The Rational Disconnect

Self-affirmations are part of every ‘mental health tool-kit’ it seems, and yet there is nothing even remotely ‘mentally healthy’ about dutifully repeating self-affirmations. It is actually odd that we should accept this supposedly helpful practice so very uncritically – where the hell does this idea come from anyway, and where is the proof that it actually works?

 

For some reason the whole area of mental health seems to be one in which we take to heart advice with practically zero critical appraisal. We’re very gullible when it comes to the question of what will or will not help our mental health, which – when we come to think of it – probably isn’t so surprising. We’re very keen to be helped after all, and we’re not so keen to learn about potential ‘flies in the healing ointment’. There are a number of ways in which we could try to show why self affirmation isn’t a legitimate means of helping ourselves. One way is to point out that every affirmation we could ever possibly make is merely ‘a thought’ and no thought is ever true. Thoughts are simply thoughts – they are abstract mental evaluations or statements that we make about the world, and as such they ought not to be confused with the actual reality that they are referring to. It is the fact that we are always confusing our abstract mental labels and evaluation with the reality which they are referring to that causes our neurotic suffering in the first place, so ‘more of the same’ is hardly going to help matters! Yet more thinking isn’t really going to be the helpful thing because it was thinking that got us into the mess we’re in in the first place. The head can’t be used to cure the head, so to speak…

 

Although we are unlikely to stop and see things this way, when we engage in self-affirmations all we are doing is ‘telling ourselves what we would like to believe’ and this straightway makes the whole endeavour very suspect! Isn’t that what we do all the time anyway, in one way or another? Aren’t we always trying to validate ourselves with our thinking and our talking? The only time we’re not doing this – generally speaking – is when we are criticising ourselves or blaming ourselves or ‘putting ourselves down’ with our thinking and this too is a form of ‘validation’, even though we certainly don’t see it as such. Self-criticism and ‘self-blaming’ is negative validation and negative validation is still validation, despite the fact that it makes us feel bad instead of good.

 

We’re not very good at seeing this in our Western culture – we’re not very good at seeing that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are the two sides of the very same coin. That’s what the familiar yin-yang symbol is showing us – we are all familiar with this symbol but unfortunately we’re not so familiar with the philosophy behind it. The message of the yin-yang symbol is that if we push positive far enough then it will become negative! ‘At the moment of victory defeat is born’, as the ancient Chinese saying has it. We think we’re pretty smart in the West but our thinking isn’t subtle enough to appreciate this point, which is ‘the principle of the identity of the opposites’; very evidently, we simply ‘don’t get it’, no matter how sophisticated we might imagine ourselves to be. We insist on treating the opposites as if they weren’t mutually dependent, as if we can have ‘more of the one without by the same token having more of the other’.

 

If I keep telling myself (and others) that ‘everything is going to be okay’ this is a positive message for sure but – alt the same time – it straightaway spells a negative message on the unstated level. If I truly believe that everything is going to be okay then I wouldn’t have to keep on saying it, I wouldn’t have to be so extremely insistent on it! “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” as the well-known line from Hamlet goes. If I keep on loudly protesting my innocence this unfailingly makes me sound guilty. Or – to give another example – if I keep on assuring you that you can trust me, then this very clearly sends the opposite message to the one I want to get across. No one goes around telling people that they are trustworthy unless they aren’t!

 

Positive affirmations are exactly the same as this, therefore – we’re ‘protesting too much’ and this over-egging of the pudding ought to make us suspicious. It actually does make us suspicious on an unconscious level, and so we are then obliged to do our best to cover up our doubts by being louder and more insistent than ever with our positive self-affirmations! This is the trouble with all so-called ‘positive thinking’, it actually has the very opposite effect to the one we want  and so what happens then is that we actually get caught up in a struggle that won’t ever end. We have unwittingly created a counter-current (or counterforce) to the one we are actively trying to promote and so we then become locked into the very grim business of ‘fighting against the negative’. We get locked into ‘trying to control what we never should have started trying to control’. We get caught up in a fight that we can’t win and what’s so ‘mentally healthy’ about this?

 

‘Promoting the positive’ is the very same thing as ‘fighting against the negative’ – it’s just odd that we find it so extremely hard to gain this insight. Our whole culture is working against us however, so perhaps it isn’t so odd after all that we can’t see a way out of the neurotic mess that we have created. ‘Promoting the positive’ or ‘affirming the positive’ is a recipe for suffering plain and simple. It’s a guaranteed recipe for suffering – it works every time! If we wanted more suffering then we’d be delighted – we’d be very pleased with the results of our efforts, but the whole point is that we don’t like suffering, needless to say! That’s actually what we’re trying to escape from in the first place, of course.

 

What we need to understand is that our overly-rational culture is not good for our mental health, and it certainly isn’t qualified to be telling us how to go about obtaining it for ourselves! Mental health is not some kind of defined goal to be reached via our logical thinking, by our technology, by our rational strategies. To go about things this way is always to incur suffering. We try to be clever about it but that isn’t that just isn’t going to work. We’re trying to obtain good mental health by manipulating, by controlling, by ‘fixing’, and that’s like ‘trying to put out a fire with gasoline’. We can’t successfully use the thinking mind as a tool when it comes to mental health because thinking is always about ‘chasing the positive and resisting the negative’ and this kind of thing (which in the East is called attachment) is the very root of our problem not the cure. Attachment can’t cure attachment. Control (which arises from ‘like versus dislike’) is the cause of our suffering and when we engage in positive affirmations we are trying to control – it’s as simple as that.

 

Of course we’re trying to control – we’re trying to obtain a particular outcome (the ‘positive’ one) and that’s control! So if attempted control doesn’t work – but only in fact makes matters worse) then what’s the alternative? What else can we do? It turns out that there is only one alternative to control and that is to be ‘interested in things as they actually are’ (rather than being obsessively fixated on positive outcomes’). This doesn’t take cleverness or techniques, but simply sincerity, or as we might also say, honest and courageous self-observation. It’s the truth sets us free, not cleverness, not our ability to manipulate the situation. Instead of self-affirmation (which as we have said is an attempt to manipulate) we practice something much gentler and much more powerful. We give ourselves the permission to be the way that we actually are, which is not a form of manipulation, which is not a form of cleverness.

 

This ‘permission-giving’ isn’t a ‘rational–purposeful’ kind of thing of course – it’s ‘a letting go’ not a ‘holding on’, not a ‘clinging to some mental technique’ type of thing. If it was merely a rational-purposeful thing then we could turn it into a strategy, and that would make it into just another form of self-affirmation. We would just be repeating another ‘meaningless mantra’ to ourselves in the case – we would be changing the formula slightly but that’s all that will have changed. What we’re talking about is the type of thing that comes from the heart and not the head and the problem here is that we’ve pretty much forgotten about our hearts (due no doubt to the relentless pressure to be clever and competitive that we’re all under). We got a bit of a ‘disconnect’ going on in the heart department unfortunately and we can’t really gloss over that fact, no matter how much we’d like to. This is just something that we have to face – the problem isn’t in our DNA or in some ‘error’ in our own personal psychology, it’s in this bizarre disconnected and competitive way of life that we have invented for ourselves…

 

Our Western culture is a heartless one due to our bizarre and unpleasant emphasis on consumerism and it is also a soulless one (as Jung has said) because of the way we insist on putting rationality on a pedestal. Once we see this however then we are half-way there because we won’t be looking for answers any more from either the disconnected rational mind or our cold-hearted, insincere techno-consumerist society. All we have to do is honestly reconnect with ourselves, which means not trying to control or manage ourselves the whole time in the way that the so-called ‘experts’ say that we should…

 

 

Art – Ben Frost – Store In A Dark Place (Mickey on Prozac), 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purely Conceptual Reality


Positive and negative certainty (which is to say, concrete  facts that we like and which made us feel good, and concrete facts that we don’t like and which make us feel bad) are created by the evaluating mind, rather than having any existence of their own, and yet positive and negative certainty are all we ever take any notice of! Nothing else really registers with us…

 

The key to understanding this lies in the term ‘the evaluative mind’  – the process of evaluation involves (we could say) two steps, one being the act whereby we impose our own framework of meaning on the world, the other being the step in which we reference everything we come across to the framework of meaning. Alternatively, we could say that the process of evaluation involves comparing incoming information to our assumed categories such that when there is a match (or a ‘fit’) it’s a YES and when there isn’t a match then it’s a NO. The YES and the NO are our evaluation, obviously, and no matter how sophisticated the process gets it always comes down to this basic ‘act of comparison’ of information to our assumed framework of meaning.

 

There is huge security in YES and NO; there is immense security. What does this thing we’re calling ‘security’ mean, however? We use the word very easily, and we all think we know what we’re talking about, but what exactly is it? Obviously, security is some we are magnetically drawn to, something we unfailingly gravitate to, and feel safe with, but why? What’s going on here? One answer is to say (the sense of) security is what we get when we live in a purely conceptual reality! A purely conceptual reality is – clearly – a reality in which everything has already been decided; it is a reality in which everything has already been allocated its right and proper place (according to the all-important framework) and where – on this account – nothing will ever radically surprise us. How can our concepts ever ‘surprise’ us after all? Didn’t we make them ourselves? The purely conceptual reality is therefore a reality in which ‘the radically new’ has been forever excluded and it is precisely this ‘impossibility of us ever encountering the radically new’ that constitutes security for us.  That’s what makes us feel safe!

 

So this gives us one way of explaining what is meant by the term ‘security’ (or ontological security as it is sometimes called) and the other, complementary way of approaching this is to say that living in a fully mapped-out terrain represents security for us because it allows or facilitates the existence of the everyday self. Naturally the concept of ‘security’ boils down to the self – what else would it come down to? It’s only ever the insecure everyday self that keeps going on and on about ‘security’, and those things that stand for security; it’s only ever the insecure everyday self that finds ‘security’ so damn important. The reason for this (which we could see as clearly as day if we sat down and reflected on it) is that the everyday self doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely a construct, an arbitrary ‘made-up’ kind of a thing. It’s something we choose to believe in just for the sake of having something solid to believe in! We choose to believe in it and then we conveniently choose to forget that we made this choice. That’s the whole game in a nutshell.

 

The only reason we find validation important is because we don’t actually have any. We don’t have any ‘validity’ and so we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves; we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves because we know dam well (no matter what we say to the contrary) that we wouldn’t have any otherwise. The great thing about the purely conceptual reality is therefore is that the everyday self feels right at home in it – the everyday self feels right at home in the conceptual world because it too is a concept, like everything else in this world. It fits in perfectly – like a key in a lock or like a little cog in a big, smoothly running machine. It never stands out, it never ‘looks weird’, it never fails to engage properly with all the other concepts, all the other ‘machine-parts’. There are no discrepancies anywhere, no odd dissonances, no mismatches, no funny feelings, no unpleasant feelings of ‘not belonging’. The self fits into the purely conceptual world as well as it does because it is a concept in a world that is made up of them, a world where everything has to agree with the all-important ‘assumed framework’….

 

What a situation this puts us in though. We are obliged to maintain the integrity of the conceptual world without ever owning up to the fact that this is what we are doing, which puts a very odd strain on things. What’s more, we are obliged to keep reality itself at bay and make do instead with our cheap plastic substitute. Just to consider this, even for a moment or two, is enough to send a chill up our spines. Who on earth could be OK about this? What a fantastically bizarre (not to mention freakishly unpleasant) business this is and who – in all honesty – could claim that this is not our situation? No matter how dumb we might pretend to be, underneath it we’re not dumb at all – we know more than we let on to ourselves to know. We’re all doing this very strange thing therefore – we’re all keeping up this collective pretence (or pretence for the sake of the collective) that there isn’t a deeper truth than ‘the truth of our concepts’ when actually everyone knows deep down that there is. We have this ‘allegiance’ to the act going on, even though the act (or the pretence) is never actually going to do anything for us other than produce suffering.

 

The ‘deeper truth’ is that certainty doesn’t exist at all in this world; certainty only exists in the game, or – as we might also say – certainty only exists when we are too afraid to look deeply into things.  When we’re too afraid to look deeply into things (which is the usual state of affairs) then the purely conceptual world suits us down to the ground. The PCW suits us down to the ground because there’s nothing beyond it, because ‘what it says on the label is all there is’. It’s true that there can be frightening things in the conceptual world, but no matter how frightening they might be they’re not frightening in the sense that they cause us to question the reality of the conceptual self! The contrary is true – all those fears and worries that are related to the conceptual world confirm the existence of the conceptual self. In terms of ‘the game’, we can equivalently say that being afraid of losing at the game – no matter how afraid we might be – doesn’t cause us to doubt the existence of the game – rather, it makes the game all the more real to us.

 

There are those desires and those fears which belong to the conceptual world, and there are also those feelings that connect us or relate us to the non-conceptual realm, and which can on the one hand be frankly terrifying, but also on the other hand can be marvellously thrilling and magically evocative. Which way it goes depends upon our relationship to the ‘radical unknown’ – whether we are well-disposed towards it or not-so-well disposed to it (i.e. whether we are adventurous or conservative in our outlook). Insofar as our allegiance is to the Polar Self (the self which is made up of YES and NO reactions, positive and negative judgements) then our relationship with the non-conceptual world is going to be one of flat uncompromising terror, terror with no ‘give’ in it at all. This is not the ordinary everyday type of fear, which we can relate to something known, something specified, but the type of ‘super-fear’ that is evoked by the radical unknown, which is something that we have successfully (if temporarily) denied, and then forgotten about.

 

This is of course what happens every time we deny something that we are afraid of – by refusing to admit that it exists we make it not just a thousand times (or a million times) more frightening, it puts what we are afraid of into another league of fear entirely. Our denial (which is supposed to protect us from fear) actually creates a whole new dimension of fear. The PCW is both a support system for the everyday self, and it is our full-scale denial of reality itself, which has no relationship whatsoever with our concepts. What sort of relationship can our literal descriptions have with the non-literal world that they are supposedly describing, after all? Or to put this another way, what sort of relationship does our ‘imposed framework of meaning’ have with the reality that we are imposing this meaning on? Do we really imagine that our cut-and-dried categories of thought are to be found anywhere outside of our thoughts? The whole point of this business of ‘imposing a framework of meaning on the world’ is that if we don’t impose it then it won’t be there; that’s why we have to ‘impose’ it, after all!

 

Reality itself is different order of thing entirely from the models that are made of it by the thinking mind – there’s no comparison. The conceptual reality is made up entirely of boxes, of categories, of YES’s and NO’s; it is made up entirely of ‘predetermined answers to closed questions,’ in other words. Non-conceptual reality, on the other hand, is just what it is – it doesn’t relate to anything and it isn’t an answer to any question. Non-conceptual reality doesn’t have to relate to anything, it doesn’t have to fit into any predetermined scheme of things, any ‘framework’. Reality is free to as be ‘as odd as it pleases’, so to speak. From the point of view of any framework we might be using to orientate ourselves, reality is actually the oddest anything ever could be – it’s right off the scale! That’s why we always discount it. Reality – obviously enough – doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything; it doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything because there isn’t anything apart from itself. What is there apart from reality, after all?

 

Living in the PCR is an utterly preposterous business – there’s absolutely nothing good about it apart from the fact (important to us) that it confirms the existence of the conceptual self! No matter which way we turn we keep on bumping into our own over-used concepts, and if this isn’t claustrophobic then what is? Our house, our dwelling place, is full of junk, and all for the sake of maintaining the conceptual self, which is itself junk! The whole thing keeps chasing itself around in circles. The conceptual self is junk and yet we are very much attached to it, which is to say, we are very much afraid of losing it. We’re very much afraid of losing the conceptual self because we ‘don’t know anything else’ and we’re afraid of ‘knowing anything else’ because ‘knowing something else’ would fatally jeopardize the integrity of the illusory conceptual self! This is nature of the loop we’re stuck in.

 

What a situation to be in! To set it out clearly (as we just have done) is to immediately see how ludicrous it is – we have to live in a world from which everything radically unexpected (everything radically new) has been excluded. Any ‘newness’ (any so-called newness) has to come from endlessly recombining the same old basic conceptual units; the ‘real thing’, the ‘genuine article’, newness itself, has to be ‘off limits’ because if it isn’t ‘off limits’ then that would spell the beginning of the end of the limited self we think we are. We would no longer be able to carry on with this particular illusion. So we have to live in a world in which it is never going to be possible for us to be radically surprised in order to protect this painfully limited concept of ourselves, even though living as this painfully limited concept of ourselves isn’t doing us any good at all. We’re only playing this wretched game because we’re afraid not to, after all…

 

This world that we’re living in a ‘PCR’, of this there can be no doubt. If the world as we experience it is ‘intelligible to the rational mind’ then it must be the conceptual reality that we’re talking about. It wouldn’t be intelligible in the rational mind’s terms otherwise. The world we rationally understand (the intelligible world) is something that – as we have said – we have obtained for ourselves by imposing our ‘assumed framework’ on the world and then compelled everything to make sense in relation to it. The world doesn’t make sense though – not really. Nothing ‘makes sense’. The universe is an enigma, as Umberto Eco says. How often do we find ourselves in that world which fundamentally doesn’t make sense to the rational / conceptual mind however? Or as we could also say, how often do we relate to the world not as the conceptual self, not seeing things only as they appear through the distorting lens of the self with all its biases and prejudices? How often do we ‘step outside of ourselves’, in other words? Are we even interested in such a thing?

 

 

 

 

 

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 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting The Genie Back In The Bottle

Anything that comes out of the rational mind is ‘non-therapeutic’! There simply isn’t any possibility of the thinking mind coming out with anything therapeutic even if we waited around for a million years. That’s not its job – its job is to fix specific abstract problems in the outside world, not look at the psyche, or look at the big picture of what is going on in our life.

 

What we call ‘mental health’ is all about wholeness. It isn’t about anything else other than wholeness and it never could be – the word ‘health’ and the word ‘whole’ come from the very same root. No matter what is happening to us, no matter what our situation, as long as we’re whole (i.e. not divided against ourselves) we are healthy. Fixing loads of little things (or specific details) is never going to lead to better mental health – that’s only going to fragment us further. We can’t tackle the difficulties in our lives piecemeal – as if the problem lies in them – and we can’t use the ‘piecemeal mind’ as a guide to tell us anything useful – that is only increasing our suffering.

 

We can never think our way back to wholeness, in other words. We can never recover our wholeness via strategies, methods, via any sort of ‘purposeful effort’. We can never recover our essential wholeness via anything involving time, or goals! To make a goal of becoming whole is to hand the whole process over to the mechanism of thought, and this mechanism is never going to deliver it. The rational process is never going to ‘put us back together again’ – it can’t do because its movement is always in the other direction, towards fragmenting us further. Thought divides, it does not synthesize!

 

The fundamental mechanism of thought is to divide, to fragment reality. It focuses on its chosen particular field and ignores everything else – the one thing it can never do is ‘focus on everything’! The word focus means looking at one thing and ignoring everything else. ‘Focussing’ is a goal-oriented activity and so just as we can’t ‘make a goal of everything’ neither can we ‘focus on everything’. Goals only get to be goals by excluding what is not the goal (by saying what is not the goal) and the detail which the rational mind focuses only gets to be exhaustively defined in the way that it is because we have thrown away information relating to any other perspectives that we might have taken. ‘Knowing requires not knowing’, as Stuart Kauffman says.

 

This is how logic works – logic works by creating boundaries, or ‘polarities’, and wholeness – obviously enough – is not a polarity. Wholeness is not made up of two ‘opposites’ that work by excluding each other – that’s pretending that wholeness isn’t wholeness! That’s a game! The thinking mind, therefore, can differentiate but never integrate, it can analyse but never synthesize. It can take apart but never put back together. Rational mentation is an irreversible process, in other words; any process involving the production of entropy is always irreversible and thinking’ – by its very nature – always produces entropy. That is how thinking works, by producing entropy, just as Stuart Kauffman says. The more we know about the part the less we know about the whole from which that part was abstracted! This is good in way because there is a pay-off involved in knowing a lot about the part, but – psychologically speaking – there is a price to pay because we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. We’ve become blind to what really matters, in other words – we’ve become ‘technically-proficient idiots’…

 

The point that we are making here is that the everyday thinking mind is good for solving specific problems in the outside world but not good for recovering ourselves, recovering who we really are when that awareness has been lost, as it almost always does get lost in everyday living! It’s not just that the thinking mind is ‘no good’ for this – it makes matters worse! It makes matters worse because the awareness of ‘who we really are’ gets even more obscured, even more hidden as we utilize the machine of the TM. This is actually the ‘danger’ of the TM – the danger that no one ever talks about. As children we are told about the danger of walking across the street without looking but we aren’t ever told about the danger of using the thinking mind without due care and regard! Fairy tales mention this danger, in their own metaphorical idiom, but our problem is that we don’t believe fairy tales – we believe technically-trained ‘experts’ instead!

 

The problem is that there is always a type of trade-off going on when we use the rational faculty to adapt to the structures that we have been presented with. The trade-off in question is the one between ‘functioning more effectively within the context of the structure or system that we have adapted to’ and ‘forgetting who we really are’! The more adapted we are to the system the more we lose ourselves in it; the more adapted we are to this ‘explicit or rule-based world’ the less we can know of ourselves as we are outside of it. We won’t actually know that there IS any aspect of ourselves that exists outside of the game that we have been taught to play. In practical terms, we can say that this thing that we are calling ‘the system’ or ‘the Designed World’  or ‘the game’ is simply a long list or sequence of logical tasks laid end-to-end such that there isn’t any gap or discontinuity between them. Or – we could also say – it is simply society. It is the ‘socially-constructed world’, which is the only reality most of us know.

 

On the smaller scale of things – leaving aside for the moment the question of being globally adapted to a determinate system – we can say that the danger of thought lies in the way that repeatedly fixing (or trying to fix) problems traps us full-time in the narrow (or ‘focussed’) frame of mind that is needed to solve (or try to solve) these problems. We don’t generally see ourselves as solving one problem after another the whole time but we are – every time we engage in thinking we are trying to solve a problem of one sort or another, even if it’s just the problem of how to describe the situation we find ourselves in to ourselves correctly. That’s what thought is – it’s a problem-solver. If everything was just perfect in itself and we didn’t on this account need (or want) to change anything, not even a little bit, then why would we need to think? We’d be content just to let things be ‘just as they already are’ and for this no thinking (no ‘problem-solving’) is needed…

 

To use thought in such a way that we don’t get trapped on a full-time basis in its frame of reference it is necessary not to get carried away by thinking. We need to remember what we’re thinking for, in other words – we need not to lose sight of the actual utility of the thought and not go beyond this and into whatever sort of ‘territory’ it is that lies on the other side of this point! [Which is actually the simulated ‘territory’ of the hyperreal, which is where thought feeds on itself] When we do go beyond this point (and into the realm of the hyperreal) then thought becomes not just useless, but worse than useless – thought turns against us at this stage and creates more problems than it solves. And quite possibly it doesn’t solve any problems at all! Society is full to the brim of this sort of thing – we’re always creating more problems than we’re solving and this of course means that we have to do even more thinking in order to solve (or try to solve) the problems that were caused by thought, and so the whole circus just goes on and on. We can’t banish the spirit that we have summoned! We can’t get the genie back in the bottle; we can’t prevent the enchanted salt-grinder from grinding salt; we can’t get the magic porridge pot to stop producing porridge, etc. As far as the thinking mind is concerned therefore this is the best news ever because now it has a reason to keep on being there; it has an excuse to stick around forever. As far as we’re concerned however this isn’t such good news because excessive thinking is degrading our quality of life and so creating suffering.

 

When our thought-created suffering grows beyond a certain point the chances are that we will look for help and the irony of ironies here is that it is to thought we look for help, which is the very cause of our woes! We look for answers from the thinking mind, as if this were a perfectly legitimate job for it. ‘Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?’ asks Jesus. If my quality of life has been downgraded by thought (which is what always happens when we can’t get the genie back in the bottle) then thinking about the problem is only going to exacerbate the situation. The only thing that does help is to be aware of our situation because consciousness does not fragment everything in the way that thought does. ‘The seeing is the doing’, Krishnamurti says. Being aware of our situation is a very different thing indeed to thinking about it, analyzing it, trying to control or change it – it’s as different as anything ever could be! It’s the difference between gentleness and sensitivity and violence and insensitivity, the difference between intelligence and insight and blind, fear-driven counter-productive forcing….

 

Saying as Krishnamurti does that ‘the seeing is the doing’ doesn’t make any sense at all to us, of course – the thinking mind can’t understand how ‘being aware of our situation’ can do any good. We imagine that we are only too aware of it already! But we’re not really aware of it – we’re only seeing it from the outside, we’re only seeing it via our resistance to it. We can’t ‘let it alone’, in other words. In order to see our situation as it really is we would have to let it be what it really is and that’s the one thing we can’t do with the TM. The TM can’t let anything be ‘the way that it already is’ – that just isn’t something it can do. The TM is a device for solving problems, not a device for allowing them! But something happens when we become aware of our situation, our pain, just as it is – we see something then, we get to understand something then. What we get to understand is that ‘the cure for the pain is in the pain’, as Rumi says. The cure isn’t ‘somewhere else’, which is what the thinking mind will always tell us. The remedy is in us, and it was never anywhere else. The thinking mind is always making us look in the wrong place for ‘the cure’ therefore, and this is why the rational faculty is not cut out to be ‘therapeutic’! How can it be therapeutic when it operates precisely by making us look elsewhere for the remedy that is never ‘elsewhere’, but only ever ‘here’?