Looking For Freedom Outside Ourselves

It isn’t just that who we are (or the way that we are) is in itself ‘good enough’, and so on this account we don’t need to be constantly striving to ‘better ourselves’ or ‘improve ourselves’ (and be constantly recriminating against ourselves if we can’t do so) but rather that who we are (or the way that we are) is our only possible means of liberation, our only possible way to freedom and happiness! We need look no further than the way we actually are – right at this very moment, in other words.

 

The chances are of course that most of us would immediately dismiss this bold assertion as being utterly nonsensical. How could anything be that easy? How could ‘being the crappy old way that we already are’ be enough to release us from our suffering? If nothing else, we would probably say, this will prove to be a recipe for total self-indulgent laziness. Another thing that we might say is that we know lots of people who already think that they are ‘fine just the way they are’ and that this complacent attitude of theirs hasn’t done them any good at all. People who think that they are great the way they are generally jerks, after all!

 

The first thing that we could say about these objections is that ‘accepting ourselves’ is not an easy thing at all – it’s actually the hardest thing we could ever do. Climbing Mount Everest is easy in comparison! The second thing we could point out is that people we might know who seem to think that they’re perfectly fine just the way that they are – and consequently make no effort at all to change – aren’t accepting themselves at all. They might seem to be but what’s really happening is that they have some kind of image of themselves which seems acceptable (or even pretty wonderful!) but which is completely illusory, completely unreal. They aren’t accepting themselves at all therefore – they’re accepting their illusion of ‘who they would like to believe they are’ and obviously this can’t be beneficial to anyone.

 

We usually don’t come anywhere close to seeing ourselves as we really are, never mind ‘accepting ourselves’. We have a concept about ourselves, an idea or image of who we are, and we relate to this instead. There is therefore a ‘gap’ between ‘us as we actually are’ and ‘us as we perceive ourselves to be’ and this gap tends to grow bigger and bigger with time. In this ‘image-based’ world of ours we ‘grow into the false idea of ourselves’ because that’s what we are presented with – we are given an identity that matches the type of world we happen to find ourselves in. This is convenient for sure when it comes to operating within that world, but still isn’t who we are. We have ‘convenience’ instead of truth, therefore, but convenience only goes so far.

 

Another aspect of this process is that we become more and more separated from the painfully ‘underdeveloped’ aspect of ourselves as a result of social adaptation and this separation grows bigger with time because the pain associated with that neglected part of ourselves can only ever grow as long as it remains neglected. In the consensus reality we get rewarded (or validated) for developing in line with what society requires from us, and disincentivized from developing our true nature, which has consequences that are beneficial from the point of view of society but profoundly ‘non-beneficial’ from the point of view of the individual. The pressure to adapt to the social world is the same thing as the pressure to turn our backs on our core nature and this systematic neglect causes pain that we don’t want to look at. It’s painful to see what we have done, in other words, and our keenness to run away from this pain means that the gap between us as we are and us as we’d like to imagine we are just keeps on getting bigger. The rejection of the pain that stems from betraying our true nature forces us and more into the societal world because this is the only place we’re going to obtain validation for the false ‘image of who we are’.

 

We might naively think that it’s a fairly straightforward thing to ‘accept ourselves’ but nothing could be further from the truth. If we could find it within ourselves to ‘be ourselves as we actually are’ then we have already – just in this humble act – done something completely tremendous. Our instinct is to go completely the other way and strain to achieve some ideal, some idea we have (or society has) about how we should be. Our instinct is always to do the very opposite of ‘just being ourselves’ and this is because we fundamentally believe that there is no good at all to come from ‘just being ourselves’. As we are (we believe) we are ‘unredeemed’; we are ‘awaiting salvation’. We might not know that this is what we believe but we believe it all the same – our ‘orientation’ is pointing fundamentally away from ourselves, and this is true for almost all of us. It’s the prescribed way to be…

 

What we are saying here is therefore that – on a subconscious level – we don’t believe that there is any great value in us being the way that we actually are. The way that we actually are doesn’t have any possibilities in it; it is disregarded, dismissed without even the slightest consideration. Our personal reality ‘as it is’ is dismissed as being intrinsically worthless (even though we don’t see ourselves doing this) and we are constantly ‘reaching out’ to somewhere else where we think the advantage must be. Everything worthwhile – we imagine – lies in ‘the realm of what is yet to be achieved’ (i.e. ‘the realm of improvement’) and this keeps us in a constant state of anticipation. Either we are hopefully anticipating the result that we want or we’re anxiously anticipating the result that we don’t want. We’re always ‘directed externally’ – our attention is always on whatever advantages or disadvantages might come from the outside.

 

This brings to mind Jung’s often-repeated quote ‘Who looks outside dreams; who looks within awakes’. Our ‘dream-state’ is to be hypnotised by the false perception that ‘how we are in ourselves’ can be either improved or disimproved by events occurring on the outside of us (or – as we could also say – by the erroneous belief that the possibility for change lies outside of how we actually are, within the domain of control). We all want to be happy and lead fulfilling lives and we imagine that this can be achieved by successfully controlling things – and by things we include ourselves. We might not be foolish enough to think that we can buy a happier or more meaningful state of existence but we do nevertheless have this deep-seated belief that if we try hard enough in the right way we can improve ourselves to become the sort of person we’d like to be. Essentially – as we have said – we straining towards some sort of mental image, and we imagine that this projected ‘image’ can actually become a reality for us. We’re looking for salvation ‘outside of ourselves’. We’re looking for freedom outside ourselves…

 

Isn’t ‘looking outside of ourselves’ what self-help books and online seminars are all about, after all? Isn’t this what therapy is all about? If I go to therapy then in most cases what happens is that I’m presented with a certain set of ideas and theories and techniques that I can use – with the support of the therapist – to improve my situation, to make it less painfully conflicted or blocked than it was before. That’s why I’m going to therapy, after all. This idea makes plenty of sense – it makes complete sense to us in fact. Whether it ‘makes sense’ to us or not makes no difference however because what we are trying to do is completely absurd! It is completely absurd because our orientation is all back-to-front – it is (as we have been saying) orientated away from ourselves and towards the ‘realm of improvement’. It’s quite natural that we should be orientated in this way – our state of being is a painful one after all, and the nature of pain is that it makes us want to move away from it!

 

It’s perfectly natural that we should be orientated away from pain (away from the way that we actually are) and towards the possibility of escaping this pain, but for this to be somehow seen as a legitimate therapeutic modality, for this orientation be actively encouraged by those whose job is it is to be of help to people who have suffering from ongoing emotional or psychological pain is something of an irony. No one should tell us or imply to us that we ought to ‘stay with the pain’, but at the same time it is not our job as mental healthcare workers to encourage people suffering from mental pain to try to escape from it, via whatever so-called ‘legitimate methods’ it is that we are supplying them with. If we do this then we are simply adding ‘delusion on top of delusion’; if we do this then we are adding a whole new level of neurotic avoidance to the mix – a ‘legitimised’ or ‘officially-correct’ or ‘societally-sanctioned’ form of avoidance…

 

The trouble is that we are being aggressive  either way – if I say to someone that they should ‘sit with the pain’ (because that’s the right or helpful thing to do) then this is pure counter-productive aggression on my part, and if I go the other route and say that it is their responsibility to do ‘X, Y, and Z’ and thereby work constructively with their difficulties so as to improve their situation this is still ‘pure counter-productive aggression’! I’m being violent either way, and ‘violence’ (i.e. ‘trying to force things to be the way we want them to be’) always adds to the underlying suffering rather than lessening it in any way. The root of the dilemma that we are in (both both as ‘the therapist’ and ‘the sufferer’) is therefore that we’re ‘hung up on making the right choice’. No matter what choice we go with we’re still trying to wrestle with the situation and change it from being the way that it actually is – either we try to making ourselves stay with the pain, or try to make ourselves get away from the pain. Either way we are at loggerheads with ourselves, either way we are having an argument with reality! Aggression always comes out of thought – if we are being aggressive or controlling with reality then this is always because we are ‘thinking about it’; it’s because we are trying to work out what ‘the right answer’ to our situation is. If this is what we doing then we will be doing it forever; we’ll be ‘doing it forever’ because if we’re trying to find out what the right answer is then this means that were stuck in our heads, stuck in our thinking, and thinking is never more than a crowbar which we are using to try to change things.

 

It’s so very hard for us to see this! If we could see it then straightaway we’d laugh at the utter absurdity of what we trying to do! We’re trying to use the ‘crowbar of thought’ to change the way reality is. We trying to use the crowbar of thought to change ‘the way things are right now’ to be ‘some other way’, and yet what is ‘thinking’ other than coming up with a particular way of describing the world to ourselves and then acting on the basis of that description? When we try to change ourselves (or control ourselves) we first have to describe (or ‘model’) ourselves, therefore. This, as we all know, works very with some things – technical understanding gives rise to the possibility of controlling what we understand – but we can’t turn this trick  on ourselves because (counter-intuitively, in this rational culture of ours) we cannot gain a ‘technical understanding of ourselves’!  We are in some way that we completely fail to see ‘our own blind-spot’; as Alan Watts says – the eye cannot see itself, the tooth cannot bite itself and the tongue cannot taste itself.

 

Nobody can control their own state of mind because controlling would only work if we first had a complete understanding (obtained from some kind of theoretical external viewpoint) of ourselves – which is something that we believe to be totally possible since we aren’t able to see the limitations of thought or the logical mind. The problem is this however – if it were possible for us to ‘completely understand ourselves’ from some external (or ‘abstract’) theoretical viewpoint then ‘who we are’ would be no more than a logical extension of that external, abstract viewpoint. This is what creates the blind-spot because who we really are – which is neither ‘external’ nor ‘theoretical’ nor ‘abstract’ – has now been left out of our calculations. ‘Who we really are’ has been forgotten about in the course of the rational game we are playing – the rational game we are playing and can’t help playing!

 

What we can’t see is that ‘what’s happening is just what’s happening!’ What could be simpler than this? This is actually too simple for us – we have to add the complication (or the ‘twist’) of thinking about it. We have to ask ourselves ‘what the right answer is’, or ‘what the right way to look at things is’, and this confuses us. This confuses us right from the word ‘go’ because it implies that there is such a thing as ‘the right answer’ or ‘the right way to look at things’ and that’s just plain nonsense. What’s happening is just what’s happening – our descriptions or deliberations aren’t necessary! When we try to shove thought in there, in order to gain some kind of advantage or foothold, all we gain is ongoing confusion and paralysis.

 

When we ask what the right way to be with ourselves is therefore what we are doing is adding another level of complication, another level of neurotic avoidance. We are banjaxing ourselves just as soon as we ask this question because we are approaching everything from the point of view of the thinking mind and, as we have just pointed out, this has the immediate and distinctly unhelpful effect of placing us ‘outside of ourselves’.  We’re stuck in some kind of disconnected (or ‘alienated’) abstract mental space. We are ‘on the outside looking in’, and who doesn’t know what this feels like? This is ‘neurotic hell’ in a nutshell, and everyone knows what neurotic hell is like…

 

The way the world is is the way the world is and the way we are is the way we are…  It’s as simple as that. If someone waves hello at us then they’re waving hello, if a dog barks then a dog barks, if a gust of wind blows your hat off then a gust of wind blows your hat off. If we’re happy then we’re happy and if we’re sad then we’re sad! This isn’t ‘fatalism’ or anything ridiculous like that (fatalism is just an artificial mind-created attitude, after all) – it’s just ‘being in the moment’ and the moment is only place we can be. There is no choice there; there’s no ‘right or wrong way’ in it! Instead of choice, there’s actual freedom. It’s a mark of our own colossal stupidity if we think that there is ‘a right way and a wrong way’ to be in the present moment!

 

At the very core of all our confusion is therefore this very profound inability that we have to understand what freedom is. We’re clueless about freedom, even though we keep on talking about it. We’ve got the wrong idea about it entirely. We have – very foolishly – confused freedom with ‘choice’ and ‘choice’ – as we have said – is just ‘thought trying to shoehorn its way into the picture’. It’s ‘the thin end of the wedge’. Choice after all can only exist between ‘known alternatives’; it can only be found within the realm of the rational mind. so if we can never really know ‘what’s going on’ (because the unfolding present moment is always fundamentally unknowable) then how can we ‘choose’? What kind of foolishness is this? What is this great ‘hang-up’ about control that we have anyway other than ‘the neurotic refusal to live life unless we can first ‘know’ it’??!

 

Bizarrely, we imagine that freedom is something that exists within thought, within the closed and artificial domain of the thinking mind, whilst the truth of the matter is that freedom only exists where there is no thought. Freedom is freedom from thought; freedom is freedom from ‘known alternatives’…

 

Art: Eduardo Martinez, taken from creativebloom.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Mental Health Is Not A Goal

The only type of ‘therapy’ that is worthy of the name is therapy that has no agenda, therapy that does not involve expectations or goals. The only type of therapy that is worthy of the name is therapy that is completely ‘non-coercive’, in other words. This is such an alien concept to us however – it’s far more alien to us than we imagine it to be because we simply don’t realize how coercive we are in our relationships both with other people and ourselves. We all function on the basis of the logical mind (whether we acknowledge this or not) and the logical mind is always coercive, always aggressive. It operates on the basis of the order which it takes for granted, and which on this it account projects or imposes upon the outside world and this is of course the very essence of aggression! How can imposing your own brand of order (a brand of order which doesn’t actually exist anywhere in the world other than in your own head) on the world not be aggressive?

 

This inherent coerciveness shows itself in our notions of what mental health consists of – mental health is inevitably seen as an ideal state and an idea state is something that we have to work towards. It’s something we have to define, make a goal of, and then take the appropriate steps to obtain. This tends to sound reasonable enough to us (since this is how it works with everything else, just about) but the point is that all of this business of ‘deciding where we want to be and then working towards it’ is aggression – we’re actually trying to coerce ourselves to be mentally healthy (because it’s an ideal that needs to be accorded with) and yet ‘coercing or manipulating ourselves to be mentally healthy’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s flatly self-contradictory in the very same way the phrases ‘fighting for peace’ and ‘legislating for freedom from bureaucracy’ are…

 

The state of mental health isn’t an ‘ideal state’ because ideal states are projections of the mind; they are pictures of ‘how things should be’ that the thinking mind has come up with. If we go down this road then we are trying to inhabit our own mental maps and our own mental maps are essentially uninhabitable, just an ideology is uninhabitable. The attempt to attain what we consider to be an ‘ideal state’ – which is something that we do all the time – is anything but conducive to good mental health. It’s conducive to a lot of things, but none of them are healthy. What it is conducive of are various socially-prescribed styles or fashions of unhappiness and frustration…

 

Mental health has nothing to do with obtaining goals or ‘being the way we (or other people) think that we should be’ – it has to do with the honesty that we can bring to bear on our actual situation and this is a completely different type of thing. Honesty is never aggressive or violent – it doesn’t need to be because it’s not about trying to change anything. Honesty accepts rather than rejecting; it comes with no agenda – it comes with no expectations or judgements with regard to the vexed question of ‘how things should be’. And the point is of course that we can never – in the normal run of things – separate ourselves from our thoughts or preconceptions regarding ‘the way things should’; we live out our whole lives within this matrix of expectations and how well reality accords (or seems to accord) with this artificial template determines whether we feel good or whether we feel bad, whether we say that life is going well or badly…

 

Of course honesty has nothing to do with expectations or agendas or goals or judgements or control or anything like that. All of this stuff is the business of the thinking mind and the thinking mind is all about projecting its ideals or assumptions out into the world. It never does anything else – it always measures the world in accordance with its expectations and then tries to change or manipulate things on this basis. That’s its job. Thought has its role and stating that all it ever does is ‘measure things against it expectations’ (or ‘chase ideal states’) does not diminish or invalidate that role. If I’m thirsty and I need a drink of water then the projected situation where I actually receive this glass of water is ‘the idea state’. If I’m cold and tired then being all warm and snug somewhere where I am able to rest is an ideal state, and so on. Practical goals and our consideration of how we might attain them is the very stuff of life, we might say, but this type of goal-orientation does not apply to mental health.

 

As we have already said, mental health is not a goal to be obtained, it is on the contrary purely a matter of relating honestly and clearly to the way that we actually are. Another way to put this is to say that mental health is when we are able to be ‘present’ with ourselves, instead of being ‘somewhere else’. It doesn’t matter what it is that we are to be present with, it just matters that we be present! This is – needless to say – no small matter. It’s no small matter because we’re all experts at not being present in our lives – we’re expert at not being present in our lives to the very same extent that we live in our dreams, in our goals, in our expectations, and this is a very considerable extent. Far from being a ‘small’ matter being present in our lives is the biggest challenge there is. This is what really matters, no matter what anyone else might tell us, not matter what society as a whole might tell us. How after all can ‘being present in our lives’ be outranked by something else? Suppose I have everything ‘right’ in my life – according to societal values – but I didn’t happen to be present in it, what good would this do? And yet we’re already being prevailed upon by the forces that act upon us to postpone ‘being present’ until X, Y and Z are taken care of; in practice there’s actually always something more important!

 

Being present is not something that is encouraged or promoted by our social milieu, by the humdrum everyday forces that are in operation all around us. It is not something that is ever promoted by the everyday mind, which is the mind that finds expression in society. On the contrary, we are constantly being told that achieving this task is the important thing, or that achieving that task is the important thing. Anything else is more important, when it comes down to it! There is always a task needing to be attended to and this is always ‘the important thing’. There is always a goal waiting to be achieved and this is seen as being where our well-being lies – in the successful accomplishment of our goals. The achievement of our goals (which is a spectacularly jaded formula which we nevertheless never seem to get tired of hearing) might well be seen as being where our wellbeing lies but this has nothing to do with being present.

 

All of the ‘humdrum forces’ that we have been speaking of operate by ensuring that we shall not be present. We won’t be present because we’re living in our goals, our agendas, our plans, our expectations, our ideas and this is not being present. This is ‘living at a distance from reality’, just as James Joyce says of one of his characters in his novel Dubliners that he ‘lived at a little distance from his body…’ This is also ‘living life on the never never’ because we’re always saying to ourselves that we’ll start living our lives when the ideal conditions that we’re controlling for come about, when they never will. Or if they do seem to come about, then before very long there will be another set of conditions that we need to bring about, another set of goals that we need to attain. The result of this is therefore that we’re always waiting to live but never living, as Alan Watts says, and there’s no way that this can be called ‘being mentally healthy’. How can always living at a distance from one’s life as it really is be mentally healthy?

 

There’s nothing wholesome or conducive to health about this business. There’s nothing wholesome about it because there’s nothing ‘whole’ about it – we’re living a fragmentary life, as Krishnamurti says – we’re living a life made out of fragments (or fractions) that never come together and this causes a malaise. More simply put, it causes chronic unhappiness, and then – because we’re unhappy all the time – we realize that we need therapy and because this therapy probably involves trying to achieve some kind of an ideal state we’re simply going around in circles. Mental health (or ‘being present’, if we want to call it that) doesn’t necessarily have to mean being happy but it does mean ‘being real’ and being real makes it possible for us to experience peace and happiness, which it is clearly not possible for us to ever experience if we aren’t being real. All we could ever know – at best – would be an unreal version of peace / happiness! What glitches us is that we are constantly straining for it; we are constantly aggressive, constantly striving, and even if we aren’t actively striving we’re possessed by the thought or belief that we should be striving, that striving is the right thing to do, and this too is striving, this too is aggression…

 

Aggression (in this sense of the word) ensures that we stay locked into a state of chronic unhappiness because there is no way that any genuinely wholesome states can ever come our way if we are constantly trying to feel better than the way we actually do. We want to be happy (or at least we think that we do) but that doesn’t mean that we want to be real and so because of our resistance to ‘being real’ (because being real or moving in the direction of being real doesn’t feel so good) we never get to feel ‘good’ in a profound or wholesome sense – at best we will occasionally feel ‘good’ in a superficial or image-based kind of a way, and this is really just a form of suffering. Anything superficial or ‘image-based’ is a form of suffering. Being ‘real’ means being present in the mess of what is actually going on, and who amongst us has the stomach for that?  It’s much nicer to live our idealized dreams and projections of who we would like to be, or think we ought to be; this is the sugar-coated version of reality that the thinking mind keeps presenting us with – the sugar-coating is only a tiny fraction of a millimeter thick, a couple microns perhaps, but it’s still the only version of reality we’re interested in. If it isn’t what the rational-conceptual mind is feeding us (or rather spoon-feeding us) then we don’t want to know. We will look the other way with all the stubbornness and obstinacy in the whole universe!

 

What we need isn’t more goals, more purposes, more methods to follow and more tasks to complete but the unconditional support to be the way that we actually are, and this is something that our mental health services are just not equipped to provide. Most of us can’t provide support for ourselves to be present in our lives, so how can we be supportive to others who are having such great difficulty being present with themselves? The crux of the matter is that our systems deny us our presence, which is the possibility of ‘us having an honest relationship with our own pain’. They are always pointing in the other direction, just as the thinking mind is always pointing in the other direction. All of the social systems that we have created have this characteristic – the characteristic of ‘denying us’, the characteristic of pointing us in the wrong direction, the direction that leads away from our own wellness, our own true mental health. This is always going to be the case with any system that we devise. That anti-health, anti-wholeness bias is inherent in all logical systems and this reason for this is very clear indeed, once we get around to letting ourselves see it – systems are of course all about organization (they could hardly be about anything else) and ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) isn’t something that can be organized.

 

To organize something is to put it into the appropriate slots, the appropriate compartments, the appropriate boxes, etc. This seems in one way too obvious to be worth pointing out but at the same time we need to stress this point because we are so blind when it come to understanding that ‘organization’ or ‘regulation’ cannot be applied to people in the name of therapy, or in the name of promoting mental health.  ‘Managing’ ourselves with regard to stress or anxiety or anger or whatever emotional turmoil it is that we might be going through is a far cry from anything even remotely ‘mentally healthy’  – we shouldn’t even be allowed to use the word because we are so very far from understanding it! How can the thinking mind know what health is, what wholeness is? As a rational culture, we don’t actually know anything about mental health at all – we think that it has something to do with ‘according with certain standards or criteria’. We would like to devise an instrument or machine to determine it. We think that just about everything has to do with ‘according with standardized criteria’ – if it can’t be standardized (or regulated) we don’t take it seriously.

 

Mental health isn’t however about perceiving, feeling, thinking, or behaving in a particular way (which is what we think it is), it’s about being present in our own lives, as our lives actually are. It is as simple (and as difficult) as this. We don’t become present by according with criteria or rules (i.e. by ‘fitting into the prescribed framework that everyone else is trying to fit into’), we become present by honestly relating with what actually is not by trying to measure and arrange everything in accordance with our unexamined expectations, which is all the thinking mind can ever do! Goals and methods and expectations have no part to play here! Coercion to ‘be the way that we or other people think we ought to be’ has no part to play here….

 

 

 

 

 

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’?

 

 

Aggressive Therapy

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Therapy For Life

The most counterproductive thing we can do with regard to our own emotional pain and mental suffering is to get ‘clever’ about it – which is to say, the most counterproductive thing we can do is to think about it! When we hear about ‘not thinking about our emotional pain’ we are very likely to take this to be the same thing as denying our emotional pain but this isn’t the case. Denial starts with a thought, it doesn’t come out of anything else other than our thinking. Everything else that happens afterwards comes out of that original thought, and therefore is that original thought. That original thought never goes away therefore – it might be unconscious, it might be buried deep, but it will continue nevertheless to have an enormous effect on our everyday lives. The more unconscious the thought (i.e. the more deeply buried it is) the more it will determine the course of our lives.

 

We place far too much reliance on thinking as a way of dealing with our difficulties; our reliance on thinking is of course just a manifestation of our desperate hope that we can escape from the difficult situation that we’re in. ‘Thinking’ equals ‘our attempt to escape’, in other words – it’s the same thing. We are all great believers is escaping – we call it ‘problem solving’ or ‘finding solutions’ and the very sound of these phrases make us feel better! We immediately feel better upon hearing phrases such as these because by using then we have legitimized escaping and made it seem both possible and the right thing to do. As soon as we hear the word ‘solving’ or ‘fixing’ we know we are barking up the wrong tree! Because our thoughts are more powerful the more unconscious they are the helpful direction to go in is the direction of bringing consciousness to these thoughts and this is not a ‘doing’, not a ‘goal-driven activity’. ‘Goal’ is a code word for ‘escaping our predicament’ after all so whenever we find ourselves being orientated towards some outcome or other then we should beware of this because we’re actually running away from our life.

 

Consciousness has no goal, just as life has no goal. Goals are solutions and solutions are fear. Solution-focussed therapies are fear-based therapies therefore and the search for solutions (or belief in solutions) is the sickness not the cure. The root of the sickness – we might say – is that there are parts of our life that we are fundamentally opposed to living. We REALLY don’t want to live these parts of our life and we never question why we don’t want to live them. We don’t question or examine our refusal or resistance and the more caught up in the resistance we are the more unconscious we become. Very quickly we become totally unconscious and our activity becomes nothing more than a reflex that has been triggered, an all-powerful reflex that has been ‘ruling the roost’ for a very long time. This is the time-honoured ‘reflex of trying to escape’!

 

When we come across part of our life that we don’t want to live then this is where all the ‘thinking’ comes in. This is what all the thinking is about – skipping over the unwanted bit of our life is ‘the goal’ and the thinking is our attempt to find an effective way of doing this. Escaping from the bit of our life that we don’t like is our ‘clever plan’. Solution-focussed therapies are – we could therefore say – ways of facilitating us not to live the parts of our life that we don’t want to live, that we have resistance to living. They are our way of ‘being clever about things’! It’s not that we actually see things like this, of course. We don’t see ourselves as wanting to pick and choose over which parts of our life we want to live and which we don’t want to live (as if we had the choice!) but rather we see the bits of our life we want to get rid of as being wholly negative and worthless, as deserving zero attention or care or interest on our part. Labelling an experience as being absolutely negative is of course the perfect justification for wanting to eliminate or escape from it – this part of our life is ‘a fault’, ‘a mistake’, ‘an error,’ a ‘bad thing’, and so naturally we don’t want to have anything to do with it. That goes without saying…

 

The logic behind this ‘rejection of the negative’ is extremely plausible, extremely convincing – we never question this way of looking at things for a moment. This way of looking at things EQUALS not questioning. ‘Thinking about things’ equals not questioning. There is a snag in this logic however – a glitch that we are always going to be unconscious of when we are busy dividing life into the parts we like and want to keep versus the parts we don’t like and want to get rid of. The glitch arises out of the fact that we CAN’T separate or divide life according to our preferences – this is just not a possible thing we can do and when we try we get caught up in the glitch. Life always comes as a whole – it’s all of one piece and we abstract only the elements that we like or find enjoyable. It’s all life, to paraphrase what Kurt Vonnegut says in Breakfast of Champions, there’s no part of it which isn’t, no part which is ‘something else other than life’.  All that’s happening when we reject one part of our life as not being worth living is that we are exercising prejudice, but that prejudice is entirely ours – it does not represent or correspond to anything in reality. That’s a glitch that comes out of our attitude, not out of life itself.

 

When we try to eliminate or escape from a part of our life that we have automatically labelled as unacceptable what happens is that our tactic rebounds on us. Resistance is always going to rebound on us! It can’t not rebound on us – all that’s happened is that we have put a kind of twist in things to make life even more difficult for us than it was before e started rejecting it. By refusing to live part of our own lives we have created a twist (or glitch) that we just can’t get past. What do we imagine happens to the unlived bits of our life, after all? Where do we imagine they go? Unlived life is still life whether we like it or not and because it is still life it has to be lived sooner or later. All that has happened when we reject it is that we have put it ‘on hold’…

 

There is more to it than just this, however. ‘Unlived life’ changes the way it subjectively appears to us – it becomes dark, it becomes subjectively hostile or threatening. It manifests as an enemy that persecutes us. The ‘demonic’ character of the life that we have rejected isn’t a property of that unlived life itself however – it’s simply a reflection of our own aggression. Aggression – as Chogyam Trungpa says – can be seen as a ‘refusal to communicate’. There’s no communication in the situation and this refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as a terrible hostility. Our own refusal to communicate gets reflected back at us as the demonic quality that we are either trying to fight or run away from; fighting or running away doesn’t help the situation however because both fighting and running away equal ‘not communicating’! The demonic, persecutory aspect of our environment is really nothing other than our own attitude, our own aggression mirrored back at  us but we perceive it to be something that exists independently in the world around us – something that can be successfully eliminated if we try hard enough!

 

When unlived life takes on this persecutory nature that makes us resist it all the more, in other words, and this is the ‘glitch’ that we have been talking about, the glitch that we can’t help getting caught up in when we are living unconsciously. The rejected parts of our life take on the appearances of ‘avenging furies’, as M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Travelled and the more we run (or the more we fight) the more furiously these demons (the demons that have been created by our rejection) pursue and terrorize us. We are at war with ourselves and we cannot win! Aggression is the same thing as ‘the absence of communication’ because we are always projecting our own meaning, our own categories on whatever is happening to us. We are perpetuating our own closed viewpoint, our own fixed framework of interpretation in everything we do and this means that there is zero possibility of communication. If we reject one part of our life as it unfolds then we reject all of our life. This has to be the case – if life is ‘all the one’, if it cannot be conveniently subdivided, then we cannot reject any supposed ‘part’ of it without rejecting all of it. It’s all or nothing, therefore. And the moment we start ‘picking and choosing’ which bits of life we want to live then it’s going to be ‘nothing’ rather than ‘everything’, therefore! This is the inevitable result of exercising ‘the mind of preference’.

 

Trying to pick and choose, trying to ‘get clever about things’, is the root cause of our sufferings, not the cure for it. That’s how ‘backwards’ we have got everything! If we saw things clearly then we would see that we don’t need a cure – as we have already said, what we fondly call ‘a cure’ or ‘a solution’ is simply our hoped-for escape from the parts of our life that we don’t like, the parts of our life that we have automatically rejected. There is no solution (or ‘therapy’) for life. Interference or control or manipulation is only going to multiply our woes – it’s only our fear that is driving this control, this interference, after all. It is not ‘therapy’ we need therefore but simply the willingness to live each moment of our lives exactly as it unfolds

 

This is what Pema Chodron calls ‘the fearless heart’. This panoramic fearlessness is also symbolized by ‘the lion that looks in all four directions at once’ – the Lion of  Ashoka that has been adopted as the state emblem of India. Rather than our customary one-sided ‘rational approach’ (which is based on always having plenty of clever strategies at our disposal), all that is required therefore is for us to live our lives ‘consciously rather than unconsciously’. We aren’t partisan, we aren’t mean-minded, we don’t exclude anything. And if we find ourselves rejecting or resisting life as it unfolds (as of course we will do), then we bring consciousness to that rejection, that resistance, too! That automatic resistance, that ‘attempted manipulation or control’, that ‘running away’ is after all as much part of life as anything else…

 

 

 

 

 

No Pressure…

Pressure, in therapy, is always counterproductive. There’s no such thing as ‘helpful pressure’, no matter how much common sense may seem to indicate the contrary. We may define ‘pressure’ by saying that is when some force outside ourselves is making us do something. It is an ‘external authority’, in other words. It is an extrinsic motivating factor. Pressure is what creates society – it is the force that we find at work in the domain of our collective reality. It is what operates in families, relationships, friendship groups, organizations, nations – pressure is really all we know! Just about everything we do and everything we think is the result of pressure. Our perception of reality, of the world, of ourselves is the result of societal pressure that has been applied to us from the very earliest age. It is all ‘forcing’ via peer pressure and in the very same way what we fondly call ‘therapy’ is almost always just more of the same – it is simply an extension of the forcing-house which is society. It is the arena within which we enforce – yet again – our social programming, our unexamined biases, our deep-rooted cultural assumptions. What we refer to as ‘therapy’ is generally just an exercise in normalization, in other words – we’re putting people under moral pressure to be normal!

 

There is really no way any of us can do otherwise just as long as we ourselves remain unconscious of our social programming. How can I call myself ‘a therapist’ if I myself am just as hopelessly conditioned as my clients, if I myself am afflicted with the same unexamined prejudices? If I haven’t come to be in any way aware of the biases that inform my thinking, my perception of reality, then very clearly all I can ever do is enforce these biases on everyone I meet. This is a very basic principle: when I am ‘psychologically unconscious’ then all I can do is to unwittingly (or wittingly) apply pressure to everyone I meet to subscribe to the same assumptions about life that I do. More simply expressed: when I am unconscious then I want everyone to see the world in the same way that I do! The unacknowledged expectation that everyone should share our arbitrary viewpoint is what social interactions are all about; this is what all conflict is about. If we wanted a guiding principle by which to understand human history then this is it.

 

When we are unconscious pressure is all we know, all we are capable of knowing. The implication of the word ‘therapy’ is that there is the possibility of helpful change occurring as a result of it – there is the suggestion that there a possibility of us gaining freedom from our suffering-producing conditioning, freedom from the rules we follow without knowing that we are following any rules. There is the inference that we will – by some means – be enabled to discover our true, authentic selves! In socially-prescribed therapies however this just isn’t ever going to be the case. In any type of therapy that is generic in nature (which is to say, any type of therapy that comes from a template) this never can be the case. It never can be the case because the template IS the conditioning. The (psychological) theory here is that if we ‘do the right thing’ then the right result will surely follow. This theory however is the purest nonsense – there is (needless to say) no method to being one’s authentic self…

 

To go back to our original point: the reason pressure (or forcing) in therapy is always counterproductive is because it results in change (if indeed there is any change) that isn’t real. It results in change that is ‘convulsive’ rather than organic. The change – if there is any – isn’t happening as a result of a naturally occurring process but rather it is occurring as a result of what we can only call ‘artificial contrivance’. It suits the agenda of the thinking mind that there should be this change and that is all. That agenda might sound ‘good enough’ to us but – really – what does the thinking mind know? Rational understanding is only ever ‘skin deep’  – when we act of the rational or thinking mind we are acting out of our unexamined assumptions, we are ‘thinking our way through life’ rather than ‘feeling our way’. When we act out of our assumptions we are acting aggressively – we are acting aggressively because we defending a bunch of assumptions that we have made without realizing that we have done so. We’re ‘defending a fixed position’ and implicit in our defence is our blind refusal to look at why we think this fixed position is worth defending. What we are calling ‘aggression’ is simply activity that proceeds on the basis of fear, in other words. Action that comes out of fear isn’t sensitive, it has nothing to do with any interest in the world, any curiosity about the world – it is purely concerned with escaping from whatever it is that is challenging us and what is ‘challenging’ us is ultimately nothing other than reality itself…

 

The ‘fixed position’ that we are defending is the everyday mind with all of its assumptions, all of its prejudices, all of its conditioning. Every time we try to change things (in accordance with our ideas about how they should or should not be) then we are acting out of the fixed viewpoint which is the everyday mind. There is no way we can have ideas about ‘the way things should be’ without operating from a fixed (or ‘unquestionable’) position – if we questioned our viewpoint then we’d have to question our goals and if we questioned out goals then that would be the end of our goal-orientated or purposeful behaviour! Acting on the basis of our thoughts about the world, our beliefs about the world, is always aggressive. We are being fundamentally insensitive because all the emphasis is on getting things to be the way we want them to be, and none on questioning or examining the fixed position that we are taking on order for us to be having such clear-cut and inflexible ideas about ‘how reality should be’ in the first place! Thought itself is always aggressive, is always violent, as Krishnamurti says, and when we are unconscious we are perpetually acting on the basis of thought…

 

‘Sensitivity’ is a very different thing to the activity that comes out of the thinking mind – activity that comes out of the thinking mind is all about changing stuff on the outside, it is ‘the one-way arrow of control’. ‘Control’ –we might say – is another word for unconsciousness; the whole point of control, in the psychological sense of the word, is as we have just said that it deflects attention away from our assumptions onto ‘changes that supposedly have to be made’. Our attention I deftly deflected away from our assumptions onto the changes that these invisible biases cause us to see as being necessary. Control – as we keep saying – is aggressive – you have to dance to my tune whether you like it or not. You have to fit into my way of thinking and not vice versa. Everything has to give way to my way of thinking because my way of thinking is not open to questioning – there is no way it is ever going to be questioned and so the only thing we can do is try our best to fit into it. If we can’t fit into it then we’re wrong.

 

Is it possible, we might ask, to have a type of therapy where we are remaining open, remaining sensitive to what is going on? This would appear to be the best answer to the dilemma that we are faced with – the dilemma of ‘how not to be aggressive’. Any sort of control is aggression – as we have said – is always counterproductive when it comes down to having an honest relationship with oneself or others, which is what therapy is ultimately all about. No one can deny this, but what we aren’t so quick to see (or dwell upon) is the fact that controlling or forcing can never result in a relationship with anything. On the contrary controlling alienates us not just from whatever (or whoever) it is that we are controlling, it also alienates us from ourselves. An honest relationship is the only sort of relationship there is and where there is aggression – which is to say, the exercise of power – there can be no honesty.

 

Things are very simple when it comes to pressure – either there is pressure in the situation or there isn’t. It’s either one way or it’s the other; there is no middle ground. The idea that we can use some sort of pressure, some sort of external motivation to achieve some goal or other, and yet at the same time be open and sensitive to whatever it is might unfolding. What we are actually talking about here – when it comes right down to it – is something that the thinking mind calls risk. Risk is something to which the thinking mind is infinitely averse! We can explain the activity that comes about as a result of the rational-purposeful mind by saying that it is activity that is geared towards reducing risk as much as possible. We can define goal-orientated or purposeful behaviour by saying that it is behaviour that is directed towards eliminating (as far as possible) the risk of the goal not being achieved. Or instead of risk we could talk in terms of uncertainty and say that the activity which comes about as a result of the thinking mind is activity that is geared towards getting rid of all uncertainty. Ultimately, it’s not uncertainty with regard to anything in particular (i.e. in relation to any particular goal being achieved) that the purposeful mind is averse to but simply uncertainty in general!

 

All of this is really just going around in circles – we’re saying the same thing in several different ways. The rational-purposeful mind operates by identifying goals and then working towards them and ‘working towards obtaining a goal’ is of course the same thing as ‘working against the risk of not obtaining it’. But none of this has anything to do with therapy – it’s all just pure control, it’s all pure ‘uncertainty avoidance’. Therapy is the antithesis of ‘risk-avoidance’, as any psychotherapist will be happy to tell you. Therapy is not ‘trying to get what you want to happen to happen – that’s just the rational mind pursuing its perennial agendas…

 

Trying to secure the outcome that we want (and avoid any other unspecified) outcome is simply ‘conservatism’ and conservatism is nothing other than ‘a fear of change’ that has somehow been validated and made to look heroic rather than cowardly. Fear of change – needless to say – doesn’t really qualify as therapy! It’s something else entirely – it’s ‘hanging on’. What we’re afraid of happening is – as always – the unknown, and whilst the rational mind is superlatively good at avoiding the unknown, it is no good at all at helping us face it! The thinking mind, with all of its tools and strategies, has no useful role to play here. All it can do is ‘temporarily stave off the inevitable’, all it can do is hang on (for as long as possible) to the known, in stubborn denial of the ultimate futility of this endeavour. ‘Hanging on to the known’ isn’t an option when it comes down to it; it isn’t an option for the simple reason that ‘the known’ is a mind-manufactured illusion! It might seem like an option but that’s only because we’re afraid to see the truth. We’re invested in not seeing the truth. ‘Seeing the truth’ is what we’re fighting against…

 

 

 

 

 

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…