Coping Strategies Weaken Us

We talk about ‘tolerating discomfort or ‘coping with stress’ or ‘managing emotions’ very easily indeed in the field of mental health – terms like this roll off our tongues with the very greatest of ease. We’re positively in our element when talking about stuff like this. It all sounds so easy. But what exactly does ‘coping with difficulty’ involve however and how – in strictly practical terms – do we go about it? What is the correct way to go about ‘tolerating discomfort’? Just how do I ‘manage my emotions’? That’s what we’re all trying to find out – that’s where the ‘smart money’ is…

 

This is where it all gets very interesting and very ‘counter-intuitive’. We tend to think that there is some method here that we can learn, a method or technique which we can get highly skilled at in time. ‘Tools’ and ‘skills’ and ‘strategies’ are buzz-words in therapy – we think that they can be the answer to everything! This is not at all the case however and we can easily explain why. If there was some sort of method or ‘thing that we can do’ then presumably using it (as some kind of helpful ‘tool’, as we like to say) would make us feel less uncomfortable, less distressed. If this were the case however then we’d be escaping the discomfort, not getting better at tolerating it! And if the method in question doesn’t cause us to feel any better then why would we do it? Why would we bother to use it in the first place? The problem is that anything we do that actually reduces our level of discomfort or pain is addictive; we won’t be able to help ourselves from doing it every time we feel bad, in other words. It will become a urge, a compulsion, an ‘unfree sort of thing’. The problem with this is of course that any ways that we might find of escaping from pain or discomfort don’t really serve us. They don’t really serve us because every time we avoid pain on the short-term this means that we get it back even worse on the long term! We only need to observe ourselves carefully in our day-to-day lives in order to see that this is true.

 

Deep down, we already know this – it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that our whole lives are spent learning this particular lesson, although whether we actually learn it or not is another matter! We avoid – as is perfectly natural – our legitimate difficulties only to find, later on, that these difficulties are revisited upon us in an even more terrible form than before. Or as we could also say (if we wanted to put it in more general terms) we avoid insecurity and uncertainty in life and create a type of existence for ourselves where all life’s questions come with nice simple (i.e. black-and-white) answers. We want ‘rules’, we want ‘right and wrong’, in other words. We want to make life simple for ourselves by avoiding the central existential challenge of ‘not knowing what to do about our difficulties’  but – again – we create a new form of suffering as a result of our evasion – we create what is called neurotic suffering. Neurotic suffering is ‘the pain that comes when we don’t want to have any pain’. It is, to paraphrase Steve Hagen, ‘the insoluble problem we always meet up with when we don’t want to have any problems’…

 

We can see from this that ‘learning to tolerate the discomfort that arises as a result of neuroticism’ cannot itself be ‘a procedure or simplification’; which is to say, it cannot itself be conveniently made into ‘a matter of right and wrong’. The art of being able to tolerate difficulty has nothing to do with following rules! ‘Following rules’ is an evasion. Methods – by definition – are always a matter of following rules and so straightaway we can see that this just isn’t going to work (although in practice we don’t tend to see it because that’s not really what we want to see).

 

So the question that we want to ask now is of course, “If ‘distress tolerance’ (or ‘the capacity to tolerate discomfort/pain’) isn’t a method then what is it? What is it and how do we do it?” Even by asking this question we are going wrong however. It is a characteristic of the technologically-orientated culture that we live in that we imagine that the capacity to bear pain or endure discomfort must be something ‘outside of us’, i.e. that it must be something we ’do’. And yet how can the capacity to endure difficulty be something ‘outside’ of us, something we ‘do’?

 

Clearly our way of looking at things is distorted here. The capacity to tolerate difficulty is inside us, rather than being some tool or accessory that we carry around with us, rather than being some sort of trick or procedure that we have learned to roll out when necessary. Tools weaken us when it’s mental health we talking about – they weaken us because we put all the emphasis on developing strategies and learning new methods rather than developing ourselves. Our tools become more and more high-powered, more and more time and energy consuming, but we ourselves become more and more enfeebled, more and more dependent upon our instruments or tools, more reliant upon external protective factors.

 

This tendency to become weaker and more dependent is – as we have said – absolutely characteristic of our current way of life. We can say – almost with complete assurance – that human beings have never been less autonomous than they are now. ‘Autonomy’ and ‘mental health’ are two ways of talking about the same thing and so we may also make the statement that throughout our long history we have never been less mentally well! ‘Health’ and ‘Whole’ are words that come from a common linguistic root and – very clearly – ‘Whole’ means that we are complete in ourselves, it means that we don’t require a whole heap of external assistive factors (or ‘accessories’) in order for us to feel okay about ourselves.

 

It is our ‘modern illusion’ that having lots of tools (both of the physical and psychological variety) empowers us and for this reason we dedicate all of our resources to acquiring many tools as we can, unaware that as we do this we weaken ourselves more and more. ‘Weakening ourselves’ – in psychological terms – means that we become ‘less and less ourselves’. By making our supposing well-being more and more dependent upon external factors we are allowing ourselves to be increasingly defined by these external factors and this is the point that we seem to be all but incapable of understanding. By expressing things in this way we have made it possible to clarify what we were saying earlier when we made the point that ‘the capacity to tolerate difficulty or pain is something that is in us, not something that we learn to ‘do’. What we really should have said is that ‘the capacity to tolerate difficulty or pain IS us!

 

That capacity is actually ‘who we are’ – we ourselves are ‘the magic ingredient’ that we have searching for. When we are truly ourselves, in other words, then we will find that this ‘capacity’ actually has no limits. There is no limit to the degree of difficulty that we are able to work with – it’s just that we have to get rid of the illusions we hold about ourselves first, and that that is not something that we can learn on a ten day training course! The very notion of ‘being trained to reconnect with our true selves’ is palpably crazy – how can taking on stuff from the outside (i.e. ‘conforming to external dictates’) help us in any way to connect with our true selves? How can that come from the outside? Conforming to external pressures, external demands, external requirements has the exact opposite effect, and that’s where we’re going wrong in the first place.

 

Being able to tolerate difficult situations without succumbing either to the urge to break and run, or fight madly (and counterproductively) for all we’re worth, turns out to be a far more profound matter than we had ever imagined, therefore. Finding new tools, finding new coping strategies is a trivial thing; finding out who we truly are – on the other hand – is the biggest thing ever there ever could be! What could be bigger than this? What could be more significant or more important or more meaningful than this? The only way we are ever going to honestly meet the challenge of life is to meet it as we actually are, not through surrogates or ‘generic versions of ourselves’, not through tricks that we have learned from other people who themselves are not meeting life ‘head on’. Anything other than ‘meeting life head on’ (which is to say, without any safety nets, without any defences, without any ‘personality armour’) is an evasion and – as we have already said– any evasion that we may make is inevitably going to cost us dear later on.

 

The fact that we are so very keen on finding ‘coping strategies’, the fact that we are so committed to developing our ‘distress tolerance-techniques’, shows us something very important therefore. This emphasis shows that our commitment is not to reconnecting with our true nature. More than this, it shows that our commitment lies in exactly the opposite direction, which is not finding out! Difficulties, when they come along, do have some saving grace (albeit a saving grace that is usually very well hidden). This ‘saving grace’  – so to speak – is that through going through the difficulty, unendurable as it may seem at the time, can allow us in time to become more truly who we are. We lose some of the dross (or ‘falseness’), we let go of some of the ‘rubbish’.

 

But the other side of the coin is that when we protect ourselves from the difficulties that are coming our way by utilising all our defences, by utilising all our ‘evidence-based coping strategies’ we are at the same time hanging onto all of this rubbish. We’re actually protecting it. We’re holding on tight to it, as if it were the dross (i.e. our ‘false ideas’) that were the truly valuable thing here. And the truly astonishing thing is that this was our agenda all along – our aim was always ‘to avoid having to let go of the rubbish’. Our unacknowledged aim was always to stay asleep, in other words…

 

 

 

 

 

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’?

 

 

Being There Without A Reason

Whenever we’re doing something for a reason we’re not ‘in reality’ – we’re not in reality because we’re not in the present moment and there’s no reality other than the present moment. We can only be in reality if we let go of all the ideas that we might have of what we are doing and why so if we’re here for some reason or other then quite simply we are not actually here, we’re not actually ‘present’. We’re in our heads – we’re ‘there for a reason’ and this means that we’re not there. We’re not really anywhere – we’re absent rather than present. Doing stuff for a reason ensures that we’re not in the present moment…

 

And yet we’re always doing stuff for a reason – we’re doing it because of this, we’re doing it because of that, we’re doing it because of whatever. Even when we think we’re doing something for no reason that chances are that we still have an agenda there somewhere or other. We might be unconscious of this agenda but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Lots and lots of our activity occurs as a result of unconscious motivation – most of it in fact – so not being able to see what our reason is, not having any awareness of it – doesn’t mean anything. Truly spontaneous  behaviour is rare in adults – everything has become contaminated with some kind of agenda, some kind of calculation, some kind of rational validation.

 

To let go of all our agendas – both of the conscious and unconscious variety – is the hardest thing there is. In one way it could be argued that dropping our agendas is easy since we don’t actually have to ‘do’ anything – all that is needed is for us to stop doing something (i.e. all we need to ‘do’ is stop holding on). This ‘not doing’ turns out to be much more difficult that we might have thought however. It’s a very curious thing because we always think that the challenge in life is to fulfil our agendas, not let go of them. That’s what we’re always being told, that’s the kind of message that we have been brought up on. The basic assumption in our culture is that when we successfully realize our goals then we will be happy. Everything then will be OK – all problems will then disappear.

 

The message we are always given is that goal-attainment equals the ultimate fulfilment, the ultimate satisfaction, in other words. It means everything to us. But this just isn’t true – the only thing that brings joy and peace is letting go, not holding on. Holding on only ever brings misery – we hold on out of greed, out of fear, out of insecurity and this is never going bring anything but suffering. Holding on we do by reflex – letting go, on the other hand, has to be a conscious thing. It is an expression of being present in the situation, not being absent! ‘Letting go’ is the challenge; ‘letting go’ is the challenge because it is the one thing we don’t want to do. As Eckhart Tolle says, everything hinges upon our relationship with the reality of the present moment. If our attitude is that we are refusing to surrender to the present moment, just as it is, then it is as if we are fighting with life itself. It isn’t just ‘as if’ – we are fighting with life itself and this the most gruelling and thankless task there is. There’s nothing more futile than this; fighting with life is the ultimate ‘fruitless endeavour’ – the only fruit we are ever going to pick from this tree is the fruit of suffering!

 

When we refuse to surrender to the reality of the present moment (and this ‘surrendering is a profoundly courageous rather than a cowardly act) then what this means is that we are trying to live life on our terms and we don’t even know what these terms are! We don’t know what the terms which we are trying to hold life to are because we‘ve never examined them, because we’ve never really looked at them. If we had looked at these terms of ours we would no longer be clinging so stubbornly to them – we would have dropped them immediately because they are so ridiculous! This is the whole thing about ‘holding onto our agendas’ – we hold onto them alright but we never look at why we are holding onto them so tightly or what exactly the expectations are that we are imposing on life. This is because ‘holding on’ (as we have said) always happens out of fear and when we are doing something out of fear we do not want to examine what we are doing and why. We just ‘do it’ – the reflex is triggered and we just go along with it. Fear is all about going along with automatic reflexes – to act on fear is to hand over responsibility to a set of mechanical responses. To act on fear is to become mechanical, in other words. When we are obeying fear then we are moving away from being aware – awareness moves towards looking at what is going on whilst fear runs in the other direction!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are afraid and we go along with this fear, then we are handing over our autonomy to rules. We are giving away our power to some external authority. We trust that the rules (or the ‘external authority’) will save us and – at the same time – we make sure never to look at the rule (or the behaviour) too closely. Naturally we don’t want to look at the rules (or behaviour) too closely because if we did then we would be running the risk of seeing that what we have placed our trust in is never in a million years going to help us! To examine the rules or behaviours or reflexes that we have handed over our autonomy to is to run the risk of losing our faith in them (since they don’t by their very nature ‘stand up to scrutiny’) and then what would we do? We’d be thrown back on our own resources again; we’d have to face up to the difficulty all by ourselves, without some handy formula that is supposedly going to save us…

 

This is why no one can ever tell us what to do in order to ‘beat anxiety’, or in order to ‘overcome fear’. If they do then we will straightaway cling to the instructions (or rules) that they have given us; we will hold on tightly to the  formula that we have been given and holding on tightly to some formula, to some reassuring ‘external authority’, means that we are running away from fear not up facing it. So how is this supposed to help us? How is running away from what we are afraid of going to free us from fear? We are desperate to give away our power, our autonomy in the matter and at the same time we are expecting this to save us from the fear or from the anxiety. Our anxiety is a symptom of our refusal to relate directly to whatever is frightening us (it is a symptom of our attempted running away, in other words) so how can someone trying to help us in our ‘running away’ ever be expected to help us? When we try to give someone methods to deal with fear or anxiety all we are doing is colluding with them in their efforts to run away in the opposite direction of the source of the fear and so this isn’t helpful at all. ‘Methods’ are always an abdication of autonomy; ‘methods’ mean becoming more not less mechanical.

 

How can we possibly hope to become free from fear or anxiety by moving in the direction of becoming more mechanical? The root cause of anxiety is our fear of being present in the situation whilst being mechanical means moving even further away from the reality of the present moment, so utilizing methods and skills and ‘tools’ to deal with anxiety isn’t any sort of a cure at all – it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of our very great reluctance to surrender to the present moment. It’s a symptom of our (unexamined) refusal to live life on life’s terms. What helps isn’t to invest in methods of dealing or ‘coping’ with life’s difficulties – what helps is to be present with these difficulties. Being present with the difficulty – whatever that difficulty might be – is the only thing that helps. Anything else is an attempted escape from something that can’t be escaped from!

 

‘Being present’ means not running away and so of course this is the only thing that is actually going to help us. The big challenge is however – as we have said – that no one can tell us how to be present with ourselves. There’s no set of rules we can follow. There’s no method for it – there’s no method for ‘being there without a reason’. If there was a method then there would be a reason, the reason being that it suits us to be there without a reason, and this itself constitutes a reason. This itself constitutes an agenda and so we have ‘an agenda for dropping our agenda’. This simply shows that ‘being present’ can never come out of the head, out of the thinking mind. Everything that comes out of the thinking mind comes with an agenda – there is no way that the thinking, purposeful mind can ever do anything without having a purpose in mind. The problem is therefore that we do everything out of our heads – we’re a ‘heady’ culture! We even try to ‘assent to life’ with our heads. The thinking mind – like some sort of terrible interfering busybody – wants to be involved in everything…

 

Much of what passes for mindfulness comes down to this glitched business of us trying to assent to life with our heads (which means ‘trying to assent to life for a reason’). Because we are so very used to seeing ourselves to seeing ourselves as ‘this mind’ (and we are brought up to see ourselves this very limited way) we simply don’t know any other way to be. The sense of ourselves as a ‘rounded and irrational whole’ rather than a type of ‘disembodied sharp-edged intellect’ is a stranger to us. It’s as if we live in a big house and never come out of the cramped and cluttered little room we use as an office. We don’t know ‘our Father’s house’ in all its spaciousness. Assenting to life is very clearly something that comes out of the Whole of us, not just a meagre part of us (i.e. not just the narrow rational intellect). Being here without a reason comes out of our heart, not our head! This is at the same time both an involuntary (or spontaneous) act of deep assent from the heart and a profoundly liberating insight – the insight being that there never was any possibility of us not being in the reality of our own lives.