False Health

It is remarkable how much we talk about mental health when we, as a culture, have so little understanding of what this actually means. Just by taking a moment to look around us we can tell that – culturally speaking – we know (and care) nothing at all about mental health. All politicians and business leaders ever talk about is the economy and the importance of having growth in the economy, as if this were somehow going to solve all our problems. But what is ‘the economy’ other than the lynchpin of runaway consumerism, and what is consumerism other than the voracious pursuit of distractions? It is abundantly obvious that most of the goods and services that we are provided with are not being sold to us for the sake of improving the quality of our lives, but in order to make money for those selling them on the one hand, and – more importantly – for the sake of perpetuating the whole set up! This is what John Berger says in Ways of Seeing – we might think that an advert is seeking to promote the particular product being showcased but the more important function of the advert (or as Berger says, of ‘publicity’) is to sell our whole way of life. When we talk about the need to perpetuate the system then – needless to say – what we talking about here are ‘mechanical forces’, and if we elect to be ruled over by mechanical forces then the very last thing we can expect to obtain as a result of good mental health!

 

We can’t have it both ways – we can’t have a way of life that devotes itself to distraction and yet at the same time get to talk about mental health as if we actually genuinely care about it! It is very straightforward to tell the difference between the way of life that is orientated towards distraction and a way of life that isn’t. One way to talk about this difference is to say that a life that is orientated around distraction is a life orientated around the false, mind-produced image of the self. If I am operating from the standpoint of the mind-produced image of the self (which is of course never anything more than an idea) then it goes without saying that I’m only going to be interested in distractions! What else could I possibly be interested in? If I were to take an interest in the truth then this would – very painfully – show up the falsity of my basis, and that wouldn’t be very much fun for me; if I went down this road far enough then I would have to give up this illusory self-image of mine and I don’t want to give it up! All of my efforts, all of my striving, all of my activities are for the sake of promoting and affirming this illusory self-image and ‘having a relationship with the truth’ most definitely ISN’T for the sake of the self-image. Nothing could be clearer than this – the self-image (although it won’t ever admit it) doesn’t want to have any truck with the truth…

 

The self-image is interested only in the sort of things that validate its supposing existence and these just happen to be the sort of things that our society specialises in producing. This type of validation is exactly what our way of life provides us with. Could anyone really say that our generic ‘mass culture’ produces or encourages anything that has the function of drawing our attention to the falsity of our assumptions, and thereby helps us to wake up from the stultifying collective dream that we are all stuck in? Of course no one would ever say this – the idea is simply laughable. There is nothing in our designed world that has the function of reminding us who we really are; there is nothing in our environment that is there to help bring consciousness to us. There are no lamps to guide our way, only disinformation, only state-sponsored mirages. Drawing attention to the truth is not what’s going on here at all – all the stuff that is thrown at us by society has the express purpose of steering us in another direction entirely. We are bombarded every day with messages that have the specific function of orientating us towards the mind-produced illusion, towards delusion and not to the truth. As Sogyal Rinpoche says, our society specialises in ‘selling samsara’.

 

‘Samsara’ may simply be taken as meaning ‘the life of the false, mind-produced self’, and when this is the only life we know then – naturally enough – this ‘life’ is going to be all about distraction! As we have already said, what else would it be about? When we talk about ‘mental health’ in connection with this world of distraction, this ‘life of the mind-produced self,’ then we are talking utter nonsense, therefore. There’s no ‘health’ here and there never could be – this is the very antithesis of mental health – this is ‘the forgetting of our true nature’. The ‘forgetting of our true nature’ means that the thing that is most precious to us, most vital to us, has been lost and something else – some ‘false idol’ – erected in its place. The loss of what is most precious to us is nothing other than a wound, therefore – we have sustained a wound and as long as we remain oblivious to this wound then we can hardly claim to be interested in or orientated towards mental health! To claim this is simply farcical.

 

Just because it is straightforward – in principle – talk about what the differences between ‘something that operates as a distraction’ and ‘something that doesn’t’, this doesn’t mean that it’s equally straightforward to know the difference in practice, of course. Knowing the difference between ‘an impulse that is directed towards the truth’ and an impulse that is directed towards ‘perpetuating falsehood’ can be extraordinarily difficult in practice, particularly in a collective milieu where values have been inverted and self-distraction is celebrated as a way of life. Obtaining food, shelter and companionship (for example) is not a distraction or a validation for the false self, but all three of these things can become distractions, can become validations, as basic and as essential as they are. We could be dining in a fine restaurant for example, which is something that the self-image likes very much and derives a whole heap of self validation from! Having a fine big house to live in is another wonderful validatory asset for the poor insecure self-image, and so – as everyone knows – is the practice of ‘hanging around with the right sort of people’. We take care to associate ourselves with winners at the social game rather than losers and this (we hope) will reflect well on us…

 

These are of course rather crude illustrations of how basic needs can become contaminated with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self-image, but they make the point perfectly well. If we wanted to have a slightly subtler example, we could think of the whole field of social interaction. On the one hand the arena of social interaction is a great opportunity for honesty and self-discovery and the development of empathy / compassion, but on the other hand it is – in practice – a veritable morass of subterfuge, lies and compulsive game-playing. In a culture that placed more emphasis on personal integrity, candidness and self-exploration, and less emphasis on self-image and role then social interaction would present a huge possibility for growth, but this isn’t how things work. Almost invariably we interact on the basis of our ‘masks’, on the basis of our ‘roles’, on the basis of our ‘personas’, and we don’t have a clue that this is what we are doing. Out of this ‘unconscious dishonesty’, therefore, no good can come to anyone. No one benefits in this game, in other words.

 

John Berger is also referring to what we have called ‘the contamination of needs with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self’ when he says that publicity ‘feeds upon the real’. Our needs are real, Berger says, but the web of illusions that capitalist society spins around it is not:

Publicity is effective precisely because it feeds upon the real. Clothes, food, cars, cosmetics, baths, sunshine are real things to be enjoyed in themselves. Publicity begins by working on a natural appetite for pleasure. But it cannot offer the real object of pleasure and there is no convincing substitute for a pleasure in that pleasure’s own terms. The more convincingly publicity conveys the pleasure of bathing in a warm, distant sea, the more the spectator-buyer will become aware that he is hundreds of miles away from that sea and the more remote the chance of bathing in it will seem to him. This is why publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it. Publicity is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of others. Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others.

Another possible way of looking at the basic problem here is to say that it has to do with our confusing of ‘quality-of-life’ with ‘standard of living’. This thing called ‘standard of living’ is essentially a societal construct in that what constitutes ‘a basic standard of living’ has to do with our particular conditioned way of living life, rather than anything else.  It basically defined in economic terms, in terms of ‘buying power’, and this definition links very closely (of course) with the measure of the economic health of the nation, which is to say the Gross National Product. SOL is a measure of our ability to take proper advantage of the goods and services being produced by our society and although this includes essentials such as food and clothing, it is to a large extent a measure of ‘social adaptation’, i.e. it is a measure of how well we are able to function in the socially-prescribed way.

 

Quality of life however is not this, although there is a lot of confusion on the subject. For example, according to the Wikipedia entry QOL is linked to SOL and it is defined in terms of how well one’s own life ‘coincides with’ the expected standard. This type of ‘equilibrium-based’ definition is very deceptive, however; something very important is missing and we can’t see what it is. If QOL were all about matching either our or society’s expectations for life then this would be distinctly dire situation. In order for life to be life – and not some routine or habit that we are automatically repeating – it has to contain elements that are completely irrelevant to our expectations. It has to contain ‘randomness’, so to speak. Another way of putting this would be to say that in order for life to be life it has to ‘go beyond the known’.  Most of us would be rather unlikely to agree with this statement of course – our idea of life ‘as it should be’ is life that fits in with our expectations, rather than a type of life that is irrelevant to them or doesn’t correspond to them at all! This is because we are – generally speaking – pretty much stuck in the Goal-Orientated mode. Life, for us, is a matter of asserting our unconscious assumptions, whilst validating this activity as ‘achieving our goals’.

 

This is fine in one way (because it’s what we want and what are comfortable with) but it’s not so fine in another way – it’s not so fine because a life that does not go beyond our expectations for it is not life at all, as we have just said. It’s a ‘shadow-version’ of life. Life that does not disagree with (or deviate from) our ideas of it is ‘the Rational Simulation of Life’ and if we were to put forward a handy, all-purpose definition of what ‘mental health’ is, we could say that – essentially – it is where these two things – ‘life’ and ‘the rational simulation of life’ are not taken to be one of the same thing. That’s all we have to say! If they are taken to be ‘one and the same thing’, then we have a situation where ‘life itself is not allowed to happen’, a situation where life is actually repressed or denied, and this – when it comes down to it – is a state of pure suffering. This suffering itself is not ‘mental ill-health’ – mental ill-health (so to speak) is ‘where we are suffering but do not know it’, or ‘where we are imprisoned but make a virtue of our imprisonment’; mental ill-health is where we are in denial of our suffering and go from day to day firmly believing that everything is okay, that everything is ‘as it should be’. In the Rational Simulation of Life everything is always as it should be’ and this is precisely the problem; there is something very seriously wrong when ‘everything is as it should be’! When our suffering finally manifests itself (because the mechanism of ‘pain suppression’ (or ‘illusion-validation’) is not working as effectively as it used to) then we are very much inclined to call this state of affairs ‘mental ill-health’. It is this ‘manifest suffering’, that occurs when the when our mechanisms for illusion-validation are no longer working, that we are fond of seeing as ‘neurotic mental illness’. We are seeing neurosis ‘back to front’ therefore – we are seeing unconscious adaptation to a mind-produced illusion (or ‘the Rational Simulation’) as being healthy and the perception of the mind-produced illusion as being what it actually is (i.e. entirely sterile, pointless and futile) as ‘the illness’. We are orientated towards ‘a false version of health’, in other words.

 

Living in the Rational Simulation of Life isn’t the sickness; living in the Rational Simulation of Life and not knowing it is the sickness. When we live in the RSOL and we know it then we have ‘a relationship with the truth’ this and this is a sign of health! It might be a sign of health but it’s a painful sign and so we’re not very fond of it, all the same. When we are living in the RSOL and we don’t know it (i.e. when we don’t have a relationship with the truth of our situation) then ‘the truth’, when it appears (as it must do at some point) is going to be two things to us – [1] is that it is going to be very unwelcome to us, and [2] is that it is not (at first, at least) going to be recognisable to us as the truth. For this reason, we going to mobilise all our resources against it; we going to fight against it with absolutely everything we’ve got. We’re struggling to achieve ‘a false version of health’ – we don’t see ourselves as ‘fighting against the truth’ however, on the contrary, we see ourselves as ‘fighting against a very bad outcome’…

 

When we talk about mental health therefore, what we are inevitably going to mean by this – just as long as we are unconsciously socially adapted, that is – is a mode of being that is entirely ‘congruent with our ideas of life’ whilst at the same time not generating the suffering and meaninglessness that necessarily follows on from this. This means that mental health for us is completely unattainable since ‘restriction’ and ‘the pain of restriction’ cannot ever be separated! We can’t have one without the other, we can’t have our cake and eat it… What we have here is an impossible definition of mental health therefore and this means that it is quite, quite unattainable, just as all illusions are unattainable. We would be kept busy forever, trying to attain it, and we are going to be kept busy forever trying to attain it. This sort of exhausting futility (known as the Wheel of Samsara in Buddhism) is what living in the Rational Simulation of Life is all about

 

 

Art: Consumer Culture / Atomic Age Abundance, by Sally Edelstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nondual Psychology

People sometimes say something to the effect that whilst we can’t necessarily control what happens around us, we can control our reactions to what happens and herein lies our freedom. That’s what we have to work on, in other words – our ‘non-reacting’. This is a familiar enough meme to see doing the rounds on social media sites and – supposedly – it represents an empowering message for us, as is generally the way with such memes.

 

The only problem here is that it isn’t true. It isn’t at all true – we don’t have any control over our reactions and if we were to try to (which of course we very often do) then we would simply be ‘reacting to our own reactions’, which is hardly going to help matters! What makes us think that our reactions are any different to all the other events taking place in our life, after all? What makes them special? There is a rather big ‘unwarranted assumption’ going on here…

 

Our freedom doesn’t lie in attempting to control our reactions to events that are outside of our control. That’s just a straitjacket. All controlling of whatever kind takes away our freedom – controlling arises out of the need to control and ‘needs’ equal – obviously enough – the ‘absence of freedom’. The idea that by acting out of the absence of freedom we can somehow give rise to freedom is, needless to say, utterly absurd. Freedom cannot come out of the lack of freedom; unless there is freedom there right at the beginning then all we will ever do is perpetuate our state of inner slavery, whilst hoping all the while that something is somehow going to change for the better as a result of us ‘persisting in our folly’. This – in a nutshell – is the difference between ‘dual’ (i.e. conventional) and ‘nondual’ psychology – conventional psychology says (in a very serious way) that we can control ourselves whilst nondual psychology laughs and says that we can’t

 

Odd though it may sound to say it, our reactions have as little to do with us as all the other events that are happening around us. They are also ‘events’ and they also can’t be controlled. All events are – ultimately – not subject to our controlling, not subject to our ‘say-so’. Sometimes we can of course be apparently effective in our controlling, but what we usually fail to see is that – generally speaking – the only reason we are controlling in the first place is because we are ‘not free not to control’. The only reason we are controlling is because we are being ‘controlled by the need to control’, in other words. So in this case even if we do ‘control successfully’ we are still only ‘being a slave’. Life when we are basing everything on control has only the two basic possibilities in it – [1] is where we are successful within the terms of the narrow game we are playing and get ‘a pat on the back’, and [2] is where we fail at the game we are playing and get punished instead. Needless to say, neither of these two possibilities have anything to do with freedom!

 

So when we think that everything is about controlling, and how effectively we are able to control, we have fallen into a trap. As a result of being in this trap we are going to be constantly upset when things don’t happen the way we want them to (or the way we think they ought to) and when we get upset in this way we sometimes try to placate ourselves by telling ourselves that whilst we can’t always control the things that happen in our life, we can control how we react to them. In this way we fall into ‘the trap of controlling’ (or ‘the trap of thinking we need to control’) all over again. We try to avoid one trap by falling into another one and we imagine that this (i.e. controlling ourselves rather than controlling the world) is somehow a more ‘spiritual’ approach to life.

 

The thing that we find so extraordinarily hard to understand – even though it is at the same time so very simple – is that we are ‘an event’ just as everything else in the world is ‘an event’. The universe itself is ‘an event’, and so is everything in it. We can’t (in any ultimate way) control the events on the outside of us and neither can we exert control over ‘the event that is us’! If we could see this then we might be able to accord ‘ourselves’ the basic respect that we (possibly) give to other events. We might accord ‘ourselves’ the respect we (possibly) accord the universe itself. The point is that we just can’t see this however; we can’t come anywhere close to seeing this – instead of seeing who I am as essentially ‘an event’ I see who I am as ‘myself’, and this is another type of thing entirely! We take a type of proprietorial attitude to ourselves (naturally enough) – we claim ownership of ourselves, in other words, which is rather an odd thing to do, when we reflect on it. There is a type of ‘taking things for granted’ type of attitude here that is very different to the respect we might accord some marvellous event that clearly has nothing to do with us. If we could only have this type of awareness about ‘ourselves’ then how very different things would be! It’s quite unimaginable (from our normal everyday perspective) how very different things would be then…

 

When we say – as we did just now – that events can’t really be controlled in any ultimate sense of the word then this of course isn’t going to make a hell of a lot of sense. What else do we doing life apart from control (or attempt to control) things anyway? We are stuck in ‘control-mode’ pretty much all of the time and that’s why we have this nasty habit, in our Western culture, of seeing people as either being ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’, as being either ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. We absolutely don’t see any problem with the ‘paradigm of control’ at all, and yet there IS a problem. There’s a problem whether we see it or not – there’s a kind of gremlin at work behind the scenes that emerges at key moments. There’s a ‘killer glitch’, just waiting to unfold! The confusion that we suffer from arises because of the way control seems to work so well in such a simple, straightforward cases as ‘steering the car’ or ‘choosing what to wear when we go out for a night on the town’ or ‘deciding what we want to cook for dinner’.

 

In these cases we can control without any problem – if I want to cook curry and rice for my dinner then I can have curry and rice, and if I want to cook roast chicken and mashed potatoes then I can have roast chicken and mashed potatoes and there’s no problem here. I get what I want and that they are no repercussions, no nasty surprises to contend with. It’s when it comes to the bigger picture that control no longer works so straightforwardly however – it does work, after a fashion, but only at a price. I can choose to grow either cabbages or beetroot in my back garden and the choice is entirely mine, but when I try to ‘manage’ the whole ecosystem things quickly start to go very badly out of control! The same is true of the human body – when we try to manage the processes taking place in the body by placing more and more reliance on medication (to give another example) then unwanted side-effects quickly build up, that in turn need to be managed. As Ivan Illich points out in Medical Nemesis, when we try to manage (or ‘medicalize’) the whole of human life so as to achieve a desirable standard of health then what we achieve is not actually ‘health’ at all but its exact opposite.

 

Generally speaking, taking ‘society as a whole’ an example, we can say that when we collectively try to manage life and ‘standardise’ it in some way (which we need to do if we are to manage it) then the result is not life at all but some highly ‘unsatisfactory version or analogue’ of life that we then have to spend a lot of time validating and maintaining for ourselves. We will have to repeatedly reassure ourselves that we are ‘living life as it should be lived’ (or that we are ‘having a good time’) even though the truth is that we aren’t at all. We’re actually living a parody of life. By taking control of everything (or rather by trying to take control of everything) we inevitably spoil it, we inevitably ruin things for ourselves. Life itself, in its very nature, is a ‘letting go’, so how do we imagine that ‘trying to take control of it’ is ever going to work out well for us? Life itself is ‘a risk that we have to take‘ so where exactly do we imagine that we are going with our ‘wall-to-wall risk avoidance’ – the ‘wall-to-wall risk avoidance’ that is modern life?

 

The bottom line is that processes of life or of nature cannot be controlled in any ultimate sense and that they’re not meant to be. Freedom lies not in controlling what’s going on ‘successfully rather than unsuccessfully’ but in realising that – at the end of the day – we can’t control it. This insight is freedom! If something happens that I don’t want to happen (if some outcome that I’m negatively attached to comes to pass) then I am in all probability going to negatively react to this and if I have any degree of self-awareness then my negative reaction to the unwanted event is itself going to constitute ‘an unwanted event’ and this is going to tempt me either to attempt to exert control on them, or blame myself for not being able to control them (which is the flip-side of the coin of control). Both of these responses equal ‘resistance’ (or ‘aggression’) and as such they feed into (or aggravate) the underlying issue rather than curing it. And if I try to either ‘accept’ my involuntary reaction to control the situation (or accept my reaction of blaming myself for not being able to control it) then this too will constitute resistance/aggression and so this too will aggravate the underlying issue. I can’t get out of the mess this easily just by using ‘acceptance’ as a tactic!

 

What does help however is to see that both what happens ‘on the inside’ and ‘what happens on the outside’ are independent events and that ‘thinking that we ought to be able to control independent events’ is a suffering-producing delusion’! Thinking that we ought to be able to control life (or control ourselves) is a suffering-producing delusion and it very much helps to see this. We are looking at things in a completely deluded way when we think this and out of our deludedness no good can come. Out of delusion comes attachment and identification, which means that we are going to be ‘hooked on controlling‘, whilst out of awareness comes ‘freedom from the false need to control’ that comes out of identification. Realising that there never was any question of being able to ‘control our reactions’ (and thus supposedly gaining freedom from all the external factors that are controlling how we feel) doesn’t mean that our reactions are then going to continue unchecked (or that they become more exaggerated or violent in their intensity), which is what we always tend to think. Quite the reverse is true – when we realise that there isn’t some kind of supposed ‘external agent’ outside of the-event-which-is-who-we-are that needs to be controlling the event, then peacefulness comes back into the picture – peacefulness being (of course) the one thing that can never be arrived at by controlling!

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Side Of Positive Thinking

We are all so hung up on ‘positive this’ and ‘positive that’ and there is actually something rather sinister about this. What does this say about us? Why should we be so hung up on positive ways of looking at the world. Why should we be so fixated upon the so-called need to ‘think positively’? The answer is clearly that we are rather frightened of the alternative, which is where we get caught up in negative ways of looking at the world instead; our ‘attraction to the positive’ is the very same thing as ‘our aversion to the negative’ and what this means is that our so-called ‘positive attitude’ – no matter how inspiring it may on the face of it seem to be – is actually fear in disguise. We’re so afraid that we daren’t admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and so we run around ‘never mentioning the negative possibility’ and we think that this is a great thing to do! Deep down we may not think that this is such a great thing to do but we will certainly say that it is. The whole point of positive thinking is after all that we try to override our semiconscious doubts with loud assertions of what we would like to see as being true.

 

Positive thinking is de rigueur when we are in the grip of fear; it’s the only option open to us – anything else would take courage! On the face of it, denying fear (saying a big hearty “NO” to fear) is the helpful thing to do because it makes us feel better! We seem to be ‘turning the tables’ on fear in this way – we’re getting ‘one up’ on it! We’re showing fear who’s boss; we’re ‘turning the negative into a positive’ and this (in the short term at least) makes us feel good. If we were to look into this a bit more closely however – which we are very much inclined not to do! – then we would see that we have actually put ourselves in a far worse position than we were in before. We have made things worse by trying to make them better.

 

Instead of a genuine, honest-to-goodness sense of well-being, what we have now is a fake sense of well-being, a phoney sense of well-being.  If something is fake or phony then this means that there are some serious drawbacks to it, naturally enough. Drawback Number 1 (we might say) is that the sense of ‘well-being’ which we are enjoying is very superficial, very two-dimensional and Drawback Number 2 is that that this sense of well-being is very brittle, very easily threatened or destabilised. Another way to put this last point is to say that the type of good feeling we have when we slant things positively to ourselves is always dependent upon our own successful controlling, which means of course that we can never really relax. We are always having to manage the situation either in terms of ‘controlling external circumstances’ or in terms of ‘positive self talk’, which is to say, putting a favourable spin on the world.

 

Very clearly, this is NOT a great situation to put ourselves in – the only type of good feeling we are ever going to have is a fake or second-rate one and we’re going to have to do all the work ourselves to maintain the flimsy charade that ‘all is well’. It’s not a very good type of good feeling (i.e. it’s ‘an inferior product’) and we have to work hard for it, which is not the case with the genuine sense of well-being. Furthermore, we are never going to be in a position to be truly honest about anything or truly sincere about anything because if we do start being honest or sincere then we are in danger of bringing the whole house of cards going down around our ears. By the same token, we are always going to have to be superficial in our approach to life because if we aren’t then the chances are that we are going to ‘give the game away’ (which is to say, the chances are that we going to find out that the world isn’t the way we keep saying it is).

 

Without knowing it, we are going to be fighting against truth itself, and because we are ‘fighting against truth itself’ we’re not able to know what that the so-called ‘bad outcome’ which we constantly trying to keep at bay really is. Because we have made truth into ‘the enemy’ we have made ourselves permanently confused: either we will be fighting against the bad outcome unconsciously (and putting all our efforts into ‘positive projects’ of one sort or another) or we will start to have some kind of uncomfortable awareness of an ill-defined ‘ominous possibility’ that is waiting in the wings, a looming spectre which we will feel a tremendous sense of dread about. We won’t be able to know that this ominous outcome (so-called) is actually not ominous at all but something genuinely wholesome and helpful. The truth is of course always wholesome and helpful; whether we realise it or not the truth is always our friend. It doesn’t get us into the terrible mess that lies do! We can’t see that the possibility we are fighting against is actually helpful to us because we are orientated in completely the wrong way; we are ‘orientated in completely the wrong way’ because we have tied our sense of well-being to our ability to spin things in a positive way.

 

All of this stems from this very simple (and apparently quite harmless) trick of taking control of the meaning of things rather than letting that ‘meaning’ emerge all by itself, as it will. Of all the ‘bad habits’ in the world, this habit of slanting the meaning of our situation so that it appears more palatable, more encouraging, less frightening, etc has got to be the worst! As the Pringles ad says “Once you pop you can’t stop’! Once we start this business of ‘positive thinking’ then we can’t stop – it’s a slippery slope just like taking heroin is… We can’t stop with the positive thinking because by thinking positively we have weakened our ability to see the truth for what it is, which makes it all the more likely that we will go down the road of ‘slanting perceptions of reality’ the next time a challenge comes along, which will in turn weaken our ability to bear the truth still further, and so on and so forth. This is a ‘one-way street’, in other words, and it doesn’t go to a good place!

 

It’s not just positive thinking in the classic ‘motivational seminar’ sense that we are talking about here of course – just as long as we are identified with the Mind-Created Sense of Self we are always going to be looking at the world in a ‘positively slanted way’ rather than simply ‘seeing it straight’. The Mind-Created Sense of Self is after all a mere illusion and – as an illusion – it absolutely needs to be looking at the world in a distorted kind of way. It needs to be looking at the world in a biased or distorted way if it is to survive. Illusions always need more illusions, just as lies always call for more lies! Illusions definitely don’t need ‘the truth’, whatever that might prove to be. The more we identify with the illusionary sense of self that is provided for us by the thinking mind the hungrier we become for a ‘favourably distorted view of reality’. The more dependent we become on positive-type illusions to make us feel better then at the same time the more frighteningly vulnerable we become to the ‘unfavourable’ or ‘negative’ type of illusions. Identification with the illusion causes us to become more and more dependent upon ‘flattery’ and more and more reactive towards to ‘insults’, in other words.

 

We might perhaps wonder why it is that the thinking mind provides us with what we calling an ‘illusory’ view or image of ourselves. It might seem unfair to say (as we are saying,)that thought always creates a ‘false picture’ of who we are. The point is however that thought was never ‘meant’ (if we can put it like that) to ‘tell us who we are’. That was never its job. We are using the tool of thought for quite the wrong purpose and if we do this we’re going to get in trouble. Thought as a tool for ‘solving problems in the outside world’, not a tool for ‘telling us who we are’! We can’t know who we are by thinking about ourselves – that is a ridiculous way to go about things. Why on earth would we want to think about ourselves (i.e. look at ourselves from some kind of external or artificial or abstract viewpoint) when we could actually just be ourselves?

 

This is actually this is the very nub of the matter. As Alan Watts says, we can’t objectively ‘know’ ourselves (i.e. we can’t ‘know ourselves as an object of thought’) because in order to do this we would have to step outside of ourselves, we would have to divorce ourselves from the actual truth of our situation, and start playing this game of ‘being what or who the thinking mind says we are’. We can’t ‘see ourselves from the outside’ but what we can do is ‘be ourselves as we actually are’ and ‘ourselves as we actually are’ doesn’t need to buy into illusions in order to feel good. Even expressing things like this is deceptive – ‘ourselves as we actually are’ isn’t any sort of a ‘self’ at all really because ‘who we are’ isn’t ‘an object’, because ‘who we are’ isn’t ‘a thing’. We’d have to jump right out of the world of objects and things to understand this, and we don’t even know that this is possible!

 

Our true nature is consciousness and consciousness is something that exists in an ‘unconditional’ rather than a ‘conditional’ way (which is to say, it exists in a way that has nothing to do with the rules and regulations of the thinking mind). Consciousness is not an object and only objects are subject to the framework of right and wrong, the polarity of positive and negative, that rationality takes for granted. Once we fall into that trap seeing ourselves as objects (or ‘things’) then we obliged to think positively (we are obliged to try to control our situation so that things happen the right way rather than the wrong way). Consciousness (which, as honest self-observation will always show, is our true nature) has absolutely nothing to do with the tiresome and demeaning polarity of ‘right versus wrong’ or ‘positive versus negative’, so why would we ever want to go down that road? Why would we ever wish to bring that curse down on ourselves?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Psychology Of Everyday Life

When we lose ourselves, and don’t know that we have lost ourselves, what happens next? What’s the story then? How does this peculiar situation work itself out? The awareness isn’t there, so we can’t find out what happens through ‘direct appreciation’ of the fact, so to speak, and yet we will still find out one way or another, sooner or later.

 

How could we lose something as big as ‘who we are’ and not miss it? One point that comes up in relation to this question (the first point, perhaps) is that we don’t miss it at all and that this is something which is empirically verifiable with the greatest of ease. All we need to do is take a look around us, or think about all the people we know, and ask ourselves whether they seem to be aware of ‘missing something very important’. Quite the opposite is usually true of course – we go around thinking that ‘we’re all here’, we go around acting as if our assuming basis is ‘the only true and correct one’. We take this very for granted, and our unconsciousness with regard to this assumption is what gives us our (apparent) ‘confidence’ in everyday life!

 

We could say that this is a statement of the basic human predicament: there is something very peculiar going on, but we can’t for the life of us spot it! We are not here at all, and yet we are absolutely convinced that we are. Because there are so very many people all feeling that they are fully and properly themselves (rather than being merely ‘tokenistically themselves’) this creates a type of ‘illusion field’ that is very hard to break out of, or see out of. We can’t believe that there is something crucially important missing from our lives because everyone else is acting as if everything is perfectly OK and ‘as it should be’; we can’t believe that we are suffering from an absence of our genuine being (which is a kind of ‘negative elephant in the living room’) because no one ever talks about it.

 

This ‘illusion field’ makes it extremely unlikely that anyone is ever going to trust themselves if they do start to get the uncomfortable feeling that there is more to them, or more to life, than everyone says there is (or that ‘there is more to being a human being than society tells us that there is.’) This awareness – we might guess – probably happens to people often enough and there are two ways things can go when it does – either we will go around telling everyone about it (in which case we will quite possibly get diagnosed as being classically psychotic and delusional) or we will have the presence of mind not to inform the world and his uncle about what we have just discovered and ‘keep the news to ourselves.’ We will in this case be able to get on our lives without either being diagnosed as having a mental illness, or in any other way being judged as peculiar or abnormal. The biggest possibility of all however is that we will simply just go along with the very limited expectation of what it means to be a human being that we have been provided with. Any awareness that is contrary to this expectation will simply be disregarded as not making any sense, as not being commensurate with the all-important ‘consensus viewpoint’.

 

So – just to recapitulate – we lose ourselves completely and we have no way of recognising that there is anything missing. This is the basic statement of the human predicament. We have fallen into ‘a dark pool of forgetting’, and as far as we’re concerned there is nothing to have forgotten. There is nothing to have forgotten and so we get on with your business of doing whatever it is that we imagine we have to get on with. We get on with the type of life that we would be obliged to get on with if there were no more to us than just what the collective mind defines us as being, or what our own ‘operating system’ (i.e. the OS of the rational/conceptual mind) tells us we are. The awareness of ‘being present as we truly are’ (for want of any better way of putting it) is gone, and instead we have a sense of ourselves that – very oddly – comes from outside of ourselves via some kind of an ‘external all-determining authority’, whether that external authority be ‘the thinking mind’, or ‘the collective/generic mind which we are all a part of’.

 

We could call the ‘amnesiac’ version of ourselves (the version that’s forgotten who it really is) ‘the mundane self, ‘the everyday self’, and we could ask the question again: what ways does the everyday self have of practically encountering or coming across ‘the lack which is itself’? One (perhaps surprising) way to try to answer this question would be to say that the everyday self encounters the ‘limitation-of-being which it suffers from without knowing that it is suffering from anything’ when it experiences irritation, frustration or annoyance. There is a whole range of situations which routinely cause us to ‘lose our sense of humour’ in this banal and ridiculous way. We’re looking for things to be a certain way and things just aren’t that way, and – what’s more – we don’t have any tolerance for things being any other way than the way we want them to be. Who doesn’t know what this feels like? How many times a day does this happen?

 

What we’re talking about here may seem to be very commonplace and therefore not very illuminating for the purposes of furthering any argument that we might be making, but the ‘obviousness’ of the example that we are using blinds us to what its true significance. The point we’re making can be expressed very clearly and concisely – who we really are isn’t petty-minded, judgemental and intolerant like this! We’re operating ‘below ourselves’, in other words; who we really are isn’t in the least bit upset by things (or other people) ‘not being the way we absurdly think they should be’. This is like a litmus test therefore – if we find ourselves to be irritable, petty minded and judgemental about all sorts of nonsense then that shows us beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are ‘not ourselves’; it shows that we have mistakenly identified ourselves with some paltry illusion of ‘who we really are’.

 

P.D. Ouspensky says somewhere that the false self is an engine for producing negative emotions – it generates negativity of one sort or another on an ongoing basis, just as a badly tuned car engine produces black choking smoke. The reason for this (we might add) is that the ‘false self’ has absolutely no strength or flexibility to it. How can a false construct (or paltry semblance) of ourselves have any genuine strength or flexibility, after all? All it can do when it’s under pressure is to produce a terrible grating noise; all it can do when under stress is to emit toxic negativity, and thereby most regrettably pollute the environment around it. What’s more (needless to say!) the false self is almost always going to be under pressure of one sort or another, this being the nature of the world we live in. Things never work out as we would like them to. There will of course be times when everything is ‘going to plan’ and then the false self will be content, and not be bitching or complaining or sulking or creating bad feeling one way or another, but experience shows that these ‘periods of placidity’ are never going to last very long…

 

Carl Jung says something similar when he states that the big danger (or perhaps even the biggest danger) we face in life is when the mask (or persona) that we wear in order to fit the assumptions and expectations of society grows onto us and becomes part of us – a part that we can no longer remove. We no longer even want to remove the mask because we are falling under its hypnotic power and we think that it is who we are. We have become ‘possessed by the persona‘, and it lives our life for us; it lives life on our behalf, so to speak. Now it goes without saying that this mask, this persona, doesn’t have any genuine human qualities. It can mimic them, it can ‘ape’ then, but it can’t actually manifest them. The ‘mask-which-we-take-to-be-ourselves’ cannot be sincere about anything either – how can it ever be ‘sincere’ when it is not a real thing, when it’s not really us? A mask is by definition insincere. In addition to its lack of genuine human qualities’ (which we can hardly blame it for since these are not in its nature) the mask also has the propensity to generate what is generally referred to as ‘negative emotional states’, which all come down to the ‘passing on’ or ‘reallocation’ of mental pain. The mask has to pass on (or displace) mental pain since it has zero capacity within itself to bear that pain; it lacks this capacity because it isn’t a ‘real thing’, because it’s only a gimmick, a show that we putting on.

 

What we have here is therefore a very straightforward way of detecting the absence of our true, ‘uncontrived’ nature – when we react to difficult situations by ‘going into a sulk’ or ‘getting nasty’ or ‘cutting up rough’, etc, then we know that we aren’t living life ‘as we essentially are’ but rather we’re living life ‘as the persona’, ‘as the mask’, ‘as the artificial construct’. Furthermore, when we find ourselves acting violently or aggressively or in a controlling fashion, we can say the same thing – ‘something inside us’ is living a life for us, on our behalf. The mechanical/artificial version of us can only do two things after all – it can either control successfully and be euphoric, or it can be unsuccessful in its controlling and ‘cut up rough’ (i.e. ‘become dysphoric’). Ultimately, both euphoria and dysphoria are ‘toxic states’ since both derive from ‘the false version of ourselves’. Nothing good comes about as a result of putting the false self in charge of everything – everything is bound to go to wrack and ruin. If the false self is in a good mood this is not a good thing!

 

This is, then, the ‘litmus test’ any of us can apply to see whether we have ‘lost ourselves without knowing that we have’. When everything is going smoothly and ‘all is to our liking’ then we will be apparently sweet and good-natured, but when things are no longer going our way then we will immediately ‘show our true colours’, so to speak, and become sour instead of sweet, unpleasant instead of pleasant; we will start passing on pain to other people in order to make them feel bad instead of us, in other words. Either this, or we will ‘internally redirect’ the pain and blame/punish ourselves instead, which is the other ‘mechanical option’ that we have. Either way, we’re not ‘peacefully allowing to pain to be there’ but rather we’re recriminating about it – either we are targeting ourselves or others in a thoroughly non-compassionate (if not wilfully malicious) way.

 

This is of course the basic stuff of everyday life. It’s all part of the terrain, it’s all part and parcel of being a human being. Through being self-aware and taking ‘responsibility for ourselves’ (as we say) we journey in the direction of becoming more truly human, and ‘less of a machine in human guise’. If we don’t cultivate self-awareness, and we don’t take any responsibility for our ‘manifestations of toxicity’ then we journey in the opposite direction. This dual possibility’ is – we might say – what life is all about: either we become less mechanical, or more mechanical in our nature. It’s got to go either one way or the other! If we work consciously with our ‘toxic manifestations’ then they are of great help to us because they point to the absence of our true nature and if on the other hand we make excuses for them (or don’t pay any heed to them at all) then these manifestations send us down ‘the bad road’ – the road that ends up in a situation of very great suffering. Everything depends upon whether we ‘ignore the warning signs’, or ‘don’t ignore them’; the direction we are travelling depends on whether we live consciously or unconsciously, in other words.

 

What we have so far said represents a very straightforward approach to the psychology of everyday life therefore, the only thing being that it’s a negative approach rather than a positive one – it’s negative because rather than attempting to describe or say something about who we are (our ‘true nature’) it’s a description of all the things that come to pass when we are not who we are (or when we forget who we are). Instead of proceeding naïvely, as we do in ‘positive psychology’, and attempting to say something meaningful about our true nature (which we absolutely have no clue about anyway) negative psychology operates purely by looking at what we might call the symptoms of our absence, or the symptoms of our self-forgetting, (which is of course the usual situation). More than ‘the usual situation’, it’s the only situation we know about. We don’t live in a world populated by conscious human beings, after all!

 

Positive psychology is bound to be dismally unfruitful given that it’s based on the description of an idea of our self which has nothing to do with our true nature, but which is merely the mechanical construct that we have mistakenly identified with. It is accurate in one sense however; it’s accurate because the false mechanical semblance of ourselves is the basis upon which we actually operate. It is ‘useless knowledge’ all the same because no matter how well we describe ‘the false mechanical self’ it’s not really going do us any good. It’s a tremendously ‘arid’ knowledge for one thing, and for another thing the better we get at optimising ‘the performance of the false self’ the worst were actually making our situation! Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, we are bound to say that investing all our efforts in furthering positive psychology is something of a grotesque mistake therefore. All we really need to know about the mask is that it is a mask – we’re never going to make it into anything else, no matter how assiduously we work at it…

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Communication

Everything is communication of one sort or another. Or rather, everything is either communication or ‘the fake analogue of communication’ (which we may also refer to as ‘pseudo-communication‘). Pseudo-communication doesn’t mean ‘lies’ or ‘fake news’ so much as the appearance of a two-way interaction going on when actually there is none. Pseudo-communication isn’t a real thing however – its just some kind of ‘collective fantasy’. In genuine communication there is actually something happening; with pseudo-communication however nothing is happening…

 

There is no interaction at all going on in the case of pseudo-communication because ‘interaction’ means that it’s a two-way street – otherwise, what we’re talking about is merely control and control by its very nature only works the one way! Control tells but it doesn’t listen. Control is the antithesis of communication therefore and in this world of ours everything is about control – either of the overt or covert variety. And yet control – ultimately – is an unreal thing. From what we might call ‘a psychological perspective’ (rather than a straightforward ‘mechanical’ one, which is of course purely practical), control is always ‘fear-driven’ and for this reason we can consider it to be a kind of ‘postponement of reality’…

 

In the past ‘the authorities’, the ‘rulers’, saw no need to disguise their power – it was taken as part of the divine order of things that the powerful should rule over the less powerful. No explanation was needed other than this: ‘It is the divine right of rulers to rule‘. Actually, this so-called ‘explanation’ was itself a manifestation of power, a manifestation of ‘effective covert control’. When the population believes that it is the divine right of kings to rule, then the question of challenging their power never arises! It’s no accident that the monarchy and the church were traditionally so closely related, so closely intertwined with each other.

 

The Queen of England, for example, has a particular (and very peculiar) position of authority within the Church of England – this authority in some special circumstances exceeding that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the United States presidents talk a lot about God even though we might quite reasonably wonder what the connection what exactly the connection is between the shady business of power-politics and the divine. A democratically elected president might seem very different from a hereditary monarch, but there is still this implied relationship with God. We could quite reasonably ask what presidents (or the Queen) would know of God, but the answer (of course) has to do with the validation of their rule.

 

Within the last hundred and fifty years or so the idea that one human being should have power over another, for no other reason than the brute fact that they are in a position to assert this power, has become to be seen as completely unacceptable – is apparent in fact. ‘Might’ and ‘right’ are no longer synonymous. In one way this is undoubtedly representative of a huge leap in consciousness – humankind has woken up out of long dark slumber, or it seems. And yet in another way however it might be said that the gains we have collectively made in terms of freedom are more apparent than real. The change is that control is not explicit any more, as has often been pointed out – the wielders of power have simply grown subtler in their approach.  They have upped their game and we have failed to keep up with them. We have allowed ourselves to believe in the false freedoms that they have given us.

 

Everything is communication of one sort or another and communication is just another way of talking about consciousness. Consciousness is our essential nature and our essential nature is to communicate – this comes as naturally as breathing. What passes for communication’ in this modern age of ours is something very different however – it has the appearance of communication but not the nature. We could equally well say that what passes for freedom’ in this world is a pale shadow, a deceptive analogue, of the real thing. We are free to do anything we want just so long as it is within the terms of the game that we have not yet recognised as a game.

 

Similarly with what we like to call ‘communication’ – we are free to communicate about anything we want, just as so long as we do so within the framework of reference that has been supplied for us, without us ever realising that there was any choice in the matter. We talk about the things that we have been given to talk about, in other words. We’re interested in what everyone else is interested in; we follow ‘what’s trending’ and what’s trending is simply what everyone else is passively following. What could be dumber than this? But isn’t not so much the ‘things’ that we are thinking and talking about but the context of meaning within which these things are embedded – the messages that we focus upon are part and parcel of a framework that we don’t focus on and so we’re swallowing something without knowing that we are…

 

The overall point that we’re making here is that if I am thinking within some ‘externally imposed framework of reference’ without realising I am doing so, then I am being controlled without knowing that I am. My way of seeing the world has been decided for me, and what more effective exercise of power could there be than this? ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free,’ as Goethe famously says.  If I as ruler compel you to live within a certain predetermined structure (within a certain format of existence that has been decided by me) then this state of affairs is actually a communication in itself – I am communicating my power to you in no uncertain terms. That’s the message you are getting, loud and clear!  But when I control you (by ‘regulating your reality’ so to speak) in such a way that you never suspect that anything is going on, then in this case I am most definitely not communicating my use of power, which makes my the control of you all the more complete. The ultimate form of control is therefore where I control what things mean (i.e. ‘what is true and what is not true’). This is a type of control that cannot ever be questioned.

 

Within this set-up we imagine ourselves to be freely communicating when we are not. We aren’t freely communicating – as we have already said – because the terms that we have been given to communicate within are not our own. We’re playing someone else’s game. We are operating within the confines of a framework of meaning that has been imposed upon us from the outside without us understanding that we ever had a choice. Given these circumstances (given that we are ‘playing someone else’s game without knowing that we are’) there is of course absolutely no way that we can communicate freely. There is no way that we can be said to be truly communicating because in order to communicate we must first be able to see what is actually going on! Authenticity is needed first, in other words.

 

If we were to look at this in terms of interaction, we could say that there is no possibility of us genuinely interacting either with each other, or with anyone who might be in a position of power or authority over us. There is the appearance of this possibility, but that’s all – there is only the appearance. We are allowed to fool ourselves into thinking that our interactions are genuine and not ‘pre-programmed’. What’s happening is that we’ve been wrong-footed right from the start because we’re not responding from the standpoint of ‘us being autonomous beings’ (which is what we naturally assume ourselves to be) but inauthentic basis of us thinking that we’re autonomous when the truth is that we’re not. We’re actually heteronomous not autonomous – enforced heteronomy is after all ‘the rule’! There is – as we keep on reiterating – absolutely no way that we can be autonomous beings when our entire  way of seeing the world has been supplied to us by some ‘external authority’!

 

The ‘external authority’ that we’re going on about here can be very simply explained by saying it is the very same thing as ‘the game we are playing without knowing that we are’. The ‘external authority is the framework that we live out the course of our lives within without ever paying attention to the fact that it is there and that we are allowing it to decide for us what is real and what is not real. We could also say that ‘the external authority is the structure we adapt to, without ever paying attention the fact that we are adapting to anything’. If we had some understanding of the fact that we are in the position of being adapted to a common structure, adapted to a common system or ‘machine‘, then there would be freedom in this understanding and so we would be able to actually communicate. If we don’t have this understanding (the understanding that our way of seeing the world is only ‘one of infinitely many’ such possibilities) then we never communicate at all – all we’re doing in this case is ‘passing on the propaganda’. We’re passing on the propaganda that we have passively absorbed without realizing that we have! We’re allowing ourselves to be mouthpieces for the system’s ongoing super-virulent output of ‘pseudo-communication’, which isn’t communication at all but merely an exercise in covert control….

 

Art – florentjin hofman: big yellow rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Therapy’ Happens Despite Our Interference, Not Because Of It…

We can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth! This is the most impossible thing in the world. To say that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth (which is equivalent to saying that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in our own true nature) is a statement that has huge consequences for therapy, very obviously, and yet at the same time it’s not something that we have a tendency give much if any thought to.

 

If we force ourselves to see the truth (or try to force ourselves, rather) then what this means is that we don’t want to see (or establish a relationship) with our actual situation, which is revolves around the fact that we aren’t really interested in the truth. Not being interested in the truth is the default situation for all of us, strange as this may seem to the psychologically naive. If we were interested in seeing the truth then we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of trying to compel ourselves to be interested, obviously. The issue of ‘forcing ourselves’ would never arise – nothing that happens naturally needs to be forced!

 

How on earth could we ever force ourselves to be interested in anything? If the interest isn’t there then it isn’t there. If the interest isn’t there then we won’t be interested in the fact that there is no interest there! If the interest isn’t there then whatever we do to try to remedy this situation will only be an act, a façade, a hollow pretence; as soon as we stop putting the effort in then the so-called ‘interest’ is going to stop dead. It’s not a real thing, after all.

 

Coming back to the question of therapy – allowing that they might even be said to be such a thing – it’s clear that the matter – essentially – ‘out of our hands’. We can’t instigate it, we can’t orchestrate it. We can’t ‘manage’ it, much as we’d love to, much as we always talk about doing so… After all – as we have just said – there’s absolutely no way that genuine therapy can ever take place unless we are genuinely interested in the truth of our situation, and – equally – there’s absolutely no way that we can actually cause ourselves to be interested in the truth of our situation if we aren’t to start off with. So where does this leave us?

 

What brings about change is ‘one thing and one thing only’ – what brings about change is our relationship with the truth. If there is no relationship with the truth then there is no possibility of change, obviously enough. Change can never come about in any other way – it certainly can’t come about the sake of convenience’. As a rule, change is never what we might call convenient’! Also as a rule therefore, genuine change comes about despite us, not because of us…

 

So here we have a situation where the only thing that can ever bring about change is a relationship with the truth and – furthermore – as we have just said, this relationship is in no way subject to our will, in no way subject to what we want or don’t want. This is always our situation – there’s no other situation that we could be in, there’s no situation in which we can bring about a relationship with the truth because that happens to be ‘what we want’.

 

As we keep on saying therefore, this has major implications for therapy – all types of formalised therapy involve two things – they involve a blueprint for whatever it is that’s ‘supposed to happen’, followed by an official protocol of ‘how to make that process happen’. This is ‘rational therapy’ in a nutshell – you could walk into just about any psychiatric hospital, any mental health setting in the world, and see this sort of thing happening. This is how healthcare services think change should happen. We think that this is how to ‘do therapy’; we think that therapy should be done ‘on purpose’, in accordance with a formal set of ideas about what is supposed to happen, and why.

 

This isn’t therapy though, it’s just us imposing (or rather trying to impose) our ideas upon ourselves and other people, which is what we always do. That’s what ‘unconscious living’ is all about. We pretty much don’t know what else to do in life – we have the idea (or rather absorb it from someone else) and then we try to impose it, if at all possible, on the world around us. We call this ‘purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour’! Anything else is too ‘passive’ for us; anything else just feels like sitting on the sidelines twiddling our thumbs and watching as life passes us by. This isn’t to say that rational therapies ‘can’t produce any results’, only that the results in question will always be achieved at a price which makes them – in the end – not worth achieving. After all isn’t this always the way when it comes to forcing ourselves (or other human beings) to be the way that we think we/they ought to be? Alan Watts says (somewhere) something to the effect that society works by compelling us to do what we would naturally do anyway, and that – by doing this – it effectively alienates us from our own life. Society plays what is essentially a ‘self-contradictory game’, says Alan Watts.

 

To act rationally is to act with a purpose – this is inevitably the case. We can’t act in any other way when we are acting from the basis of rational thought. This being so, when we try to act so as to establish some sort of relationship with the truth of our situation, then we always have to have some kind of ulterior motive for what it is we are doing (or trying to do). We always have this ‘reason’ or ‘purpose’ that was there before we started trying to reach the position of ‘having established a relationship with the truth’, and so what does this tell us?  It tells us a hell of a lot – it tells us everything we need to know, really. Any reason or purpose or goal that we might have prior to us ‘establishing a relationship to the truth’ is necessarily going to be irrelevant to the truth, irrelevant to the actual reality of our situation…

 

There is (and can be) no reason for us wanting to establish a relationship with the truth, with reality, and this is something that the rational mind can never understand. There can be no logical reason for wanting to do this. It’s only through dropping all reasons, dropping all purposes (i.e. dropping all our theories and beliefs) that we can come face-to-face with the truth of our situation, and we can’t do this on purpose. There are no ‘reasons’ for letting go – letting go isn’t something that can be orchestrated by the thinking mind for its own convenience. If we do have a ‘reason’ for wanting to let go then we are ‘holding on’ to this reason, and this is a contradiction that we are never going to get beyond.

 

We can only establish a relationship with the truth of our situation we give up all hope of being able to orchestrate things for our own convenience. Another way of putting all of the above would be to say what actually helps is to work with the process that is already going on (which is not a process that has been created by the busy-body rational mind) rather than trying to instigate and manage the type of change that we want to see happening. Working with the process or processes that are already going on in the psyche is another way of talking about the natural, spontaneous process of healing, or ‘becoming whole’. This type of approach sounds hopelessly wishy-washy to anyone coming from a rational-intellectual platform but – when it comes right down to it – working with impulses that are genuinely our own, impulses that are spontaneous rather than directed is the only real thing that we can do.  Anything else is fantasy, anything else is make-believe, and what’s so ‘hard-headed’ or ‘pragmatic’ about that?

 

Ultimately, what we’re afraid of is ‘relinquishing control’ and it just so happens that mental health (or Wholeness) can never be attained via some sort of dextrous and resourceful controlling, despite what we might like to think! Not only that, but attempting in any way to control the process that is going on not only fails to have any helpful effect, it is actually the very opposite of helpful. Spontaneous processes are thoroughly jinxed when we try to ‘help them along’. Mental health can’t be a goal. I can’t make myself forgive you if I am holding something against you, and if I try to ‘make this happen’ then I’m actually putting the process into reverse; all that’s going to happen is that – deep down – I’m going to resent you all the more! The same is of course true for patience – if I try to force patience then all that happens is that I start to get impatient with my own lack of patience, so I am actually  – though my efforts – becoming less patient than ever! If I persist long enough with this nonsense I will eventually become extremely frustrated and angry….

 

We can work with what’s there, but we can’t work with what’s not there. We can’t impose our ideas of ‘how things should be’ on the situation, in order words, and if we try to then we’ll just make things worse for ourselves. We’ll dig ourselves into a deeper hole. What this comes down to is simply ‘working with the truth of our situation’, and no matter what our situation might be, there’s always truth to it, and this means that there’s always somewhere that we can start working. Our actual situation is that we are – in all probability – interfering with the natural process of becoming whole again, so rather than trying to fight against it we ourselves to relate to the truth of what’s going on here, and this is a far more genuine type of work than the so-called ‘work’ of trying to fix ourselves…

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is a ‘counterintuitive’ kind of thing, which is to say, it isn’t at all what we think it is. Mental health definitely isn’t ‘what we think it is’ because anything we think is bound to be ‘just another idea’ and mental health (or well-being) is not an idea! The intellectual approach to ‘wellness’ is always going to miss the point; it’s always going to be looking in the wrong direction.

 

This isn’t the easiest point to make because we always assume that our thoughts correspond to something real, which of course validates them and gives us reason to ‘take them seriously’. We can’t legitimately assume this in the case of mental health however. We can’t assume that our idea of mental health has any correspondence with the actual thing itself because mental health can be best described as ‘that state in which we are not being controlled or regulated by our own thoughts.’ This is a ‘negative definition’ – it’s not saying what the state of wellness or well-being is, it’s saying what it absolutely isn’t.

 

This is a somewhat subtle idea – it’s a ‘subtle’ idea because if we don’t know that we are being controlled (or determined) by our thoughts in the first place then of course we aren’t going to see mental health in the way that we have just described. We’re not going to see it as the state of being free from the controlling influence of our thoughts. The truth is however – as quantum physicist David Bohm says in his book Thought as a System – that thought controls everything about us –

But you don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.

We have unwittingly given thought the job of ‘telling us what is real and what is not real’ and so of course it’s going to ‘control everything about us’! How could it not? What freedom do we have left to us then? When an agency exists which tells us what is real or not, then this is the ultimate form of control…

 

The state of being in which we ‘automatically believe everything our thoughts tell us’ isn’t a healthy state at all, and yet this is the situation almost all of us are in. We would see that this is our situation straightaway if we actually took the trouble to look into it – our strings are being jerked this way and that by thought every minute (if not every second) of the day! ‘Don’t believe everything you think!’, as the internet meme says. But unless we have at least a bit of insight into the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts we won’t understand this at all. Our default setting – as we have said – is to automatically believe everything we think! When it comes down to it, we believe (or assume) that we actually are our thoughts, as Eckhart Tolle says. We don’t ‘separate ourselves from our thinking’ at all! Our thinking is at the very core of us, and it doesn’t actually belong in this position.

 

Our ‘relationship’ with the thinking mind is quite simply therefore that ‘it controls us’. The relationship here is that of the slave to the master and we are the slaves! We are all enslaved by the rational mind and yet no one you meet will believe this. There are times however when the truth of this statement becomes starkly obvious to anybody – when we are suffering from OCD for example this becomes very clear indeed. In this case whatever the thinking mind tells us to do we do, no matter how nonsensical or painfully time-consuming this is. We just can’t disobey it, as anyone who has ever suffered from OCD will be happy to tell you! The thinking mind is – at root – a machine and when it controls us we become a machine as well. This is probably most clear in the case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but it is also more or less obvious in all the neurotic conditions. Neurosis is the pain of being a machine.

 

It goes without saying that it’s not a good thing to be ruled by the machine which is the thinking mind and – as a consequence – become rigid and mechanical ourselves. It doesn’t feel good to be at a machine! It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, by any means. The more rigid and mechanical we become in our interactions with the world the more suffering we incur, and there is no limit to how much suffering we can incur. Neurotic suffering goes on and on forever and as long as we are identified with thought this is all we have to look forward to, so to speak. If we want to know what’s on the menu, it’s neurotic suffering…

 

Saying all this does throw light on what mental health is however. If the situation where thought is the master and I am the slave is mentally unhealthy (because it constantly pits me against myself and – as a consequence – generates unending unnecessary suffering) then the situation where the thinking mind doesn’t control or define my reality must be the mentally healthy situation. I’m not going to be put into a narrow little box the whole time then; I’m not going to be ‘suffering for its benefit’. The thinking mind is a tool, after all, and a tool is only useful when it is being used wisely. In the meditation traditions it is often said that thought is like fire in this respect – it makes a very good servant but an appallingly bad master! When the fire stays where we want it stay (in the fireplace or stove, for example) then it is of great use to us; when however it jumps out of the fireplace and takes root in the house we’re living in, in the curtains or in the furniture in the living room, then it becomes the most terrible tyrant imaginable. It’s not going to give us a break.

 

The same is manifestly true of thinking – when we have a problem that needs to be solved then thinking is the right man for the job, but when the thinking gets out of hand and starts telling us who we are and what we should be doing in the world and ‘what life is all about’ then it has become the very opposite of useful! What sort of situation is it anyway when the tool starts defining and controlling the so-called ‘user of the tool’ and creating all the parameters of his or her existence? This is called ‘being a prisoner of one’s own device,’ or ‘being hoisted by one’s own petard’. This situation might also be spoken of in terms of ‘booking into the Hotel California’, which – as we all know – is something that is very easy to do but very far from easy to undo…

 

Mental health – we might therefore say – is when we do begin to separate ourselves from our thoughts. It is the situation where we aren’t being constantly defined by the operational limitations of the mechanism of thought. We don’t have to ‘get rid’ of our unwanted thoughts or attempt to ‘control’ them or anything like that; there’s no ‘control’ involved, only awareness, which is incomparably more powerful. Only thought controls; only thought wants to control! What else does ‘control’ mean other than trying to get ourselves and the world to accord with our ideas, our mental pictures of ‘how things should be’? Through awareness we see that we are not our thinking (we see that ‘we are not our mind,’ as Eckhart Tolle puts it) and the separation then takes place all by itself. Thought doesn’t have to make it happen – thought CAN’T make it happen. Thought CAN’T free us from itself! ‘To see illusion is to depart from it,’ says the Buddha in The Sutra Of Complete Enlightenment.

 

The big problem that we have in understanding mental health – both collectively and individually – is that we think it is something that can be achieved via exercising the thinking mind, as if there is some kind of clever trick that thought can pull off for us. We’re asking our jailor for help in getting out of the prison! We want to hand over even more responsibility to the runaway train of the rational mind. “Please Mr Thought,’ we’re asking, “can you wave your magic wand over us and free us from the terrible affliction of our neurosis?” This belief, needless to say, simply exacerbates and prolongs our suffering – the runaway thinking mind is the cause of our troubles, not the cure! Putting on our white coats and becoming all ‘professional’ and ‘clinical’ about neurotic suffering, and attempting to treat it within the sterile confines of a psychiatric hospital, as if it were something we can ‘cut out’ of ourselves using the sharp instrument of rationality, is a prime manifestation of the underlying glitch, not the solution to it…