Living In A World Of External Meaning

We worship purposefulness – motivational speaker and life coach Tony Robbins says that ‘activity without purpose is the drain of your life’. How great it would be if only we could be purpose for the whole time, without any wasteful (and pointless) purposelessness! What a splendidly meaningful life that would be, we might think.

The only drawback here – and this is something that conveniently never occurs to us – is that all of our purposes, no matter how splendid they might seem – are ‘made up things’. Because our purposes are ‘made up things’ (and how could they be otherwise, since there are no ‘purposes’ in reality itself?) they wouldn’t be there unless we said that they were, and because they aren’t there unless we say that they are we have to keep on saying that they are. We’re caught on a hook here. This means that not only do we have to keep on struggling gamely to realise the purpose in question, we also have to struggle to keep on confirming to ourselves that our purposes are real and meaningful and worth – on this account – struggling for!

This is a kind of tortuous knot therefore – the situation is not at all as straightforward as we might have thought it to be. ‘Having a purpose’, as everyone says, gives us meaning in life. That’s why we love goals so much. That’s why we love having a plan. But the fact that we ourselves have to maintain the meaningfulness of the goal or purpose takes this meaningfulness away again. If I have to assert that something is true in order for it to be so then this renders the whole exercise is meaningless. Truth that I myself have to agree upon is not truth and meaning that I myself have to ‘make up’ is not meaning. On the contrary, it’s a game…

If we want to enjoy the ‘meaningfulness’ of the purposeful life we have therefore to play a game with ourselves. What we have to do is keep the part of the exercise whereby we ‘maintain the meaningfulness of the purpose’ secret from ourselves so that we don’t know we doing it. We ‘arrange’ for the purpose to be a purpose (because it wouldn’t be one otherwise) but we keep it quiet from ourselves that we are doing this. This might on the face of it seem to be a neat trick (and on the face of it, it is a neat trick) but the long and the short of the matter is that we are deceiving ourselves, and so no matter how much effort we put into it, this isn’t really going tos get us anywhere! Progress in the game is not real progress, after all. and what’s more, we’ve ‘made an enemy of the truth’ with this manoeuvre – there’s always going to be this ‘unwelcome awareness’ waiting in the wings and that unwelcome or refused awareness is going to cast a shadow on us, even when we seem to be at our happiest. Life can’t be lived on the basis of secrets, after all…

If there is to be meaning then it cannot be created by us, it cannot be arranged in advance through the manoeuvre of having a plan or a purpose. We may choose for this, that or the other to be meaningful and society might designate this, that that or the other to have meaning, but this isn’t real meaning. It is ‘assigned meaning’. This is ‘meaning that is imposed from without’ rather than meaning that comes, all by itself, ‘from within’. What allows meaning from within (or intrinsic meaning) to arise within us is lack of pressure, lack of control, lack of intention; when we are busy being purposeful then this is like a brick wall keeping intrinsic meaning out. If we are under pressure to ‘achieve’ the whole time then this is going to starve us of any genuine sense meaningfulness in our lives therefore. We may not notice this deficiency because extrinsic meaning (which equals ‘rules’ or ‘pressure’ or ‘compulsivity’) has substituted itself for the real thing. When compulsion is in the driver’s seat then we will be oblivious to intrinsic meaning, which is a far subtler sort of thing. It is far subtler, and it does not push itself upon us. It is not a loud blaring foghorn voice – it does not bellow at us, it does not threaten or cajole us.

So far from it being the case that purposeless activity is a drain upon us, it is – because of its non-compulsive or non-coercive nature – leaving the door open for what used to be called grace. Without grace, life is graceless (needless to say!) and purposeful/mechanical activity, even though we can’t necessarily see it to be so, is graceless. Conventional ‘wisdom’ warns us that the devil finds work for idle hands and this is, we might say, ‘the dark side of the work ethic’. The dark side of the work ethic is that what underpins our so admirable industry is the fear of what might happen if ever we were to stop! Some forms of Christian evangelicalism hold that meditation is a dangerous practice for this very reason – if we cease with all of our wall-to-wall mental busyness then we are, in effect, leaving the citadel of purposeful selfhood unguarded, and when we do that then the devil can walk right in and take over. It’s not just prayer that protects us from Satan therefore – ordinary, run-of-the-mill thinking activity does too. This however constitutes a fundamental mistrust of life itself; it is reminiscent of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, which is a way of looking at things which means we even have to distrust our actual nature, which is said to be tainted with this thing called ‘Original Sin’. We have been warned of this inherited curse down through the centuries and so we stay busy out of our fear, not because of the worthwhile goals that we are to attain. To relax is tantamount to sinning!

Once we start off from this standpoint it will never occur to us that what might ‘come in’ if we lower our personality defences might actually be a beneficial sort of thing, and not satanic at all, notwithstanding the famous Protestant work ethic. Kierkegaard, himself a devout Christian, tells us that idleness, of the right sort (i.e. not mere ‘self-distraction’), is the divine life itself –

Idleness, we are accustomed to say, is the root of all evil. To prevent this evil, work is recommended…. Idleness as such is by no means a root of evil; on the contrary, it is truly a divine life, if one is not bored….

Our goals and purposes are our own affair – they don’t connect us with life, no matter what we might think to the contrary. When we are busy in this goal-orientated way then we are ‘preoccupied’, we are ‘closed’ with regard to anything that isn’t relevant to the goals that we have in mind. The same is true for thinking – when we are busy thinking then we’re not paying attention to anything other than our thoughts. In order to genuinely ‘attend’ – which is how we connect with reality – we have to drop our purposeful doing and thinking and this is precisely the thing that, in our rational-purposeful culture, we find so difficult to do. Somehow, doing has become so important to us that we no longer have any time for being. Saying this is not to dismiss the importance of doing, or purposeful behaviour. By grounding our doing in being it becomes more effective; the best action arises from stillness, as it is said in the East.

As Alan Watt says, when we think of the time then we have nothing to think about but our own thoughts and this very effectively disconnects us from reality. The same is true with our purposefulness: – if we are purposeful the whole time then this is actually ‘being busy for the sake of being busy’ – wall-to-wall busyness means that we never get a chance to come up for air’ and ‘check in with ourselves’ about what we are actually doing. We never refer to actual reality, in other words. It’s not our ‘purposelessness’ that’s the big danger when it comes down to it therefore but our dreadful ‘non-stop busyness’ – this is the real ‘drain’, this is the real plague. Because of the ‘insulating’ character of the goal-orientated mode (the fact that we can’t see the bigger picture when we’re focused on the details) it all too easy happens that – as we have said – we become disconnected from both reality and from our own true nature – which is ‘spontaneous’ not ‘purposeful’. We get so caught up in the ‘how’ that we lose sight of the ‘why’.

This is a phenomenon that is very prevalent in our culture, as we keep saying. It’s a contagion that we have all been infected with, to some degree or other. Extrinsic meaning is such a ‘bully’ that it never gives us any time to listen to anything else (any quieter or less forceful voices) – it gives us this task to do, then the next, and then the next after that and it never lets up. When people talk about ‘working to live’ rather than ‘living to work’ this is what they’re talking about: the healthy way of things is when we engage in purposefulness for a specific and practical reason, and so when we’re done we can return to our natural state of stillness, or ‘purposelessness’. As we have said, who we really are is not purposeful – we don’t exist for the sake of fulfilling purposes, after all! Idleness brings us closer to the divine state of being, as Kierkegaard says. Everything has already been achieved (so to speak) and so what’s our problem? What’s got into us to be constantly seeking goals without ever a break, as if there were some sort of virtue in restlessness? Once we go down the road of overvaluing rationality and purposefulness, then this very quickly turns into the sort of thing whereby we lose track of who we really are and what life is really about. Life isn’t really about ‘anything in particular’ of course; we can however say what it’s not about though – it’s not about being purposeful for the whole time like some kind of demented machine that doesn’t know when to stop!

If we distrust ‘not being busy’ or ‘not being narrowly purposeful’ what this means is that we don’t trust our own actual nature, which is – as we just said –NOT about being busy. Who we are in our essence does NOT need to be validated by having some ‘purpose’! This is however the very nub of the matter – when we exist full-time in the Purposeful Realm then we construct an identity for ourselves that is based entirely upon ‘how well we are doing at achieving our goals’. That’s the name of the game, after all. This conditioned identity absolutely does have to be validated by purposes – without some sort of ‘purpose’ this conditioned identity very quickly finds itself in bad shape. When I see myself purely on those terms which the Purposeful Realm itself provides me with then I have to seek validation (or ‘meaning’) via my effectiveness in achieving the specified goals, arbitrary though these goals might be. The purposeful realm is a game in other words, and when you are in a game you have to play the game – there’s no choice here! There are no other options…

Not that we know we’re playing a game of course. If we knew that then we’d realise that we don’t have to play; ‘whoever plays, place freely,’ says James Carse (or something to that effect). The Purposeful Realm doesn’t let on that it’s a game; it doesn’t let on that there is any other form of existence other than this – the ‘ceaseless doing’ type of existence, the ‘mechanical activity’ type of existence, the ‘chasing goals’ type of existence. The promise of ‘being’ is always being dangled in front of our noses but that’s all it is – a promise, and an empty one at that. In this world we get to exist via our goals, via our purposes, via our roles and it’s all very competitive. We always have to point to something outside of ourselves in order to justify as being here. The reason we have to do this is because this ‘identity’ is entirely hollow – it’s not actually real and so it continually needs to be propped up or validated. If we were rest to in our true, unconditioned nature, then we would not need this pernicious self-validating activity. We wouldn’t need to look anywhere else; we wouldn’t need to look to some spurious external authority for validation. We wouldn’t need to be forever trying to ‘prove ourselves’. We are however thoroughly alienated from our true nature and so we do have to go on being purposeful. The purposeful self is the ‘substitute’ for who we really are, but it’s not a very good substitute. It’s not a very good substitute because it’s got exactly nothing going for it!







Degenerate Scientism In Mental Healthcare [Part 1]

We live in the ‘scientific’ age but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we know what science is! Very few of us will be able to say what the philosophy behind science is, or indeed know that there is such a thing as ‘the philosophy of science’. We would probably think that science doesn’t need any philosophy since the general perception of philosophy is of something rather wishy-washy and we all know that science is a very hard-headed kind of thing. Who needs philosophy and philosophizing and all that type of vague, inconclusive stuff when you’ve got science, after all?

 

But science does have a philosophy behind it and if we don’t know what it is then we also don’t know what science is. There is a spirit behind science and that spirit has to do with a complete detachment from belief, and a healthy distrust of our automatic thinking process. If I know what I’m looking for and I end up ‘proving myself right’ then this is highly suspicious, to say the least. If the results of my so-called ‘research’ fits in with the superficial fashions and ideologies of the age, then this too is deeply suspect – I am merely enacting my cultural template! The scientific spirit is to try to prove ourselves wrong to the very best of our ability and then – if we can’t do this – we grudgingly accept what we have established as being ‘provisionally true’ (which means of course that we are totally prepared to drop it when a better way of looking at things comes along). Science is not the ‘bulwark of certainty’ that we very much take it to be. If science were all about pursuing certainty then it wouldn’t be science – it would be the very same as what humanity has always done, which has nothing to do with ‘seeking the truth’ and everything to do with ‘trying to obtain a sense of ontological security’ by shutting down questioning.

 

Talking about ‘a scientific age’ is therefore entirely inaccurate – most of us have the same basic orientation in life that humanity has always had, which is to say, it is serviceable belief-structures that we are interested in, not the noble endeavour of ridding ourselves of all comforting delusions. And of course even to say that we are ‘interested’ in our beliefs isn’t the best way to put it since it’s not the belief itself that we are interested in but the fact that there is something there we can believe in. Any belief – held to uncritically enough – will provide us with the ‘sense of security’ that we are looking for, after all. The whole point of the frame of mind in which we are forever seeking security is that we’re not interested – we’re not interested in unravelling any loose ends because, on some level, we know that if we do this then the whole garment will as likely as not come undone! If the ‘garment’ came undone then we’d find ourselves standing there naked and that would be a ‘nightmare come true’ for us.

 

What ‘being naked’ means in this case is that we are face-to-face with the world in which we live without having any cognitive handle on it, without being able to find any ‘angle’ that we can use to understand or exploit or manipulate it. As soon as we say this we can see a source of big source of confusion; as soon as we think of ‘science’ we think of all the big changes that come about as a result of it. Science – we might say – has (for a significant proportion of us) changed our lives almost beyond recognition, and what this comes down to the exploitation of the insights that we have gained as a result of scientific investigation. What we talking about here therefore is technology, and science and technology are of course two separate things. It could easily happen that we get to the point where – for the most part – science is only valued because of the technologies it can spawn, but that still doesn’t detract from the unprejudiced nature of science itself. We – as a culture that is fixated upon ‘economic growth’ almost to the exclusion of all else – are inescapably prejudiced because our Number One Incentive is always about making money, but science itself isn’t prejudiced – if it was then it wouldn’t be science.

 

To say this isn’t to say however that what we call ‘science’ and teach as ‘science’ in our colleges, schools and universities isn’t all geared towards the exploitation of insights rather than ‘knowledge for its own sake’ because it clearly is. Governments and big businesses aren’t in the least bit interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge and this is of course where the funding for our education system comes from. It also doesn’t mean that we as a culture don’t have a very distorted view of what science means and that we haven’ turned it into a belief structure to obtain comfort from, which is what we human beings have been doing since the beginning of recorded history, and doubtless long before that. This false ‘security-producing’ distortion of science is what EF Schumacher calls materialistic scientism. Materialistic scientism is a degenerate variant of science that serves the highly dubious purpose of ‘comforting us rather than challenging us’. This is nothing new of course because we’ve always done exactly the same thing with religion – religion was surely never meant to ‘put us to sleep’ and yet this is exactly what it has done. When Jesus said ‘He who is near to me is near the fire…’‘ he was not trying to comfort us and yet untold millions use the external form of religion to allow themselves to feel that they’re ‘doing the right thing’. We feel that our path is officially sanctified and so we don’t need to question ourselves. The Yiddish proverb tells us ‘God is not nice, God is an earthquake,’ and yet we have turned worshipping the Deity into a bland, insincere act of social conformity.

 

The meaning of ‘He who is near to me is near the fire…’ is clearly that everything we are holding onto will get burned up if we approach too closely and this is the biggest ‘test’, the biggest ‘challenge’ there is. Challenges don’t come any bigger than this. Religion is almost invariably used to validate ourselves and our way of life however, not rudely strip us of all of our spurious validation (and all validation is spurious). Generally speaking, we have not the slightest interest in examining ourselves in an unprejudiced way – we simply want ‘the seal of approval’ so that we can safely assume that we are on the right track, and carry on as usual. External validation feels good, as we have indicated, because it does away with the need to examine oneself. There is no such thing as ‘right’ however – <right> means that we have successfully adapted ourselves to some external structure and all this means is that we have sold ourselves for the sake of the illusion of security where actually no such thing and never could be. Life isn’t a matter of conforming to some social fiction; the challenge of existence isn’t resolved by finding some convenient rule to follow and then closing our minds to everything else. Religion doesn’t (for most of us) have the power that it used to and it is – without any doubt – science that is responsible for this. Charles Darwin’s death blow against the literal interpretation of the Chapter of Genesis and the theologian’s estimation of the age of the universe, is just one snapshot (albeit a significant one) of this process. The dogmatic utterances of organised religion no longer does the trick – what is needed now are the equally dogmatic utterances of science! The problem here however, as we started off by saying, is that science isn’t some kind of dogmatic authority – that isn’t its job at all. Science isn’t a system of beliefs but rather it is a method of ongoing inquiry. Beliefs tell us absolutely everything we need to know about life – once we have a belief in place then all we need to do is act in accordance with this belief no matter what the circumstances might be. This (and this alone) is the mark of the true believer: the more we are tested, the more we hold firm to what we believe to be true! This is living entirely on the basis of the thinking mind and what the thinking mind has thought and the key thing here is that the ‘evidence’ doesn’t count unless it confirms whatever it is that we want to believe in. Everything is solidly ignored unless it agrees with our pre-existing models and theories about the world, in other words.

 

Fidelity to our unexamined template is the only virtue here and this is what society always demands of us – just as it is what our master the thinking mind always demands of us. The fact that we are a rational/technological culture rather than a religious one makes not the slightest bit of difference here because, as we have said, we use ‘science’ as a cudgel in order to ensure the uncritical acceptance of whatever it is that science supposedly tells us. ‘Experts say’, ‘the science tells us’, ‘research has shown’, are typical phrases that are thrown at us on a daily basis. In the field of mental health therapies are brought out that are laughable said to be ‘evidence-based’, thereby ensuring that we don’t question them. Not that as workers in the field of mental health – where conformity to the template is particularly highly-valued – we are especially good at questioning our models at the best of times!

 

Mental health is – we could say – where our misunderstanding of what the word ‘scientific’ becomes particularly obvious. We have tried our best to turn mental healthcare into a technology and we seem to be quite incapable of seeing just how absurd we are being here. Technologies always run off templates – we know whatever it is that we want to obtain and we have a rule-based process that will allow us to do this. We want to make aluminium metal or carbon steel, or polystyrene, or fructose syrup, or whatever and we have tried and tested methodologies that will allow us to do just this. Technology isn’t a process of inquiry therefore, it’s a process of ‘applying known standards and getting specified results’ and what this means is that if we are to have a technology of mental healthcare then we need to know what ‘mental health’ itself means. We need to know the specifications of our product.

 

We need to be able to specify the desired outcome and we also need to be able to measure whether we have successfully achieved it or not. We have to say what ‘mental health’ is and yet to say this is to say what it means to be human being. We can’t separate the two. This is an intractable philosophical question therefore and not a narrow technical one, so how can we possibly presume to do this? We can make assumptions about what it means to be human (and what it is that life is properly about) and then try to enforce these ideas – that’s not a problem for us because we do that all the time – but trying to enforce our standards without ever properly examining the assumptions that they are based on is hardly a recipe for good mental health! It’s a recipe for nonsense; it’s a recipe for disaster…

 

As a culture we are ‘mentally unwell’ and so that’s our starting off point. We are mentally unwell because we are heteronomous rather than autonomous (i.e. we’re always looking for security from the outside, from an external authority) and this is the epitome of mental ill-health. We’re operating off ‘an external template’; we’re afraid to take the risk of being ourselves and so we copy everyone else! This been the case, how on earth can we be expected to have anything even remotely meaningful to say on the subject, still less be professional ‘experts’ on it? We even copy everyone else when we try to say what mental health (or the lack of it) is. We go to college to learn what to think about it. Our idea of what it means to be mentally well is that we have to be ‘fitting in to what everyone else thinks being mentally well means’, and that we don’t question what everyone else thinks it is, and tells us it is, and what this shows is that we’ve actually got everything completely upside down! We couldn’t have got it more wrong if we’d tried…

Unlived Life

If society is supremely efficient at creating the generic self and if the generic self is not a ‘true basis for living life’ then this means that society is also supremely efficient at creating this thing that is sometimes called ‘unlived life’. Society manufactures unlived life by the gallon, by the cubic kilometre in fact. On the face of it society has one purpose or function, which is an apparently benign one, whilst on another level it has quite another, quite different function – the function of manufacturing ‘unlived life’!

 

‘What sort of commodity is this?’ we might ask, ‘what does unlived life even look like?’ This is a difficult question to answer because it doesn’t look actually like anything. It’s like dark matter – we can detect its influence but we can’t detect it. The effect of ‘unlived life ‘is to cause us to go around being less than happy, less than joyful. It’s a type of invisible misery. This isn’t to say that we are sad however – sadness is a different matter, sadness is actually a sign that we are living our life. Unlived life would be sadness that we deny, sadness that we can’t see to be there. We can’t relate to denied sadness, we can’t detect it, but its influence can be detected. Unlived sadness ‘loads onto us’ in a way that we can’t be directly aware of; it is like a weight or burden that we are carrying without knowing it. We don’t feel it, but from time to time it will dramatically show itself nevertheless. It will show itself on the individual level and also – as Jung says – very dramatically on the collective level. The pain of unlived life drives the collective.

 

A more general explanation of what ‘unlived life’ might be is to say that it has to do with possibilities that we turn away from, possibilities that we never explore. When we talk about ‘having regrets’ with regard to the things in life that we have never done and never will do, but which we would have liked to have done, this is getting close to the mark. When we don’t realise our potential then this is ‘unlived life’. And as Jesus says in Verse 70 of the Gospel of Thomas –

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

 

We started off this discussion by implicating society – society functions (we might say) by apparently offering us many opportunities, many possibilities whilst actually offering us ‘just the one possibility’ (which is to be a socially adapted human being). No matter which road we go down in society, if we let the requirements of this road define us then we are ‘a socially adapted human being’. We are being defined by a collectively applied template of ‘how we should be’ and what this means is that the only choice we are being offered is ‘the choice to do what we’re told’. Everything is ‘coming from the outside of us’ therefore and whatever comes from the outside always comes down to the same thing – loss of freedom, loss of autonomy. Fitting into a structure or system is always a loss of freedom, albeit a loss of freedom that comes ‘with benefits’. We have to be who we are told to be in order to enjoy these benefits, and that places a rather sinister complexion on things, if we were to take the time to reflect on it.

 

The more we adapt to the system, and take our role in life from it, the more benefits we are eligible to receive (assuming of course that we have the required capabilities to go with it). It is also true that the more we adapt, the more we are afflicted with ‘the curse of unlived life’. This is because we have had to make a sacrifice of our true inclinations and interests in order to progress within society’s terms – we are living a life, we might say, but is not our life. I our own life is unlived; no one has claimed it, no one wants it… It could be objected that we also have to make sacrifices in order to cultivate a gift that we might have, and forego the leisurely pursuits that our fellow human beings might be able to engage in, but this of course isn’t the same thing – it isn’t the same thing because we are not sacrificing our creativity and individuality. Adapting maximally to society, on the other hand, always involves sacrificing our creativity and individuality – society is a game (which is to say, it is all about following rules and regulations) and so creativity is the one thing does not go down well here. Creativity is the fly in the ointment as far as society goes. The process of social adaptation – as we have already indicated – is precisely that process whereby we sacrifice our creativity/individuality for the sake of fitting into the hive.

 

This isn’t to say that we can’t live within a community without forfeiting our souls but the ‘global megaculture,’ as E.F Schumacher calls it – which is the culture that has arisen in the technologically advanced nations – has now become so specialised (in terms of the employment niches that we can occupy) that a huge investment of time and energy is needed for us to make the grade to fit into it. A choice has to be made – do I can try to obtain the best possible job (i.e. the highest wage) that I can, which requires massive adaptation, or do I ‘go my own way’ despite the poor employment prospects that this would seem to entail? In addition, gaining entrance into the professional classes not only means that I be more or less guaranteed a good wage, it’s also a guarantee of high social status, so if that is important to me – as it probably will be – then that is something else for me to take into consideration. The cultivation of individuality doesn’t come into this, as we have said, there is an awful lot of training going on and training always comes from the outside and so – when it comes down to it – this is further enslaving and conditioning us rather than allowing us to actually grow.

 

 

There is an anomaly here that we just don’t spot and this anomaly is that whilst we are placing greater and greater reliance on technical expertise, we are placing no value whatsoever on wisdom. Wise human beings aren’t really of any use to the system; why human beings are actually a nuisance or an irritation to the system because they tend to disagree and criticise it! As Noam Chomsky says,

The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.

 

This overvaluing of technical expertise over wisdom is nowhere as poignant as in the mental health services – we get to be fully packed fully paid-up professionals in mental health by adapting ourselves assiduously to the given system, not by striking out alone. Wisdom – we might say – comes from ‘living our own lives’, not living someone else’s (or society’s) idea of ‘what our life should be’. Wisdom comes from ‘lived life’, in other words, not from the ‘unlived life’ that adapting to the social system creates. This is the only place it can come from, obviously enough! It is only through walking our own path that we can become wise, not through trading the well-worn collective path, motivated as we are by thoughts of profit, thoughts of personal advantage. ‘Unlived life’, as we have been saying, creates a form of suffering that we are disconnected from; unlived life IS a form of suffering that we are disconnected from. Given the fact that modern living is so invasive of our space, so undermining of our personal freedom (and who would be naïve enough to deny this?) it is perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that the state of absolute heteronomy that it engenders is what lies behind our neurotic suffering. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it is the mass of unlived life that our society produces (as a sort of ‘waste product’, as it were) that results in the ever-increasing burden of mental ill health in the technologically advanced nations that we are currently witnessing. The problem is – therefore – how do we imagine that we are going to remedy the situation by ‘throwing professionals at the problem’, when these professionals aren’t wise enough to understand that the bulk of our mental ill health is societally produced?

 

Mental health – above any other area, we might argue – requires actual human wisdom, rather than spurious ‘technical expertise’. How are we to produce wise human beings however, given that ‘education’ (or ‘training’) has the reverse effect actually producing wisdom? (Given that education is ‘imposed ignorance’, as Chomsky says). Anything generic that comes from the outside always undermines our true individuality and our true individuality, as we have been saying, is the only place wisdom can come from. This presents us with something of a dilemma therefore since, as a culture, we do not value ‘people going their own way’ (or people ‘thinking for themselves’) and yet this is the only way that we can be saved from our self-created neurotic misery. This is an old dilemma as it happens – all of humanity’s great artist and thinkers have come from the ‘undervalued fringes of society’. Very often they have been persecuted and reviled for daring to think outside the box (or daring to ‘live outside the box’); low social status has always been their lot. No respect is accorded them – more to the point. And yet it is from these social rejects (these ‘disrespected ones’) that almost all of our major creative or cultural leaps have come from. True creative thinking can’t come from those of us who are highly adapted for the simple reason that we have already given. ‘Adaptation to the given system’ and ‘creativity’ are two opposite things – the former excludes the matter. And yet without creativity and originality (i.e. ‘that which isn’t imposed from the outside’) how can we hope to survive? Our huge emphasis on conformity above all else isn’t just ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ – it’s ‘shooting ourselves in the head’!

 

 

The Imaginary ‘Mental Health’ of The I-Concept

Almost all of our mental activity, all of the stuff that goes on in our heads, is happening as a result of our identification with what Wei Wu Wei calls the ‘I- concept’. All of this constant agitation, this constant busyness, this constant yearning and striving, is happening in relation to the concept that we have of ourselves, and the crucial point here is that this concept doesn’t actually refer to anything existing in reality.

 

The undeniable fact that we are always being unsettled, agitated or disturbed by this ‘background mental activity’, the fact that we are forever being pulled ‘this way and that’ shows that we don’t realise that the I-concept has no correspondence with actual reality. We don’t see that at all and this is why we never have any peace of mind. If we ever do have peace of mind (which can still happen every now and again, but not because we have done anything to bring it about) then that would mean that we are no longer acting in relation to (or on behest of) the concept that we have of ourselves and what a blessed relief this is! That’s why it is a relief – because the self-concept isn’t there with all its demands, all its hopes and fears, all its constant unremitting agitation. When we talk about ‘peace’ or ‘tranquillity’ this is what we actually mean – we mean peace from the I-concept (not peace for that I-concept).

 

We don’t see it like this of course – we see ‘peace’ as being something to be gained by the I-concept and then enjoyed by it. We see peace as being some sort of ‘prize’ to be won, in other words – maybe we can go somewhere to find it, or meet someone who will help us discover it, maybe we can learn some sort of discipline to help us gain it. Maybe relaxation techniques or practising regular mindfulness will work. We’ve actually got a backwards way of looking at things therefore and the chances are that we will never realise this. It’s not part of our culture to have this particular realisation, after all! Our culture assumes (just as we individually assume) that the I-concept is rightfully supposed to be at this very centre of things, that everything should happen for the I-concept’s benefit. Modern ‘consumerist’ culture works by encouraging the tendency which we already have to believe that we are the I-concept, and – as a result – put all of our eggs into this particular basket.

 

There are problems associated with living life on the basis of the celebrated and highly-esteemed I-concept, however, and these are problems that can’t ever be solved! They can’t ever be solved because the root problem is ‘us thinking that we are the idea that we have of ourselves’ and we aren’t about to address this core problem any time soon. We spend our whole lives trying to sort out this problem and that problem but the root problem we never go anywhere near. The root problem we never even want to talk about. This makes our collective endeavour in the area of mental health rather ridiculous – if we spend all of our time searching for answers to the secondary problems that have been caused by the invisible ‘root problem’ and yet never come close to addressing the original problem itself, what does this say about us? What exactly is going on here?

 

What we are actually trying to do in the field of mental health is ‘avoid the main issue by chasing red herrings’ and we all take this business of chasing red herrings very seriously (as we’re supposed to). We have a high opinion of ourselves and our endeavours and what we have so far (supposedly) learned in our endeavours. We talk endlessly about ‘research’ in psychology as if this research has ever actually informed us of anything useful, which it absolutely hasn’t. Since when has research in psychology revealed anything interesting, let alone genuinely helpful? All the research in the world is useless if it is based on a confused (or back-to-front) way of seeing things. If this is the case it doesn’t matter how impressively rigorous we are. The scientific spirit – we might say –has to do with the commitment to uncover the truth regardless of how that truth may conflict with our precious beliefs and opinions and this is what sets science apart from most other human endeavours (which – for the most part – come down to the attempt to validate our pre-existing beliefs and opinions). This is not at all what is happening in psychology however because everything we do in this field is done on the basis of the core assumption that ‘we are the I-concept’.

 

This necessarily means that our understanding of what mental health entails or consists of is going to be totally skewed – when we talk about ‘mental health’ – as we do very freely – what we mean is ‘mental health for the idea that we have ourselves’. This is inevitably going to be the case when we are investigating matters from an exclusively rational point of view; when we are looking at things in an exclusively rational way we are only ever going to be dealing with our own ideas – rationality doesn’t believe in anything else but its own ideas, its own theories. The thinking mind won’t have any truck with anything that doesn’t dovetail neatly with its own pre-existent assumptions about the world and what this means (when it comes down to it) is that it won’t have any truck with anything other than its own ideas. Thought is a closed system, in other words, just as David Bohm says. The result of this rational approach advises that we cause ourselves to become flatly incapable of seeing the absurdity of imagining that they could ever be any such thing as ‘the mental health of the I-concept’.

 

The idea that we have of ourselves can’t have any sort of mental health for the simple reason that it is only an idea. The I-concept can never be ‘mentally healthy’ because it is only a concept (i.e. it isn’t real). We can relate this back to what we were talking about a short while ago about ‘peace’ coming about as result of the absence of the I-concept – all of the mental agitation which we notice going on in our minds on a full-time basis is due (we were saying) to the belief that we have that we ‘are’ this concept. This identification is what drives almost all of our thinking; almost everything that happens in our heads comes about as a consequence of us being totally convinced that we are the idea of ourselves and so to try to figure out how the I-concept can enjoy peace or tranquillity is absurd because this construct is itself the cause of our agitation, the true origin of our ‘lack of peace’. The self-construct – being a construct – requires constant maintenance, constant defending and constant promoting, and so there is no peace ever to be had here! No matter what else a life of the ‘self-construct’ might entail, it will certainly never entail peace.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that the type of life that we lead when we are living in the ‘conditioned realm’ is a life of perpetual struggle, a life of constant striving, a life in which we are continually (and unsuccessfully) trying to control both ourselves and the world around us. The concrete sense of self is a striver and it can never not strive – it might drive itself mad with its own unremitting striving (or controlling) but it can never figure out a way of ‘not striving’ or ‘not controlling’, however much it may want to. Our collective endeavour in the field of mental health, for the most part, comes down to the efforts of this very same I-concept to find ‘a remedy for itself’, we might therefore say. The more purely rational the approach, the more true this is, and in the case of modern psychology – which is overwhelmingly rational – this is very starkly the case. We are being super-clever in order to cure ourselves from the curse of our own cleverness (although we won’t of course ever see things like this).

 

One problem that arises for us when we live life (or attempt to live life) on the basis of the I-concept is that we are forever striving, forever struggling, forever analysing and calculating, forever plotting and manipulating, and this is all very wearisome for us. We try to improve our situation by investing in control (or more effective control) but this is a slippery slope because the more we control the more we have to control. ‘Once you pop you can’t stop’, as the Pringles ad says. The more we get drawn into controlling the further we move away from who we really are; the more we invest in cleverness, the more alienated we become from our true nature and from the world around us. Our neurotic mental suffering quintessentially comes down to this ‘alienation’ – what could be worse than living in a state of alienation from our own true nature, or from the world into which we were so innocently born? We start off innocent, but we all-too-quickly become corrupted by ‘the ways of the world’. This is – moreover – an alienation (or corruption) that we do not understand or in any way acknowledge. We’re alienated but we don’t know that we are alienated and the reason we don’t know this is because we are so well-adapted to the artificial world that we have created for ourselves – we’re too well adjusted to the ‘Designed World‘ that we have so industriously constructed all around us.

 

The Designed World is the world that perfectly fits the needs and desires of the I-concept and were the case that this limited identity really is ‘who we actually are’ then all would be well – there will be no major problems involved. But there are problems involved, irreducible problems, problems that can never be fixed, and these problems come about – as we have said – as a result of our hapless identification with the I-concept. Being identified with the self-construct doesn’t mean that we are the self-construct however – it just means that we are confused! Or as we could also say – it just means that we now live in a very narrow, artificial way that can only exist or seem to be meaningful to us because all traces of ‘who we truly are’ have been denied. We have been ‘subsumed within the game’, in other words, and the game is a heartless kind of a thing. There’s nothing in the game other than struggling and we don’t even know what it is that we are struggling for. There is nothing in the game but suffering when it comes down to it but we deny the suffering, or minimise it and ascribe it to all sorts of false causes, ‘causes’ that we can imagine we can solve by the judicious application of even more ‘cleverness’, even more control’…

 

The cure for the pain that is engendered by the game (or rather engendered by the fact that we are playing the game without knowing it) isn’t to learn to ‘play the game better’ (i.e. ‘optimization’) but to abandon it altogether, which is the ‘radical solution’ that no one wants. Instead of taking the mind-created sense of self so very seriously, and doing our level best to ‘fix’ it and return it to its state of imaginary mental health – which is the phantom which keeps on eluding us – what’s genuinely would help us would simply be not to take this mind-created sense of self so very seriously, and there are no fancy ‘scientific’ ways of doing this! There are no methods for not taking ourselves so seriously (any more than they could be such a thing as ‘a method for understanding jokes’) – techniques for this do not (and cannot) exist. No ‘tricks’ exist by which we can pull this off and this is what has us so baffled, since all we know or believe in are our tricks…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working Via Pressure

Our default operational mode is to work via pressure. Not to work under pressure that is, but by means of pressure. Pressure means that the reason we are doing this or doing that lies outside of ourselves — we are trying to obtain what has been defined by thought as a ‘desirable outcome’ or we are trying to avoid an ‘undesirable outcome’. We are always either seeking advantage or sidestepping disadvantage but either way the reason for our activities lies ‘outside of ourselves’. We’re fixated upon a world that is external to us.

We can’t really see this properly because it’s so very normal for us. We don’t understand what’s being said here because ‘the outside’ is all we know. The point is however that the motivational force acting on us isn’t really ‘an expression of who we really are’ — is not intrinsic, it’s extrinsic. Something else — our thinking, our ideas about ourselves and the world — is telling us that such and such an outcome is good, or that such and such an outcome is bad. What extrinsic motivation means (when it comes down to it) is that we are compelled to act based on what our thinking tells us and our thinking isn’t us. Thought is always ‘an external mechanical authority’: we are compelled to act this way or that based upon what we see as necessity; we are under pressure to act and — more than this — we’re under pressure to succeed within the terms that have been given to us.

The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation couldn’t be greater therefore — how could there be a bigger difference than that between a force that is acting on us from the outside (which has nothing to do with our true nature) and the free expression of who we actually are? What we are actually asking here is of course ‘What could be a bigger difference than the difference between slavery and freedom?’ We can hardly hope to smudge the distinction between these two things! And yet despite the complete lack of similarity between these two forms of motivation we very rarely make any distinction — the gulf between freedom and slavery is glossed over as if it doesn’t exist. In short, we don’t see the difference between being acted upon by forces that come from outside of ourselves and acting in accordance with our intrinsic nature (without there being any ‘compulsion’ involved whatsoever).

The reason we can’t ‘see the difference’ is of course because we have internalised these external forces — we have been doing this since an early age. This is what happens when we are brought up in environment that is based on controlling, as is almost always the case. Most families are controlling, and our ‘collective’ families — which is society — is always controlling. Society functions on the basis of conditioning — not on the basis of freedom, not on the basis of encouraging everyone to think for themselves and be whatever it is in their nature to be. Another way of putting this is to say that we are ruled by belief, and our beliefs are forced upon us from the outside. Beliefs are always denying of individuality/autonomy and yet we persist in thinking that belief — the enforcement of ideas upon people from the outside — is a good thing.

We think that ‘passing on belief’ is a good thing because we feel that what we are believing in is actually true, but the thing here is of course that we only think that our beliefs are true because we ourselves have been have already been conditioned by them! We are being ‘obedient to the belief’ in thinking that ‘the belief is true’ — all beliefs require us to accept them as being actually ‘true’. No matter how palpably foolish or preposterous a belief might be it will always require us to accept it as being absolutely true. So because we live in, and have been brought up in, a ‘coercive environment’ which doesn’t allow us to think for ourselves (or be ourselves) we can’t tell the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, despite the immense gulf between the two. We have no ‘inner life’ of our own, only the beliefs and opinions and viewpoints that have been put into us. We dream what we have been told to dream, and that’s what makes the (consumerist) world go round. We all have to value and desire the same stupid things; we all have to be walking down the same well-worn path.

Having no genuine life of our own means that we have to ‘run on pressure’ — that’s all that’s left to us in the absence of ‘interiority’. Not knowing who we really are, all we can do is rely on various types of pressure — pressure to do this, pressure to do that, pressure to do the other. This very easily gets to be all too much for us and so then we become candidates for stress-management, candidates for anxiety-management (or perhaps anger-management). This is a very great irony, if only we could see it. All over the world stress-management programs are being taken seriously and staff are being sent to them by companies, hospitals, organisations of all sorts, all of which institutions operate in the first place only by ‘putting pressure on their workers’. When the pressure gets too much we are told to go on a stress-management course, which involves us ‘putting pressure on ourselves not to be so pressurised’. Anything that is based on a generic way of doing things, a ‘one size fits all’ method, is pressure. We learn ‘skills’ it is true, but skills are rules: ‘skills’ equals ‘rules’ and ‘rules’ equal ‘pressure’. Rules are of course the very quintessence of pressure.

We are a certain way (stressed out, anxious, or angry) and so then we put ourselves under pressure (however subtle) to be a different way. Whichever way you look at it is still pressure — the only thing that wouldn’t be pressure would be where we are able to give heartfelt permission for that pressure (stress or anxiety) to be there, but in order to do that we would have to have a sense of genuine interiority, we would have to have an ‘inner life’. Or to put this another way, we would have to have ‘inner freedom’ (which means ‘freedom from rules’). We would have to have inner freedom since without it we cannot give permission for anything — without inner freedom we can only ever ‘control or be controlled’.

The same is true for CBT and all cognitive therapies — my thoughts are putting pressure on me one way or another (they are putting the ‘big squeeze’ on me, so to speak) and so I use the techniques of CBT to prevent these thoughts from controlling me in the way that they are. I am using the ‘pressure’ of the techniques in order to counteract the pressure that the negative thinking is putting on me, and so I’m ‘using pressure to counteract pressure’. This may offer temporary relief (and then again, it may not) but the end result is not going to be good for me either way, since I have merely been drawn in deeper to the web of control and counter-control. There is no freedom here, for sure! What would help me is (again) for me to find it within myself to unconditionally allow these painful or worrying thoughts to be there; then — with no more resistance to feed on — the thoughts would lose their power over me. Without inner freedom (or inner peace) I cannot do this however, and the one thing CBT can never teach me is how to find inner peacefulness.

Anything we do in the name of therapy — if it does not result in the development of a sense of our own interiority, or connection with our own ‘inner life’, is a farce. If I’m troubled in my mind then teaching me strategies to ‘manage’ these troubles just adds to my burden — that just adds to my bondage, my slavery to thought — and it is this slavery that lies at the root of all my problems. We don’t even know the true meaning of the word ‘freedom’ however — all we know methods of control, and control — no matter how successful it might be it seem to be at first — always leads to more dependency upon control (which is a loss of freedom). The greater our initial ‘success’ therefore the more dependent (or ‘enslaved’) we are going to become later on. The root of all our psychological problems lies in the fact that we are running entirely on pressure (entirely on extrinsic motivation) and that — as a consequence — we know nothing else. We don’t have any concept of what intrinsic motivation is; for us to know that we would first have to have some sort of genuine ‘inner life’, a life which is by its very nature ‘independent of what happens on the outside’, and which does not — on this account — need to protect itself by investing more and more in control…

The System Can Only Ever Do One Thing

The system can only ever do one thing and that is to keep imprinting on itself on everyone. This is the only action of which it is capable. In the field of mental health, therefore, it is inevitable that our understanding of what mental health means will always come down to the question of ‘how well has the unit taken the programming?’ (although we will not of course frame it in quite these terms).

If the unit concerned has taken the conditioning well then this equals ‘being mentally healthy’ and in cases where there is a problem with the conditioning therapy naturally consists of reinstating it, reaffirming it, ‘reinstalling’ it. Insofar as the individual therapist has himself or herself been socially conditioned this is — as we have just said — quite inevitably going to be the way of things. As a conditioned person, how can I do otherwise than pass on my own conditioning? How can I do otherwise other than assume that the conditioned state is the healthy one, that my way of seeing the world (as a conditioned person) is the right one. That’s what we all do, all of the time. That’s what it means to be ‘conditioned’.

How could I even find work within a healthcare system if I did not show myself to be subscribing wholeheartedly and unreflectively to the viewpoint that everyone else has dutifully subscribed to? This is how it is with all groups — we have to ‘subscribe’ in order to be accepted — and mental healthcare systems (or professional bodies) are of course no exception. Far from being an exception, healthcare systems are even more rigorous about the norms because they have the added excuse of ‘ensuring standards of care’. This sounds highly commendable on the face of it of course and it is on this account well-nigh impossible to challenge — if we do take it into our heads to challenge the norms then we are simply excluded. That’s how we get ourselves excluded, by challenging the norms — that’s the mechanism. Our prospects of future employment in our chosen field immediately become very doubtful indeed, and who is going to risk that? Furthermore, who isn’t going to doubt ‘their right to challenge’ (or ‘their right to question’) in the face of the very solid front presented by everyone else in the field, who — we may be sure — are not going to risk their status (or livelihood) by publicly agreeing with us even if they do happen to have their own reservations about ‘the official line’. We all know that this is the way things work — ‘the day you start working for a big organization is the day you stop thinking’!

The bottom-line is that if we are part of a group, then our allegiance is to the group norms, or to put this another way, insofar as we have been conditioned by the system, we see promoting the values of the system as being consistent with (or as being ‘the same thing as’) good practice. Or as we might also say, if our allegiances to the everyday mind, and the way that it necessarily understands things, then all we are ever going to be able to do is to impose this particular brand of order on everything and everyone we meet, through all of our rational evaluation and all of our purposeful activity.

Mental healthcare can never come about as a result of the successful acting out of our conditioning however. It can never come about as a result of enacting approved procedures and protocols. All that’s going to happen this way is the perpetuation of the particular brand of order associated with our (unexamined) looking at things. All that’s going to come about this way is the reinforcement of the status quo. Genuine mental health means that whatever process it is that is happening is allowed to show itself for what it is. Whatever is emerging is allowed to emerge, and our ‘mental health’ lies precisely in this. Our ‘mental health’ lies precisely in our ability to relate honestly to whatever it is that emerging, and what is emerging will never accord with ‘what we all think it should be’. If there’s anything at all that we can be certain of in this world, it is this.

This principle goes beyond the world of mental healthcare — reality itself (we may say) can be relied upon to never accord with what we can collectively agree for it to be. Our relationship with what is real can’t be decided via a committee, or via any kind of ‘group think’ — this is a matter for the individual alone, unaided. Who can aid us in this matter of establishing a relationship with reality, after all? The more we are ‘aided’ in this regard the more we are put wrong, the more we are led astray. This is the one responsibility that we can’t put onto anyone else, no matter how unequal we might feel to the burden. Reality will always fall foul of the expectations or requirements of the collective and this is just another way of saying that ‘consciousness is always unwelcome in the group’. Only people who agree with the group are welcome in the group, as we all know very well.

When consciousness appears on the scene this is always as a result of the programming failing — the ‘unit’ has failed to take the conditioning. Consciousness is in one sense the enemy of the socially-adapted person because it means that they cannot be socially adapted anymore! When consciousness arrives on the scene this is generally unwelcome to the individual just as it is unwelcome to the collective and so we will all agree to do whatever can be done in order to remedy the unfortunate situation that has come about. Certainly no one is going to be happy about what is going on and look upon it as a precious opportunity for growth. Instead of ‘growth’, we like to talk in terms of recovery, which is a kind of a buzzword at the moment. Recovery means ‘going back’, it means ‘going back to the way we were before’ which was ‘being socially adapted’ (i.e. unconscious).

When we are in the ‘socially-adapted mode’ then we can’t help seeing things this way. The fact that we are socially adapted provides us with a ‘baseline’ and this baseline is — needless to say — what we want to come back to. The baseline is always what we want to come back to when our normal mental functioning has been challenged; the baseline doesn’t offer us any ‘opportunities for growth’ it is true (it was of course never its business to do this) but it does provide us with great sense of security. We want the return of the brand of order that we are familiar with — growth is a very frightening thing, after all. The crux of the matter is therefore that’s what we generally call ‘therapy’ or ‘mental healthcare’ is actually social readjustment therapy, as Alan Watt says. We are being ‘returned to the way we were’ (or, at least, that is the idea). To quote Alan Watts (from Psychotherapy East and West) –

Whenever the therapist stands with society, he will interpret his work as adjusting the individual and coaxing his ‘unconscious drives’ into social respectability. But such ‘official psychotherapy’ lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all agencies that require individual brainwashing. On the other hand, the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism. This does not mean that he has to engage directly in political revolution; it means that he has to help the individual in liberating himself from various forms of social conditioning, which includes liberation from hating this conditioning — hatred being a form of bondage to its object.

In practice things don’t always work out so well when we try to go down this road. Things often enough don’t work out so well because it’s not a ‘healthy’ thing to try to go against the movement of growth (which is the ‘movement away from the known’). The impulse towards ‘returning to the way we were’ is not a healthy one; the conservative impulse is not a healthy thing — being driven by ‘avoidance of the new’ as it is, how can it be said to be ‘healthy’? By definition we can say that readjustment therapy is not a healthy thing because to be healthy is to be whole and the life of the socially adapted person is a fractured and alienated one and can never be otherwise. We all crowd together in large numbers but the lives that we lead are never any less ‘fractured’ and ‘alienated’ as a result — we just have company in it, that’s all. We have company in the fractured and alienated life and we can thus validate ourselves, which we do all the time. Society itself is a mechanism for the validation of the group norms!

The journey towards mental health is the journey towards wholeness and wholeness means that we are manifesting our true individuality. The individual is always whole and the whole is always ‘individual’! Naturally wholeness is always individual (or ‘unique’) — what is there to compare it to, after all? The life of the socially adapted person on the other hand is always generic in nature, as we can easily see if we think about it for a moment. If we weren’t ‘generic’ then we wouldn’t be accepted within the group — that is precisely the price we have to pay in order to be accepted within the group. If we weren’t generic then we would be ‘different’ or ‘strange’ and if we were ‘different or ‘strange’ then there would be no place for us in the group.

Just as the journey towards mental health is the journey to wholeness (i.e. the journey to ‘who we really are’) it is also the journey away from all that is familiar and comfortable, and this is why we tend very much not to like it. ‘Growth’ is a word that we all bandy about freely and are generally very comfortable about, but the reality itself is far from comfortable. ‘Comfort’ is not a word anyone in the throes of growth would ever use. Growth is something we have to do alone, without the assistance of anyone else, as we have already intimated. We have to break away from our ‘support system’. No one can tell us ‘how to grow’ or provide us with any handy suggestions or advice. There are no ‘hacks’ for growth! What we can do however is provide an environment which is supportive of growth, rather than being inherently critical of it.

To be pushed right out of our comfort zone and at the same time to have this process universally regarded as ‘something pathological that needs to be reversed’ makes the situation so much harder — the experience becomes actually punishing. The experience of those of us who are going through a mental health crisis is generally a ‘punishing’ one of course, but this is because the attitudes that exist in society, both within ourselves and society at large. Our experience is punishing (as opposed to being simply painful) because it is being negatively evaluated on all sides — it is punishing because we understand that we are ‘wrong’ to be feeling this way. We may not be overtly criticised or blamed or judged (although on the other hand we might well be) but implicit in the response of everyone we meet is the deeply ingrained idea that what is happening should not be happening. This is the attitude of everyone concerned — it is my attitude and it is also the attitude of all the mental healthcare professionals I meet, and this is not helpful. ‘Negative evaluation’ is a ‘mechanical reaction’ and mechanical reactions are never helpful when it comes to mental health!

The Purely Conceptual World

We have been given a ‘purely conceptual world’ to live in. Because it is a world that is ‘purely conceptual’ this means that there is nothing at all in it. A purely conceptual world is a world with absolutely nothing in it and yet that’s all we are being given. It’s not worth sitting around and waiting hopefully for ‘something else’ to come out of this world because nothing is going to come out of it no matter how long we might wait! It is absolutely the case that we have been given a purely conceptual world to live in and it is also absolutely the case that we are sitting around waiting for something good to come out of it even though nothing good ever can. This is exactly our situation. We go through life thinking that we’re up against this problem and that problem and that we have got this issue and that issue to contend with, and in a (subjective) way this may indeed be said to be true. The underlying problem however – the problem that we can’t ever see – is that we’re stuck in a purely conceptual reality.

 

To talk about ‘a conceptual reality’ is of course an oxymoron – it can be the one way or it can be the other but it can’t be both. We have reality or we have the concept of it but we can’t have both because the two things are as far apart as any two things ever can be. The conceptual reality is like the reality of a film set that, from a certain angle, looks like the real thing, but which can’t ever be investigated from any other angles without it being instantly revealed for what it is. The whole point is not to investigate it from other angles. ‘Life in the conceptual reality’ means making very sure indeed that we only ever do look at things from the proper prescribed angle therefore. If we look at it any other way then the illusion is abruptly shattered; the ‘magic’ that keeps the film real is lost and then we are confronted with the distinctly un-magical nature of the situation.

 

Our allegiance is always to the reality that is being created by the rational mind rather than anything else and we show our allegiance by feeling cheerful when our thoughts indicate that we should be cheerful and being downbeat and morose when they indicate that this is the appropriate reaction. If I think that I’m doing well then my mood improves, and if my thoughts tell me that my prospects are poor then my mood is correspondingly down in my boots. Such is our loyalty to thought that we were put ourselves through all this on a daily basis. We will suffer all sorts of indignities rather than doubt that what our thoughts are telling us about the world.

 

So if our loyalty to thought causes us to make fools of ourselves by becoming elated or depressed at the drop of a hat, bobbing up and down meaninglessly like corks floating in a choppy sea, then our loyalty to the conceptual mind causes us to devote our attention to a superficial pseudo-reality that has nothing interesting about it at all. So on the one hand we’re making a big song and dance about nothing at all the whole time, and allowing ourselves to be serially transfixed by banalities (when we could be paying attention to something that was genuinely interesting instead, i.e. the real world as opposed to the theatrical one) and on the other hand we are obliged to be very rigid and controlling with our perceptions in case we discover that the drama which is keeping us entertained (or ‘transfixed’) is nothing more than a hollow sham.

 

When we tease these two ingredients apart – the inherent dullness of the pseudo-world that we are compelled to believe in and the (usually) invisible anxiety that is attendant upon the maintenance of this fragile artificial world view – we can see something very significant, we can see two elements of depression and anxiety clearly revealed. What else is depression other than the discovery (the unwilling discovery) that the life which we have placed so much stock in (the life which we have been encouraged to place so much stock in) is utterly devoid of any worth or meaning, and that the ‘sense of self’ which has been constructed in relation to this artificial life is fake and lacking in any genuine sincerity or integrity? And what is anxiety apart from this invented – but all too believable – need to make something work that is never going to work?

 

Our encultured response to depression is to say that it is some kind of mechanical defect and that the life which we construct in relation to the ‘purely conceptual world’ which we have been provided with is authentic and meaningful and interesting and all the rest of it. That this is the case is not up for negotiation; that’s not on the table at all, and so any intimation – no matter how convincing it might be to the individual concerned – is inevitably going to be dismissed out of hand. The possibility of not dismissing it out of hand is something that never even crosses our threshold of consciousness. It never makes it that far, it’s shot down without any further ado, and so the message that the condition is screaming so loudly is roundly ignored by everyone concerned – everyone apart from the sufferer themselves, that is (who can’t really ignore it). This denial of the very obvious message behind depression suits the rest of us very well therefore but it doesn’t help the sufferer at all. Far from helping them, denying the reality of what they are feeling makes their suffering even worse – it is made worse because we – in our professional cleverness – have arrogantly denied the meaning of their most intimate personal experience. This experience – far from being pathological in nature – is actually profoundly healthy and this is the possibility we can never allow for.

 

In the case of anxiety our response is exactly the same. We are receiving a message against our will, we are receiving a message but we are fighting against it every step of the way – we are fighting against it for all we’re worth because it is so very inimitable to us. What the anxiety is telling us – in no uncertain terms – is that the endeavour which we are engaged in is untenable, that it is just not going to work out for us. It’s not going to work out for us because it is all taking place on a false basis; everything is always taking place on a false premise in the purely conceptual world because it is in the nature of concepts to be false. It’s a false basis because ‘the concept of me’ is trying to achieve ‘the concept of something else’; ‘the concept of who I am’ is trying (inevitably) to achieve some goal or other and goals are concepts just as anything else in the PCW is!

 

Anxiety is the same story as depression because the message is so strong, and because it hits us on such a deep level that we just can’t override it, or ‘conveniently reinterpret it’ as everyone else can. We feel it in our bones, so to speak. We feel it on a level that is deeper and more profound than the level of our thinking and so even though thought has been our master up to this point, it has finally being trumped stop trumped by reality (albeit a reality that we don’t like). It can’t stand up to our deeper intuition, even though it tries its hardest to do so. Thought isn’t really the master after all – it only pretends to be. Wisdom comes about as a result of suffering, Aeschylus says. Aeschylus also says that wisdom comes about ‘against our will’.

 

Naturally wisdom comes about against our will – what we are learning undermines everything we believe in, after all. It undermines everything we have invested ourselves in so deeply. If only we are able to understand what Aeschylus is talking about here deeply the process that we are undergoing would be so much less punishing for us. If we were able to have some insight into this timeless truth that would make such a profound difference to our experience, even though the process would continue just the same.

 

If we were supported in this crucial understanding (which could only happen if we as a culture were more psychologically aware, or even psychologically aware at all) we would have a far better chance of having this insight ourselves and then as a result of this insight we would still be mechanically struggling against the awareness that it brings us but we would be at peace with our own struggling. We would be ‘at peace with our own struggling’ (as strange as this might sound) because we would understand it but the problem is that the social milieu within which we are enfolded in is profoundly dismissive or denying of any such insight. We cannot after all – as we have already said – countenance for a second the suggestion that the PCW is devoid of any worth or meaning, or any actual reality. We couldn’t get our head around this suggestion even if we tried – that isn’t a thought that we are able to have.

 

Suppose that I do have the thought that ‘all my thoughts are devoid of substance’ – if I were to entertain this thought (the thought that ‘my thoughts are hollow’) then I would be ‘trusting my mental process in order to discount that very same mental process’ since ‘my thoughts are devoid of substance’ is itself a thought. The thinking mind never really sees through itself, even if it does play at it. When we talk about ‘the hollowness of the PCW’ we are of course talking about the hollowness of thought and so this ‘blankness’ or ‘emptiness’ is something that can never be known about on the basis of the PCW. We can talk about it, as we just have done, we can intellectually play about with the idea quite easily, but it’s a sham – not something that is actually helpful. It is very likely to be ‘helpful in reverse way’ because the more we intellectually play about the concept the more we become trapped in the intellect that is doing the ‘playing about’! We can as a culture field any number of intellectual heavyweights capable of discussing the hollowness of thought but that’s not going to help anyone, least of all them.

 

What does help is to focus solidly on two points: [1] that society provides us with a purely conceptual world to live in, a world that we are almost incapable of ever questioning, and [2] that the invisible hollowness that is inherent in the PCW ultimately manifests itself as neurotic suffering (which is displaced suffering, suffering which we cannot see for what it is, suffering the origin of which is entirely obscure to us. As a culture, we see ourselves as being very resourceful, very practical, and very capable; we also see ourselves as having an unprecedented amount of knowledge at our fingertips  – more knowledge than human beings have ever had available to them throughout the whole course of our history. That is unquestionably how we see ourselves. The thing about this however is that it is all a joke if we can’t see that being adapted to a purely conceptual world renders our lives completely sterile, completely meaningless, completely futile, and that this is the ‘Soul Sickness’ that Jung warned about over 80 years ago now:

Deviation from the truths of the blood begets neurotic restlessness, and we have had about enough of that these days. Restlessness begets meaninglessness, and the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full extent and full import our age has not as yet begun to comprehend.

As Jordan Peterson says in one of his lectures, psychologists these days are strongly discouraged from mentioning Jung’s name in academic circles; to do so would be the kiss of death because everyone would then realise that you are ‘soft in the head’, so to speak (which is to say, not appropriately rigorous and therefore scientific enough in your demeanour).  No one would ever take anything you say seriously again after this fatal faux pas. No one would ever heed your words ever again. This fact in itself tells us everything we need to know about contemporary psychology! By trying so hard to be ‘scientific’ (whatever we might imagine that to mean) we have departed from our subject. Modern psychology is – at best – a source of confusion. It is a source of confusion because it traps us even more in the purely conceptual world under the pretext of somehow ‘illuminating’ us! Rational ‘therapy’ does the very same thing – under the guise of ‘freeing’ us from our thought-created suffering it compounds that suffering further. All rational therapies do this – there is no way that they can’t, of course…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering Our Wholeness

The whole emerges when we look at something from all possible angles, when we ‘circumnavigate’ it, so to speak. This is the circumambulatio of the alchemists and it is also the way our dreams develop when we pay attention to them, as Jung says here in Psychology and Alchemy:

The way is not straight but appears to go in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals: the dream-motifs always return after certain intervals to definite forms, whose characteristic is to define a centre… As manifestations of unconscious processes the dreams rotate or circumambulate round the centre, drawing closer to it as the amplifications increase in distinctiveness and scope.

It doesn’t come naturally for us to perform the alchemical circumambulatio, however. That’s not our way – our way is the ‘linear path’, our way is to delve ever deeper into our subject from the same point of view and grow increasingly dismissive of all other viewpoints. Our authority derives in other words from our ‘ignorance of all viewpoints’, which is what academic specialism always comes down to. As has often been noted, the huge amount of detail that needs to be mastered when we study a subject means that we simply don’t have the time to do any broader reading. In some fields of study this doesn’t seem to cause any immediate problems, but when it comes to our mental health most certainly does. The word ‘health’ comes from the old English word for wholeness which indicates straightaway that our approach to mental health has itself become unhealthy!

 

It is not in the nature of the thinking mind to ‘circumambulate’ the topics that it is considering. As we have said, it does the very opposite of this – it ‘digs in’, it entrenches itself, it wilfully ignores all other perspectives. Thought works by ‘excluding the irrelevant’, and irrelevant is whatever it doesn’t happen to be focusing on at the time. The psyche itself however (if we may be permitted to use that currently unfashionable term) always ‘circles’ – it appears to move around in a random or accidental fashion. It is not logical as the thinking mind is. It hops about on its own accord, going where it will, and there’s no ‘plan’ to what it’s doing at all. The psyche has no gender in other words, whilst the rational mind always does. Thought can’t not ‘have an agenda’! All artists and writers and poets know this and have a very deep appreciation of this apparently whimsical or flighty quality of the psyche, which is like the wind which ‘bloweth where it listeth, as Alan Watts says. This is where very life of the psyche comes from and if we put a stop to this then we put a stop to all creativity, all spontaneity, all intuition, and what is life worth then?

 

What this comes down to is the difference between ‘directed’ and ‘spontaneous’ movement. As a culture we value directed activity pretty much to the exclusion of all else; we want to be ‘in charge’, in other words. We can equate this quality of ‘directedness’ with the rational ego – it’s actually the feeling that we are in control and that we are ‘directing the show’ that creates the phenomenon of the rational ego. If the ego didn’t feel that it could make things happen the way it wanted them to happen then it would start to lose its integrity as you go’. The fact that we value what Albert Bandura called ‘personal self-efficacy’ so much clearly shows that we are making the assumption that ‘life’ and ‘the (so-called) life of the rational ego’ are one and the same thing, and that there is therefore no life outside of the life of the ego, that – outside of this – there is actually nothing of any interest going on. Our society (our ‘collective way of life’) – very obviously – completely embodies this assumption.

 

Investing heavily in directed activity (and therefore using this as a way of defining who we are) – causes us to perceive ourselves as ‘being the rational ego’ and this mode of existence actually precludes spontaneity – we always act according to our agenda (which may or may not be conscious) and, furthermore, always has this quality of ‘self-consciousness’ going on whereby everything we do and say is always related back to the image that we have of ourselves. We can’t escape from our own image of ourselves, in other words – we’re actually ‘stuck to ourselves’ and this state of affairs constitutes a type of ongoing suffering or torment that we just can’t see as such. We are the prisoners of the rational ego and we ‘suffer from it’ rather than ‘benefiting from it’ or ‘enjoying it,’ which is what we imagine to be the case. The deal isn’t really as good a one as we might imagine being the case therefore.

 

Even though the situation of ‘perceiving ourselves to be the rational ego’ is a thinly disguised state of suffering we are tied into it by the way in which we value our perceived self-efficacy efficacy so much (we don’t just value it, we use it to construct our identity, as we have just said). Because willed action, or ‘making things happen on purpose’, is so supremely important to us we aren’t ever going to experience the exhilarating sense of freedom that comes from not having to make things happen on purpose (or rather not having to make ourselves happen on purpose). We have actually got it completely backwards because we understand ‘freedom’ as being the same thing as ‘the freedom to get things to happen the way we want them to’, which comes down to ‘the freedom to believe that we are the rational ego’. The rational ego is a painful prison, and yet we implicitly define freedom in terms of believing that we are this arbitrary sense of self and this – obviously enough – means that it is a prison we can’t ever question. ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.’ says Goethe.

 

We don’t want the freedom of not having to be the one who gets anything to happen according to the dictates of their will or intention because when we discover this freedom we also discover that we aren’t the rational ego, that we aren’t any sort of ego! We discover that there is no one there ‘making it happen’. We discover that life is ‘a happening’ without any self or ego behind it all, ordering things according to whatever petty agenda it might have. This is what ‘spontaneity’ actually means – it means that there is no self there making things happen. Spontaneity isn’t ‘the rational ego being free and easy’ – which is what we like to believe  – it means that it means that there is no rational ego and that is why, in our culture, we have no genuine interest in spontaneity, any more than we have a genuine interest in being whole. Going back to what we were saying earlier therefore, this also means that we have no genuine interest in being mentally healthy, which is a truly astonishing thing to consider.

 

Our mental health industries are staffed and run by ‘specialists’ – working within the field means training as a specialist and the thing about this, as we have already said, is that the demands of this training almost inevitably preclude us broadening out in any other direction. ‘Narrow’ rather than ‘broad’ is deemed to be the helpful thing, despite the fact that there is no absolutely evidence to show this to be the case. To work within a mental health care settings to work within a pyramid of control (or power), those at the top of the pyramid being the most specialised and those at the bottom (the ones with no power in system) being the least specialised. Therapeutic modalities such as art therapy or music therapy are accorded very little weight or status – the fact that they are ‘creative’ in nature rather than being strictly logical count against them as we don’t see creativity or spontaneity as being in any way key to our mental health! Creativity and spontaneity seem utterly frivolous to us in this respect.

 

In some (but not all) areas of physical medicine specialism can be exactly what we want – when we are undergoing thoracic surgery it’s not going to help those of the surgeon is able to read Homer in the original ancient Greek, or if they happen to be familiar with Native American folklore, or with the work of the existential philosophers. When it is psychology or psychological therapy that we are talking about however then it’s a different story – mental health means one thing and one thing only and that is the manifestation of wholeness in a person’s life. This might sound a bit airy fairy but it isn’t – all we’re saying here is that we are not focusing narrowly on ‘fixing the rational ego’ (by building up a false sense of ‘being in control’) but rather we are developing a relationship with the widest possible aspect or manifestation of the psyche. We are working towards – in an ‘accidental’ or ‘serendipitous’ way rather than the purposeful, goal-orientated way – finding out what it feels like to be living life as the totality of who we are (mysterious as that ‘totality’ might be) rather than always insisting on the supremacy of the ‘unreal fragment’ which is the rational ego…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unconscious Living

The positive or asserted self is hard work, and not in a good way either. It’s a futile type of work, like the type of work where we keep having to push a boulder up a hill only to see it roll right back down again every time. The work involved in maintaining the positive self is Sisyphean, therefore – it is the task of Sisyphus, which none of us will envy him for. Who would be foolish enough to envy Sisyphus, as he labours away fruitlessly at his hopeless task?

 

The positive thinking brigade would have us believe that this task, the task of getting the positive self over the brow of the hill, can be achieved. ‘Never say never!’ is the battle cry. Success is only just round the corner. Success – that magical word! This word can mean lots of different things but the ultimate type of success, the type we’re all looking for, is successfully getting the positive self ‘over the brow of the hill’. That’s the big payoff, that’s the payoff we are all gunning for. Unconscious living is all about chasing this particular payoff. We try and we try and we try, and when we fall flat on our faces – as we often do – then (when we feel able) we dust ourselves off and continue on with our quest. And all the while the positive thinking brigade is cheering us on…

 

Unconscious living is fuelled by the staunch refusal to see that the task upon which we daily labour was doomed to failure right from the start. Seeing this is despair, and ‘despair’ is a dirty word, just as ‘depression’ is. The whole point of unconscious living is to keep on believing that success is just around the corner, and keeping ourselves upbeat on this account – we have to be positive because anything else is a disgrace, because anything else is ‘letting the side down’. We are required to be remain upbeat and be of a generally optimistic disposition, but – in order that we might maintain this bright and shiny attitude – we also have to make sure that we stay stupid. Being wilfully stupid is the key to the whole endeavour. The world of unconscious living corresponds to Chogyam Trungpa’s ‘Realm of Intelligent Stupidity’ (or ‘Animal Realm‘) therefore. We’re not really that stupid, but dumbing ourselves down is the first requirement of this particular game, which is ‘the game of the positive self’. How could we play it otherwise?

 

Maintaining the positive self was always going to prove to be the ultimate in futile tasks – it is the archetypal futile task. Our belief is that if we put enough energy into it (and if we get a bit of luck coming our way as well, perhaps) then our labours will one day come to an end – we will have reached the top of the hill and it will all be downhill from then on. Everything will be just ‘plain sailing’ from then on. We will have reached ‘Success City’ and there be no looking back. It’ll be time to party. This is why Gurdjieff says that we are like men rowing feverishly around a lake, hoping to reach that point where we never have to row any more, hoping to reach the point where we don’t have to strive and strain anymore. This is the ego’s idea of heaven or paradise – the place where its existence will be eternally validated (or vindicated), thus relieving it from the wearisome task of having to validate and vindicate itself the whole time. Nothing is sweeter for the ego than this vision. The very thought of it is maddeningly sweet, and that’s all it is – a thought…

 

In order for this ‘dream of escape’ to remain as maddeningly attractive to us as it is we need to make sure to stay dumb, as we have already said. If we were actually examine our thinking in this regard then we would see though it straightaway. The positive or asserted self only gets to exist because we are continually asserting (or validating) it – it is the result of us straining towards some kind of artificial ideal – the sort of ideal that can never come to anything in reality. It’s like a face that pull, or a role in a play that we step into – the face that we are pulling can’t continue to exist unless we keep on contorting our face muscles, the role which have taken up will vanish in a puff of smoke the moment we stop acting. Neither ‘the face that has been pulled’ or ‘the role that is being acted’ has any existence of its own, obviously! The problem is however that we can’t see the positive or purposeful self (the self we say we are) as being an artificial construct, as being the result of sustained effort or intention on our part. It’s a ‘deliberate act’, but we got so caught up in it that we can’t see that it isn’t real. We have been making the effort so long that we no longer register the fact that we are making an effort. The effort (which is us taking ourselves as seriously as we do) has become our baseline – it’s all we know.

 

Alan Watts says that the rational sense of identity (or ego) is like a chronic knot a tension in our muscles – we are tense the whole time, although we don’t usually know it. We have identified with the knot of tension – we think that the painful knot of tension is ‘who we are’ so we don’t want to let go of it. We would be deadly afraid of letting go of it – what else have we got, after all? What else is there? We have been in the purposeful realm so long that we think purposefulness is all there is. If something isn’t done purposefully, we say, then how can it happen? If we don’t deliberately make it happen, then nothing will happen. We have got so immersed in the purposeful world that we think it’s the only world there is; we are so identified with the purposeful or positive self that we think ‘this is all that we are’. We have forgotten entirely about the spontaneous side of our nature, which is so much faster in its remit. If we say that the purposeful self is like a small rock rocky island that is constantly being battered by the surf, then the spontaneous aspect of who we are is like the ocean itself, which knows no boundaries.

 

When we live the life of the positive self then we aren’t living life at all but only our idea of it. The positive self is our idea of who we are and our ‘idea of who we are’ can’t live life! Only we can do that, as we really are. Whatever else we are doing when we live on the basis of the positive or asserted self, it’s not living. What we are actually doing – when it comes down to it – is spending all of our time (or most of it) validating the arbitrary ideas that the PS is based on. The ideas won’t stand up by themselves of course – ideas never do! Needless to say, we aren’t aware that we are constantly engaged in validating (or seeking to validate) our ideas about the world. If we saw ourselves doing this and the game will be up straightaway! Instead, we see ourselves as defending or promoting ‘what is right and true’ and fighting against ‘what is wrong and false’. Every belief there ever was sees itself as being ‘the right one’; every belief there ever was sees all other beliefs as being false. We play this game tirelessly, refusing to see the obvious, refusing to see that no belief is ‘the right one’. Beliefs are only there to prop up the false idea we have of ourselves, after all. They are there to back up our cover story…

 

Deep down we don’t care a jot about what is true or not true. Deep down, we haven’t the remotest interest in the truth; we are actually deadly afraid of it. Truth is the enemy of the positive self; the truth (like the mighty ocean) is very broad, whilst the PS (which is the rocky island) is very narrow. In order to survive, the PS has to live in a very narrow world; it has to live in the very narrow world of its own ideas, which it has to defend all the time. It has to police the borders constantly, it has to maintain the artificial limits that it has itself created, and which wouldn’t exist otherwise. The ocean has to be denied at every step of the way therefore. The truth has to be denied every step of the way – the truth is far too rich for our blood! The truth is too generous and we survive as the ‘mind-created self’ by being mean, by being narrow in our outlook.

 

We might sometimes ask ourselves why it is that we human beings love so much to create such narrow, restrictive beliefs about the world and this is the reason – because we wish to protect the integrity of the false, thought-created view of ourselves, which is the rational self or ego. This self, as we have said, doesn’t get to live life – hasn’t got time for that (and it’s too afraid, anyway). All the purposeful self has time for is validating and vindicating itself and this is a ‘full-time job’, as we keep saying. We put up for what is essentially ‘a miserable parody of life’ (what else would we call a life that is made up of constant futile self-validation?) because we have the belief (unconscious as it might be) that one day this cherished inauthentic self won’t need validating any more – that one day we will have achieved some a lasting state of glory. That’s the dream – no matter how absurd it might be – that keeps us going. That’s the magic battery that never runs down. If we could only see what we were doing then we’d drop it in a flash but we can’t see it. We don’t want to see it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Predicament of ‘Socialization’

When we say that ‘society creates the generic self’, (or that society ‘only values the generic self’) we are making a very straightforward point. Who could ever deny this, after all? And yet even though this is so very obviously true, we never pay any attention to psychological or philosophical implications of this observation. Society’s part in creating the generic self is as we have just said nothing if not obvious; we all know what happens to people in a group – their actual individuality is submerged in the generic identity. Everyone in the group tacitly agrees to conform to the way of thinking that everyone else has conformed to and the result of this is that no one has any responsibility for anything! We hand over responsibility to the group but the big problem with this is that a group is not a real thing. A ‘group’ is the result of ‘an agreement that has been made’ and this means that it is only ‘real’ because we have agreed for it to be so. This means that it isn’t real, in other words. A group is ‘a collection of people in lock-step’ who have all tacitly agreed to let their individuality be subsumed by the ‘common blueprint’ regarding ‘how to think’ or ‘how to be in the world’. It is very rare that we confront this truth head on and even rarer that we allow ourselves to see the full implications of this agreement of ours; this great reluctance on our part to bring any awareness to the ‘predicament of socialisation’ doesn’t spare us from its impact on our mental health however. As Jung says, just because we don’t know of our ‘sin’ (the ‘sin of unconsciousness’!) this doesn’t mean that nature won’t punish us for it! Put very simply, adhering as we almost always do adhere to the societal blueprint for ‘how we supposed to be in the world’ means that we can’t grow, and this is a very good price for the privilege of ‘getting on with everybody’! It’s not just the case that it is a shame (or ‘a sad thing’) that we don’t ever realise the potential that we’re capable of realising, but that the unrealised potential turns toxic and becomes a destructive force in its own right. As Jesus says in Verse 70 of the Gospel of Thomas –

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

We can also quote from the writings of Erich Fromm in this connection:

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.

 

Our social environment can only do one of two things therefore: it can either support us in our growth by providing a cultural milieu in which the idea of ‘moving beyond ourselves’ is not a thoroughly alien concept, or it can thwart our growth by creating a world in which the static ego-identity is implicitly seen as the ultimate statement of ‘who we are’ and ‘our passport to a joyful, exciting and fulfilling life’. These are the two possibilities and there is no midway point – it’s either ‘the one or the other’. Without any doubt whatsoever it can be said that the particular social milieu within which we find ourselves comes under the second category – we are inundated from all sides with the basic ‘subliminal message’ that says the ego-identity is most definitely our passport to a meaningful and fulfilling existence. This message is inbuilt into our language, into our very way of thinking about things. All commercial advertising is based on this premise as is the entire structure of our capitalist/consumerist way of life, which exists purely for the benefit of the static, two-dimensional ego-identity – without our unquestioning acceptance of this hypothetical abstract entity the whole thing becomes quite meaningless.

 

The unreflective identification with the static identity (or the concrete ‘sense of self’) absolutely prohibits ‘growth’ however – very clearly it does! Growth isn’t the name of the game at all, something else is – something that does not involve growth or transcendence in any shape or form! What the game is about is the glorification of this abstract, static-or-concrete ‘sense of self’ and this is another kettle of fish entirely. This is what James Carse calls ‘a finite game’. When we glorify (or obsess over) the abstract or ideal value only one thing can ever happen and that is that we get caught up in an oscillation between ‘exaltation’ one extreme end and ‘despair’ at the other. There is no real movement taking place – certainly no ‘growth’ – just this internal swinging back-and-forth between the two extremes, both of which are just as unhealthy as the other! We swing back and forth between these two unhealthy extremes and that’s the end of it! That’s our existence in a nutshell. It’s a circle.  And what’s more, for most of us it isn’t the case that we even ever hit these two dramatic extremes – we merely vibrate somewhere in the middle range, somewhere in the murky grey zone, so to speak. ‘Growth’ – or ‘real change’ – means not fixating on the self and its obsessive concerns’ it means moving beyond the static ego-identity, as we royally said, and it is precisely this type of movement that we have no concept for.

 

‘Going beyond the self’ does not mean ‘being unselfish’, which is something that we might quite understandably assume. It is the self that ‘acts unselfishly’ – this mode of behaviour that we call unselfishness is when the self strains to go against its own innate inclinations, this is where the ego represses its own innate inclinations. Unselfishness – from a moral point of view – is where ‘the self struggles mightily to be what it is not’ – the leopard is striving heroically to change his spots. From the point of view of the ego-identity, behaving altruistically is always an uphill struggle and when it does this for any length of time it naturally expects to receive a medal for it! Going beyond the self is not a purposeful thing however; it is not something that happens as a result of striving and straining. It’s certainly not something that happens as a result of us making goals (and this is always a deeply disappointing for us to find out because we think that goals are the answer to everything). Goals are the projection of the self, not the means by which we can go beyond it. If someone were to ask how we could ‘go beyond the self’, one answer would be to say that it is our innate curiosity that takes us beyond the self – the concrete ego-identity can never be curious about anything, it just doesn’t have it in it! The concrete ego-identity has only two ways of relating to the world, one being attraction and the other aversion; either it likes something and wants to get closer to it (or  – ideally – engulf it completely) or it dislikes something and wants to get as far away from it as is possible (or destroy it, if it can). The ego-identity is mechanical in its nature therefore – which is to say, it never looks beyond itself. It has no concept for ‘looking beyond itself’.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that the thinking mind is ‘mechanical’ (because all it does is follow rules) and the result of identifying with this mechanical mind is that we lose the ability to go beyond ourselves – the rational mind can’t take us beyond ourselves any more than it can take us beyond itself. All thought can ever do is extend itself, after all. To understand this is to understand is that ‘going beyond ourselves’ is not a problem that can be sold by the application of logic – methods embroil us in thought further rather than free us from it. Curiosity has nothing to do with logic however; to be curious about the world is not the same as to be thinking about it. ‘Being curious about the world’ isn’t as innocent as we might think either – being curious about the world is very short step from ‘asking questions about the status quo’ and the one thing the social system can’t take is someone who asks questions about the status quo! The ‘agreement’ only gets to be ‘an agreement’ by us not asking any further questions; that’s what as agreement is – the tacit understanding that no one is going to ask any further questions on the subject. The ‘game’ only gets to be played when no one asks any questions about the rules of the game, and why we should carry on playing. That is the one question we must never ask in a game – why we are continuing to play it! ‘Why?’ and ‘the mechanical modality’ just don’t go together; the mechanical modality is based on obeying rules not questioning them.

 

There is more to curiosity than we might think therefore – although we all like to think of ourselves as possessing a fair degree of healthy curiosity about the world the truth of the matter is that very few of us have any real curiosity at all. If we did then we would be questioning this way of life that we have, this way of life that society has given us, this way of living that we have somehow created for ourselves, and if we questioned it in this way then we wouldn’t be able to carry on pursuing the goals that society tells us we should be pursuing. Curiosity – if truly followed – will always result in us asking ourselves why we are playing the game that we’re playing (or why we are living life in the very narrow way that we are living it). There is absolutely no way that we will be able to carry on running on the very narrow tracks we used to be running on; that’s no longer going to be a possibility for us because we have now seen what we are not supposed to see. What we are ‘not supposed to have seen’ can be explained in two ways – [1] that our goals, aims and values in life are not truly ours, and [2] that ‘who we take ourselves to be’ is not actually us either. Insight into this fundamental confusion between our ‘actual inalienable nature’ and ‘who or what we are told we are’ cannot fail to upset our view of things in a very big way; even if we do carry on pretty much the same as before (and the fact remains that we will still have to exist and make a living in some way within the system as it is unless we can somehow sprout wings and fly away) what we now see life being about has radically changed – we no longer see our ‘fulfillment’ as being synonymous with the attaining of the standards or benchmarks that society so authoritatively supplies us with. Instead, we see our fulfillment as something that is to be found within the journey from ‘who we automatically understand ourselves to be’ to ‘somewhere else’, somewhere that exists ‘at right angles’ to everything we know and are familiar with, and which is – on  this account – completely incomprehensible (or ‘completely invisible’) to us. Instead of seeing the meaning of our lives as something that is to be found within the journey ‘from one known to another’, we come to realise that life itself is ‘the movement beyond’, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with our hopes and fears, our theories and beliefs, our goals and intentions.

 

As soon as we come to see that there is this incomprehensible movement going on (Krishnamurti’s ‘movement from one unknown to another’ or David Bohm’s Holomovement) then the mechanical process by which we enact certain goals or intentions ceases to hold the utter fascination for us that it used to have; the mechanical aspect of the world still exists and cannot be gotten about, but it is no longer seen as being ‘where life lies’, it is no longer seen as being crucially important in the way we always used to think it was. We no longer ‘hung up’ on it, as Alan Watts would say; we no longer fundamentally anxious about it in the way that we used to be. When we are in the mechanical (or generic) mode of being then we are like a person with a bad gambling addiction – we live in the big wide mysterious world the same as everyone else does, but all we are ever interested in is looking to see which way the dice will fall when we throw them on the ground. A lot hangs on that, after all! If three  ‘twos’ come up for us then that’s bad news and we will feel gutted; if on the other hand we get three ‘sixes’ then we will be jubilant, we will be ‘over the moon’. Nothing new ever happens in the game (which is precisely why it is a game) but we remain utterly transfixed by it all the same. We are 100% hypnotised, like the legendary ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’. The game is the only thing of interest to us; if we are to find any fulfilment in life it is to be here, located within the prosaic process of obtaining a high score rather than a low one.

 

The ‘great wide world’ lies all around us, to be sure, but we couldn’t be less interested in it. We are profoundly uninterested in it and this is the ‘lack of curiosity’ that we spoke of earlier. When we are caught up in what we are calling ‘the mechanical mode of being’ then all we can ever care about is ‘obtaining the right outcome’ – obtaining the right outcome means everything to us. When we are in ‘the generic mode of relating to the world’ then all we are interested in are ‘generic outcomes’; we couldn’t care less about the ‘non-generic’. We couldn’t care less about the non-generic and yet the ‘non-generic’ is reality itself! Anything that doesn’t ‘fit the bill’ with regard to ‘what we think it should be’ is dismissed instantly, it is dismissed without us even knowing that we have dismissing anything. Life itself is automatically dismissed; life itself is automatically dismissed without us even realising that we are dismissing anything. It is dismissed in order to facilitate us ‘playing the game’.