Mental Health Isn’t About Control

Mental health can’t ever be the result of some kind of ‘high-tech’ intervention, much as we love high-tech interventions! Mental health can’t ever be the outcome of any technological intervention, for the simple reason that technology is an extension of the thinking mind and mental health essentially involves freedom from the thinking mind!

 

We can’t be mentally well unless we are disentangled in our essence from thoughts, ideas, beliefs, concepts, etc,  and there is no way in which this ‘disentangled’ state of mind can never come about as a result of any thought-based process. Blood cannot wash away blood, as the Zen saying has it. The more we think the more tangled up we get and there is no way around this; deliberately trying to untangle ourselves from the tangles that have been created by thought is not a ‘winning strategy’! Actually, as far as freeing consciousness from the conditioning effects of thought goes, there are no winning strategies…

 

The very idea of there being such a thing as a ‘successful strategy’ for freeing consciousness from the entanglements of thought is hugely ridiculous, although whilst we are in the grip of thought we can’t actually see this. It’s hugely ridiculous because of the polarity of success/failure is in itself a prime indication that we have been thoroughly conditioned by thought. Only thought believes in the polarity of success versus failure. Thought only knows one thing and that is control and control means the polarity of right versus wrong. Only when control is abandoned can we go beyond this absurdly narrow way of seeing the world.

 

For the most part of course, it’s not as if we give any thought at all to the question of freeing our consciousness from the insidious entanglements of our ideas, beliefs and concepts. It’s not merely that we don’t see mental health as being synonymous with ‘freedom from thought’, or ‘freedom from our own limiting mental constructs’, the actual suggestion of such a thing would itself be profoundly meaningless to us. It wouldn’t register at all in any way; we simply don’t see having ‘freedom from our thoughts’ as being a ‘healthy’ thing. If our thoughts were of a self-critical or anxious nature then we would of course want to be free from them; otherwise however we just don’t see any problem. Our thoughts – we might say – are part and parcel of who we are. Thinking is a reassuringly normal activity, whereas ‘an increase in mental silence’ might turn out to be rather uncomfortable. More than just uncomfortable, inner silence can often be downright frightening. We want our thinking to be running away in the background just as we might want the radio or TV to be left on in the background, so we don’t have to suffer too much from the unnerving silence.

 

The reason profound inner silence is liable to be uncomfortable or frightening is simply because our thoughts provide us with a kind of ‘validating context’ – we comfort ourselves with our thinking, in other words. The fact that we feel the need to ‘self-comfort’ in this way isn’t a sign of mental health therefore – far from it! If we have to create ‘a cocoon of self-validation’ for ourselves then this is because we are not ‘right’ the way we are, and so we’re try to ‘make ourselves right’ with our constant self-talk. This clearly isn’t what we would call ‘healthy’ because we are enabling ourselves to carry on indefinitely in this unhappy situation. The truth is that we would feel a lot better if we could actually ‘drop’ our current restrictive sense of identity and go beyond that safe-but-stale ‘comfort zone’ that we have created for ourselves.

 

The problem is that we tend to understand mental health in terms of what makes us more comfortable or functional in our current mode of being, rather than in terms of what can challenge us to move beyond this safe but sterile modality. This is not a good policy, needless to say; if we could actually see what we were doing then we would know straightaway that our strategy can only ever cause us more suffering in the long run, but we don’t see it – we’re just doing what everyone else is doing after all and so naturally we don’t feel the need to look any further. What we doing, with our ‘self validation’ is perfectly normal, so why should we ever question it? Why would we even bother to become aware of it? What is healthy is of course to become free from the need that we have to be constantly validated (either by ourselves or by others), which means ‘dropping’ the oh-so-familiar sense of who we are and what our lives are (supposedly) all about.

 

Our familiar sense of ‘who we are’ is created by the thinking mind, and this in itself ought to warn us to expect trouble ahead. A construct has to be maintained after all, and this is a full-time job. A construct needs to be continually validated; it needs to be continually validated for the simple reason that it isn’t who we really are. How could a construct (or an idea) possibly be ‘who we are’ after all? For the conditioned or thought-created identity ‘mental health’ or ‘mental well-being’ means that we are able to keep on validating our idea of ourselves without any alarming problems popping up. We’re ‘seeing everything backwards’, in other words. We’re seeing mental health in terms of ‘repairing the small sense of self’ rather than ‘growing into a larger sense of self’ (which is, as Jung says, the only way we can ever move beyond neurotic suffering). It clear therefore that our conventional approach to mental health (which equals as we have just said ‘repairing as best we can the ‘small sense of self’) is actually working against us. We’re doing ourselves a grave disservice; rather than growing, we’re ‘shoring up our defences’ against the unknown. We’re getting more and more entrenched in our habitual (constrictive) pattern of being.

 

This is where the ‘technology’ point that we made earlier comes in – high-tech responses, strategies, clever manipulations of all sorts can be used when we are trying to repair or shore-up our existing (mind-created) sense of identity, but they are of course counter-productive when it comes to growing beyond this limiting sense of identity. ‘Control’ is always about self maintenance; it has no other function. We can either get ‘better at control’ therefore (which is purely defensive) or we can get better of letting go of our controlling, which is of course the ‘healthy’ or ‘non-neurotic’ thing to do! Control only ever brings about the need for more control; it ties us into a task that can never be satisfactorily resolved since our true well-being lies in ‘taking the risk’ and growing as a result. We ‘take the risk’ simply by going beyond thought, by going beyond control.

 

Freedom from thought doesn’t mean that we never think anything, or that we go around in a state of profound inner silence all the time, it just means that we aren’t depended upon our thoughts in order to foster a (false) sense of well-being for ourselves. To think is one thing – to be addicted to the thinking process in order in order to feel secure is entirely another! When I am not dependent upon my thoughts then (and only then) can I have a healthy relationship with them – when I need my thoughts in order to feel okay about myself (or to fend off uncomfortable feelings) then this is an unhealthy collusion – it’s ‘a co-dependent situation’. Thought is more of a drug than anything else in this case, as Eckhart Tolle says; it’s an addiction we cannot break.

 

It could be said that we in the technologically-advanced nations are abusing our cleverness – we’re definitely abusing our cleverness if we think mental health falls within the remit of science and technology. All of our fancy talk of ‘evidence-based therapies’ is simply so much hogwash! There is no such thing as ‘a science of mental health’ and there never can be. There is no way for us to ‘control ourselves to be mentally healthy’. Mental health isn’t that type of thing and we really ought to be able to see that. The thought that we can develop a high-powered ‘technology of mental health care’ is of course immensely comforting to us; at the same time as being immensely comforting to us it also however the very height of folly on our part! He who is clever is foolish, as Gurdjieff says. Never was our lack of psychological insight more obvious than in our collective approach to mental healthcare. There is such a thing as ‘a strategy for holding on’, or ‘a strategy for postponing the inevitable’, but who ever heard of ‘a strategy for letting go’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spectre Of Anxiety

Anxiety occurs as a result of the thinking mind projecting limits on everything and the thinking mind always projects limits on everything!

 

This is what thinking is of course, thinking is that process whereby we impose limits or boundaries on the world – if we didn’t do this then there wouldn’t be anything to think about! This it’s only when we have partitioned something off within boundaries or limits that we can think about it; it’s only when we have defined something that we can think about it, in other words.

 

No imposed boundaries means no thinking therefore, and thinking is how we gain purchase on the world; it is how we orientate ourselves in such a way that we can make ‘rational decisions’ as to ‘what to do next’. When there are no ‘defined things’ – and therefore no defined outcomes or goals – then it has to be the case that we are not able to make any rational decisions at all. This brings us back to the first point that we made, which is that anxiety occurs purely as a result of the limits which the thinking mind projects on everything. Clearly, if the possibility of making logical decisions exists, then so too does the possibility of making the wrong decision! The polarity of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is inherent in the idea of a decision, after all – whoever heard of a decision without the possibility of right versus wrong?

 

What we’re really talking about here is control and control is all about right versus wrong. Control is ‘getting the right thing to happen rather than the wrong thing’! There’s a psychological component to this, of course – the psychological component in question being that it feels good when we are able to bring about the right outcome and not-good when we can’t. There’s a feeling of security and self validation when we get the right thing to happen, and the converse is of course also true when we can’t.

 

Moving one stage further into ‘the psychology of control’, we can say that what happens with all of us is that we get habituated to the feeling of ‘being in control’ (or ‘being inherently able to control’) and we derive an important sense of well-being from it. The sense of being in control’ is the same thing as what Albert Bandura has called ‘perceived self-efficacy’ and perceived self-efficacy is generally seen as a very healthy thing – it is seen as ‘a thing we all need to have’. To consider perceived self-efficacy (or the sense of ‘having the ability to be in control’) as a healthy – or indeed, essential – part of our psychological make-up is seriously deluded however! The reason we can say that it is a delusion to see PSE as being ‘mentally healthy’ is because PSE (or the sense of ‘having the ability to be in control’) is, at root, the very same thing as anxiety.

 

A sense of being control may not feel like anxiety, but that’s because it’s latent anxiety. It’s anxiety that hasn’t yet been manifested. Perceived self-efficacy is ‘anxiety waiting to happen’ and the reason we can say this is because – ultimately – it is no more than a comforting illusion! At times, we will indeed be able to get things to happen the way we want them to, but this does not mean that we will always be able to do so. It doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed to be able to do so – it doesn’t mean that we can ‘bank on the fact’, which is exactly what we do do, every day of our lives.

 

Perceived self-efficacy is, when it comes down to it, nothing more than ‘an expectation’, and – what’s more – it’s an unwarranted expectation and so going around basing our sense of well-being on an unwarranted expectation is not in any way a manifestation of mental health! This isn’t a sign of good mental health – no matter what anyone may tell us – but rather it’s ‘an accident waiting to happen’. It’s not mentally health we’re talking about here but ‘us setting ourselves up for a fall’!

 

When we use this illusionary (although comforting) sense of ‘being in control of what’s going on’ in order to build up some sort of a concept of ourselves, some sort of an idea or image of ourselves, then we doing ourselves no favours at all, therefore. What we are actually doing is that we paving the way for the creation of a concept of ourselves that is based on the suspicion or fear that we – in some fundamental way – aren’t able to can control effectively. This is – we might say – the ‘anxious’ self-image, and whilst the ‘confident’ side of the self- illusion is one that is acceptable to us, and highly approved by everyone, the other side of the illusion is one that is correspondingly unacceptable to us, just as it is unacceptable to society as a whole. We promote the one type of illusion, and try to ‘cure’ the other, therefore!

 

This attitude of ours is of course quite laughable. What kind of a thing is it where we – in all seriousness – value one aspect of an illusion whilst regarding the other, complimentary aspect of the same illusion as a regrettable error that needs to be fixed? The fact that we, as a culture, take this approach says an awful lot about us, and what it says is not in the least bit complimentary! Our problem is that we have somehow been railroaded into thinking that the only possible way that we have of deriving a feeling of ‘well-being’ about ourselves is through our assumed ability to control successfully, when this is not in the least bit true. Well-being does not come from the ability to control!

 

Suppose we weren’t able to build our sense of ourselves on our ‘perceived self-efficacy’, on a spurious or illusionary sense of ‘being in control’? What would happen then? How would that work? This turns out to be a very interesting question indeed and it leads us to consider the possibility of an entirely different way of being in the world. Instead of deriving our sense of identity from our assumed ability to control effectively, we could make the experiment of seeing what it feels like when we aren’t trying to be in control the whole time, which is the same thing as ‘making the experiment of seeing what it feels like when we are free from ‘the ever-present need to control’.

 

This isn’t necessarily as easy as it might first sound, of course. Once we get caught up in this business of deriving our sense of identity from our belief in our ability to control effectively (which is easy to do) then we find ourselves in the situation where we need to keep on controlling in order to retain this sense of identity. This is the classic ‘lobster pot’ scenario, therefore – it’s easy to get in, but very hard to get out again. It’s a classic ‘Hotel California’ scenario – we swan in with the greatest of ease and then the next thing is that we stuck there forever! This being the case, then, we had better hope that we like the furnishings in our room because if we don’t then that’s really going to be just too bad! If we don’t like the furnishings then unfortunately we’re just going to have to get used to them…

 

This really is an exquisitely subtle trap – once I have constructed my sense of identity, my ‘sense of who I am’, in relation to my perceived ability to control, then no matter what I do I’m not going to be able to extricate me myself from this sense of identity. I’m not going to be able to extricate myself since whatever I do, it is always going to be ‘just more controlling’. Or if we put this in terms of thinking (which comes at exactly the same thing) then we can see very clearly that if my sense of identity is derived from my thinking, then no matter what I do I’m never going to be able to escape this thought-created identity. I’m never going to be able to escape this thought-created identity because whatever I deliberately (or ‘purposefully’) do, I do on the basis of my thinking. I can’t escape my thinking with my thinking, in other words.

 

Not constructing ourselves on the basis of our presumed ability to control (or on the basis of thought, which comes to the same thing) requires a subtlety that we do not ordinarily possess. Thought and purposeful action are the same thing – the latter being ‘the extension into the world’ of the former – and as we become adults (and get embroiled in the adult world) we very quickly learn to put all our money on thinking, all our money on controlling. This is ‘the sickness we become infected with’, so to speak. We learn to construct ourselves on the basis of our presumed ability to control, and since our ‘presumed ability to control’ comes entirely out of our thinking, entirely out of our thoughts about the world and ourselves, all we are doing, as ‘rationally-minded adults’, is setting ourselves up for anxiety.

 

The way out of the pernicious trap that we have created for ourselves by our unwise reliance on ‘thought as the basis for our sense of well-being in the world’ is for us to start exploring the subtle aspects of ourselves, the subtle aspects of what it means to be in the world, and this comes down to voluntarily experiencing our vulnerability (which is of course the true state of affairs). The socially approved and validated illusion is that we are ‘effective controllers’ (which necessarily means that we are not vulnerable, since the whole point of being ‘effective controllers’ is that by succeeding at this we shall not be vulnerable), and it is, as we have said, precisely because this ‘invulnerable status’ of ours is an illusion that we have set ourselves up to be anxious. It is the out-and-out lie that we tell ourselves about ourselves ‘being in control’, and the fact that we have based our sense of identity on this lie, that creates the menacing spectre of anxiety, and so all that is needed is for us to cease to rely on this pernicious illusion!

 

Something curious happens when we do this, when we withdraw our belief in the illusion of this thing called ‘perceived self-efficacy’, and that is that we find that we aren’t defining ourselves at all. When we don’t base our sense of who we are on the belief that ‘we are in control’ (or on the belief that we need to have this ‘essential ability’ to control) then we aren’t actually constructing any sense of identity at all! We don’t aptly need a sense of having this ‘defined identity’ when we not being governed by the ever-present need to control; we don’t actually need to say ‘who we are’ in this rigid, humourless, rule-based way. The reason for this is very simple – just as soon as we stop projecting limits on the world (which – as we have said – is what thinking is) then at the same time we discover that we are no longer projecting limits (or boundaries) on who we are. When we stop imposing limits or boundaries on our actual nature then we are free – we ‘free from definitions’ on the one hand, and we’re ‘free from anxiety’ on the other hand, since it was only being defined in this way that was causing us to be anxious in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Impatience

The more ‘psychologically unconscious’ we are, the more impatient we are, generally speaking. This is the infallible ‘rule-of-thumb’! We are impatient – very obviously – because we think someone (or something) is standing in the way of ‘the good thing happening’. We are ‘psychologically unconscious,’ therefore, because we are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind. We are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind because we think that ‘the good thing’ is somewhere in the future, rather than now.

 

It is of course true that ‘now’ could be a very painful and unwelcome time but it still ‘the good thing’ – so speak – because it’s the only thing that’s real. It’s the only place anything can ever be, so it has to be ‘the good thing’! There’s nowhere else it could be.The future isn’t real, it’s only an idea and if we are ‘waiting for our idea to become real’ then we will be waiting forever. We’ll be waiting forever because ideas never do become real, no matter what we might think to the contrary. If we start off playing ‘the waiting game’ – i.e. waiting for ‘the good thing’ to happen in the future because we don’t think that it’s in the present – then we will be playing this game forever. We can’t pick and choose when it comes to being open to reality – if we are going to be open then we are going to have to be open to everything. When we play the waiting game then in effect we’re ‘waiting for life to happen’ and that’s an exercise in self-deception; we always have to ‘start now’ – there is no other time to start. “The present may not always be beautiful but it is always beautiful to be present.” says Robert Earl Burton.

 

‘Living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind’ is like jumping onto a moving walkway or travelator. We jump on because we want to get where we’re going quicker (obviously enough) and this is exactly what the thinking mind always tells us – it tells us that if we want to ‘get where we going’ (i.e. ‘achieve our goal’) then we better ‘jump on board’ the travelator. If we want to achieve our goal then we need its help, in other words! The invisible problem here however is that we’ve been suckered without knowing it – we’ve been suckered into ‘waiting for life to happen when the conditions are right’. This sort of ‘conditionality’ is a very big problem because (as we know) conditions are never right! They are never ‘right’ as far as the thinking mind is concerned, anyway…

 

The root of the problem (as we keep saying) is that we are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind– the thinking mind is a very useful tool for very many things but when we let it ‘take over completely’ then it replaces life with its idea of it, its model of it, its theory of it. Instead of relating to the world as it actually is we relate to our concept of it, our mental representation of it. This might sound rather far-fetched and hard to swallow but it is – nevertheless – what almost always happens. It’s ‘a given’ that this will happen. We are in no position to notice the ‘replacement of the real by the image of the real’ because we are so very used to it. We have listened to thought’s story of ‘what reality is’ for so long that we no longer know that it is only a story. We eat the menu every day of our lives thinking that it is the meal.

 

We started off this discussion by saying that the more ‘psychologically unconscious’ we are, the more impatient we are. Unconsciousness manifests itself in terms of impatience, in other words. We can expand on this statement however and say that impatience comes in a number of ‘different forms’. It could come in a pleasurable form, for example – impatience could be (in a manner of speaking) when we ‘can’t wait’ for the good thing to happen but the anticipation (in this case) is enjoyable rather than frustrating. We definitely know that we’re going to get the good thing so although we are in a great hurry to skip ahead in time and get to where we’re going, this is still an enjoyable type of ‘not being able to wait’.

 

The ‘mirror image’ of enjoyable anticipation is fearful or anxious anticipation. Either we are anticipating a bad outcome and we are living in dread of it, or we are fearful that the good outcome that we want to happen isn’t going to happen, so we living in dread of that outcome. We have a ‘relationship’ with our own mental projection of what we think is going to happen and in this case this ‘relationship’ is causing us to experience dysphoria rather than euphoria. When we are ‘living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind’ then we are always going to be either facing into ‘the right outcome’ or facing into ‘the wrong outcome’. Only those two possibilities exist in the territory of the thinking mind and so this means that we are always going to be experiencing either ‘the unrelenting pressure to obtain the right outcome’, or the equally unrelenting pressure to avoid the wrong one. We’re ‘under pressure’ no matter what…

 

This ‘poverty of possibilities’ is the very thing that gives rise to ‘the fundamental impatience’ that we have been talking about; the pressure to obtain the right outcome and avoid the wrong one is a very impatient, very intolerant kind of thing – there’s no slack to be had here! What we are looking at here is a rule and rules are characterised by the fact that they have no space in them. No possibility is tolerated in other words other than the possibility of ‘achieving the specified outcome’. No other possibility is valued and that single-mindedness is what makes the rule into a rule. What’s more, if we place ourselves somewhere on the timeline that exists between ‘where I am now’ and the specified endpoint which is ‘where I want to be’ (or rather, ‘where the rule tells me that I have to be’) then we can very easily see that the rule doesn’t value ‘me as I am right now’, but will only value me when I get to be the way that the rule says I should be.

 

My only possible ‘validation’ therefore (when I am living within the territory of the thinking mind) occurs when I am successfully moving towards the specified endpoint. That’s the only way I can get to feel good about myself, in other words. The one thing I can never get to feel good about (when I’m listening to the thinking mind, that is!) is me being ‘where I am’ (or ‘how I am’) when that has nothing to do with the goal, when that has nothing to do with the ‘final outcome’. As we have already said, the rule doesn’t value anything apart from its own specified objective; it doesn’t allow any space for anything other than its own specified objective. Nothing else exists as far as the thinking mind is concerned – nothing else has any value (or any interest). Anything else is merely ‘an error that needs to be eliminated’ and that automatically includes us if we aren’t the way the thinking mind says we should be (or if we aren’t excused by the fact that we are progressing successfully in the direction that it wants us to go in).

 

Everything we’ve been talking about is of course deeply familiar within the context of everyday human life! We all know what it feels like to be intolerant and impatient within the context of our day-to-day lives and we all know what it feels like to be subjected to this type of ‘heartless or mechanical intolerance’ either from ourselves, or from other people. We all know what it’s like to be completely invalidated either by our own minds or by the minds of other people! When we come across intolerance and judgementalism then what we are encountering is this default state of being that we have called ‘psychological unconsciousness’ and psychological unconsciousness is – as we have said – the inevitable result of being entirely subsumed within the territory of the thinking mind.

 

When we have been subsumed entirely within the territory of the TM then as we have said we don’t know that we have. We don’t know that we have because we have nothing else to go on! Thought has replaced reality with its own version of it, its own picture or image of it, and we have no way of detecting the substitution because thought doesn’t provide us with a way, and what thought doesn’t provide us with we just don’t have! We have checked into the Hotel California and we can’t check out; we don’t even try to check out most of the time because we don’t know we’re in it. Or to put this another way, we don’t know that we are in the Hotel California because for us it is the whole world! We don’t see it for what it is at all…

 

We do have one way of knowing what’s happening to us however and that is by paying attention to our own impatience, our own hurry ‘to be somewhere else’. Our true nature isn’t impatient or intolerant or judgemental and so if we notice ourselves being this way (and don’t automatically make excuses for ourselves about it) then we have a very clear way of seeing that we are being ‘operated by the system of thought’ rather than the situation being the other way round. We can straightway see that ‘the tail is wagging the dog’, so to speak. What we have here is a very straightforward way of seeing when we being ‘untrue to ourselves’, in other words, and this type of ‘honesty with ourselves’ is how we ‘do something’ about our situation. That’s ‘our work’.

 

We could also say that the ‘work’ here is to ‘establish a relationship with the truth of what’s going on’, rather than ‘only ever relating to our own mental projections’). This isn’t a controlling thing – we don’t have to judge or blame ourselves for being false or inauthentic, and neither do we have to come up with some clever ‘plan’ or ‘method’ for fixing ourselves. When we do notice that we are judging or blaming ourselves (or trying to fix ourselves) then straightaway we know that we are being driven or controlled by the thinking mind (which should be a servant rather than our boss) and so this is a helpful thing. We’re being ‘tipped off’! Straightaway we see that the tail is wagging the dog and seeing this is how we start to redress the ‘balance of power’, so to speak. ‘The seeing is the doing’, as Krishnamurti says. When we do notice ourselves judging or blaming or trying to fix or correct  ourselves then this is actually a good thing not a bad thing, therefore – we are being tipped off as to our true situation and this is something we need to know about. Our own self-judging, self-blaming, and self-recrimination thus becomes ‘a blessing rather than a curse’, and seeing this softens our attitude to it….