Consciousness And The Thinking Mind

The difference between consciousness and the thinking mind is that in consciousness there is no resistance to ‘what is’, whilst the thinking mind is nothing but resistance.


It’s worth pointing out this difference because no one ever does. There is a world of difference between consciousness and the thinking mind and yet most of us would probably say that they’re close enough, perhaps even ‘two ways of talking about the same thing’. The chances are that we haven’t looked into it too much, but nevertheless we would probably be happy enough to conflate the two.


The difference we talking about here isn’t academic, it’s profoundly significant (in the most practical way possible) – it is practically significant because there are two roads that we can go down in life – one is where we identify with the thinking mind and assume that ‘this is who we are’, whilst the other is where we very slowly and painfully become aware of our essential independence from thought, and realise that it and its activities have nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are!


The first road we could call ‘the path of becoming completely deluded’, whilst the second road – we might say – is ‘the journey of discovering our true nature’. One road is a dead end, the other isn’t! The first process that we have mentioned, the process of identifying with thought, is the ‘default’ for way for things to go – if we just go along with all our psychological biases, and fit in unquestioningly with everyone else around us (who are also going along with their biases and fitting in with society unquestioningly,) then we will end up with no way of knowing, or even suspecting, that our true nature is not what thought tells it us it is.


If on the other hand we do question the way things are, the way our biases operate and the way society works, then inevitably a type of dissonance will arise. Something about the set up will fail to ring true. The external appearance of things begins to look deceptive, the official narrative no longer convinces; there is in other words conflict between ‘the way things are said to be’ and ‘the way we ourselves perceive them to be’. We have learned that the appearance of things, which is what the thinking mind provides us with, actually conceals the true nature of things. A highly complex and subtle view of the world arises, in place of the simplistic black-and-white picture that thought paints for us.


Thought shows us the definite picture of things, it provides us with ‘the definitive story’ – the story we can’t look beyond. Thought provides us with the ‘final word’ on the matter. In some ways this can be a good thing – there are times when we want to know what the black-and-white conclusive answer. Should I run or not run? Was the snake that bit me poisonous or not? Are the traffic lights red or green? It is the nature of the world that we live in that definite answers are sometimes needed, and the proper role of the thinking mind is to help us out in these cases. Where things go wrong is when everything has to have a black-and-white answer, a definitive unquestionable resolution one way or another.


For thought to work as a tool which has a specific applicability in certain situations is one thing, for it to have the job of ‘resolving reality itself’, or ‘putting a final judgement on what reality is’ (or on ‘who we are’) is another thing altogether. When thought acts as a tool this is useful; when it tells us, in its literal fashion, what reality is and what life is all about then this is the very opposite of useful! When the thinking mind tells us what reality is, or who we are, then it is doing something way beyond the limits of what it is capable of doing. It’s actually not telling us anything in this case; it’s preventing us from knowing about something – it’s preventing us from knowing what’s really true. When thought goes beyond its proper role as a tool it inevitably ends up deceiving us, in other words.


Thought isn’t a philosophical kind of a thing – it can’t relate us to the bigger picture. It’s a ‘blunt instrument’. Only consciousness can relate us to the bigger picture; consciousness can do this because it doesn’t resist anything, because it doesn’t impose its ideas or assumptions on anything. Thought, on the other hand, can’t do anything other than ‘project’ – it projects its assumptions, it projects its assumed framework out onto the world and then it relates everything it encounters to this assumed context, producing in this way a ‘digital universe’ made up of definite yes and no facts.


What we ‘see’ when we see the world through the thinking mind is nothing more than our own assumptions reflected back at us therefore. We don’t recognise this world is being made up of our assumptions however – we believe ourselves to be relating to something that’s really there, something that exists independently in out there in reality. We hold up a measuring stick and wave it at the world and we end up with the world that is made up of nothing more than our own measurements, our own concepts; we end up with a world that is nothing more than a reflection of our own instrument, our own ‘device.’ This ‘reflection of the thinking mind’ is the world of facts and figures. The instrument of thought remakes the world in its own image because that’s all it knows how to do. What else could it do? Thought remakes us in its own image – it tells us who we are, just as the group-mind known as society (which as David Bohm says is simply the externalization of thought) tells us who we are.


This is a curious thing because we don’t know what ‘our basic assumptions’ are in the first place in producing this ‘so-called reality’ – we don’t know what our assumptions are and we also don’t know that we have even made any. We are completely naïve’ in this regard. Living in a pseudo-reality that is a reflection of our own unconscious assumptions is a very frightening thing to consider – it’s actually a totally terrifying thing! Do we have the wit to be afraid of it however? One has to be wise to fear Samsara, as the great Tibetan Sage Milarepa says, but wisdom never came out of the thinking mind. Only dry measurements, only ‘facts and figures’ ever came out of the thinking mind.


So here we have the difference between the thinking mind and consciousness in a nutshell. The thinking mind – as we started out by saying – operates on the basis of resistance. ‘Resistance’ means that it imposes its own special form of order upon the world. It imposes its own ‘patented form of order’ on the world without ever acknowledging that this is what it is doing! Basically, thought puts everything into boxes – boxes that don’t actually exist but which we assume to. This is how thought works and this is how thought is supposed to work; as we keep saying, there’s no other way in which it could work! Consciousness, on the other hand, – resists nothing. It has no agenda, in other words – it has no theory that it wishes to project out onto the world. It has no axe to grind. It comes with no game-plan. It has no expectations, no biases. It wouldn’t rather see one thing as ‘being true’ than another. Whatever is there, it will see it. In this consciousness is like water – as Bruce Lee says,

If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Water doesn’t decide what reality should be, it just honestly and faithfully accommodates whatever is there, with no distortion. It doesn’t make things be what it thinks they should be! Just as water (or consciousness) is formless in its nature, so too is the essence of reality itself, according to Laotse:

There is some­thing blurred and in­dis­tinct
An­te­dat­ing Heaven and Earth.
How In­dis­tinct! How Blurred!
Yet within it are forms.
How dim! How con­fused!
Quiet, though ever func­tion­ing.
It does noth­ing, yet through it all things are done.
To its ac­com­plish­ment it lays no credit.
It loves and nour­ishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao. 

From our rationale/Western POV being able to ‘say what things are’, in a definitive way, sounds splendid. It sounds like a great achievement to be able to do this; it actually sounds like the ultimate achievement. That’s just the thinking mind imposing its own brand of order on the world however – it is aggression pure and simple! It’s only ‘control’, which is not a very subtle or interesting type of thing. Consciousness, on the other hand, doesn’t mind what is said to be or what is said not to be – it’s equally clear equally at home both ways, just as it is equally at home with nothing at all being said on the matter! As Richard Bach says, ‘reality is divinely indifferent’; reality is divinely indifferent to our games and we can say the same thing about consciousness – consciousness is divinely indifferent to our assertions. It’s unbiased, it’s not invested in the game.


We assume that reality has to be something positive – which is to say, something stated, something defined. This is utterly ridiculous though – it’s like saying that space has to be something defined, or that the ocean is something that has a specific shape. The whole point about space is that it isn’t defined. If water had a specific shape then it couldn’t be water. The ocean can facilitate any type of wave going, but that doesn’t mean that it is a wave! Reality isn’t a positive kind of the thing, but rather it is negative – it can facilitate any form, any shape, but it isn’t a form, it isn’t a shape. It has no features, no characteristics, as it can give rise to all features, all characteristics. It comes with no beliefs, but it gives rise to all beliefs.


We can see therefore that whilst the thinking mind is – or can be – a very useful tool, it has no parity with consciousness, no equivalence with consciousness. When it is granted the position of  ‘supreme arbiter of what is real and not real’ then thought ceases to be a useful tool and becomes instead a cruel, heartless tyrant. It becomes a disaster, it becomes a catastrophe. It becomes a calamity beyond compare. This is an old, old idea and there are many variations on it. We might for example think of the motif of the ‘false steward’ – who is supposed to rule justly on behalf of the true King, when the true King is for whatever reason unavailable to rule. Greedy for power and a glory that does not belong to him, the false steward abuses his role, and perverts its function. We can think of the sheriff of Nottingham, and his brutal, tyrannical behaviour whilst Richard the Lionheart, the true King, is away fighting on the Crusades. The sheriff of Nottingham claims to be working as a humble steward, on behalf of a Greater Power, but really – as we all know – he’s working for himself.


The overvalued rational mind is the sheriff of Nottingham! Instead of being impartial, free of all bias, he is bias personified! The thinking mind pays lip-service to the truth but cares nothing for it – it is only interested in its own ways of organizing or classifying reality. Another example of the principle of ‘the powerful servant who turns against us’ is the type of story where a Demon or Jinn is summoned by the inexperienced apprentice and cannot be banished again once. The Master Sorcerer can send the Jinn back in a trice, but the poor apprentice cannot, and all hell breaks loose. The overvalued rational mind is that Jinn, is that Demon, whilst the Master Sorcerer himself is nowhere to be found. We are all ‘the poor apprentices’!


As a result of our foolishness in releasing the powerful Genie out of his bottle pestilence and war have broken out throughout the land and we are powerless to do anything about it. We so intoxicated by the power of thinking that we cannot even see what the problem is! A calamity has descended upon the world and we haven’t the faintest idea what to do. And the root cause of all this trouble – we might say – is simply that we don’t understand the difference between consciousness and the thinking mind.








Making Thought Our Master

When we fall into the Realm of Form (or ‘the Realm of Definite Things’) we fall into a world of neurotic suffering – we fall into a world of neurotic suffering because everything becomes about maintaining and preserving boundaries, and yet the boundaries we feel we have to maintain and preserve aren’t actually real. They’re just a projection of the thinking mind – that’s what the TM does, it projects boundaries! To be completely preoccupied with the need to protect boundaries that aren’t real is the very essence of neurosis.


This combination of the two things – [1] the experienced need to maintain certain boundaries no matter what and [2] their actual nonexistence – is what produces neurotic suffering, and this suffering can never cease until we see through the illusionary boundaries that we are so very concerned with, and no longer experience the absolute need to hang onto them at whatever cost.


Boundaries are produced by the thinking mind, as we have just said, and the thinking mind acts as our ‘infallible guide all things’. It’s ‘infallible’ because we cannot doubt it. The thinking mind is infallible within its own remit, within the terms of the game it is playing, but outside of this remit, outside of this game, it has nothing to say. The problem is that the thinking mind has no way of knowing that there is any world outside of ‘the world of boundaries’ that it itself has made, and because we are dependent upon it as we are, the ‘ignorance’ of the thinking mind is also our ignorance.


Our ‘problem,’ therefore, is that we can’t see beyond the everyday thinking mind; we can’t see beyond the thinking mind because the thinking mind is functionally incapable of knowing about any other sort of reality other than the one it itself assumes, and we don’t know anything about reality other than the one that the thinking mind tells us about it. To say therefore that it is important to understand this point, to have this awareness about the limitation of thought and how thought works, is putting it mildly! Everything hangs on this. There are two sorts of life we could lead, depending upon whether we see that ‘we don’t know anything other than what thought shows us’, or whether we don’t see it. We can consider both of these possibilities in turn.


The second possibility is the easiest to describe – when we don’t have this awareness that ‘we don’t know any world other than the world that thought shows us’ then we will of course live entirely within the world that thought makes. That’s the only place we can live, obviously! This world corresponds to ‘the Realm of Form’ (or ‘the Realm of Definite Things’) that we started off talking about’; it is as we have said a world that is made up entirely of boundaries. Our total preoccupation is with what lies within the mind-created boundaries (i.e. with what thought says is real); as far as anything else goes, we couldn’t care less – we ‘don’t care and we don’t care that we don’t care’. We’re ‘not interested and we’re not interested in the fact that we’re not interested’. Another way of talking about this is to say that the world thought creates for us is always a concrete (or ‘literal’) one.


It’s rare to experience the world in a completely literal way – our awareness is never (or almost never) contained wholly within the thinking mind’s compartments; there’s always a bit of’ undefined (or ‘unformatted’) consciousness leftover to ‘humanise’ us. This unformatted consciousness allows us to live in a somewhat ‘softened’ world, a world with a bit of actual depth to it. It is this ‘depth’ or ‘non-literality’ that makes the world liveable – otherwise it’s very hard, very unforgiving, and that makes us hard and unforgiving too. We reflect the environment that we perceive, and this environment reflects our way of seeing it. The world is seen to be made up of ‘definite things’ and thus we are a ‘definite thing’ too, just like everything else. We’re a ‘thing in a world of things’, as Colin Wilson puts it…


How concrete or defined the world we relate to is varies according to our emotional state, or – as we could also say – it varies according to how dominated we are by the greed or fear. When we free from the ‘decomplexifying emotions,’ free (to some extent) from attachment of one form or another then we soften, we naturally become marvellously conscious, rather than appallingly ‘thing-like’ or ‘machine-like’. There is no need to speculate or argue about which of these two options feels better or ‘more wholesome’! Is it better to feel like a human being, or some kind of highly strung, utterly humourless ‘reaction machine’, careering blindly from one collision to another? This is clearly one of those questions that answers itself!


Thinking about things in this way allows us to get a better feel for what it would be like to live in ‘the literal–concrete world’. A completely concrete world is a world without any space in it – ‘reactions’ happen in it (like billiard balls colliding on a billiard table) but there no possibility of actually being there is present in any genuine way. ‘Automatically reacting’ is not the same as ‘being present’! The thing about’ literal signifiers’ (which is what the concrete world is made up of) is that every signifier we come across is like an arrow that points somewhere else – ‘the buck doesn’t actually stop anywhere’, in other words. The reason for this is what we might call the inherent poverty of all literal meanings – once we ‘get’ the literal meaning in question then we have to move on to something else. We have to move onto something else because there is nothing else there to get. The whole point of literal meaning is that there is ‘nothing else there to get’!


The real world isn’t like this however – the real world isn’t like this because it isn’t made up of literal meanings! The real world has got actual ‘content’ to it (which is why we call it ‘real world’). Content is never concrete – ‘concrete’ means that everything we come across comes neatly wrapped up in regular size parcels; reality itself doesn’t actually come in parcels however. There is no one there in the sorting office, wrapping stuff up, allotting meanings ‘according to the book’. There’s no bureaucracy in reality, no ‘organiser’. A good way to explain this is in terms of the ‘holographic principle’, which Anaxagoras talked about over 2500 years ago when he said that ‘there is a little bit of everything in everything’. There isn’t ‘a little bit of everything in everything’ when everything has been all neatly packaged up by the thinking mind – there’s no ‘holographic principle’ at work in the sterile categories of the thinking mind – that would totally defeat the entire object of the exercise, after all.


When we ‘organise things’ then the whole point is that there isn’t ‘a little bit of everything and everything – we are of course moving in exactly the opposite direction from this. But at the same time the fact that there isn’t any HP at work also means that there is no reality in our mental categories either – that’s how reality gets to be reality after all, by the holographic principle. Reality (we could say) gets to be reality by being ‘undivided’, by ‘not excluding’ anything, by not ‘following rules’. As soon as we start dividing things up, excluding things, following rules, then we depart from reality. We depart from reality and become impoverished, even though we won’t know it because we will be far too bamboozled by all the literal meanings flying around. We will be far too busy bouncing off the walls of our concrete world, in other words…


The inherent poverty of content of the rational-conceptual mind means that we can never actually be present – we can never actually be present because there’s nothing there to be present with! Things are different in the real (i.e. ‘non-abstract’) world; things are different because there is content. Content means that things aren’t ‘what they appear to be’ (which is one of Heraclitus’s principles.) Things don’t just stay as ‘what they appear to be’ (or ‘what they are nominally defined as being’) – there just isn’t that type of ‘static organisation’ to the real world. There isn’t any rational mind behind it all; there is no ‘overarching bureaucracy’! The lack of bureaucracy means ‘no impoverishment’, it means that we’re not forever living in a film set made up entirely of glossy façades; as we have said, there is actual real honest-to-goodness substance to the world.


We can be present in the real world because there is something to be present with, therefore. But it’s not just that we can be present in the real world (because there is actual content in it), there’s also actual content in us! We’re real too. It’s not just the case that the world around us isn’t made up of mere two-dimensional ‘conceptual furniture’, neither are we. There is a possibility being present ‘as we really are’, rather than being present in a purely abstract or nominal sense, rather than being present as mere ‘things’ in the thing-like universe. When we are mere ‘things in the thing-like universe’ then we are (as we have said) forever bouncing from one literal meaning to another. It’s rather like being a ball in an old-fashioned pinball machine being batted crazily from one place to another, with our eye always on the big jackpot, only the thing about the concrete world (unlike the real pinball game) is that they never actually is going to be a jackpot. How could there be a jackpot when literal meanings are by their very nature inherently impoverished? What exactly do we expect that the literal realm is going to provide us with, other than yet more empty promises and threats?


This is the key thing to understand about the literal world – when you’re in it there’s nowhere to go, and yet at the same time everything in this world is about going there! We have to do it, and yet we CAN’T do it! This is simply ‘pointless pressure’ therefore, and this gives us another way of looking at ‘life in the literal world’ – we can say that life in the literal world always involves being under the pressure to do something that just can’t be done. It’s a ‘double-bind’ in other words. A good way to explain what this ‘impossible thing’ is that we’re trying to do is to say that ‘we’re trying to find reality in a place where there isn’t any’. Reality can’t be found in the non-holographic universe – we are under the illusion (and it’s an extremely compelling illusion) that by breaking everything up into categories (or compartments) we can eventually find the ultimate prize, which is ‘reality’. It will be lurking there one of our compartments, so to speak! This is of course just another way of saying that we believe that the ‘infallible guide’ which is the thinking mind will one day ‘bring us to the Promised Land’. We are working away, working away, working away, with feverish industry and fanatical determination, towards this end.


Reductive analysis won’t bring us to reality however, only synthesis can do this and synthesis isn’t under the remit of the rational intellect! The thinking mind can take things apart, but it can’t put them back together again. Reality is of course already there; it was already there before we start trying to find it, before we started trying to ‘isolate’ it. Reality is in the Undivided world, the Uncategorised world, and that’s the world that is around us all the time, before we start trying to exploit it, or ‘mine it for goodies’. As Gottfried Leibniz (1670) says –

Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.

In this, the ‘non-conceptual world’, everything already contains everything else, just as Anaxagoras says. Everything – and everyone – reveals itself or themselves to be ‘the Whole’, when we pay enough attention. Why then would we have to go devoting our lives looking for ‘the special thing’, and walking all over everyone else as we do so? Why the rabid competitiveness? Why then are we so keen to hand over responsibility for our lives to the machine which is the ‘thinking mind’, and make it our master in all things?









Demonic Literalism

To be certain of oneself and one’s place in the world is the greatest of all calamities and it is all the greater for being entirely invisible to us. We carry a huge weight of certainty around with us and yet never think anything of it. We never think anything of it because we never notice it.


We consider it normal and correct for us to be certain of ourselves and the world – we are brought up that way, it’s in our culture. It’s in most cultures. Being certain of ourselves and our place in the world is actually seen as a good or healthy thing – it’s seen as being the same thing as ‘being confident’. It’s seen as ‘something to aim for’, something to strive for as best we can. And yet it is the greatest of all calamities – second to none.


Being certain of ourselves and the world is a calamity because it means we will never see the truth. We will never see the truth because the truth doesn’t come in the form of mind-created certainties. What can be worse could be worse than never seeing the truth? To be certain that we are right in our views is to be certain that all other ways of looking at the world are wrong and this guarantees that we will have no relationship with reality. Our certainty about the world has ‘severed our connection’ with reality; certainty always servers our connection with reality, no matter what it is that we are certain of.


As we have said, being certain of ourselves and the world is normal; it’s how we are – that’s our modality of existence. There is a definite description of things and we just slot straight into this description. We are part of that description. It seems so natural to us that this should be the way that things are that we never think anything of it. It’s not just that we ‘never think anything of it’ but rather that we don’t in any way see it, or have the capacity to see it – conditioning can’t see itself, after all. When we operate entirely on the basis of the definite description that we have slotted ourselves into then there is none of our awareness ‘left over’ to see that we are ‘operating on the basis of the description’. This is where the certainty that we are talking about comes in – certainty arises as a result of us being unconscious of the fact that the description we believe in only is a description. Were we to see that our model of reality is ‘only a model’, our theory only a theory, then all traces of certainty would of course fly right out of the window.


We have therefore arrived at a useful way of approaching this whole notion of ‘mind-created certainty’ – certainty, we might say, is the by-product of this business of ‘confusing the description with the thing that has been described’. When we forget that our description is only is a description, and nothing more, then the result is this state of being in which we are ridiculously certain about things. Reality itself never provides us with certainty about anything – is not in the business of providing us with certainty! It’s not in that business at all…


This mental state of being ‘certain about things’ isn’t in the least bit synonymous with ‘good mental health’, even if we do tend to indirectly assume that it is. It’s actually more of a blight or affliction than anything else – it’s a dark cloud blotting out the light of the sun. In order to see this for ourselves all we have to do is observe someone we know who becomes – momentarily – more certain about things than they usually are. This happens to everyone on a regular basis; one example being when we find ourselves expressing a viewpoint or an opinion that we very much believe in. If we could see ourselves at such a time (which obviously we can’t) then what we would see would be rather shocking – to be in the grip of a strong opinion or belief as to have one’s humanity replaced by ‘something else’, something that isn’t actually human.


There is a horror in this – there is a horror in seeing another human being falling into the state of being possessed by an opinion or a belief because the nature of ‘conviction’ (in all of its forms) is without any doubt completely and implacably opposed to our essential humanity. When we are ourselves in the grip of a strong opinion or belief then, as we have said, we don’t at all see this antithetical mismatch between our own essential nature and the nature of this inhuman mechanical ‘conviction’ that has somehow possessed us – far from being appalled or horrified at what has happened to us we experience intense pleasurable identification, an identification which will express itself either in the form of huge gratification if someone agrees with us, or equally huge displeasure or rage if we come across someone who does not agree with us. A belief is a bias and biases only work in these two ways – it’s always either YES or NO, PLEASURE and PAIN…


What the belief does for us is to provide us with a very strong sense of who we are, and this ‘strong sense of identity’ is (in the initial phase, anyway) profoundly euphoric. Having a very strong or definite sense of ‘who we are’ is the source of all euphoria, without exception. What’s going on here therefore is at the belief, at the same time as engendering an intense feeling of certainty about some viewpoint that we hold regarding the outside world, also creates an equally intense feeling of certainty with regard to ‘the one who is holding the belief’. The hidden agenda of allowing oneself to be gripped in this way by some sort of ‘unreasonable conviction’ (and all convictions or beliefs are unreasonable) is that we get to create a strong (if entirely erroneous) sense of who we are.


This, then, is why we don’t notice ourselves being ‘possessed by something inhuman’ – we are too hungry for the addictive euphoria that comes with having a definite sense of identity. We’re simply not interested in anything else. We aren’t looking at the process that’s going on at all; we’re just buying into it as fast as we can. We buy into it wholesale. If you don’t happen to subscribe to the very same belief or conviction that I do, then you will spot me being possessed, even though you will probably not understand the process that’s going on in these terms. You will have an intuitive understanding of what is happening to me, without having to put a name on it, and make ‘allowances for me’. We all manifest this peculiar type of insanity from time to time, after all. What also happens however is that the conviction or belief becomes ‘contagious’, and in fact a lot of people at the same time. Whole communities can become infected, as we all know very well – ideas (or ‘memes’) spread like the plague. Jung of course spoke about this sort of thing, which he referred to as a type of ‘psychic epidemic’ that can affect whole nations.


On a less obviously ‘pathological’ level we can say that when lots of people share the same belief-structure then this forms the basis for cultures, communities, societies. The same principle remains true however – we achieve ‘community’ at the price of part of our essential humanity (hopefully not too big a part, although it can be). This isn’t the kind of thing we like to go around saying too loudly of course, but anyone with any psychological insight at all knows it to be true. There is no such thing as a healthy ‘group mentality’ any more than there is such thing as ‘healthy group-think’, and this is counterintuitive inasmuch as we generally consider being part of a group as actually being a good thing. There’s also this notion of ‘the therapeutic group’ – which is actually a contradiction in terms, when it comes right down to it! Groups demand the surrender of individuality and he only ‘healthy’ way to live life is as an individual; all groups deny our essential humanity to some degree or other – loose affiliations to a lesser extent, rigid, intolerant, high-conformity groups to a much higher extent. Again, we all know this on some level or other; we just don’t like to admit it to ourselves.


In order to be part of the group, a collective (i.e. ‘a participant in the consensus reality’) we need to carry this weight of certainty around with us because – as we have said – it is the ‘shared certainty’ that creates the collective. And yet at the same time (as we have also said) we have made blind to it by the process of adaptation (we have become incapable of knowing that we have taken on this burden) and the reason for this blindness is the nature of certainty itself. Certainty is the type of thing one can’t see beyond, obviously! We are carrying ‘the oppressive burden of certainty’ and the reason we are putting it in these terms is because to be certain is to be ‘shut down’ and to be ‘shut down’ is to suffer. We closed-off to our own true nature (which is rather like being dead!) but rather than perceiving this phenomenon for what it is – which is the pain of not-being – we see it as good thing, we see it as a source of support and security, and so on. We function on the basis of this certainty – we couldn’t carry on in the particular way that we live life for more than a few moments without the fixed basis that we operate from, even though that ‘fixed basis’ isn’t actually any sort of real thing at all.  Our basis (the conventions that we have agreed upon) may not be real, but we need to believe that it is – the challenge of having to live without the framework or matrix we work within would be so great as to be utterly unthinkable to us. What we talking about here is ‘ontological insecurity’ (or ‘fear of the unknown’) and it is this Great Fear that our manufactured certainty acts as a remedy for…


There are two aspects to this ‘manufactured uncertainty’ – one aspect, we might say, is the world that we have adapted ourselves to – which is a literal kind of thing (i.e. it doesn’t represent itself to us in terms of poetical, allegorical, or metaphorical meanings, but in terms of unambiguous black-and-white rules) and the other aspect is the fixed or definite idea that we have about ourselves, which presents itself to us in a similarly ‘literal or non-poetical’ way. The very suggestion that ‘who we understand ourselves to be’ would not be a ‘literal’ kind of thing will inevitably sound bizarre and somewhat crazy to us. Poetry, myth or metaphor is fine in its place, we might say, but there can be no time for such arty-farty fripperies when dealing with the real world; similarly, allegorical  language is no good when dealing important stuff such as the question of ‘who we actually are’. Poetry is okay in its place, we say, but the world we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is not a poetical type of thing – it’s concrete and unforgiving, and it demands concrete responses on our part. If a lion is coming down the road at you and it wants to eat you for breakfast, then you have to do something. You can’t treat the lion as a metaphor for something else. It isn’t ‘a metaphor’ for god’s sake – it’s a lion, end of story!


This argument sounds convincing but it doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s just well-rehearsed window-dressing. Of course there are times when we have to take things at face-value and respond accordingly – but that doesn’t mean that we have to go around like idiots taking absolutely everything we come across at face value (which is generally what we do do). Even when we are running for our lives, trying to get away from some concrete danger, that still doesn’t mean that we have to understand life in a concrete or literal way! Man-eating predators are comparatively rare these days but there is a much more dangerous creature out there – a veritable monster, in fact – getting ready to dine on us and we don’t even know that it’s there. We’ve actually made friends with it, and foolishly imagine that it’s going to help us! The ‘monster’ that we’re talking about here is of course the monster of certainty, which is the same thing as ‘the monster of taking things for granted’. When I fall into the trap of understanding myself literally – which is always how the thinking mind presents the situation – then as we have said I have actually disconnected myself from reality. I’m making do with a simulation of myself instead of the real thing, and I’m going to live a life on the basis of this simulation as this simulation on a full-time basis. As Paul Levy says in Are We Possessed,

We then live a simulation of ourselves, miming ourselves, becoming a master copy, a duplicate of our original selves.

All concrete or literal realities are copies, simulations, duplicates. A literal truth, as James Carse says, can be understood as a ‘special case’ of metaphor – it’s a metaphor that wants to ‘rule the roost’, it’s a metaphor that wants to get rid of all other metaphors! Joseph Campbell also argues that concrete explanations (or stories that present themselves as being ‘literally true’) are a ‘special case’ of metaphor in that they claim to be ‘the definitive account’ and out-rule all other possible explanations or metaphors for reality on this account. They are ‘competitive’ and ‘aggressive’ metaphors; they are concrete explanations that wish to eliminate all the opposition.


Dogmatic religions are an excellent example of this type of thing, as Joseph Campbell says here in the following passage, (taken from Living Myths: A Conversation With Joseph Campbell)

There’s a mystery dimension in myth—there always is, and you can’t put a ring around it. It’s the difference between drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a pebble into a pond from which circles go out. The myth drops a pebble into a pond, it tells you of a certain center, it puts you on a certain center—what the Navajo call the pollen path of beauty—but it doesn’t give you a definition.

What happens in dogmatic religions, however, is that definitions are contrived to circumscribe the myth and the ritual. I think that what is going on in the Catholic church now is something of a disaster. There you have the inheritance of one of the greatest ritual structures ever, anywhere, and what are they doing to it? It’s really incredible. Instead of simply presenting the mythic ritual beautifully, that rich mythologically-based heritage of beautiful, powerful ritual, for the individual to experience in his own way, they are destroying the clean lines of the rites and insisting, instead, on the dogmas, which are to tell us how we have to interpret our experience. Dogma simply cuts the individual off from his own potential of response.

The essential motif in Christianity – of the God who is killed and is then reborn as a well-known one – it’s a kind of a theme. The stories of Osirus and Odin are two obvious examples – Odin was actually crucified upside-down on the World Tree! This is a deep archetypal pattern whereby light apparently gives way to darkness and yet triumphs nonetheless (although not as an act of cunning but total surrender). Christianity however – as Joseph Campbell says – denies all other examples of the myth and says that its version alone is true. This turns the original myth into an aggressive ‘literal virus’ that infects everything and goes on the rampage. Although at root the story of the death and resurrection of Christ is still a metaphor (i.e. it has a bigger meaning than just the literal one) it has lost the fruitfulness (or ‘potential’) that used to be in it and has now turned into a blank, lifeless form of oppression – ‘the triumph of the letter over the spirit’, so to speak.


So as soon as a myth (or metaphor) becomes exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera (i.e. as soon as it ‘goes viral’) then it loses the life that was in it and becomes ‘demonic’ in nature; instead of being ‘life-affirming’ (so to speak), it becomes life-denying. This gives us a very clear way of understanding what it is about concrete certainty that is so ‘monstrous’ – if we may use that word. Even though it might seem ridiculous to speak of ‘the self’ as a metaphor (rather than the ‘final reality’ or ‘concrete thing’) it is only through understanding the self as such that we are able to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of’ demonic literalism. This is more than just ‘a trap’, this is the ultimate trap – this is the trap of traps. Once in it there appears to be no way out; once in it we don’t even want to find a’ way out’ – the thought never occurs to us! The thought actually couldn’t occur to us, it wouldn’t make any sense to us if it did. Once we see the world from the point of view of the literal self – which is the viewpoint that aggressively tries to out-compete or out-duplicate all other viewpoints (i.e. it is a viral viewpoint) then we aren’t actually interested in seeing the world in any other way. This is an obvious enough point to make once we see it – it simply isn’t possible to be ‘exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera’ and yet at the same time be genuinely interested in other viewpoints, to be genuinely interested ‘what it feels like to be the other person’. This just isn’t going to happen.


If we do start to be genuinely interested (i.e. not as a ploy or strategy) in what it feels like to be the other person (or be genuinely interested in what the world looks like to the other person) then what this means is that we have somehow escaped from ‘the trap of being the viral self’. The literal self is a castle with the thickest possible walls and all the doors and windows are locked down. It is ‘a fortification’ – a ‘secure place’. Whilst we can give good appearance of being interested in the world or other people in a non-agenda-based way (or as Antony De Mello says in Awareness, we can give a good impression of being unselfish!) but the literal or concrete self has no such capacity. It can never go beyond itself and this is the price we pay for the security of concreteness. To be concrete is to be separate! To be concrete is always to be separate and that’s the price we pay for being ‘safe’. When we understand the self as a metaphor however (i.e. when we understand that it doesn’t really mean what it says it means) then this understanding connects us. There is no final reality in ‘the self’ – there’s no final reality in ‘the self’ because the state of separation that we bring down on ourselves (through our fear of openness or uncertainty) doesn’t really exist…







The Lure Of The Generic

We fear the individual, the unique and we are attracted to the generic, the regular. Our aversion to the unique is the same thing as our attraction to the generic. The movement towards the generic is the movement away from the unique. Our attraction to the latter is our fear of the former.


But why would this be true? Why do we fear the unique so much? Why are we so averse to it? This is actually a very strange thing – it’s a very strange thing because the unique is the only thing that’s real. Everything is unique when it comes right down to it – how could there be something genuinely ‘real’ that isn’t also unique? By the same token therefore, the generic isn’t real – there’s no actual content in it, no content at all. There is nothing in the generic yet we are drawn so strongly to it; we are drawn to it like moths to a candle flame.


It’s easy to see why ‘the generic’ (or ‘the regular’) has no content. The generic only gets to be the generic because it belongs to a class (i.e. to ‘a genus’) and yet classes are only there because we say that they are. We get out our ruler, our measuring stick, and we mark off what is in the class, and what is not, and that’s how we create this thing that we’re calling the ‘generic world’. But if the generic only comes into being because of our ‘classes’, because of our artificial ‘divisions’, then how can it be real? How can reality come out of unreality? How can the ‘generic world’ – which is the only world we know or believe in – be any more real than the unreal categories from which it is constructed? This point is made very clearly here by Alan Watts –

I have said that one of the great meanings of nature in the West is “classification”: “What is the nature of this thing?” In Greek, physis – from which comes our physics – has to do with the world as apprehended in a certain way: the world is apprehended according to its classes, and those classes are abstract. When we say of something, “It is immaterial,” “It doesn’t matter,” that means it has no quantitative measure. It doesn’t amount to anything; it doesn’t add up to anything. It is unquantified. But what we need in life is not so much quantity as quality. Mere quantity is absolutely abstract. It’s the quality, the essential taste, the flavor of life, the meaning of it, that is the important thing.

There are ways of measuring qualities, but in our language you always have to turn them into quantities. When a cook, standing over a stewpot, adds salt, takes a taste, puts in a little more, tastes again, and then says “Now that’s just right,” we can have someone stand behind him and record the actual quantity of salt added. And that would be the quantitative abstraction that corresponds to a taste experience that was not an abstraction at all. However, in order to bring people back to the real world, you have to temporarily suspend their abstract thinking, because it is through abstracting that you get the notion that you are one thing and I am another, and that events are separate from each other, in the same way that minutes are separate. We try to draw the lines on our watches that separate one minute from another as finely as possible because we want to know exactly the moment one minute turns into another. And those lines, by their very thinness, show us how abstract, tenuous, filmy, and unreal they are. They are measures; but don’t confuse measure for what is measured. The world that can be seen and felt without abstractions is the world in which you are connected to everything that is, to the Tao and the whole course of nature. However, you have been taught differently because you have been hoaxed and wangled by people who chatter and explain, and who have already hypnotized themselves into a view of the world that is quite abstract, quite arbitrary, and not necessarily the way things are at all.

What we are essentially doing in life is therefore ‘fleeing from the real and gravitating to the unreal’. This is what it’s all about. This is the basic tropism involved (which we might also call ‘the basic tropism of unconsciousness’ and which is also sometimes called ‘the law of fear’). Once we see this then it is not too hard to get a handle on what is happening here – we’re busy ‘escaping from reality’, which is actually not to radical an idea for us to get our heads around. ‘Escaping from reality’ is a fairly familiar kind of concept for us – anyone with any self-awareness at all is aware of this (at times overwhelming) impulse that exists within us. The more insight we have into our underlying motivation to find safety in systems (and our love of orderliness and predictability) the more clearly we see this ‘impulse to hide away from reality’.


How does this apply to what we started off talking about, however? Why would we be ‘attracted to the generic and repelled by the unique’? One point that presents itself straightaway has to do with what we could call ‘ease of processing’ – basically, we can process the regular but we can’t process the irregular. Of course we can process the regular – the regular gets to be the regular in the first place via ‘logical processing’, and so naturally it is amenable to logic. The great thing about the regular or the generic is that we can ‘generalise our learning’ – once we find out how to do something in one situation then we can apply this principle ‘across the board’ and this makes life a lot easier. Is it any wonder that we like the regular, the generic as much as we do? Is it any wonder we like things to be neat and orderly? This is as true in the field of mathematics as it is in everyday life. Until comparatively recently chaos and chaotic processes were completely ignored as James Gleick says in his book Chaos, and were never to be found mentioned in any mathematics textbook. Rudy Rucker in his book Infinity and the Mind points out that even the ancient Greeks – who with the likes of Euclid and Pythagoras pretty much started off mathematics – despised the regular and considered it lacking in the perfection that all numbers ought to possess –

It is possible to regard the history of the foundation of mathematics as a progressive enlarging of the mathematical universe to include more and more infinities. The Greek word for infinity was apeiron, which literally means unbounded, but can also mean infinite, indefinite, or undefined. Apeiron was a negative, even pejorative word. The original chaos out of which the world was formed was apeiron. An arbitrary crooked line was apeiron. A dirty crumpled handkerchief was apeiron. Thus, apeiron need not only mean infinitely large, but can also mean totally disordered, infinitely complex, subject to no finite determination. In Aristotle’s words, “… being infinite is a privation, not a perfection but the absence of limit. . .”

There is even a story that Pythagoras secretly drowned one of his students on a boat trip because he discovered an irrational number, a number that failed to meet the required standard of perfection. One version of the story says that the student (who was a guy by the name of Hippasus) was killed for coming up with the so-called ‘golden ratio’, another version says that he was eliminated coming up with the square root of two, which is another irrational number. Mathematicians and scientists have traditionally had problems with irregularity, and so do the rest of us – we don’t like things that don’t obey the rules; we don’t like things that aren’t amenable to analysis.


The irregular or unique can’t be generalised, obviously. When we confront the irregular there is nothing that we have learned beforehand that can help us, and whatever we learn now won’t be any good to us in any other situation! There is no generalization possible. We can therefore say – on the basis of what we have just discussed – that what repels us about the unique is its difficulty, i.e. what it ‘requires’ from us. The unique requires something very particular from us; it’s not just a matter of hard work’ – although that comes in it into it as well, of course. A unique situation requires that we ourselves have to become unique. This is a very remarkable thing to consider – when we generally come across problems or difficulties what we do is to look in our toolbox to see what tricks or strategies we have there that might help. We are looking for the right size of screwdriver, the right size of spanner, and once we find it then it’s just a matter of doing whatever we have to do with the tool and then it’s ‘job done’.


When we come up against a situation where there isn’t some kind of ‘standardised fix’, where there isn’t any tool (or strategy) in our toolbox that will get the job done, then we are ‘thrown back on ourselves’. What are we going to do? How are we going to tackle it? It’s no good asking anyone else for advice or looking it up on the Internet – this problem is for us and us alone. It’s ‘uniquely ours’. This is a very particular kind of demand that is being made and us therefore; we are being asked to exercise a muscle that we have never exercised before, and this hurts. When a particular muscle has been developed then it actually feels good to use it, as we all know, but when the muscle hasn’t been developed at all, and we don’t even know where that muscle is (or even if we have one in the first place) then this is a very different story. To say that what we are being asked to do is hard is a masterful understatement!


When I come up against a truly unique situation and all my tools or strategies are ‘no use to me’, then what I’m being asked to do – so to speak – is to manifest my true unique nature. This is the ‘muscle’ that I have never up to this point developed; this is the muscle that I don’t know where to look for, or even know if it’s there at all (and almost certainly I will say and believe that it isn’t there). Of all the challenges that we could ever possibly be faced with this is the greatest. There is no greater challenge than this – there simply isn’t ‘any such thing’ as a challenge that is greater than the challenge to dig deep and manifest our true unique nature. Rather than undertake this challenge therefore, we retreat (as we have said) into ‘the world of the generic’. We retreat into the Consensus Reality where all the answers are provided for us, and where – as a result – we never have to worry about ‘manifesting our own unique nature’.


This ‘retreat into the generic world’ puts us in a very strange situation, however. It’s not just that we prefer to have ‘ready-made problems’ handed to us, as Eric Fromm says (so that we can tackle them with ready-made methods, with strategies taken straight out of the super-convenient ‘Book-of-Strategies’) – it’s that the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we have, the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we operate out of, has also been provided for us. It’s the whole package.  Our sense of identity comes to us straight ‘off-the-shelf’ (or out-of-the-brochure’) and is delivered right to our front door the same way everything else is – that’s what the Generic World is all about, after all! What we’re talking about here is the ‘Common Domain’, it’s the formula-driven, mass-produced world of Jung’s Everyman.


This all sounds very easy, all very convenient therefore, but what we don’t see is that there is no place in this generic world for us as we really are! That’s the whole point of the exercise, after all – the whole point is that we don’t have to’ dig deep’ and find out who we really are. That’s the ‘advantage’ that we’ve been angling for the whole time! The so-called ‘advantage’ of life in the Generic World is that we never have to dig deep. The advantage of life in the Generic World is that we never get essentially challenged so that we have to ‘discover who we really are’. All the challenges that we meet in the GW (the trivial challenges that have been ‘engineered into the system’) are ‘dummy challenges’ – they are challenges that really only exists for the sake of ‘reaffirming or confirming the reality of the Generic Self’). This so-called advantage however the same time ‘the Very Great Disadvantage’ – it is also – unbeknownst to us – The Great Calamity.


The ‘Very Great Disadvantage’ is that there is no place that we have created for us, as we truly are. One analogy might be to say that it’s like being in an abusive/controlling relationship where the other person controls everything about us, including how we actually see ourselves: the ‘advantage’ of this situation is that we don’t ever have to think for ourselves (that after all is the one thing we are never allowed to do) and yet obviously this is the disadvantage at the same time. Another way to analogize our situation is to say that it is like sending a surrogate to live our life for us – a very crude and robotic sort of a surrogate, a surrogate without any of the finer feelings of which we are innately capable. This is like Colin Wilson’s idea of the ‘internal robot’ which he talks about here in this quotation from The Intuition Network:

Yes, well, you see, the basic point about the philosophy of Gurdjieff, and I suppose about my own basic ideas, is this recognition that we have inside us what I call the robot — a sort of robot valet or servant who does things for you. So you learn something like talking French or driving a car or skiing or whatever, painfully and consciously, step by step. Then the robot takes it over and does it far more quickly and efficiently that you could do it consciously. However, the important thing is not to interfere with the robot once he’s learned it, because you completely screw him up if you do. Now, the robot does all these valuable things like talking French and so on for us. The trouble is he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music; it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, whatever, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the robot is listening to the music or reading the poetry or doing the country walk for you. I said I’ve even caught him making love to my wife. And this is our real problem — that the robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do. Now, Gurdjieff recognized this; he talked about the machine. Gurdjieff, of course, would walk into, let’s say, the dormitory of his students at midnight, snap his fingers, and everybody had to be out of bed and in some complex position within two seconds flat. Obviously he would keep people at a certain level of tension by doing this. Do you remember that Sartre said that during the war, when he was in the French Resistance and he was likely to be arrested and shot at any moment, he never felt so free. And obviously you would in these circumstances — you keep your energy so high because of your sense of crisis, that you would feel far more free. Now this is clearly the secret of freedom — keeping your energy so high that the robot is a bit like the thermostat on the wall which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly, without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of with the real you. The interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore, if it’s just one degree to turn on to the robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the robot off.

It’s certainly very convenient to have the internal robot take care of all the details of our live for us. By this same argument it is all the more convenient (it is ultimately convenient, we might say!) when the robot takes over completely and actually goes right ahead and lives our life for us in its entirety, whilst we ‘fall asleep at the wheel’, so to speak. We’ve ‘gravitated to the generic’ like moths to a candle flame and the result of this is that the robotic surrogate gets to live our life for us. This doesn’t work however – it’s a cheat that couldn’t possibly ever work! Only I can live my life and if I try to get the robotic surrogate to take on this ‘responsibility’ for me all I’m doing is creating suffering the like of which I can’t even begin to comprehend. According to Erich Fromm,

The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.

The movement towards ‘unconsciousness’ is therefore the movement towards self-destruction – nothing good can come out of putting all our money on the strategy of running away from our own true nature, after all! Nothing good can happen as a result of embracing the Generic Mind. All that happens when we fall ‘asleep at the wheel’ is that dark forces which we know nothing about are all too quick to take over the vehicle, and drive it over a cliff…






BUDDHA IN THE MUD by Tony Barrs. There are two truths: the real and the seemingly real. Their connection is the negative emotions. On the path of the seemingly real, the emotions imprison us. On the path of the real, the emotions liberate us. There is a secret life to the emotions.

Our Mind Is The True Buddha

It is the very essence of our mind that is the true Buddha. Whether the contents of our mind feel depressed, irritated, angry, confused, elated, happy, dull … the essential pure nature of our mind is Buddha; enlightened, pure consciousness, God.

Who are we to believe? What sort of ‘package’ are we looking for? Someone in robes, on a throne? Someone with a long beard perhaps, or bald and smiling? Teachings given in a church, temple or gompa? Something that gives us a feeling of authority? Do we want this to feel exclusive? Do we feel safe in our ‘package’? If we have our ‘package’, then what do we feel about others’ ‘packages’?

The essence of mind is right here, right now.
We are, in truth, the essence of mind!
We are what we have always been looking for.

Thinking we cannot find it,

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The Pain Of Being A Machine

‘Mental health’ and ‘organisations’ don’t go together – if we have some degree of mental health then we won’t have any more to do with organisations than we can possibly help, and if we are part of an organisation then it goes without saying that the integrity of our mental health is going to be significantly compromised. There are no two ways about this! When we consider the fact that mental health falls within the remit of large and intensely bureaucratic healthcare organisations we can see just how ironic this is, therefore. When an organisation makes it its business to take care of our collective mental health then this constitutes a very big problem. No one – it seems – is even aware of the problem, never mind engaged in doing anything about it. Our situation is very much like lambs being led to the slaughter, which is a metaphor that Gurdjeff used in ‘The Tale of the Evil Magician’ – (taken from

There was an evil magician. He lived deep in the mountains and the forests, and he had thousands of sheep. But the problem was that the sheep were afraid of the magician because every day the sheep were seeing that one of them was being killed for his breakfast, another was being killed for his lunch. So they ran away from the magician’s ranch and it was a difficult job to find them in the vast forest. Being a magician, he used magic.

He hypnotized all the sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it.

He then told different sheep…to some, “You are a man, you need not be afraid. It is only the sheep who are going to be killed and eaten, not you. You are a man just like I am.” Some other sheep were told, “You are a lion – only sheep are afraid. They escape, they are cowards. You are a lion; you would prefer to die than to run away. You don’t belong to these sheep. So when they are killed it is not your problem. They are meant to be killed, but you are the most loved of my friends in this forest.” In this way, he told every sheep different stories, and from the second day, the sheep stopped running away from the house.

They still saw other sheep being killed, butchered, but it was not their concern. Somebody was a lion, somebody was a tiger, somebody was a man, somebody was a magician and so forth. Nobody was a sheep except the one who was being killed. This way, without keeping servants, he managed thousands of sheep. They would go into the forest for their food, for their water, and they would come back home, believing always one thing: “It is some sheep who is going to be killed, not you. You don’t belong to the sheep. You are a lion – respected, honored, a friend of the great magician.” The magician’s problems were solved and the sheep never ran away again.

Coming back to our original statement, we might still ask why mental health and organisations don’t go together? How can we make a statement like this? And if there is a grave mismatch between mental health and the all-powerful organizations that we have created to work ‘for our benefit’ then why hasn’t anyone noticed it? As it happpens, this is something that we can be very clear about – it’s not a difficult argument that we are making here but something that is entirely straightforward. All that’s needed is for us to have a clear understanding of what ‘mental health’ is. Mental health is really just another way of talking about freedom (or ‘autonomy’). When we are ‘free to be ourselves’ – without any external influences manipulating us without us knowing that we are being manipulated – then we may be said to be autonomous, then we may be said to be in a state of ‘good mental health’. If on the other hand we are being ‘controlled without knowing that we are being controlled’ (by external influences we know nothing of) then obviously there is no way that this can be said to be ‘a healthy situation’!


As soon as we put things like this it becomes clear to all but the naïve that mental health must be a very rare thing indeed in our society! Everything about our culture is about covert control; ‘freedom’ – although we use the word a lot – is simply not on the agenda. No one wants us to be free – even we ourselves probably don’t want to be free, as the psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm has pointed out. With freedom comes very great responsibility after all, and who wants that? The type of ‘freedom’ that we are talking about here isn’t the  trivial freedom to ‘come and go as we please’, but – as we have said – the freedom to be ourselves. ‘To thine own self be true,’ says Shakespeare, but we are blasé about this dictum because we assume – for the most part – that we are already being true to ourselves. This is very far from being the case however. We aren’t being true to ourselves and we can explain why we aren’t very simply – in order to be ‘true to ourselves’ would we would have to be seeing the world in our own unique and individual way and we’re not – we are seeing it in the totally generic way that we have been passively conditioned to. This ‘adaptation to the Generic Reality’ is what Gary Z McGee calls ‘comfortable cowardice’ in his article On Becoming Free.


This after all is what society is – society is what comes into being when we all see the world in the same way! That’s the price of admission to society, that’s the price we have to pay in order to be granted ‘membership to the club’ – we all have to agree to see things in the same way, we all have to ‘subscribe to the consensus reality’. This of course happens very early on in our lives and we don’t exactly ‘notice it happening,’ we don’t exactly ‘give our conscious consent’ to the process – it’s just what happens. It’s called ‘the process of socialisation’ and no one ever asks our permission first to see if we want to be socialised!


The ‘Great Illusion’ is that we are already free, that we are already ‘seeing things in our own individual way’. Nothing could be further from the truth however. As Erich Fromm says,

Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.

A big part of the illusion ‘that we are already free’ lies in the fact that we take it so very much for granted that the way we understand life is the only way that it ever could be understood. This being the case we don’t of course feel that we are being manipulated or coerced to see the world in a particular predetermined way! We don’t know that there is always ‘the freedom to see things otherwise’. This is something that you would not be able to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it for themselves – the words just wouldn’t make any sense. ‘We accept the reality with which we have been presented’ – as the line in The Truman Show goes. In this film, Truman Burbank gradually ‘wakes up’ to the fact that everything he has ever been told is a lie, and via this process of ‘seeing through the lie’ he becomes (as his name suggests), a ‘true man’. He becomes true to himself, he becomes the true individual that he already is.


This isn’t a question of creating one’s own ideology or philosophy, but simply seeing through what is not true. In the past this has been known as ‘the negative way’ or via negativa. In the same way, therefore, recovering our autonomy doesn’t mean ‘having our own particular opinions about everything under the sun’ but simply seeing falsehood for what it is. Truth is not something we have to loudly ‘assert’, or ‘hold onto’, it is – rather – what emerges all by itself when we find the courage to let it do so. The truth is ‘none of our business’, in other words – it ‘stands by itself’ without any need for assistance or support or or interpretation on our part. It’s not a question of ‘my’ truth versus ‘your’ truth therefore and when anyone (or when any group of people) take it upon themselves to tell us ‘what the truth is’ we can be sure that their so-called truth is anything but true. It is – on the contrary – an aggressive lie and it is by such aggressive lies that society maintains itself!


This brings us to the very nub of the matter – the truth isn’t something that can be stated and then agreed upon by the collective, it is something that is seen. It is, moreover, something that is seen only by the individual and no one else. No one else can see it! The collective cannot see it and neither can any paid-up member of the collective. To see the truth requires us to be who we really are and this means discarding the false shell or husk of who we have been told that we are.


There is what we might call ‘a Basic Principle’ here and that principle is this: When two or more people agree on ‘what the right way to see things’ is, then that agreed-upon viewpoint acts as ‘an inferior substitute for the truth’. The viewpoint that we have agreed upon isn’t really true for any of us – it isn’t anyone’s way of seeing the world, rather it is Everyone’s way. It’s just a convention that we have all agreed upon for the sake of ‘getting on’. Conventions are ‘things that we have agreed to be true’ – language is a convention, socialised behaviour is a convention, the legal system is a convention, and so on, and it can be readily seen how very dependent upon all these various conventions we are. The danger (the ‘Very Great Danger’!) is however that we will become trapped in our own conventions, trapped in our own systems, trapped in our own devices. What traps us is forgetting that the conventions only are conventions and not reality itself. We take the inferior substitute to be equivalent to the real thing and when we ‘forget’ in this way then our systems end up defining reality for us – they end up defining everything about us! This situation of ‘being defined by some sort of arbitrary external authority without knowing that we are’ is of course (as we have been saying) the complete antithesis of autonomy, the complete antithesis of ‘mental health’, and this is exactly the situation that we all find ourselves in. The irony is that when our lack of autonomy manifests itself in the form of neurotic suffering we go looking for assistance from the very structures and systems that have disempowered us so grievously in the first place. Fromm is very clear about this –

Man does not suffer so much from poverty today as he suffers from the fact that he has become a cog in a large machine, an automaton, that his life has become empty and lost its meaning.

The big problem is however that when we suffer (as we inevitably do suffer) from being merely ‘a cog in a large machine’, we look to that very same machine for help!



Art: Spell II, by H.R. Giger




The Common Delusion

We are very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health, and what doesn’t. Our ‘automatic’ way to understand mental health is – of course – to see it as a measure of how well adapted we are to the consensus reality (which we take to be the only reality). This is hardly news – we all know how bad it feels to be somehow standing out from the crowd as being ‘strange’ or ‘odd’. This is an experience that every human being, no matter what part of the world they might come from, can relate to.


When we are in this situation of ‘looking odd in some kind of unwanted way’ only one thing matters to us (naturally enough) and that is ‘looking normal again’ or, ‘being like everyone else again’. If we can do this then we will have an embarrassing moment for sure but the awkward moment will soon pass and then the chances are that we will quickly get over it. Little ‘blips’ like this happen from time to time and it’s no big deal. When however we are unable to return ourselves promptly to within ‘the bounds of normality’, we’re almost certainly going to go beyond embarrassment and ‘internalise the wrongness,’ so to speak. We’re going to feel the wrongness to be some kind of ‘special taint’ of our own; a thing that ‘belongs to us and us alone’. It is in this case as if we ourselves become the fault or error that needs to be corrected.


When we feel like this it is very clear to us, on a deep and often inarticulate level, that ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) means one thing and one thing only, and that is ‘correcting the error’ and returning to the normative state (which is the ‘zone of safety’ where we don’t stand out any more). Other people will also have the same idea of what ‘mental health’ should mean for us – even mental health care professionals will for the most part subscribe to this equilibrium-based view of what MH consists of. It’s as if we simply can’t help defining MH normatively, it’s as if we don’t have any other way of seeing it! And yet there is no way in which this ‘reflex-reaction’ business of according with the normative values of ‘how we are supposed to be’, or ‘how we are supposed to appear’, (which is close to the mark) can be said to be in any way ‘healthy’! What we’re looking at here is simply ‘automatic pain-avoidance’ (or ‘safety-seeking’) and nothing more.


We can very clearly see that the movement towards social adaptation, the movement towards the equilibrium value, isn’t anything to do with ‘mental health’ just as soon as we take a good look at it. All are doing here – or rather all we’re trying to do here – is move quickly to a place where there is no more pain or embarrassment, a place where there is ‘no more challenge’. We’re trying to move to a place of place of ‘zero risk’, in other words, and this is a movement in the direction of psychological unconsciousness. This type of movement is always a movement in the direction of unconsciousness because we are abdicating the essential responsibility that we always have for being ‘the way that we actually are’. We are ‘fleeing from reality as it actually is’, which although it is very natural and understandable response on our part, is at the same time not a ‘healthy’ thing to do. It’s not what we could call a ‘healthy thing to do’ because it has punishing consequences both for ourselves and others. It’s not healthy thing to do because it is ‘taking refuge in the collectively-validated lie’ regarding what we say ‘the right way to be’ is, and no matter what else we might say about this state of affairs, whether it is natural or not or understandable or not, we can’t say that it is anything whatsoever to do with ‘mental health’.


What mental health consists of can’t be normally normatively defined in the same way certain aspects of physical health (such as body temperature or blood glucose levels) can be, but we can nevertheless say something about it. We can say for example that it isn’t automatically running (or trying to run) to a place of safety every time we are challenged, or we could say that it isn’t pretending that ‘what is happening isn’t happening’! We could also say that mental health isn’t about judging ourselves as being fundamentally ‘flawed’ or ‘at fault’ when we find ourselves painfully excluded from the consensus reality. A better way of expressing all these points is perhaps to say that what we are calling ‘mental health’ is somehow about being ‘true to ourselves’ (and ‘not engaging in any social collusions’) – we are being straight about how we are, rather than cheating or engaging in a deception or cover-up or what of whatever kind. We are not involving ourselves in any collectively-validated games or subterfuges (which is something that our peers will straightaway see as being ‘unhealthy’ or just plain ‘wrong’).


Another way of talking about mental health is to say that what that it essentially involves ‘not turning our backs on whatever we are being challenged with’. Life is one big challenge when it comes down to it and we are not putting all our money on the doomed attempt to escape it! ‘Life is difficult,’ as Scott M Peck says at the beginning of The Road Less Travelled, and so ‘being mentally healthy’ (or being ‘growth-orientated’, as we could also say) means facing this truth, even if we don’t do anything else. This type of approach could however very easily be misinterpreted and turned into some kind of a stick to beat ourselves with – we’re all very good at that, after all! It’s not that we ‘have to’ face every challenge that life throws at us (and that consequently, if we don’t face every challenge that life throws at us then we are somehow going ‘wrong’ and are therefore ‘at fault’). It’s not that we have to be ‘mentally healthy’, in other words! That would be completely ridiculous – that would mean that we are running away from the challenge of ‘seeing ourselves as we actually are’ (which is most emphatically NOT someone who never runs away from any challenge). Mental health doesn’t mean ‘trying to live out some ridiculous fantasy idea of who we would like to be, and beating ourselves up when we can’t do this’! That’s just escapism…


‘The way that we actually are’ is to be orientated primarily around ‘safety seeking’ or ‘challenge avoiding’. That’s simply the human situation. Even if we think we’re pretty good at taking on challenges, the chances are that we’re taking on the challenges that we do take on in order to avoid some bigger challenge that we won’t even let ourselves know about! This too is ‘the human situation’ – we deceiving ourselves on an ongoing basis and will deny that we are doing so to our last breath! What we are calling ‘mental health’ is therefore just another way of talking about being basically honest with ourselves – we don’t have to be any kind of special way, we don’t have to accord with any normative values that have been set for us by society or by any other group of people, we just have to be basically honest with ourselves about the way we actually are. How could we ever possibly imagine that we could have any sort of go at all at ‘living our lives’ without this precondition of ‘basic honesty’? What do we imagine our lives would amount to, otherwise?


Even just to have this understanding about what mental health really is (as opposed to what it is inevitably presented as being) frees us up enormously. We don’t have to ‘do’ anything – just to see the nature of the ‘jinx‘ that was being put on us (or that we were putting on ourselves) makes all the difference. It’s okay to want or to yearn to not be the way that we are (that’s natural, as we have already said), but this has nothing to do with any sort of ‘overarching moral imperative’ – is not wrong that we are the way that we are, it’s just difficult. ‘Being in a difficult place’ is a very different from being ‘wrong’! To be in a difficult place is to be engaged in some sort of challenge and that this is actually an indication of health. What’s not healthy is to hide away from the challenge so effectively that we don’t even know that it is there, and that is what this business of being ‘successful adaptation to the consensus reality’ is all about. That’s what being adapted to the consensus reality is always about.


What we implicitly see as being the state of optimal mental health (i.e. ‘being normal’!) is actually a state of ‘hiding away’, it’s actually a state of ‘zero existential challenge’. This is of course the case – being ‘socially adapted’ means that we have agreed to see the world in a particular way, it means that we have agreed to see the world (or ‘life’) in the particular specific way that everyone else sees it! This act of conformity takes us away from the truth straightaway, therefore! It takes us away from our truth. The thing that is so very attractive about this situation (i.e. the situation of ‘the validated lie) is precisely that there is ‘zero existential challenge’ in it – this is the great ‘advantage’ that we are so attracted to. Being able to successfully evade the essential existential central challenge of life is the great advantage, but it is at the very same time the great disadvantage! It’s the ‘upside’ of the deal, to be sure, but it’s also ‘the downside’!


This isn’t to say that everyday ‘socially adapted’ life doesn’t have its own challenges, its own difficulties, but rather that we are now seeing everything backwards; we’re fundamentally orientated towards the normatively-defined ‘equilibrium value’ so that all our efforts are efforts to obtain something that doesn’t exist (or ‘return ourselves to some kind of unreal place’). This sort of effort is fundamentally frustrated therefore because what we are trying to obtain isn’t real (because the place that we are trying to return to isn’t actually there). Our illusion – when we are adapted to the consensus reality – is that when we can get rid of all errors (i.e. when we can get things to be ‘the way that we want them to be’) then we will find the fulfilment that were always looking for. Essentially therefore, we are ‘working to avoid the need to work’ and we imagine that we have done this then everything will be wonderful. This is the ‘upside-down’ way of seeing things that we buy into when we are ‘psychologically unconscious’. We’re hypnotized by the goal-state of ‘having no more challenges’. In reality – of course – it doesn’t work this way at all – when (or if) we create for ourselves a situation of ‘zero existential challenge’ then at the same time as doing this we also create for ourselves a situation of very great suffering, very great frustration!


The situation of ‘zero challenge’ which we long for so much is actually a situation of ‘zero reality’ – it’s a situation of ‘zero reality’ simply because reality itself is a challenge! It’s not the case therefore that a challenge – when it comes our way – is ‘an error that needs to be corrected’, but rather that that challenge is actually life itself! In the psychologically unconscious state we are therefore trying to run away from life and we validate this ongoing effort to escape from life by saying that we are trying to obtain (or arrive at) an ideal state, the ideal state which is ‘the solution to our problem’. In effect therefore, we’re saying that escaping from the ongoing existential challenge which is life is ‘the right thing to do’! We’re saying that ‘believing the consensus lie’ is the right thing to do’. Our position (although we can’t see it because we’re seeing everything backwards) is to see the situation where we ‘successfully escape from life’ as being concomitant with ‘the state of mental health’! We see the ‘equilibrium state’ (i.e. the state of ‘being the same as everyone else’ or ‘the state of being normal’) as being ‘the thing that will somehow make everything all right’, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. Unconsciousness is the cause of our problems, not the solution. ‘Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour men go mad and rave.’ says Heraclitus. We think that we are worshipping life, whilst really we’re worshipping death!


So this brings us back to what we started off by talking about right at the beginning of this discussion, which is that we are all very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health and what doesn’t! How more confused could we be? We’re hypnotised by this mirage, this mirage of ‘what we think is mental health,’ whilst the truth is that what we’re longing for is actually the state of perfect unconsciousness. We’re actually chasing oblivion (or ‘nonexistence’) even though we can’t for the life of us see it. We chasing unreality, but we are seeing everything upside-down so that unreality seems a real and worthwhile goal. We’re seeing unreality as being real and reality as being unreal.  This means that we see mental health as being the state in which we accord with some kind of ‘mind-created abstraction’, some kind of ‘ideal situation’, some kind of ‘normative value’. What we don’t see – when were identified with the thinking mind – is that normative values are phantom appearances and nothing more. The normative value may seem as if it’s going to be ‘the answer to everything’, but that’s just the bait to get is to walk into the trap. That’s just the cheese. Who said that the lure had to be real, after all? All that matters (if the trap is to work) is that we believe in it, and we do…


Everyone believes in the illusion and this makes it all the more difficult to doubt it, or stand up and say anything against it. When it comes to it, speaking out about it just isn’t going to work – if you speak out against the illusion you will be shouted down. If you speak the truth you will be discredited. People will laugh at you being so foolish as to ‘not see the obvious’! If you can’t see that what is ‘obviously true’ has to be true (the same as everyone else can!) then clearly there’s something wrong with you. Believing in the ‘common delusion’ is what we all understand to be ‘the healthy way to be’, whilst seeing it to be not true at all what it is marks us out as being strange or odd, and being strange or odd is indistinguishable with ‘having something wrong with you’. Having a viewpoint that doesn’t accord with the consensus viewpoint proves that ‘there’s something wrong with you’, and yet ‘the consensus view of things’ is – by definition – an abstraction (just like an average is an abstraction).  If what we all see as ‘being true’ is an abstraction (as it has to be) then what this means is simply that it is a lie! Just how ‘mentally healthy’ is it to uncritically believe a lie, therefore?



Art – The high house low! “2011, by Elliot Hundley