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

 

 

 

 

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Conventional Therapy Is ‘Therapy To Keep Us Asleep’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Beyond The Game

‘Therapy’ is one thing, whilst ‘living our life consciously, just as it is’ is quite another. Therapy implies fixing – it’s hard not to use the word and yet not mean that we want to ‘do something about ourselves’. The whole point of therapy is that we aren’t happy with ourselves the way we are and we want to do something about it. One definition of counselling that has been used (just to give one typical example) is that if we engage in it we can make ‘meaningful and permanent changes’ to our lives. Simply living our lives consciously (which means something to the effect of ‘not looking the other way when something we don’t want to see happens’) has nothing to do with effecting change, either of a temporary or permanent nature. It just means being with ourselves during our day-to-day lives, and this is a very different kettle of fish. If we really do want to change ourselves then this business of ‘simply being aware of ourselves’ is not by any means an attractive prospect. It is in fact the complete opposite of an attractive prospect!

 

There is a good reason why becoming conscious of one’s own life as it is without putting any kind of a spin on it is deeply unattractive to us. Stuff doesn’t come any more unattractive. One is that we are bound in his case to see all the things about ourselves that we don’t like, which is what Jung referred to as being aware of the shadow – there’s nothing guaranteed to put us off as much as the prospect of seeing stuff about us that we would rather keep hidden. The shadow – as Jung says – is ultimately repellent – we’d do anything rather than see it. We will do the most extraordinary things rather than see it.There’s another reason too, which is not quite as straightforward to understand, and that has to do with the over-throwing of our most prized assumptions about life. We could phrase what we are talking about here in terms of ‘living your own life consciously instead of unconsciously’ which has a nice ring to it. If we did phrase it in such a way this would however be entirely misleading since the more consciously I live my life the more clearly I start to see that the life in question (the life that is supposedly ‘being lived’) isn’t actually mine!

 

There are two possibly ways we could take this dawning revelation, each being the ‘mirror-image’ of the other, so to speak. One way would be to find this insight tremendously interesting, tremendously exciting so that we want to go into it further and see where this particular road leads to, whilst the other way would be to find the whole thing deeply disturbing and unwelcome and – on this account – want to back away from it as fast as possible and go back to what we know and are comfortable with (which is the perception of this life being solely my life). If I start to perceive that the life I am living isn’t really mine at all and I am attached to the idea that it is, then this perception will of course be very unwelcome to me. If I am attached to the idea that this familiar and comfortable sense of self is a real thing and not a construct then any awareness that falsifies this sense will manifest purely as fear, purely as threat, and I will resist it with everything that I’ve got.

 

But the reason we resist the awareness that ‘I am not this self’ (and that as a consequence ‘this is not my life’) is simply because of fear, not because there is anything genuinely interesting or worthwhile about the familiar and comfortable belief in the concrete self and its viewpoint. We’re not ‘upholding a positive value’, we’re simply hiding from a challenging truth. The safe and familiar viewpoint of the everyday self is – when it comes down to it – unrelentingly tedious. We may not want to admit this to ourselves, but it is nevertheless true. Honesty would show it to be true every time. This business of seeing everything from that narrow, limited, eternally fixed viewpoint seems, at the start, to have great possibilities in it but this perception of possibilities is entirely illusory. The self can be pleased with what is happening or it can be displeased, but this polarity (i.e. the polarity of ‘like versus dislike’) represents the limit of what is possible for it.

 

From the narrow perspective of the self if something happens that is advantageous to me, that is to my considerable benefit, then this is the best possible outcome. Things don’t get any better than this. I am frankly not interested in anything that goes beyond this! ‘Beyond my own advantage’ doesn’t exist as far as I am concerned. And yet the thing is that we are not this limited little self – we are much, much more than that. The self is not who we genuinely are – as contradictory as that may sound – it’s just a sterile little that we’re caught up in. It’s just a sterile little game that we keep playing over and over again because it has this terrible hypnotic power over us. We play it compulsively, we play it because we can’t not play it. We play the game of the self because the game has total power over us, just as a hypnotist has power over his victim…

 

Given that we are so much more than this little self to be constrained in the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain is incredibly tedious. How can it not be tedious? The game of self is INFINITELY tedious – if we could see it with unfettered consciousness we would see that it is a horror. The game of self is a living death. It is the tomb of life. The process of life is therefore the process of going beyond this game; if we don’t go beyond the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain then the impulse of life has been thwarted and our suffering and frustration will grow as a result. In this case we can say that life has not kicked in yet; we can say that life has not even begun yet because life is a reaching out beyond the self and its tedious games, not the state of permanent fascination with them…

 

Life has only one direction – we might say – and that is the direction of moving beyond the self. The other direction – the trying of trying ever harder to successfully act out the narrow agenda of the self – isn’t a direction at all. It isn’t a direction at all because it doesn’t lead us anywhere, because it doesn’t take us anywhere. The self and its sterile game of ‘advantage versus disadvantage’ is not anywhere. It’s not anywhere because [1] This is self is not who we are, and so it is always taking us away from who we are, and [2] it doesn’t actually exist in the first place!

 

So of course the direction of moving beyond the self is tremendously interesting and tremendously exciting – this is the direction of life itself. This is the greatest adventure there is; this is the ONLY adventure there is! The only adventure worthy of the name is the adventure of leaving the self behind – anything else is merely distraction. Anything else is merely entertainment for the self. The repetitively tiresome antics of the self do not constitute an adventure – they constitute the avoidance of the adventure.

 

Moving in the direction of discovering that it is not ‘me’ who is living this life corresponds we might say to what Joseph Campbell calls ‘The Hero’s Journey’. The Hero’s Journey is when we move beyond our self-imposed limits, it is – according to Joseph Campbell – when we ‘leave the playpen’ and move out into the real world. Only a hero can make this journey become moving beyond the limits of the known is a hugely challenging thing – we need everything we’ve got to go on this journey, we need all of our resources as human beings. We can’t simply ‘do it on automatic’ in the same way that we do everything else. We can’t do it by following orders, we can’t do it in our sleep. Anthony De Mello is talking about the same thing when we says that when we go to see a psychotherapist this isn’t because we want to grow or change (or ‘wake up‘), it’s because we want to have our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We want to go back to the game; we want to go back to the play-pen where we feel safe. The play-pen has a terrible fascination, a terrible power over us…

 

The point we were making a moment ago was that anything which isn’t a ‘going beyond the self’ is an avoidance tactic, is a red-herring, is a decoy with which to divert ourselves. ‘Refusal of the call converts the adventure into its negative’ says Joseph Campbell and it is by utilizing distractions or red herring that we facilitate ourselves in avoiding the call to adventure. Society specializes in the provision of such distractions, such red herrings – distractions and red herrings are its ‘stock in trade’! The ‘collective of us’ – which we call society or ‘the social system’ – has nothing at all to do with our emergence as truly autonomous individuals; it stunts and represses our growth as the true individuals we are at every opportunity. It might seem strange (or hard to believe) that society should be opposed to our growth; we naturally assume it to be for our ‘common good’, as the expression has it. Society is however like a parent who provides us with food and shelter, but who refuses to allow our growth. They might say, “Aren’t I looking after you?” but being a parent involves more than just providing food, clothing and somewhere to sleep; it involves fostering independence of thought, it involves fostering autonomy – not making your charges into your slaves.

 

There really is no other way that what Jung calls ‘collective thinking’ can work – collective thinking necessarily works on generic lines and the generic is always inimical to the individual, to the unique. Society (like all groups, like all ‘collectives’) is an equilibrium system and as such it values only the equilibrium. All mechanical or rule-based systems only ‘care’ about one thing and that is that the rules are obeyed. The inbuilt tendency of the group to inhibit the psychological growth of the people making up the group is a very well known phenomenon. What psychotherapist has not seen her clients’ growth and mental health being compromised by either family or peer-group or society in general? The social group – if we may consider it as an entity in its own right, which is what it functions as – values only its own stability, it values only it own continuation, its own pointless perpetuity. If the group were to be favourably disposed to the psychological growth of its members then this would be the same thing as it being ‘favourably disposed to its own dissolution’. This is just not going to happen – the true individual may sacrifice himself or herself, but the collective never will.

 

If we think in terms of a large organization, in which there are always rules and regulations for everything, we can easily appreciate that it is no good you or me deciding that there is a better way to do things, and as a result disregarding the protocols that are already in existence. As far as the organization is concerned, this is simply ‘non-compliance’.  It is simply ‘an error in the system’ and as such it has to be corrected – one simply can’t exist as an individual in an organization, in a collective. It’s either ‘the organization’s way or the highway’. Collective thinking rules supreme – one just doesn’t ‘go against the group mind’! Even if it were possible (which in theory it may be) to make changes by going through the correct channels no radical change will ever be approved, only those changes that fit in with the over-all aim of the system. The system may be optimized, but it will never be meaningfully changed from within!

 

All human collectives actively block and repress ‘the Hero’s Journey’, therefore. You can’t be a hero if you’re owned by the system! The group of people (most of us) who agree to stay within the bounds of the world-view that has been provided for us by the group mind is the group of people who have tacitly agreed to allow themselves to be distracted or diverted from this Journey. Personal growth ends, individuality dies stillborn, and all in the name of our ‘allegiance to the common good’, all in the name of what is laughably called ‘being responsible’. We get to feel that we are being ‘responsible adults’ and we get to live the safe, predictable life that has been mapped out for us, but only at the price of the loss of our true individuality (which equals ‘our inner death’) – which clearly does not bode well for the future of the collective!

 

Society sneakily ‘blocks our growth’ by putting us under constant pressure to improve or develop ourselves. This is done in an apparently empowering way but what society really means when it talks about self-development or self-improvement is self-development or self-improvement in its terms. We are to get better at playing the game which it has given us to play; we are to get better at playing the game which is it. Really, we are being encouraged the whole time to adapt ourselves to the machine and this – of course – necessarily means becoming more and more ‘machine-like’ ourselves! The collective thinking that we have been talking about is the machine; the group-mind is the machine-mind. Naturally the group-mind is a machine because it is all about following rules and regulations and that’s what a machine is. That’s what a machine is – it’s a ‘rule-based system’. We’re a machine when we follow the rules rather than our own intuition. We are obliged to keep trying to better ourselves in line with the current trends, we are obliged to keep up our personal development even though this so-called ‘personal development’ actually has nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are! We’re ‘progressing within a dream’…

 

In short, the social system offers us the means of maintaining, promoting, upgrading and accessorizing the ‘self-construct’, which is the denial of our true, undefined (or unregulated) nature. Society is a machine and so is the everyday mind – both are based on precedent, both are based on rules, both function on the basis of fear (which is to say, ‘the automatic avoidance of the new’). So here we are caught between the two tyrants of the thinking mind and rule-based society (both of which being aspects of the same thing, as David Bohm says) and somehow we have to find our own way. Our way is not the machine’s way, our way is not society’s way. And as difficult as it is, this is the task that lies before us. This is the Hero’s Journey. Living one’s own life (and not some idea of what it ought to be) is the Hero’s Journey, and if we find the courage to take this journey we discover that the one who we thought was having the life in question, or living the life in question isn’t actually who we are at all.

 

Living one’s life consciously is no easy matter, even though it is at the same time the most natural and straightforward thing in the world. The curious thing is though that life isn’t something we have to ‘do’, it’s not a duty or ‘responsibility’ (in the way that we have been persuaded or bullied to understand it to be). The curious thing is that we don’t live life! Nobody lives life, strangely enough. On the contrary, life lives itself through us, if we let it…

 

 

 

 

Taking the Mickey

mickey-mouse

Happiness is a funny sort of a thing. It’s a funny sort of a thing because despite the fact that happiness is (supposedly) so very important to us, we don’t actually know anything about it! We have ideas about it for sure, but these ideas have nothing to do with the actual reality. Even psychologists have odd ideas about happiness; especially psychologists, we might say! Anyone who studies happiness (and other states of mind) in a rational / intellectual sort of a way is bound to be wide of the mark; they’re bound to be wide of the mark because happiness is in no way a rational / intellectual sort of a thing. That would be like a respected academic professor delivering a lecture on humour – it’s not an academic we want for this job but a stand-up comedian! It’s no good talking about being funny; the guy actually has to be funny!

 

Where we miss the mark is by being serious about humour, or serious about happiness. Seriousness has no happiness in it, any more than it has any humour in it. Happiness is not in any way something that can be studied or ‘understood from the outside’. If you are happy yourself then you know all there is to know about it and if you’re not then all the study, all the intellectualization in the world isn’t going to bring you any closer. We even hear sometimes (from ‘the experts’!) that happiness is a mechanical sort of a thing – the result of endorphin molecules acting on brain cells. This truly is the most spectacular nonsense – how can a neuro-chemical ‘reward system’ ever give rise to happiness? How can there be such a thing as a ‘biology of happiness’, or a ‘neuro-anatomy of happiness’? If this were so then taking a drug such as heroin or morphine or methadone would make us happy and it doesn’t. Ask any long-term heroin user – the heroin buzz has nothing to do with happiness. It produces pleasure, that’s all, and pleasure is not at all the same thing as happiness. How could we as a culture be foolish enough to confuse pleasure with happiness? It says something about us that we talk about happiness in this mechanical way, as if it were something that could be pre-programmed, as if it were something that could be produced to order by manipulating molecules. We demean happiness by assuming that it is just part of our brain chemistry, something that evolution has put there in order to motivate us to play the biological survival game.

 

Happiness – as we would know if we had any wisdom in us at all – cannot be deliberately brought about, either by biological hard-wired programmes or by psychological means. There can be no such thing as ‘a method to make us happy’, for all that every charlatan under the sun is forever trying to tell us that there is. They are of course only trying to tell us that there is so that they can make a quick buck out of us, but the irony here is that they assume ‘making a quick buck’ will make them happy, and it won’t! There is no such thing as a method to make us happy any more than there is such a thing as a ‘therapy’ to make us happy. Happiness is completely out of our control, which for a control-based culture such as ours is a very hard thing to swallow. This is not at all what we want to hear – in fact we’re determined not to hear it, which is why we are so prepared to listen to all of the spurious ten-a-penny experts we have spouting nonsense on the subject at every available opportunity.

 

The simple (if unpalatable) truth is that the more addicted to control we are the less happy we are going to be. Addiction to control, addiction to the need to manipulate everything all the time, only brings about misery, in various shades and colours. The reason for this is because happiness is about letting go and the rational mind has nothing to contribute as far as letting go. It only gets in the way. Happiness – we might say – is when the thinking mind (which is all about ‘holding on’) has no involvement at all with what is going on. If the thinking mind has anything at all to do with what is going on then there will be no happiness. This is like the question of ‘how much involvement vampires ought to have in the management of the national blood-bank?’ – this is clearly a trick question because the only degree of involvement that works is no involvement! If the thinking mind gets any sort of foot-hold at all then you can forget it – its misery not happiness we’re going to get if we enlist the help of the thinking mind…

 

Everything thought touches becomes old, as Krishnamurti says. It becomes instantly old and there’s no happiness in the old. There might be nostalgia – but nostalgia is really just a disguised form of misery. Thought can’t help making everything old – that’s what it does, that’s how it works. Thought only registers data that that has been filed away in the appropriate mental category and nothing that is made up of mental categories can ever be new! The system of thought turns everything into a bureaucracy and bureaucracy is always the enemy of life. Life is after all a spontaneous process and the one thing bureaucracy is never going to tolerate is a spontaneous process. If the appropriate forms haven’t been correctly filled in then you can forget about it!

 

Thought creates a ready-made world for us to live in and everything in that world is old. There is absolutely no way that anything new (anything that has not been pre-programmed) can ever happen in the realm of thought. Not if we waited a billion billion years could this ever get to happen! This being the case – as we can plainly see it to be – how could we possible hope to obtain happiness via the mechanisms and pathways of thought? This being the case, why – we might ask – are we all sitting around patiently waiting for this to happen, for this to come to pass? Why are we listening so obediently to all of these so-called experts telling us about what happiness is and telling us what steps we need to take, what ‘helpful habits’ we need to be cultivating? All they are doing is selling us the system and there is no happiness to be had in the system. This is the one ingredient that’s not in it. No one ever got to be happy by going along with the accepted way of seeing things; no one ever got to be happy (or ‘mentally healthy’) by conforming to the system.

 

Naturally we can’t say anything (or know anything) about happiness. All saying, all knowing is done by the thinking mind and the thinking mind is the fly in the ointment as far as happiness is concerned. A bigger and fatter fly there never was – it’s practically the size of a pigeon! What need would there would there be to describe or define or in any way commentate upon happiness? When we are happy there is no need for analysis. Analysis both comes out of unhappiness and goes on to create further unhappiness. When we’re happy there’s no need to be saying anything, thinking anything. All thought, all analysis, all commentary is redundant. All descriptions or definitions are beside the point. Do you need someone to come and analyze a joke for you when you’re enjoying it? Descriptions and definitions are not just ‘beside the point’ – they unfailingly take us into the world of thought, which is a sterile world, a world in which nothing new can ever happen…

 

We keep on imagining that there can be such a thing as happiness within the world which thought has created (which is – generally speaking – the only world that we know). Everything in this world is a ‘mind-created image’ and there can a ‘mind-created image of happiness’ just the same as there can be a mind-created image of anything. In this ‘simulated world’ there can be a mind-created image of happiness and a mind-created image of ‘who we are’, and we can often enough put the two together and imagine as a result that we genuinely are happy, that everything really is rosy in the garden. This however is no more than just another fiction. Everything in the realm of thought is a fiction – fiction is what it is made of. Imaging that we can find happiness in this consensual mind-created world is like imagining that Mickey Mouse is a real person!

 

Every adult you meet lives in ‘the world of thought’. We all do. That’s what makes us ‘adults’ – the fact that we’re taking the socially-prescribed game seriously. This is what deadens our creativity and our spontaneity. That’s what cuts us off from our ‘inner child’. Entering into this world (without knowing that we are doing so) is part of what we call ‘growing up’; we all buy into ‘the world that thought has created’ and once we have bought into it it’s very hard to leave – it’s very hard to leave because we don’t know we’re in it! We’ve forgotten how not to be in it. We think that this is the only world there is, and that’s why we’re as miserable and cantankerous as we are…

 

Happiness is not a chemical any more than it is a mental image, any more than it is a reward for being a good organism, or a good consumer, or for performing appropriately in whatever socially-prescribed role we’ve been given. Happiness has nothing to do with evolution and ‘the survival of the fittest’ any more than it has something to do with the consensus social reality by whose rules we are artificially bound. The only way we can ever find happiness is by going beyond the game, not by learning to play it better! The only way to find happiness is by venturing beyond the consensus reality, which is the world that has been created by thought, and no one can tell us how to do this. This is what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the Hero’s Journey‘. How can we be instructed how to go beyond instructions? How can there be a rule telling us how to venture beyond the programmed world, the known world, which is the world of rules?