of our programming) and so we’ll probably not want to go back to thinking that we’re right to believe whatever we believe, right to have whatever viewpoint we happen to have, rather than entertaining the notion that we’re being controlled to believe whatever we believe, controlled to think whatever we’re thinking. It’s extraordinarily hard work to take such a profound reversal on board and no one likes hard work…


This is the reason we are all ‘psychologically unconscious’ – because it is just so much easier / less challenging to relate to our way of seeing the world as being ‘the only possible way’ rather than being aware that it is merely some kind of arbitrary (and ultimately perverse) restriction that we have embraced and based our life on without knowing that we have. Who is ever going to voluntarily take this on board? A good example of ‘an arbitrary and perverse restriction that we have embraced without knowing that we have’ would be prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation. If I am afflicted with a particular prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation (or anything else) then how much easier it is for me to say that my viewpoint on the matter is ‘right’ rather than accurately perceiving it as being an arbitrary bias that is being imposed upon me whether I like it or not (i.e. rather than perceiving that I am ‘a slave to my prejudices’)? We know from common experience that people very rarely opt to become aware of their prejudices – this is a very painful process and no one likes pain. We run away from pain whenever we can. In the same way therefore, we could ask the same question about our conditioning in general – i.e. how often is it that we start to question (or see beyond) our basic beliefs about life? We almost always assert these core beliefs all the more strongly whenever doubt or uncertainty arises rather than questioning them and this is where all our aggression (of whatever form) comes from.


Being unconscious isn’t a ‘moral’ issue, it’s simply the way things are. It is – we might say – the natural order of things. Birds build nests for themselves, squirrels climb trees, and we go around being psychologically unconscious. There is no moral imperative saying that we have to ‘become conscious’! But – having said this – there is an ethic issue that arises when we assume the role of mental-health therapists or counsellors whilst remaining every bit as unconscious as those people we are seeking to help. Helping people is an expression of our compassionate nature as human beings, helping people is great but if it turns out – as we have been saying – that we can’t help anyone unless we first ‘help ourselves’ by taking full responsibility for the unacknowledged narrowness of our own personal unconsciousness then things aren’t as simple as we are making it out to be. If we don’t acknowledge and work with our unconsciousness then all we’re going to be doing is imposing our unconsciousness on someone else under the guise of helping. Imposing our own unacknowledged limitations, our own unacknowledged unconsciousness on everyone we meet is exactly what every other unconscious person in the world is engaged in, which is violence. We’re putting a fancy spin on it though, we’re being violent and we’re calling it therapy!


We can of course help in practical ways like giving people directions on how to get somewhere if they ask or carrying someone’s shopping for them if they’re not able but if we try to help someone in a more global way as therapist or counsellor then all we’re doing, as we have said, is imposing our unexamined beliefs on a vulnerable client, which is clearly unethical. There’s no way we can’t be doing this if we are unconscious ourselves. It’s impossible for us not to be doing this. As Ram Dass says, all we can ever do for the people we meet is give them the gift of ourselves – it doesn’t matter what training we’ve had, or what qualifications / credentials we have because it’s our own inner state that counts here, not whatever costume we might happen to be wearing. It’s not the mask or the role or the technical expertise that’s ‘therapeutic’ – if we may use that word – it’s the unique (or unconditioned) individual that’s behind it. This isn’t obvious at all because in our technically-minded culture it’s not the unconditioned person that is valued but the conditioning that they are to be imprinted with! It’s not the individual that we relate to but the professional mask that is worn by the individual. We can measure and verify technical expertise or knowledge but there’s obviously no way that we can do this for the unique individual, and so this is no good for our system of doing things. It’s not possible to train people to be authentically themselves, there’s no way to instruct people on how to do this and so straightaway the system is running into trouble. The system isn’t just redundant as far as ‘creating individuals’ is concerned, it’s actually getting in the way…


We can also talk about this essential dilemma in terms of happiness – we can’t train people (or train ourselves) to be happy and yet our own happiness (which is the same thing as ‘inner freedom’ or ‘freedom from conditioning’) is the only thing that may be considered therapeutic, if we were to use that (somewhat suspect) word. This is a curious thing to consider, therefore – whoever spends much time thinking about whether their therapist is happy or not? But the same principle is true here – if I am genuinely happy then I will (unintentionally) transmit my happiness to everyone I meet, and if I am unhappy then I will pass on my unhappiness instead, in some cases involuntarily and in other cases perhaps voluntarily, under some kind of a shoddy pretext. I can’t help giving everyone I meet the gift of my inner state – if there is some degree of freedom within me then this might help others, in some non-volitional way, to become a bit more free in themselves also, and if I have a lack of freedom inside me then I will automatically pass that lack of freedom onto everyone I meet, as a kind of ‘poisoned gift’.


This key point is worth reiterating as many times as it takes because – as a culture – we just don’t get it. We don’t get it at all. We automatically assume that we can divorce what we do (our persona, our role, our job, etc) from our inner state. It’s as if our inner state doesn’t matter, or – more to the point – it’s as if there is no such thing as ‘our inner state’. The term ‘inner state’ or ‘inner life’ is not one that we use – everything is about the outer life, the theatrical life. No one ever talks about what our inner state might be on psychology or counselling courses, and yet at the same time our inner state is the only important thing about us – everything else is just so much window dressing!


The generic always does violence to the unique. The generic is violence. The generic is always violent – it is violent by its very nature. The generic is always violent to the unique (which is the only thing that is actually real) but the generic is all that we have available to us. Our institutions are all about ‘enforcing the generic’ and this is of course the only way that they could be! Our healthcare systems are all about enforcing the generic, enforcing normatively defined values. They are – of course – like big machines. They are big machines, and since when did mental health (either of the therapist or the patient) ever come out of a machine? The system naturally wants to regulate the therapist, the healthcare worker, because this is the only way it can be sure it is delivering its services ‘to the right standards’. But in doing this it is denying the mental health of both service users and service providers. It pressurizes those who deliver the services to rigorously adhere to the template that it provides, and yet by taking away freedom and responsibility from the therapists in this way it also renders them not just ineffective, but turns them into ‘passers on’ of restriction and restriction. We are part of a coercive machine, we become coercive just as the system we operate within (and are controlled by) is coercive, and the one thing that is never going to come out of this inauspicious set up is improved mental health!


As we were saying earlier, to define ourselves and what we do in any way is to be violent and this is of course equally true when we define ourselves (in our own heads) as being ‘therapists’ and what we do as ‘therapy’. When we do this we’re making ourselves blind to the bigger picture and this blindness is only ever going to rebound on us (or our clients) further down the line in a way that we were not expecting and will probably not even be able to recognize. This is what Ivan Illich calls specific counterproductivity and it happens every time we apply a linear solution to a non-linear (i.e. complex) ‘problem’. A mechanical / linear solution is always going to rebound on us when it is applied to a complex, multifaceted reality. The narrower we become in our definition of ourselves, and our understanding of what it is that we are doing (or supposed to be doing) the more counterproductivity we are going to engender. This counterproductivity (or ‘self-contradictoriness’) is the price we pay for handing over responsibility for ourselves to some sort of external authority, to the system that regulates/controls us and determines what we do and what we don’t do. The challenge therefore is simply to be courageous enough (in the face of all the mechanical forces that are ranged against us) to be ourselves. This is the ultimate risk, yet it is also the only thing that’s worth anything!


No one knows how to be themselves (no one knows what it involves or entails to do this) and no one can be trained (as we have said) to do this, and so what we’re talking about here is a profound mystery. It can’t be replicated or regulated or validated and we can’t do ‘research’ on it, and so it isn’t what anyone might call ‘scientific’. This sounds utterly unimpressive to our modern ears, therefore. And yet – no matter what we might think to the contrary – this ‘mystery’ (the unmanageable and completely ‘non-technical’ mystery of being one’s own unique self) is the only thing that is ever going to be of any genuine benefit to anyone. Being a technical ‘expert professional’, on the other hand, is the very opposite of being helpful. It’s a poisoned gift. It is simply ‘aggression disguised as helping’…