The Error Of Technical Therapies

We start off on the wrong footing, and then put all our efforts into trying to make things better on this basis. This is our situation in a nutshell! All of the benefits, advantages and comforts that society provides us with are for the sake of assuaging the pain caused by us starting off on this ‘wrong footing’ and this – of course – means that we are quite uninterested in what would constitute our genuine well-being. The more work we put into compensating for the original mistake (so to speak) the less likely we are to ever become aware of it! We’ve headed off in the wrong direction entirely…

This is most poignantly the case when it comes to psychological therapy – our efforts in developing psychological therapies are all in the direction of ameliorating – as best we can – the suffering that comes about as a result of our ‘mistakenly assumed basis’. It is always possible that these therapies may be partially ‘successful’ within the terms that they themselves set out (i.e. the reduction of pain) but were this to be the case, this very success would be acting against us. When we are facilitated in starting off on the wrong basis and then in continuing on this basis without being able to experience the suffering and alienation that is the inevitable consequence of us taking the wrong starting-off point as ‘a legitimate basis’ then this is the exact opposite of helpful. We think we’re doing good work but we’re not; our misery is made more tolerable to us and – because of this – we are able to continue indefinitely with it. This corresponds to Gurdjieff’s evil inner god of self-calming.



‘Making mistakes’ is perfectly OK, we might say, that’s how we learn, that’s the process of life: we go astray, and then the pain of finding that we have ‘gone astray’ brings us back again with renewed appreciation for what we have gone astray from! This is of course the message of the parable of the prodigal son – the other sons in the parable – the ones who haven’t gone off the rails – are understandably annoyed, to say the least, by the joy which their father expresses at the return of the erring son. They didn’t stray after all, and yet no feast is thrown for them! The other sons undoubtedly feel that they should get the larger share of the credit therefore, seeing that they were good and dutiful sons who didn’t go off the rails. There is a subtle aspect to this story however, just as there is in all good stories. The point is that we can only know what we have when we lose it. This idea is illustrated very well by the story ‘Fetching water for Vishnu’, as told here by Devdutt Pattanaik. When we restrain ourselves from breaking the rules because we are afraid of what might happen if we do break them (or because we want to earn brownie points) then this is no good at all! We don’t become good merely by ‘refraining from sinning’, no matter what we might have been told in Sunday school – obediently following the rules just makes us sanctimonious and judgmental, which doesn’t do anyone any good.

According to William Blake, ‘the fool who persists in his folly shall become wise’ and we are all fools when it comes down to it. The way forward for us is to persist with our folly therefore and learn from what happens! If however we persist in our folly whilst at the same time insulating ourselves from the painful consequences of that folly then this is another matter entirely… What is happening here is that our folly is being enabled; our foolishness is being validated and so we can all go around being ridiculously proud of being the fools that we are. Instead of genuine well-being we have artificial well-being, the type of well-being that comes about as a result of the validation of the false idea of ourselves, which is what our culture is all about. There is zero support for the process of ‘going beyond the comfort zone of who we think we are’ in the world that we have created for ourselves, but there is plenty of validation for who we are brought up to believe we are, who we are told we are. Folly has thus become ‘the way to go’ and we are effectively prevented from questioning it. Questioning the socially-sanctioned form of folly is regarded as deviance and reprehensible wrong-headedness and is treated accordingly.

The ‘wrong footing’ that we are talking about here is the idea that we have about ourselves, therefore. What we are talking about is ‘the easy answer’ as regards the all-important question “Who are you?” – it’s the ‘easy answer’ because it takes no effort at all to come up with it! We will investigate other things in the world that we’re interested in perhaps, but whoever investigates their own assumed identity? We run with this without ever giving it a second glance and this is of course a very peculiar thing. Why we would we be so blasé and incurious about the perplexing question as to ‘who we are’ when this would seem to be the central mystery of our existence? What could possibly explain this? What could explain our lack of interest in the central mystery of our lives and our preoccupation with other, less profound matters, our undying obsession with superficiality and trivia? Although this in itself might sound like something of a mystery it turns out that it isn’t – ‘lack of interest’ is the very antithesis of consciousness, and the only reason we would go down the road of ‘embracing the antithesis of consciousness’ (rather than having anything to do with the real thing which has infinitely more possibilities in it, needless to say) is because we’re in the grip of fear. When we are in the grip of fear we fly from awareness, we don’t embrace it! When we are in the grip of fear then we’re not at all curious about the world around us; we don’t want to ‘find out about anything’, naturally enough. We don’t want to find out what’s going on; on the country, we want to not find out, we want to stay as dumb as possible. This behaviour is what Chogyam Trungpa calls intelligent stupidity.

Obviously, we all know that fear – if it is great enough, if it really has us in its grip – produces as a result a state of profound incuriousness, a state of concreteness that is characterised by us putting zero inquiry into our descriptions or ideas or theories about the world (which is to say, literal-mindedness); the problem isn’t knowing this, or being able to understand this, the problem is applying it to ourselves! That can’t be us, we say, we’re not like that, we’re not literal-minded and incurious about the world around us, or uninterested in going beyond/seeing beyond our drab and formulaic descriptions of reality. We are a scientific, progressive and above all dynamic culture so that can’t be us at all! But if this accusation of literal-mindedness isn’t true then why are we – as a culture – so single-mindedly invested in control and technology, and so ridiculously weak and feeble when it comes to investigating ‘who we are’ or what it means to be ‘conscious beings’? Why are we so extraordinarily unphilosophical in our outlook, after all the good work that has been done in this field by earlier, more philosophical eras? We’ve let the ball drop big time!

There are (we might say) two distinct possible modalities of existence that we can orientate ourselves from, one being the mode that is preoccupied by the ‘HOW’, and the other being the one which we consider the ‘WHY’ to be of supreme importance. In the first case we invest everything in technical knowledge (and the means of control based on this technical knowledge) and in the second case – whilst we will not be averse to technical knowledge – we are much more interested in the process of investigating and examining phenomena ‘for its own sake’, not because we want to exploit or utilise the insights that we might uncover along the way. There are no surprises for guessing which modality contemporary Western culture exemplifies. This isn’t exactly the hardest question in the world to answer – we are the ultimate masters of the ‘HOW’, we are the ‘Great Exploiters’.

So what happens when a HOW-type culture does psychology? What happens when a ‘technical/controlling-type’ civilization tries its hand at psychotherapy? We have already looked at this question of course; this is what we started off talking about at the beginning of our discussion – what this comes down to is the unfortunate business of starting-off on the wrong footing and then putting a whole load of effort and ingenuity into what is essentially ‘a lost cause’. What has happened to us is that in our haste to improve our situation (so to speak) we have completely failed to our examine our formulaic description of who we are, and as a result all of our efforts have gone into fixing – or at the very least ameliorating – the problems that beset this unexamined idea of who we are, of which there are plenty!

It just so happens that this is never going to work out for us since the mental construct we’re trying to fix is inherently jinxed  – it can be said to be jinxed on the one hand because all logical-constructs contain an inherent if invisible self-contradiction that can’t ever be ironed out (which comes down to ‘the paradox of self-reference’), and it is jinxed on the other hand because the self-concept has nothing to do with our true nature anyway, which means that we are ‘tilting at windmills’! Technical therapies can NEVER work therefore – at the best they can perhaps succeed at making life a little bit more comfortable for us, a little bit more tolerable for us, but this – as we said at the start of this discussion – is very far from being ‘a good thing’!







Fear Of Vastness

What brings about our suffering in life – when we get right down to it – is our terrible narrowness and rigidity, and identity is the narrowest and most rigid thing there is! Identity is so narrow and so rigid that it doesn’t actually belong in the real world at all – it belongs not to reality but to the world of names and designations, the world of definitions and evaluations. We like the world of definitions and evaluations however – we really are very fond of it. We’re fond of the world that has been defined for us by thought just as we are fond of having an identity – it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. We are fond of living in a defined world as a defined identity because this allows us to orientate ourselves, obviously enough – we can say who we are and where we are and what we are all about, and this feels good! This feels good – as no one will deny – but it also brings about unending suffering. There are two ingredients in this particular package, not just the one.

This is of course just another way of expressing the traditional eastern teaching-formula which says attachment causes suffering, which is more familiar to us but which at the same time tends to be understood in an overly simplistic way. It’s not so much that we are attached to things or people (although of course we are) but that we are attached to the type of orientation that we are talking about here – the orientation of knowing who we are and where we are and what we are supposed to be doing in life. If we can readily answer these questions then we are considered by all and sundry to be orientated and this is taken as a sign of good mental health. There’s no confusion here, we’re on the same page as everyone else, we are adapted to the world that we have been given to live in, and so on. This assessment of ‘orientatedness’ is only a measure of our mental health on a very superficial level however – it’s the appearance of good mental health only.

To be sure and certain of all our parameters in this way is actually a guarantee of suffering, as we’ve just said, and anything that is ‘a guarantee of suffering’ can hardly be said to be a measure of good mental health! We want to be defined in this way because that gives us our sense of identity, our sense of knowing who we are and what we are about, but this desire for security, when acted upon, prevents us from having any connection with who we are behind the narrative, behind the neat and tidy cover-story. We have been provided with an answer, an explanation, but it is a hollow one, a false or superficial one, and no happiness or well -can ever come out of it. No sense of meaning can never come out of this false understanding of who we are – how can a sense of meaning come out of this business of living life on the basis of who everyone else says we are, after all? That isn’t a recipe for a meaningful life, it’s ‘a recipe for mental unwellness’!

The problem is that we have, in our haste to have a sure and certain explanation of who we are and what life is all about, short-circuited the whole process of life – the idea (even if we don’t know it) is for us to quickly skip ahead to finding out the answers to the existential questions so that we can then get on with the important business of ‘living life on the basis of the sure-and-certain identity that we have thus acquired’. That’s where the real satisfaction in life lies, we imagine – not in this awkward feeling of not knowing ‘who we are’ or ‘what it’s all about’. That’s the basic idea but it just doesn’t work out as we imagine it should. It doesn’t work out the way we thought it would because there just isn’t any solution satisfaction or fulfilment to come out of living life on the basis of a spurious identity, an identity that ‘isn’t who we are’, an identity that is nothing more than a cheap gimmick. There isn’t any fulfilment to be had from this way of living life because being attached to a thought-created identity (of whatever sort) involves being fundamentally disconnected from what actually is true – which is clearly a situation that doesn’t bode at all well for us.

There is – undeniably – this very strong urge or desire to ‘say who we are’, or to ‘assert an identity’. When we do this then that feels good, there is satisfaction (of a sort) in it. This type of good feeling comes about not because we have achieved anything real however but because we have managed (successfully, it seems) to run away from something that frightens us. We are running away from ‘wide-openness’, we’re staging an escape from the Realm of Unlimited Uncertainty – which is what the philosopher Kierkegaard calls ‘the dizziness of freedom’. We want to be told who we are (or we want to believe in the story of who we tell ourselves we are) so as not to have anything to do with all those open-ended possibilities. Open-endedness isn’t good news as far as we’re concerned. We want to skip that, as we have said; we want to skip all that uncertainty and rush on to the logically unchallenging business of ‘living life on the basis of a defined identity’. We want the security of knowing what it’s all about so that we can just ‘get on with it’ in a mechanical or non-exploratory way, and the very big problem with this – which we are painfully slow to see – is that all of this business of ‘thinking that we know what we’re doing’ and then just ‘getting on with it’ is profoundly meaningless.

So there is this euphoric feeling of accomplishment or attainment when we assert who we are, or when we are rewarded by society by being given some honourable or prestigious identity, but the euphoria in question (which is the euphoria of winning at what James Carse calls ‘a finite game’) very quickly ebbs away leaving nothing behind but a dreadful sterility. The defined identity is always sterile – as we have said – it is always sterile because it’s an act of denial with regard to who we really are (or what life really is all about, which is ‘growth’). It’s nothing more than a convenient fiction that allows us to turn our backs on the ontological challenge that life is presenting us with. When we perform a manoeuvre that enables us to escape from whatever awareness we might have of how much bigger the universe is than anything we ever could have imagined then this feels good; we get great relief – but this isn’t the type of good feeling we get for any kind of a wholesome reason. Very clearly, this isn’t a ‘wholesome’ sort of thing at all! We get a rush of euphoria for sure but that is only the (very temporary) good feeling that comes from denying what we don’t want to know about. That type of ‘good feeling’ doesn’t really help us!

When it comes to identification then it’s very much a matter of ‘Marry in hast, repent at leisure’. We can’t live life when we are saddled with an identity – all we can do is go through the mechanical motions of asserting and reasserting that sterile identity over and over again in the forlorn hope that some good will come of it. All we can do is continue to move through the repetitive steps of ‘playing the finite game’ (which is consolidating ‘who we think we are’ when ‘who we think we are’ is a dull fiction) rather than exploring the possibilities of what we genuinely might be – uncertain though these possibilities may be. The possibilities that lie in store for us when we put all our money on consolidating the fiction of who we think we are add up to a big fat zero, whilst the possibilities that await us when we relinquish this comforting illusion (the comforting illusion of the Mind- Created Identity) are infinite. The possibilities here are infinite and that is precisely why we want to run away as fast as we can in the opposite direction, so to speak! We experience terror when faced with the unimaginable vastness, and comfort when we retreat into the pointless, tedious world of the small and the petty, and that’s why we continually engross ourselves in playing finite games in the way that we do.

Our fear of vastness is the same thing as our love of the mind-created certainties which we have surrounded ourselves, in which we have buried ourselves. Ontological terror drives us meekly into the welcoming arms of thought, in other words; the comfort we obtain from the act of believing our thoughts (however bland, however banal, however stupid or malign they might be) is the perfect remedy for the fear that holds us in its grip when we confront open-ended reality. Thought always creates a world in which there is no ‘open-endedness’ – the Mind-Created Virtual Reality is a world that contains no mysteries, no ‘discontinuities’, and that is precisely how we know it to be false (if we care to know such a thing, that is). How could we have ever put ourselves in this position where we have to accept the wretched banality of the thought-created world as being the same thing as reality itself? What kind of a trick is this to play on ourselves? Instead of life, we have to make do with a grey, pointless bureaucracy – the grey, pointless bureaucracy of thought – and that dreadful old bureaucracy won’t ever let us go (bureaucracies never do, after all). Because we are under the power of thought (which is the position we have put ourselves in) we cannot help believing that what the rational mind says is real actually is real, and so we are obliged to try our hardest to get thought’s bureaucracy to ‘work out for us’, which it never will. No matter what we do on the basis of the thought-created identity, things aren’t ever going to work out for us. We however are in denial of this; the conditions of the deal we have accepted require us to be in denial of this – if we are to continue believe ourselves to be this Mind-Created Identity then we obliged to ignore (or misunderstand) all the suffering that comes about because of this. We are obliged to ‘stick with our story’ no matter what, in other words, and this is of course always the way with denial…












Exploratory Mode

One definition of mental health could be to say that what is healthy (what leads to our psychological well-being) is when there is a movement away from the self, away from who we think we are. This of course is counterintuitive in a big way; we would tend to see mental health as being a measure of the robustness of the self, the robustness of who we think we are. This is what almost every mental health worker would believe to be the case – this is what we are trained to believe, after all. There is (whether we know it or not) an unspoken or taken for granted description of reality that we all buy into and ‘who we are’ (or ‘what it means to be a person’) is an important part of this official description. This is the ‘equilibrium view’ and the equilibrium view is kept in place by everyone who subscribes to it. It is therefore inevitable that any collective or agreed-upon definition of mental health (whether explicit or implicit) will be normative with respect to the equilibrium values.

In current times – when the criteria we use to gauge what is mentally healthy and what is not is collectively decided upon by groups of ‘like-minded’ experts, who can essentially be seen as an elite club who are even more homogenous in their thinking than the wider social group – we are moving very strongly in the ‘equilibrium direction’. The question is, therefore, how can we allow a tightly-knit collective to be in charge of how we understand mental health when this situation of ‘operating as a collective’ is itself profoundly unhealthy (which it clearly is when we look at things in a ‘non-institutional’ way)? Imposing implicitly-accepted group-norms on individuals suffering from mental health conditions is of course an act of aggression that we can’t see as such – it is an act of aggression disguised as ‘helping’.

Any independent viewpoint on the matter is always going to take issue with how ‘the club’ agrees to see things. A ‘club’ is made up, after all, of people who have tacitly agreed to put their individuality to one side in favour of how everyone else sees things. In a purely practical way, it is very hard (if not impossible) for a person to further their career within a profession if they don’t take the party line. The greatest danger facing humankind – we could say – is the danger of mass-mindedness; as Jung says, mass-mindedness (far from being a good thing) is the breeding ground for psychic illnesses and pestilences. As a breeding ground for psychic malaises of all descriptions mass-mindedness can hardly be expected to come up with a helpful or enlightened way of dealing with the problem that it itself has (at least in part) created! The non-equilibrium way of looking at mental health is, as we have said, to see it as being the movement away from who we think we are, which is also the movement away from who the consensus mind (i.e. society) says we are. Once we put it like this it is of course very easy to see why, as Jung very clearly states, the process of individuation isn’t exactly encouraged by the people and institutions around us. The ‘consensus mind’ – so to speak – is incapable of appreciating or valuing anything other than itself and since the process of individuation is a process which leads away everything that the consensus viewpoint values this process (which is the process of growth) is going to be actively inhibited. As far as equilibrium thinking is concerned, any deviation from normative values equals ‘error’ and nothing more and errors only exist to be corrected.

All of us have two distinct tendencies at work within us – one (we might say) is the conservative tendency and the other is what we might call the exploratory one. In the first case the values of the past are what matters and all change is regarded with suspicion; in the second case ‘the old ways’ are seen as a trap precisely because of our attachment to them and our subsequent reluctance to outgrow them and what is of interest to us (instead of repeating the established pattern forever) is seeing what lies beyond the known and the familiar. Or, as we could also put it, conservative mode is where we value security above all else and exploratory mode is where we value the truth more than security. ‘Truth’ and ‘security’ are always opposed for the simple reason that, in truth, there is no such thing as ‘security’! And if we were to put this the other way around, we could say that the only way we can find this supposed thing we call ‘security’ is by firmly turning our backs on what is actually true. It’s either the one way or the other, in other words. We can’t play it safe and yet be interested in the truth at the same time.

We can reformulate our definition of mental health at this point simply by saying that what is beneficial for us is to move in the direction of becoming more aware. From a conventional point of view this statement doesn’t make any sense of course because we are convinced that we are perfectly conscious already. We’re not however, that’s just an idea that we have – the idea that we are actually aware when we are not. When we are in conservative mode then we have thoughts about the world rather than being aware of it. We judge the world and have beliefs about it rather than taking a genuine interest in it. It is often said that thinking is how we make sense of the world, but it would be more true to say that thinking is how we protect ourselves against the real, and insulate ourselves against change. Conservative mode is essentially where we live in our maps or models of reality in preference to ‘the thing itself’ (which doesn’t offer us the security that our systematic representations of it do). If we were to ask why reality doesn’t offer us any security – which is of course a perfectly reasonable question to ask – then the answer would be because the real cannot be defined or categorized or modelled, since it is always infinitely more than the boxes we attempt to squeeze it into. If we value our boxes (or our maps) more than the truth, then the truth (or ‘reality’, if we want to put it like that) is always going to appear as an enemy, as curious as this may sound.

We have defined mental health or mental well-being as being ‘a movement away from what we know’ – anything else simply takes us into a stagnant cul-de-sac. Conservative Mode takes us into a stagnant cul-de-sac. What helps us is to question what we think we know therefore; this is helpful because when we question what we thought we knew then it inevitably proves to be not as true as we thought it was after all and – when we see this ‘what we thought to be true’ can no longer imprison us in the way that it did when it was unquestioned. This is a simple enough principle to understand but a problem arises just as soon as we start using a model to work with difficulties in mental health, and insist therefore that all mental health workers subscribe to this model in order to ensure ‘best practice’, as we say. The problem is that – without appreciating it – we have fallen into Conservative Mode ourselves, as if this were somehow a helpful or appropriate thing to do…





Purposefulness and Spontaneity

There are two modes in which we human beings can exist, so to speak – one being the spontaneous mode and the other the purposeful one. These are like the ‘two gears’, so to speak. These are the only two gears we’ve got. When we are in Purposeful Mode then everything has to be done deliberately, obviously enough – everything we do has to be done ‘on purpose’! Effort and intention is needed on our part and if we slack off at all then the job won’t get done.The job won’t do itself. In Spontaneous Mode there is no design, no calculation and no intention, as we all know very well. There is attention on our part, and our willing (but not deliberate) participation is needed, but it’s not like laboriously rolling a stone uphill. The project – whatever it is – has a life of its own and we are not driving it. Purposeful activity takes us to an known destination and so it has to be guided and kept on track every inch of the way; spontaneous activity on the other hand takes us somewhere unknown, and because it is taking us somewhere unknown we can hardly ‘guide’ it! This is a genuinely mysterious process, and that’s why so profoundly interesting.

There’s more to it than just this, however. What we’ve said so far is all well-known stuff, but the real nub of the matter is something that we very rarely stop to consider, if indeed we ever consider it at all. The truly remarkable thing is that in Spontaneous Mode there is no ‘actor’ all, no ‘causal agent’, no ‘doer’, and seeing as how this ‘actor’, this ‘causal agent’, this ‘doer’, is a pretty big deal for us, that is a rather significant fact. The purposeful doer is who we think we are, this is our identity and this is obviously very important for us. It goes without saying that our ‘identity’ is very important to us; it would be no exaggeration to say that – for most of us, most of the time – it is all about our identity. Identity is the name of the game, so to speak; identity is the star of the show. When we do something we want everyone to know that we are doing it (or have done it); we need to have ‘ownership’ of it. In our culture prizes are awarded for successful doing, status is accorded (how else would we know if we are winners or losers?) When we win this gives us a very special sort of identity, the sort of identity everyone wants… So it is clearly of the greatest importance that we can lay claim to the ‘doing’ in question so that everyone can know that it is our doing and no one else’s. It is the identity of the actor or doer in question that is being rewarded (or acknowledged), after all.

Where spontaneous activity is concerned this simply cannot be done however – I can be awarded a prize for a portrait or landscape I have painted or a novel or poem I have written but at the same time I know very well that there was no causal agent, no ‘doer’ behind it. It ‘did itself’ and so I can’t have ownership of it; legally I might be able to claim ownership, but in any real sense I can’t. Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, there was no right way to do what was done, and no wrong way either, and so there can be no winners or losers, no successes and no failures. There is no such thing as ‘getting it right’ when it comes to spontaneity because we don’t know where we were going in the first place; if what has been produced is unique then there can be no comparisons with what other people have done either and so there can’t be any competition, dear though that is to our hearts. Psychologically speaking, spontaneity is how we become free from the defined identity or purposeful self; it is how we find release from this cumbersome, awkward, limited and misrepresentative version of ‘who we are’ rather than being a means of consolidating and validating this supposed identity.

This is why we as a culture put such an overwhelming emphasis on games, goals and competitive effort – because it consolidates and validates the concrete identity. This is the real reason we value purposefulness so much – because it has the effect of making the self-concept seem real to us, because it verifies the defined identity. As a culture we are dedicated to the endless celebration of the idea that we have about ourselves and there is no other way of putting this – we are all about ‘the mind-created identity’, as we have just said. That’s the name of the game – creating and maintaining the ego, as if there with this were the best and most inspiring thing we could think of. We pride ourselves as being cultured, mature and sophisticated as a culture, and the best thing we can think of doing – as a collective – is endlessly validating the ego-construct!

From a ‘mental health point of view’, this turns out to be not such a great idea at all (as we might of course expect). To be emphasising goals and games and competitive effort (i.e. to be defining ourselves by ‘comparing ourselves with other people who are playing the same game as us’) is in no way what we might call ‘a healthy way to conduct our lives’. Everyone knows that this is not good news; it brings out the worst in us rather than the best, despite the hype that we are subjected to with regard to the wonderful virtues of ‘competition’ and ‘striving for excellence’, and all of that tiresome old stuff. It’s not really excellence as such that we’re striving for but ‘excellence that I can personally lay claim to’ (i.e. enhancement of the ego) which is how the narrow ‘sense of self’ gets to feel good about itself, however transiently. Spending all our time vainly trying to validate the ego-construct is ‘unhealthy’ in as much as it never leads us the direction of well-being or happiness or anything like that. Quite the reverse is true – we are travelling in the direction of becoming more and more self-engrossed, to the point where narcissism (whether we like to admit it or not) has now become an accepted social norm. When we put all emphasis on the idea we have of ourselves (when we put all our money on purposefulness) then this means – needless to say – that we are neglecting the other, more essential side of ourselves, which is spontaneous in nature rather than purposeful. Actually, even saying this is misleading since the purposeful self isn’t who we are at all, it’s just an act that we put on. It’s an act that we put on because we get rewarded for it; we get paid in cash for successful social adaptation, as Jung says.

If there is a situation where we put all the emphasis on the act we’re putting on then, as a result of ignoring who we are behind this act, this situation is not going to be one that is conducive to our mental well-being, obviously enough! Because of our dedication to the game that we (and everyone else) are playing we ‘forget who we are behind it all’, just as all the mystic traditions say, and in this forgetting there is nothing but misery and confusion; we have allowed our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ and allowing our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ (i.e. by mere mechanical impulses) is hardly going to result in our happiness or fulfilment. We say that happiness, peace of mind, creativity, compassion, well-being, freedom etc, are very important to us, but our overwhelming emphasis on the concrete identity takes us in a quite different direction. Our words and our actions have parted ways therefore, they have nothing to do with each other – we say that we value well-being and mental health and personal growth and yet we put all the emphasis on constructing and consolidating the defined identity and this means that our fine words don’t mean a thing!

The defined or purposeful self can never be creative, never be compassionate, or happy, or peaceful or anything like that. It absolutely can’t. The PS can never be sincere or genuine and if it can’t be sincere/genuine then how on earth is it ever going to find happiness or peace? How on earth are we (when we’re playing at being the concrete identity) ever going to feeling in any way well? If we’re not sincere then that is an impossibility; if we are ‘putting on an act’ the whole time then actual well-being (as opposed to ‘theatrical well-being’) is an impossibility; it’s an impossibility because the defined identity isn’t who we are. Just as long as we put all the emphasis on it we are always going to be fundamentally insincere, fundamentally ‘conflicted’. The purposeful self – no matter how many prizes it wins, no matter how much social approval/validation it gets – can never be genuine. No matter how much it wants to be genuine (and it really does want to be genuine, it wants this very much indeed) it never can be. The purposeful self can never be sincere no matter how hard it tries because it isn’t who we are, and what could be more straightforward to understand than this?

Just as long as we are identified with this narrowly-defined sense of ourselves then this is always the situation we are going to find ourselves in; the situation of wanting very much to be sincere (since that is how we get to know we are ‘a real person’) when this is an absolute impossibility for us is clearly not going to be conducive to any sort of well-being. It’s not actually going to be conducive to anything apart from ongoing frustration and suffering, and this isn’t in the least bit hard to see. Trying to live life on the basis of who we’re not (i.e. on the basis of the socially-approved identity) whilst ignoring our true nature (as if it had nothing to do with us) is not going to pan out well for us, no matter what the mental health ‘experts’ might tell us. The mental-health experts haven’t considered the possibility that we aren’t the ego-construct – if they had then they wouldn’t be advocating going all out to fix that ego-construct every time it starts to struggle. Our culture is simply not prepared to look at this possibility – it goes against everything we believe in.

That we should find ourselves in the situation is no accident however. Whilst being socially engineered to identify one hundred per cent with the purposeful self is not a recipe for happiness and well-being (and doesn’t do us any favours at all) it is very helpful for the system that we are operating in because the more alienated from our true nature we are the easier it is going to be for us to be manipulated or controlled to suit society. The more alienated we are from our true nature the more we are going to have to invest in whatever tactics it takes for us to find this thing called ‘external validation’ and it is our tireless striving for external validation that is driving the social machine and keeping it ticking over healthily. It might be good for the ‘health’ (if we can use that word) of the system that we are part of, but it is definitely not good for us!

To be perfectly blunt about it (and there is hardly any point in being otherwise), living in an overly rational or purposeful society pushes us inexorably in the general direction of becoming humanoid robots; androids without any sense of ‘interiority’. Who needs interiority, after all? And when we have no interiority we can’t know that we haven’t – we can’t know that there even is such a thing in fact. This means that we have no way of directly relating to the pain that comes about as a result of ‘lack of interiority’ and because we have no way of ‘seeing the pain where it belongs’ we go looking for answers on the outside, which only compounds our predicament…







Not Mentioning The Travesty

One definition of mental health could be to say that it is when there is a movement away from the self, away from who we think we are. This of course is counterintuitive in a big way; we would tend to see mental health as being a measure of the robustness of the self, the robustness of who we think we are. There’s an unspoken or taken for granted literal description of reality that we all buy into and ‘who we are’ or ‘what it means to be a person’ is an important part of this official description. This is the ‘equilibrium view’ of how things are and the equilibrium view is kept in place by everyone who subscribes to it. It is therefore inevitable that any or agreed-upon definition of mental health (whether implicit or explicit) will be normative with respect to the equilibrium value. In current times – when criteria for gauging what is mentally healthy and what is not mentally healthy is collectively decided upon by groups of ‘like-minded’ experts who can essentially be seen as an elite club who are even more homogenous in their thinking than the wider social collective – we are moving very strongly in the ‘equilibrium direction’. The question is therefore, how can we allow a tightly knit group of specialists to be in charge of how we understand mental health when the process by which we come to agree with each other in a group is determined by what amounts to peer pressure rather than by each individual concerned thinking for themselves, which is of course the ‘mentally healthy’ thing to do? In this way we have actually institutionalized psychology, which is a terrible thing to do!


Any independent viewpoint on the matter is always going to take issue with the how ‘the club’ agrees to see things. A club is made up, after all, of people who have tacitly agreed to put their individuality to one side in favour of how everyone else sees things. Group thinking is always an act of cowardice, therefore. The greatest danger facing humankind is without any doubt the danger of ‘mass-mindedness’; as Jung says, mass-mindedness is the breeding ground for psychic illnesses and the contagions, and as a breeding ground for psychic illnesses and contagions mass-mindedness can hardly be expected to come up with a helpful or enlightened way of looking at mental health! The Non-E way of talking about mental health, as we have said, is to say that the movement away from who we think we are, which is also the movement away from who the consensus mind says we are, and since the consensus or group mind is incapable of appreciating or valuing anything other than itself, and since the process of individuation is the process which leads away from everything that the consensus viewpoint holds dear, it is very easy to see why this process of becoming who we truly are isn’t exactly going to be encouraged by the people and institutions around us. For an equilibrium system, any deviation from normative values equals ‘error’ and nothing more, and errors – as we know – only exist to be corrected. Social groups – by their very nature- don’t like deviance, and this is putting it mildly.


All of us have two distinct tendencies to work at work within them – one (we might say) is the conservative tendency and the other is the explorative one. In the first case the values of the past are what matters and anything that leads away from these values is a threat; in the second case the old is seen as a trap precisely because of our attachment to it and what is of interest to us seeing what lies beyond what everyone else takes for granted. Or as we could also put it, the Conservative Mode is where we value security above all else whilst the Exploratory Mode is where we value the truth more than security. ‘Truth’ and ‘security’ are always opposed for the simple reason that in truth, there is no such thing as ‘security’! Or to put it the other way round, we can say that the only way that we can find this supposed thing that we call ‘security’ is by firmly turning our backs on what is actually true. It’s either the one way or the other way – either we are interested in the truth or we are interested in our games, which are our way of avoiding the truth.


We can reformulate our definition of mental health at this point simply by saying that what is beneficial – health-wise – for us is to move in the direction of becoming more conscious. From the conventional point of view this statement doesn’t make any sense because we are all convinced that we are perfectly conscious already; we’re not however – that’s just an idea that we have, the idea that we are actually aware when we are not. When we are in Conservative Mode then the whole point is not to be aware! When we are in CM then we have thoughts about the world rather than being aware of it; we judge the world and have beliefs about it rather than taking an actual interest in it. It is often said that thinking is how we ‘make sense of the world’, but it could equally well be said that thinking is how we ‘protect ourselves from the onslaught of reality’. But why should reality be ‘an onslaught’, we might ask? This tends to imply that reality is somehow hostile to us, against us in some way, and how could that be the case? To think that reality is hostile is to suffer from a paranoid delusion, after all. The point is of course not that reality (as it is in itself, before we get around to thinking about it) is against us but rather that reality (as it is in itself) does not tolerate any insincerity from us. We can’t get away with any games in other words, and the reason for this is simply that reality is itself not a game. This is – needless to say – a fairly obvious statement: things just are what they are (or they aren’t what they aren’t) and that’s all there is to it. A game – on the other hand – is precisely where we pretend that things are what they’re not. Reality – by its very nature – falsifies our games (if we let it) and this is exactly the same as saying that truth has the ‘property’ of falsifying our lies. Of course it does – it could hardly be ‘the truth’ otherwise!


This has nothing to do with morality however, which is something that we ourselves invent in order to coerce ourselves to do whatever it is we think we should be doing, or not do whatever it is we think we shouldn’t be doing. What we’re talking about isn’t morality (i.e. rules) but simply ‘the natural way of things’. The natural way of things is that truth naturally shows up lies to be lies (this being implicit in the nature of the truth), or that reality shows up games for being games, since this is indeed what they are. No violence is being done here – the game is being shown up for being what it is, and the only problem here is from the point of view of the game, since we can only play a game when we don’t know it to be one. So it is the way of things for reality to falsify our games, just as it is also ‘the way of things’ for us to play our games, and to try to hang on to them for as long as possible. It’s all ‘the way of things’, it’s all the Tao, and so there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any ridiculous artificial morality.


The point we’re making here therefore is that it is natural for us to try as hard as we can to defend ourselves from ‘raw undiluted reality’ (which doesn’t give us any leeway to play our games) and that the way we do this is by thinking about the world so as to create a model of it, which we can then relate to exclusively as if the model were the real thing. This is the manoeuvre by which we dodge the essential complexity of the universe, complexity that would otherwise inundate us and overwhelm our made-up boundaries and – as a result – unfailingly falsify our pet models and theories which are always absurdly oversimplified. We avoid the challenge of a multivalent reality by describing it to ourselves in a literal way in other words, and this ‘literal description’ becomes the rule that we have to obey without knowing that we are obeying it, without knowing that there is any obeying going on. This puts us in the situation of ‘being slaves whilst thinking we are free’. First we create an oversimplified world with our thoughts and then we get trapped in this oversimplified or unreal world and this is how we keep a distance between ourselves and the actual truth of our situation!


When we all get together and make a big official ‘literal description of life’ (or literal description of reality) then this collectively agreed-upon description is called society. Part of that description – the most important part – is the description of who we are and this is why we can say that mental health is ‘the movement away from the self’ (or ‘who we think we are’), as well as being ‘the movement away from society’ (or ‘who society says we are’). Mental health is the movement away from our own defences, the defence is that we don’t know about, the defences that we falsely imagine to be some sort of ‘sacred reality’ that we must never offend against.


Societies isn’t just ‘society’ – as we usually understand the term – it is ‘a total package’, it’s a closed way of looking at things that we aren’t allowed to question. Society is the ‘generic mind’, we could say – it is the mind that doesn’t belong to any of us but which – all the same – controls all of us! Living out the course of our lives in the crudely limited version of reality (which is all that society permits us) is actually a travesty, even though no one will ever come out and say this. It’s a travesty that none of us (or few enough of us) will come out and say to be a travesty, for a very simple and straightforward reason that we owe our livelihoods (along with whatever status that we might have in society) to this same travesty.






Life In The Consensus Reality [Part 1]

The consensus reality works by not letting anyone see beyond it. This is such an obvious statement that we hardly need make it – if anyone were to see beyond the consensus reality then it would of course stop being ‘a consensus’ and when the consensus reality stops being a consensus it can no longer be a ‘reality’ either! It will in this case be nothing more than ‘something we agree to believe in’, which is all that it was all along of course. In order for the consensus reality to work as a reality it is strictly necessary that we never see beyond it, or think beyond it. That’s the one condition we have to adhere to – we can do whatever we like, just as long as we adhere to this. What’s more – and this goes without saying really – we have to make sure that we never go beyond whatever the consensus view is whilst at the same time never seeing that this is what we are doing. It is an absolutely necessary requirement that we be restricted without knowing that we are, ignorant without ever guessing that we are. Just as long as this is the case, we can do absolutely anything we want. This is the dubious freedom granted us by the consensus reality!


The CR (to the extent that we are aware of it at all) probably seems like a fairly harmless sort of thing – irritatingly petty at times perhaps, but basically harmless. It isn’t harmless, however! The CR is far from harmless – it’s a spider’s web from which we can’t escape. We can agree that it is ‘functionally useful’ but this doesn’t mean that it is in any way harmless. Because all meanings are fixed in the CR (because we can never go beyond the meanings that have been set by the system) we are able to use words and know that everyone will understand them as we meant them and in no other way; this is useful in a practical way but it is also a trap. It’s a trap because the fixed meanings that our words have control us, have power over us, have a ‘determining influence’ over us. It might seem odd to say that fixed meanings ‘control us’ but a moment’s reflection is all that is needed to show that this must indeed be the case – as soon as we take a fixed (or literal) meaning for granted and start operating on that basis we create a world that reflects those meanings back at us wherever we go. We create a closed world, in other words. This is the same as saying that when we use rules without acknowledging that we are then these rules will constitute an absolute limit to our existence, a limit that we cannot ever question. The only questions we can ask are those that are predicated upon the rules which we are taking for granted, and so our ‘mode of questioning’ is itself a manifestation of our unexamined rules.


We could make a list of all the things that we human beings have invented over the course of the years, including such things as the printing press, the sewing machine, dynamite, the steam engine, the aeroplane, the computer, the television set and so on. The thing that never gets put on this list however is the consensus reality and this really is a pretty big invention! Not only that, but it’s the type of invention that subsumes all other inventions, the type of invention that subsumes our entire lives in fact, so this surely makes it worthy of mention. The CR is reality for us so that must put it on top of any list we might like to draw up with regard to all the clever things we have invented. Tools and instruments and machines are one sort of thing but manufacturing our own reality is quite another kettle of fish. How the hell do we even do that? How is it possible to ‘create a reality’?


The problem here of course is that we don’t recognise the CR as being an actual thing and so we never do ponder the question of how we managed to pull off the stunt of ‘creating our own reality’. We have in other words invented the consensus reality without knowing that we have invented anything. This being the case, we get ‘subsumed by the system’ without being any the wiser with regard to the fact that something extraordinarily significant has actually happened here. The simulation isn’t content just to be a simulation; it actually replaces what it has simulated so that there is no further need for the original, as Jean Baudrillard says. The hyperreal is a fundamentally aggressive type of phenomenon – it can’t rest until it has converted everything it comes across to its own ilk, to its own formula. Everything is converted to Disneyland. Then – and only then – can it ‘rule supreme’. Who’s to say what is really ‘real’ when reality itself has become something we are no longer capable of registering, something that we’re not even able to miss? Anything can be real, in this case; anything can be real because there is nothing to show up illusion for being illusion. There is no one left to challenge the Great Liar which is the system.


The consensus reality is created via our agreements, as we started off by saying. We make an agreement with regard to what is true or what is important and then we get trapped in this agreement. It might be wondered why this should happen – an ‘agreement’ sounds like a positive sort of thing, after all. Surely – we might argue – it’s good to agree on stuff because then we can get on with each other on the basis of the agreement that we have made. That’s how civilisations come into being, after all. All great civilisations are founded upon a tacit agreement as to what is important in life, as to what our values are, and so on. The fact that agreement forms the basis upon which our collective endeavours can take place is one side of the coin (and this certainly does seem to be a positive thing) but what we are not so quick to see is that an agreement of this sort – by its very nature – is something that can’t be altered once we have made it. Our agreed-upon foundation wouldn’t work as a foundation if we could go back any time we wanted to and change the details of our agreement. We aren’t free to ‘disagree with our original agreement’, in other words, because if we did then there would be no more basis, no more foundation. This is the whole thing about ‘making rules’ to govern society – once we’ve made the rules we have to abide by them! Rules are rules, after all…


Civilisations and cultures are created on the basis of the agreements we have made it is true, but the other way of putting this is to say that civilisations or cultures work by repressing the questioning of our original agreements, our original assumptions. The CR works as a world, as a reality, only because it has surreptitiously taken away our ability to ask original questions, or see the world in an original way. We don’t know that it has done this, but it has all the same. Perhaps this is the price we have to pay for any sort of culture, for any sort of ‘group’ that we can have the convenience and comfort of being part of, we might wonder. Perhaps that’s just the way things are… If so however (and it is inarguable that it is) then this is surely a price that is too prohibitively high to be worth paying! To lose the capacity to see the world (or ourselves) in an original way is to lose rather a lot, after all. We are losing more than we realise here because ‘our ability to see the world in an original way’ is actually our individuality and our individuality is who we actually are!  Aside from this, we are nothing; aside from this, we don’t even exist – not really.


One’s individuality is not a small thing, even though it’s easily overlooked; if we were to lose our individuality, who would we be, in this case? We could actually be anybody because all of us are perfectly interchangeable when this element called ‘individuality’ is taken out of the picture. We actually are ‘anybody’, even though we don’t know it. We are Jung’s ‘Everyman’. We are (in this case) no more than perfectly disposable representatives of ‘the Borg’. There is a concept in sociology known as ‘false spontaneity’ and false spontaneity is where we come out with conditioned views and opinions in such a way that we really do think that we are the original author of the view or opinion in question. It absolutely does feel as if we are and yet at the same time these views are mere ‘prejudices’ that we have picked up along the way without realising it. It’s our ‘programming’ in other words. We feel that these are our genuine views just as we feel ourselves to be ‘genuine individuals’ when this is not at all the case. It can’t be the case just as long as everything about us is supplied by society; it can’t be the case when we are in a state of ‘automatic agreement’ with the consensus reality and are therefore in the position of being completely defined by it. We can’t be defined by the CR and yet at the same time be ‘the true individuals that we are’, obviously enough! We can’t have it both ways. The individual has to be sacrificed for the sake of the state, as Okakuru Kakuzo says in The Book Of Tea

Definition is always limitation – the “fixed” and the “changeless’ are but terms expressive of a stoppage of growth. Said Katsugen, “The sages move the world.” Our standards of morality are begotten of the past needs of society, but is society to remain always the same? The observance of communal traditions involves a constant sacrifice of the individual to the state. Education, in order to keep up the mighty delusion, encourages a species of ignorance. People are not taught to be really virtuous, to behave properly. We are wicked because we are frightfully self-conscious. We never forgive others because we know that we ourselves are in the wrong. We nurse a conscience because we are afraid to tell the truth to others; we take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell the truth to ourselves. How can one be serious with the world when the word itself is so ridiculous!


The ‘price we are paying’ is the loss of who we are therefore, and the fact that we do not perceive this loss – since we have been automatically provided with a false sense of individuality  – does not in any way make it less significant as a loss. We will continue to believe that everything is fine, that everything is OK (for the most part, anyway) but underlying this conditioned perception that ‘everything is OK’ there is a howling void. This isn’t the ‘fruitful void’ spoken of in Buddhism but a sterile void, a blank void – it is ‘the voidness or absence of our actual true nature’, which is not a convenient societal construct. Much has been made in recent times of our growing lack of ‘resilience’ with regard to the difficulties and challenges that come our way in life. Possibly – it is said – this is a trend that is occurring at the present moment – the eroding or undermining of our natural ‘resilience’. We don’t know the half of it, though! We’re missing the point in a big way. Current thinking on the subject is that there can be such a thing as a ‘course’ or a ‘therapy programme’ to build up our resilience and teach us skills and strategies that we can use in difficult situations in order to ‘cope’ better (‘coping’ and ‘managing’ are two of our favourite words in therapy, it seems). We imagine that with the correct ‘coping strategies’ we ought to be able to weather the storms that life throws at us. Rules are a substitute for consciousness however, as Jung says – and they are not a very good substitute either! Our tacit assumption is that the central deficiency that we are suffering from (the ‘invisible elephant in the room’, so to speak) is the ‘lack of who we truly are’ and we are supposed to get around this deficiency by learning skills and coping strategies. How do we think this is ever going to work? Resilience isn’t an ‘add-on’ or an ‘extra’, it is not something we learn, it isn’t something that is ‘separate from us’; what we call ‘resilience’ is actually who we are!








Society Is An Equilibrium State

Shakespeare says ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting,’ – two individuals become one unit and the individuals that were are now gone. We can generalise this line to say (in a much less poetic fashion) that ‘when a group of people agree between themselves as to what life is all about then this collective agreement is the end of all journeys’. The consensus reality is an equilibrium state and an equilibrium state is where ‘all journeys end’. This is the very definition of an equilibrium state. Society is where all journeys end, in other words, and yet despite this we feel no horror at this prospect. Life itself is a journey so if the journey ends then so does life, and how are we to feel okay about this? How do we manage to feel okay about this?

We don’t see it like this of course – we don’t see society as ‘where all journeys end’ but as the very basis of our journey, the very foundation of our journey. Society offers us many potential ‘journeys’, after all. What we miss – because it is so very easy to miss – is that the consensus reality offers us journeys on the basis of ‘who it says we are’, which is a different thing altogether. It doesn’t offer journeys to the individual. The consensus reality – the reality we have all agreed upon, whether we know it or not – has already decided for us what these ‘journeys’ shall be since all the possible trajectories it contains are trajectories that are implicit in this little phrase ‘who it says we are’. We can’t ever depart from the starting-off point and since this starting-off point has nothing to do with who we really are there are no journeys to be made from this basis! Only the true individual can ‘make journeys’ (only the true individual can do anything).

If it is decided for me in advance what my journey shall be, and where it should take me, then this is no journey at all but the very antithesis of that. I can’t go anywhere from the basis of who society says I am and yet I can’t see this. I can’t see this because I can’t see that I am not who society says I am (which is what I agreed to be by default, without realising that I had agreed to anything). We are all of course complicit in becoming who or what the consensus reality says we are but at the same time this is not a complicity that we were aware of at the time. The mechanics of the situation are that we are pressurised to play ball from a very early age – the pressure in question being the reward of approval and acceptance when we do become who is supposed to be, and the punishment (or threat of punishment) of criticism and rejection if we don’t.

What chance do we have as small children of standing firm in the face of the threat of criticism and rejection (which equals abandonment, as Gabor Mate says) and holding true to our path despite the promise of approval and acceptance? Once this pressure gets its grip on us it becomes invisible to us, it becomes normal to us so that we don’t even know it to be there; we are moulded by societal forces without us in any way being aware of this moulding process and the end result of this insidious ‘socialisation’ process is that we agree to be who we are supposed to be without understanding that we have agreed to anything. If we can’t see that we have agreed to ‘things being the way they are’ then as far as we’re concerned just is ‘the way that they are’! We won’t remark on it or make an issue about it.

As a culture, we fondly imagine ourselves to be psychologically sophisticated – we know about socialisation and peer pressure and we even have the term ‘individuation’ in our psychological vocabulary. This doesn’t count for anything however; it doesn’t count for anything just as long as we continue not to know what we are actually talking about! We are paying ‘lip service only’ as it were, because we have no more interest in becoming individuals than we do in spending the weekend camping on Mars. Never was that an age in which so little value was given to true individuality, with the possible exception of Europe in the Middle Ages when our when original or creative thinking was seen as being synonymous with satanic possession!

We don’t think of ourselves in this way of course – we think of ourselves as being a very progressive culture, which is to say, as ‘not being stuck in a rut and looking backwards the whole time’. On the contrary, we will say, we are looking forwards. We are ‘future-orientated’. What we call being progressive really comes down to being blindly committed to a very particular direction, however. We’ve got a very specific idea about what ‘progress’ means and what direction it is to be found in and we are stone deaf to any voices that might be in disagreement with this unexamined idea that we have about it. Our ‘direction’ is very easy to explain – it involves continually improving our technology and our technology is simply about ‘fulfilling our desires in a more efficient manner’. If we think it’s about something else then we are not thinking clearly enough. Our technology certainly doesn’t help us to question our desires, question our direction!

We are a ‘desire-based’ culture, unflattering as this description may sound. We idolize desire and we idolize personal will (which is all about fulfilling our desires, no matter what these desires might be). This is the driving force of our civilisation, as is very apparent when we look at what’s going on with a bit of distance, a bit of perspective. We are all competing with each in order to be more successful than the next person at this business of ‘being able to fulfil our desires’. We look up to those who have the power to fulfil their desires and we look down on those of us don’t have this power – to have no power to obtain or fulfil our desires is a source of great shame in our culture! This is called ‘being a loser’ and there is no kudos for that…

We like to put a different gloss on what we are as a civilisation are all about but that’s only because the actual truth is none-too-flattering, as we have already said. We are a desire-based culture and we are also an illusion-based culture. The two go hand in hand, the two can’t be separated. They can’t be separated because when we desire something what this means is that we are projecting some sort of glamour on the outcome we’re chasing that isn’t really there. That’s what desire is all about – it’s about being seduced by glamour! We could also be said that we live in a ‘glamour-based culture’ therefore and so it should hardly come as a surprise to learn that the image that we have of ourselves, collectively speaking, is a ‘glamorous’ one. To call someone ‘glamorous’ is of course usually a compliment but in this case it isn’t! In this case it simply means that we are not seeing the truth about ourselves. The glamorous image and the actual reality are two very different things, after all…

Society – or ‘the collective for us’ – may be seen as one giant mind; we all understand each other as well as we do because we are all part and parcel of that mind, like bees from the same hive. ‘Coming from the same page on the hymn sheet’ is useful in a practical sense because we can act as a team, and communicate readily, but it is at the same time injurious to our mental health because our growth as individuals is completely stunted, completely repressed. We might be ‘progressive’ in the sense that we are forever refining and developing our technology, and in the sense that we don’t look back at how things used to be but rather we adapt our lifestyle style to suit the latest wave of technology, but we not ‘progressive’ in the sense of ever wanting to develop beyond the hive mind!

When we become part of the hive mind, part of the social group, then this hive mind, this social group may (in theory) ‘go on the journey’ – so to speak – but we as individuals do not, as is very clear when we think about it (which we don’t). There is an urgent motivation to adapt to the social system because that’s what everyone else is doing and because that’s where the prizes are (as Jung sense) but we experience very little in the way of motivation to move beyond it. This particular ‘motivation’ (if we can call it that) is the motivation of growth and as such it is something that each one of us has within us. There exist very effective mechanisms within society to put a lid on his motivation and divert it somewhere else (i.e. in the direction of ‘trying to find recognition and validation within the context of the social game’) as a result we don’t grow’ – growth meaning ‘going beyond who we used to think we were’!

In a nutshell, we want to succeed within society’s terms, not ‘go beyond it’ into dangerous uncharted territory. This ‘uncharted territory’ however is the only place that a journey can ever take place, as Joseph Campbell says. There can be no ‘Hero’s Journey’ taking place within the safe confines of ‘the playpen of the consensus reality’! The so-called ‘journeys’ that we undertake within the playpen which is the sanctified social game are not journeys at all; they are in fact ‘time-wasting exercises in chasing pointless red herrings’. They are a pure diversion…







License To Exist

The world – we might say – is run on the basis of ‘license’ – only those who have been granted a license to speak get to be listened to, or taken any notice of. We can all speak of course but unless we have been granted the authority to do so what we have to say will not be of any interest to anyone beyond our immediate companions. What we have to say will be ignored. There is a big glitch in this setup however and the glitch is that in order to be granted a license, in order to be given the authority to speak we will first have to subscribe to the official story of ‘how things are’, and the official story of how things are is always a lie.It can’t not be since the truth is only ever ‘individually seen’ – seeing how things are is our responsibility and we cannot hand it over to anyone else.

This is the Great Trick that we are never seem to spot: we all want to have a voice; we all want to have a voice because being heard (or being ‘taken seriously’ by other) means that we exist as bone fide individuals who have something to say – it’s a mark of inclusion, so to speak. The trick that we’re talking about is that in order to be included in the group we have to give up our individual way of seeing the world in favour of the generic view that is held by the group and so when we do say something then it’s not really us saying it because we’re expressing what the group thinks rather than what we as unique individual think and so the price of being accepted or taken seriously listened to is that we no longer have anything to say. That’s the condition – we are only granted a voice when we have nothing to say.

From a psychological point of view, having a voice doesn’t mean ‘having a platform’ (or being granted the authority to speak), it means being able to know what it is that we ourselves genuinely want to say. Being able to know what we ourselves want to say means therefore that we’re connected with our own individuality and can discern the different between our view and any view that comes from the outside, which is always a ‘false view’. ‘Someone else’s truth is not the truth’ as Krishnamurti says, and so what we are talking about here is the all-important ability to tell truth from falsehood. This doesn’t mean ‘truth as it can be backed up by facts and figures’ but rather what feels right for us, rather than something that has been imposed or implanted by society. ‘Having a voice’ means therefore that we can discern between ‘what is us’ and ‘what is not us’. When we haven’t yet found our own voice then other residual, inauthentic ‘ghost voices’ speak through us and we don’t know the difference. We are in this case the unconscious host of ‘that which is not us’, which is the state of heteronomy.

The heteronomous mode of being might be spoken of as the ‘default state’ – until we can distinguish our true voice from the babble of all the ghost voices that haunt us without us knowing that we being haunted (the false voices which we have unwittingly absorbed into our systems during the course of our lives) then we haven’t even been born. If I don’t live my life then the default mode will obligingly live it for me. This fate constitutes a living horror – we have been born but we have not been born, we are alive and yet we are not alive, we say things and think things in but it’s not us who are saying and thinking them. It is all a charade, a mockery.

The struggle to find our own voice is therefore the struggle to be born, and this is clearly not something that we can ignore or turn our backs on. ‘If you bring forth what is within you then what is within you will save you’, says Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, but if we don’t bring it forth then what is within us will cut us like the sharpest knife there ever was. This is the challenge that were all faced with – the core existential challenge, we might say – the challenge to live authentically. Society however hijacks this struggle – it hijacks it in the neatest way imaginable because what it does to is to redefine the struggle in its own terms, the terms which ‘equal society’. The existential challenge as far as society is concerned is the struggle to find acceptance and meaning within the system that has been provided for us.

The raw inarticulate urge to ‘become who we really are’ is thus cleverly redefined in terms of ‘doing well within the game which is not declared as being a game’. In short, to be recognised as being ‘a real person’ (or be recognised as being ‘worthy’ or ‘worthwhile’) we have to achieve that status in the eyes of our fellows and this can only happen if we fulfil their expectations with regard to what a worthy or worthwhile human being should look like. If we don’t match these unspoken and unexamined expectations then there is absolutely no chance that we will be recognised in the way that we so desperately feel we need to be.

This ties us in very neatly into the social game therefore. If this is the type of validation that we are looking for then we have no choice but to do what everyone else does and think the way that everyone else does. What is more, we can’t afford to question this either – we can’t afford to let ourselves see that the game is only a game because if we do this then we no longer going to be to receive validation from the game, the validation tells us that we are real and important, the validation that tells us that we are ‘worthy’.  We are all seeking validation in this way and so as a result each and every one of us is handing over responsibility for our lives to a framework of evaluation that is completely arbitrary, completely ‘made up’, and which has therefore ‘nothing to do with anything’. The framework only has the authority over us that it does because we have arbitrarily agreed for it to have that authority without admitting that this is the case and this is society in a nutshell. This is ‘the social construct of reality’, as Berger and Luckmann put it.

Human existence is, ab initio, an ongoing externalization. As man externalizes himself, he constructs the world into which he externalizes himself. In the process of externalization, he projects his own meanings into reality. Symbolic universes, which proclaim that all reality is humanly meaningful and call upon the entire cosmos to signify the validity of human existence, constitute the farthest reaches of this projection.

― Peter L. Berger, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.

Within the context of this game we cannot question (this game that we are afraid to question) we can only have a ‘voice’ if we are granted license to have one, we can only be a person worthy of being taken seriously (or even of being noticed at all) if we join the club. We need a license for our very existence, in other words some external authority has to approve and rubber stamp us! ‘Going our own way’ thus becomes unthinkable. There is however a very significant snag in this as we have said and this snag has to do with the fact that we are being tricked, it has to do with the Great Trick that we started out by talking about. This Great Trick really is a trick – it’s a trick because we aren’t going to get anything out of it, even though we’ve been led to believe that we shall. We have (implicitly at least) been promised that we shall have a genuine being, or genuine existence, whereas the game (any game, for that matter) can only ever lead us deeper and deeper into unreality. The ‘license to exist’ is actually ‘a license to be unreal without knowing it’, which is not quite the same thing!

The ‘trick’ (just to repeat this once more) is that when we are granted a voice, when we are granted the status of being someone who is worth being recognised and respectfully listened to when they have something to say, it isn’t really our voice that’s being listened to. It never is – it’s the voice of the External Authority, the voice of the Consensus, the voice of the Standardised Way of Looking at Things that is only there because we have all voted for it by default, without realizing what we are doing. We only granted the status of having ‘actual worthwhile existence’ (of ‘being somebody’, as it is said) when we unquestioningly accept that what the game says is real actually is real, even though a game can never say what is real. To do that is not within a game’s power. What this means therefore is that we can only be granted status as being real when we have agreed not to be real at all. We can only be granted a voice when our true voice is being completely suppressed –suppressed as if it had never existed.

To say that we are being taken for fools (or that we ‘have been taken for a ride’) is therefore putting it very mildly indeed! That doesn’t even come close to describing what’s going on. We have this urge or need (the most important ‘need’ there is, in fact) realise our potential and make the transition from ‘being who we are not’ to ‘being who we genuinely are’ but then this urge, this need, this undeniable drive, is hijacked right from the word ‘go’ and used to shunt us in the very opposite direction. Instead of ‘finding ourselves’ we find yet more illusions; we end up being lost without a hope in a fearsome jungle of ever-proliferating illusions.

The only chance of meaning or fulfilment that we have is in discerning between what is real and authentic within us and letting go of all else, and yet we are cunningly steered in the direction of embracing and cultivating monstrously grotesque parodies of what it means to be an authentic human being. Something inside it is trying to be born, which is what life is all about, but the green and tender shoots of this life are ignored and allowed to be overgrown by second-hand ideas of who we should be, or of what life is about. Falsehood triumphs over what is true and good, and this – as we have said – is the default state of affairs.





Consciousness Versus The Machine

We get trapped in the machine because we adapt ourselves to it and the reason we adapt ourselves to it is because we want to use it and unless we adapt ourselves to the machine we won’t be able to operate it. We adapt ourselves to the machine by learning to see things its way and the danger here (the very great danger!) is that once we do this then we can forget how to look at the world in any other way. Once we adapt ourselves to the machine’s way of looking at things then we are only a hair’s breadth away from having the tables turned on us so that instead of us using the machine we are being used by it, so that instead of us controlling it the machine controls us. This is very far from being an unheard-of principle of course but just because we might have heard of the principle in some connection or other that doesn’t mean that we’ve been sufficiently warned! We haven’t been sufficiently warned at all, or if we have then we weren’t paying attention at the time. We obviously didn’t take it on board – if we had done then we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are now.

The thing about ‘adapting ourselves to the machine’ is that this necessarily involves an irreversible loss of information. In order to ‘take seriously what the machine takes seriously’ (i.e. in order to see the world in its way) we have to shed an awful lot of ‘relativity’. In the non-machine-like world rules exist only if we agree for them to; we have the freedom to decide whether there should be rules or not. In the machine-world rules are unquestionably important because the machine says they are, because the ‘seriousness’ of these rules is built into the very structure of that machine. Machines are machines because they take certain rules very seriously and are at all times utterly and completely inflexible in this regard. What we are basically saying here therefore is that in order to use a machine we ourselves must become ‘machine-like’; in order to use a machine we are required to ‘narrow ourselves down’ in other words, and the thing about this is that when we narrow ourselves we automatically lose our ability to see that we have become narrowed down – this is why we speak of this process as one involving ‘irreversible information loss’. Learning to see the world as a machine does is what we might call Cosmic Forgetting (or Cosmic Amnesia) – we have forgotten something huge, something tremendous, but we don’t remember having forgotten it! By getting engrossing in the details of the game completely forgotten about the ‘bigger picture’ and this makes everything we do both ridiculous and futile. It makes everything we do both ridiculous and futile, and also punishing. The machine-like world is a world that is not only utterly lacking in freedom, but also lacking in compassion.

The key difference between the machine world and the non-machine world is that the latter is essentially playful whilst the former is not. This turns out to be a very big difference indeed. We have equated the machine with a game but this doesn’t mean that what takes place in the game is at all playful; games (specifically what James Carse calls ‘finite games’) very far indeed from being playful – they are on the contrary deadly serious. We all know this anyway – what after all could be more serious than the person who is giving everything they’ve got in the desperate struggle to win rather than lose? What could be more serious than trying to win? A finite game is a very black-and-white sort of an affair – to win is the greatest thing in the world and to lose is the worst thing, so what could be less playful than this? A game gets to be a game by taking away our freedom, by taking away all ‘playfulness’ out of the situation, and this is why serious game players hate people who don’t take their game seriously. People who don’t take our games seriously remind us (in a way that we don’t understand) that there is such a thing as freedom (or playfulness) and this threatens everything, as far as we’re concerned. Finite game-players don’t like freedom because freedom is the one thing that is guaranteed to make a total nonsense of everything they take seriously; the threat of us having our game falsified happens to be something that we (predictably enough) take very seriously indeed! We have zero sense of humour about this sort of thing…

Saying that we lose our playfulness when we adapt to the machine is just another way of saying that we lose the ability to see that the way the machine requires us to see things isn’t the only way – this is the freedom that we lose without knowing that we have lost anything. The ‘very big thing’ that we have forgotten about is that there is more to life than trying to adapt successfully to the machine (or to the finite game, which comes to the same thing). We have forgotten that the universe is essentially playful in nature and that there is no inbuilt compulsion saying that we should do this, or do that, or do the other. Human beings love making up rules and then the next thing is that we get upset when someone comes along who doesn’t take these rules seriously but in reality there are no rules in reality itself there is something different something else, something that we might call radical freedom. ‘Radical freedom’ might sound rather unfamiliar to us as a concept but all we talking about here is play; play is not something that is given much consideration in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, if any – it has been noted that the Bible is notable as having almost as being almost devoid of any humour and as a result humour tends to be seen as us as being somehow ‘irreligious’, at least in any important matters.

Everyone likes to think that they have a sense of humour, needless to say, and amongst collections of ‘Bible jokes’ that we find on the internet (which attempt to show that there is indeed humour in the Bible) we also find important provisos such as ‘the Word of God is not to be laughed at’. We might be laughing but we must not laugh too much – our laughter must not get out of hand. For a serious message humour is always a dangerous thing – it can be tamed and ‘kept in place’ but it can also all too easily escape the bounds that have been and turn satirical. What we are looking at here is the phenomenon of ‘trying to contain the infinite game within a finite one’ – we’re trying to have humour and lightheartedness (because we know there’s something wrong if this element is missing) but within a serious context. This however is exactly the same as trying to have freedom (which we all know is good) within an unfree context; this is as Carse says an impossible thing – we cannot contain the infinite game within the bounds of finite play. If there is to be humour then it cannot be in any way restricted and if there is to be freedom then there cannot be any limitations placed on it. The notion that conventional Christianity is ‘perfectly okay with humour’ just doesn’t wash – we only need consider the bloody history of the Church to be reminded of this. There is no such thing as ‘a serious message’ outside of the artificial context of a finite game however, and this is reflected by the following quote from the Tibetan Buddhist sage Longchenpa –

In the experience of yogins who do not perceive things dualistically, the fact that things manifest without truly existing is so amazing they burst into laughter.

The stark humourlessness of the ‘Word of God’ can be contrasted with the nondual view of reality which is that the nature of reality itself is humorous; as Longchenpa also says –

Since things neither exist nor do not exist, are neither real nor unreal, are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting – one might as well burst out laughing.

If we don’t know if there is such a thing as ‘existence or non-existence’ then how can we take the notion of existence seriously? How we make important and portentous pronouncements about it? We can only come out with ‘serious messages’ about our own made-up constructs and this is why our seriousness is such a brittle and easily threatened sort of a thing.

It might be said therefore – with ample justification – that our cultural bias in the West has caused us to misinterpret life as being deadly serious affair and that it is all about making sure that we get it right rather than getting it wrong (which is the ultimate ‘unacceptable outcome’). There’s no way anyone can try to say that it isn’t what Western culture is about – we all know very well that it is despite the fact that we might be loath to admit it. Our rational/materialist culture is all about competition and winning and the implicit devaluation of anyone who isn’t a winner in the consumer game we are playing and this world-view is currently in the process of becoming the only view of life that anyone is ever going to know about. It’s a viral viewpoint that is rapidly taking over the whole planet. In the non-monotheistic traditions such as Vedanta, Buddhism and Daoism the inherently playful nature of reality is not de-emphasised however and we don’t get this terrible punishing emphasis on ‘winning versus losing’, ‘being right versus being wrong’, ‘obeying God versus disobeying Him’ (with all the guilt and fear of punishment that this entails). Lila, or ‘cosmic play’, is at the very heart of the Vedantic worldview and according to the Dao De Jing the Dao  does not lord it over all the things in the world, unlike the Judaeo-Christian idea of the All-powerful Father God with His very serious ‘plans’ for the human race. The Dao doesn’t have any plans! Similarly, when Brahma dissolves himself in the Cosmic Game (which is we might say ‘the Game of Forgetting and Remembering’) he doesn’t do this whilst hanging onto any ‘plan’ that he might have with regards to the outcome of this experiment! Brahma isn’t afraid to ‘let go’ and see what happens…

‘Seriousness’ – when it comes down to it – means one thing and one thing only – it means that we have forgotten both our own true nature and the nature of the universe that we are living in. It means that we have adapted all too well to the machine world that we have so incautiously created for ourselves with the result that the only view of life we have is the one that has been provided for us by the machine. The Machine (or Finite Game) only knows two things – ‘adherence to the rules’ or ‘deviation from the rules’. Either the machine’s specifications have been met (which by definition is ‘the best thing ever’ and cause for jubilation on a grand scale) or these all-important criteria have not been met and so what we’re talking about here is simply ‘error’. ‘How much does the machine value error?’ we might ask in our innocence. The answer is of course that it values it not at all. The machine has only the one interest in error and that is in eliminating it. In one way this is of course fine since the machine could never work as a machine, and do what it is supposed to do, unless it steers away from error, but in another way this simplistic mode of understanding the world is not in the least bit fine because what happens – when everything gets subsumed within the machine (or subsumed within the finite game) – is that there is no place left for consciousness, since consciousness has nothing to do with final outcomes whilst machines (on the other hand) don’t care about anything else.

Consciousness and machines don’t mix, we might say – they don’t mix because they represent starkly antithetical principles. Whilst consciousness can operate a machine (if we avoid the trap of having the tables turned on us) a machine can never support consciousness. In a machine, as we have said, there are only TWO THINGS – there are either ‘obeying the rules’ and ‘disobeying them’. Consciousness however has nothing whatsoever to do either succeeding or failing, getting it right are getting it wrong, ‘obeying’ or ‘not obeying’ – there is therefore nothing ‘machine-like’ about it at all. There is nothing machine-like about consciousness (or ‘reality’) and yet ‘the Machine’ (or ‘the System’) is all we know…






Art: Margo Selski, The Machine in the Garden