The Negative Side Of Positive Thinking

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Negative Psychology Of Everyday Life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Communication

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Art – florentjin hofman: big yellow rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Mental Health?

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Finger-Trap

The world we see all around us has been put together by economic forces: just about everything we see in the socially-created world is because of economic forces. If it isn’t there to make money then what’s the point of it? We could of course agree with the above statement happily enough and yet at the same time not consider it a matter of any great importance. We may not see any problem with this at all; we are after all so very used to this way of life that we can’t see the world existing in any other way. Economics has been ‘God’ for a very long time now. Money has made the world go round for a very long time now…

 

And yet what is meant by this thing we call ‘economics’? When we look into it we can see straightaway that it is nothing more than ‘a system that is based on the manipulation of resources for personal gain’. No one can argue with this – that’s what capitalism is all about, after all! At the very root of economic theory is the tried-and-trusted idea that the motivation to personally benefit ourselves is the strongest and most reliable motivational force there is, which – goes the argument – makes it the ideal psychological drive to tie everything to. Whether this is really true or not is highly dubious however – if our motivation isn’t particularly wholesome, then neither will the outcome be! This goes beyond ethics and morality – it is starting to be accepted in the mainstream scientific world that what fulfils us the most – i.e. what is ‘healthiest’  for us – is not to live on the basis of narrow self-interest but on the basis of compassion and empathy, which doesn’t serve the interest of our way of life. Again, this isn’t anything to do with morality or ethics, it just seems to be the way that we are built. Now it isn’t of course exactly ‘breaking news’ as far as the great religions of the world are concerned, but it’s only very recently that a study of the anatomy of the brain shows that when the area of the brain known colloquially as in the centre – otherwise referred to as the medial prefrontal cortex.

 

According to Rebecca Gladding in This is your brain on meditation, it is also called ‘the self-referencing centre’ because it is the part of the brain are used to process information related to us. When the ‘me-centre’ is linked to strongly with other centres, such as the reactivity-producing amygdala, then this is bad news, according to Rebecca Gladding; it’s bad news because we’re always going to be taking things personally and ‘over-reacting’ accordingly. In general, it is clear that when relate to the world (and other people) in a ‘me-centred way’ (i.e. a way that is ‘all about us’) then we won’t have a very good time. We aren’t going to get on particularly well with other people either, obviously enough! This is a modality of functioning (or a ‘modality of being in the world’) that shouldn’t be overly encouraged or promoted, therefore! It certainly shouldn’t be made ‘top dog’…

 

Very obviously, if we are always operating on the basis of self-interest then we aren’t going to feel very fulfilled in themselves; if it were true that self-interest were a ‘healthy motivation’ then the richest people in the world would also be the happiest people and this just isn’t so! We don’t actually need to be experts on neuro-anatomy to see this – it’s as obvious as a nose on your face! How could we not see it? This is the most basic lesson in life there is; we learn it in pre-school and kindergarten – it’s the lesson called ‘learning to share our toys with the other kids’. If we never do learn to share our toys (or, even worse, if we learn to do the opposite and steal all the other kids’ toys so that we have all the toys ourselves) then this is not a very good prediction for us having a happy life! No one is going to be stupid enough to argue with this – how can I be incorrigibly self-centred and yet also be a happy person? There isn’t a person in the world who would go along with this, if they were to actually sit down and think about it!

 

This – as we keep saying – is just common sense – if we think that the world revolves around us then we are in for a rude awakening. If we think that life is all about ‘us securing our narrow advantage’ then we going to have a thoroughly miserable existence. And yet the message we receive every single day from this commercially-orientated world of ours is that the world ought to revolve around us and our wins; the message is that life absolutely is all about securing our own personal advantage. No one can deny this that this is the case – that’s how the consumerist paradigm works, after all – it works by having consumers being highly motivated to play the game that they’re supposed to be playing, and consume! Money is what makes the world go round, after all, as the song says.

 

 

Again, this is most emphatically not a contentious issue – we all know very well that consumerism works by getting people to operate on the basis of personal gain, and putting this uninspiring motivation on a pedestal. Such words as ‘successful’ and ‘winner’ say it all – we can only think well of ourselves when we are visibly better than those around us at obtaining personal gain. This is the measure of us as human beings, this is what determines our worth or lack of it. It sounds like we’re going over old ground here but the simple point that we’re making is this – the inbuilt structure of the world (or system) that we live in guides very strongly in the direction of operating on the basis of personal advantage in everything we do, whilst our actual mental health and well-being lie in exactly the opposite direction.

 

The way that the current set-up works is for each and every one of us to be acting and thinking as entirely ‘self-interested beings’. This is beyond any doubt, this is a ‘given’. We can very easily understand why it is that we are being constantly ‘tilted’ in this direction; why it is that we are being ‘formatted by society to be narcissists’. That’s what is required by ‘the current set-up’. There’s nothing else our particular society can do; that’s the world we have elected – however unwittingly – to go down. That’s the nature of the game that we are playing. Pragmatically speaking, all we can do is ‘go along with it’ – the argument is ‘irresistible’, so to speak. And yet at the same time, when we do ‘go along with it’ this is to the very great detriment of our mental health!

 

Our response to this dilemma (and ‘dilemma’ is putting it mildly) is to ignore it, is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We never really talk about it, either on the grass-roots level or – unsurprisingly – on the level of public policy. We do hear regular items about how immersion in social media is destroying our ‘resilience’ and turning us all into ‘snowflakes’, etc. etc. , or how sad it is that no one talks to strangers on the bus anymore because we are all too busy looking at our mobile phones. These are all well-known and deeply comfortable topics – they’re comfortable because they are of a manageable size, they are ‘discrete’ and therefore non-threatening issues, but it’s not mobile phones or social media that’s the real problem here but our whole way of life. The set-up that we are caught up in creates mental suffering for us and prevents us from ever expressing (or knowing) our true potential. The system we are part of is, by its very nature, hostile to our mental health, inimical to our true well-being. We just don’t like to see this.

 

No one can say that this is something that we sometimes discuss, either in private or in public. It isn’t. We daily hear leaders of state pontificating about this and that, discussing this weighty matter or that weighty matter, and it all sounds very serious, but at no time does anyone ever point out the fact that the commercially-orientated way of life which we have opted for (the way of life which in which our primary role is that of a consumer) is fundamentally inimical to our true well-being, that it stunts and distort us and prevents us from ‘being what we could be’. No one ever points out that it is impossible to be in this system and yet at the same time grow as the individuals we truly are. And if we refuse to acknowledge this biggest issue of all, the real elephant in the living room, then how can we possibly make out that we are being ‘serious’ or ‘responsible’ about anything? We might as well dress up as clowns and go to work in the circus – that at least would be an honest profession,, that course of action would at least would have some integrity.

 

This is an extraordinary challenge – we live in a world that is fundamentally hostile to ‘who we really are’ and yet always almost always refuse to see it. This certainly isn’t a situation that we can afford to get too complacent about. The world we live in is a world that conditions us to look outside of ourselves for everything that is good, everything that is worthwhile. This has two linked consequences – [1] is that we automatically identify with a contained or isolated sense of self, a tightly-wrapped sense of identity, and [2] is that we are very strongly motivated to act so as to obtain and secure all these ‘good things’, and this misguided motivation is what powers the commercially-orientated way of life and keeps it going. This system we are part of has one agenda and only one agenda and that is to maintain itself or perpetuate itself, and the only way it can do this is to keep us locked firmly into the position of the need-driven and tightly-defined self that always has to be looking out for its own interests.

 

We all know this well enough on one level, it’s just that we can’t afford to focus on it. It’s not pragmatically useful (on the short-term) to focus on it. All the pressure is on us to succeed within the terms of the gain that we have been inducted into from an early age. We have invested so very much in this game that it no longer seems like a game – it’s not a game to us, it’s everything. It’s all we know). We have waded through blood so much that going back is as painful as going forward, as Shakespeare says in Macbeth. We are locked into the contradictory position of ‘looking for our freedom on the outside’ and the more we do this the more unfree we become in real terms. This is a classic example of a ‘Chinese finger trap,’ as Alan Watts points out somewhere – the more we try to free ourselves the more trapped we become! Society happily provides us with limitless ways and means of trying to free ourselves, all of which embroil us all the more in the mess, but no way of actually recognizing our the true nature of our predicament. Freedom is there, but it’s not to be found on the outside…

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Paradigms

Two paradigms exist in mental health, whether this is acknowledged or not. One is the positive paradigm, which is all about ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’, whilst the other is the negative paradigm, which we may explain by saying that it is all about ‘structure-transcendence’. ‘Structure-transcendence’ – obviously enough – means going beyond the structures or systems that we have grown dependent upon, and which therefore define us.

 

If you were talk to anyone in the field of mental health then the chances are almost one hundred percent that they will understand ‘good mental health’ to be synonymous with ‘maintaining and consolidating the structure known as the rational ego’. Everyone understands mental health this way – this is the only way of understanding it that we have, collectively speaking. We have this basic attitude in life, this basic set of values, and we apply to everything; it’s a basic fundamental orientation so of course we apply it to every situation. To not do so would simply never occur to us! The more pressure we’re under the more we draw upon (and rely upon) our basic orientation, naturally…

 

There are times however when we are forced by circumstances or by extreme experiences to go beyond this basic orientation, and then (as far as the people around us are concerned) it’s as if we are speaking a foreign language! It’s as if we have lost our grip on reality and have started raving – we’re saying things that don’t make any sense at all. When we adhere to the ‘equilibrium’ (or ‘structure-based’) view of mental health then everything of course comes down to skills. Regaining our mental health is seen to be something that comes about as a result of us and learning, and then putting into practice, specially prescribed skills. When we are trying to restore an equilibrium value then this absolutely is a matter of using skills (or of ‘being skilled at utilising methods or strategies’) – there is no question about this. Structure-maintenance translates into control.

 

When we talking about structure-transcendence however then control isn’t going to have any part to play – the whole point of control is to bring things back to normative values, not free us from the gravitational pull of these values. It’s not just that this is what control does, it’s what control is! Control is a matter of ‘bringing things back to normative values’, control equals ‘returning the system to designated its designated equilibrium values’. If mental health were all about optimisation with regard to a particular way of being in the world, a particular way of interacting with the world, then skills and strategies would rule the day, but things are not this simple. Our mental health isn’t by any means a measure of how assiduously we stick to ‘the known’; on the contrary, mental health can be seen as a ‘reaching out to the unknown’, a movement out of equilibrium!

 

No obscure arguments or philosophies are needed to backup this observation – how can ‘staying the same’ be the healthy way to be? If you were to find yourself exactly the same person 10 years on, 20 years on, 30 years on, so that you are expressing the very same opinions, keeping the very same routines, getting involved in the very same discussions, the very same dramas as you always did, would you consider this healthy? Is ‘structure optimisation’ really the healthy option, or is it ‘healthy’ to change? Which feels better? Are we even truly alive if we don’t ever change?

 

Similarly, someone who never thinks or looks ‘outside the box’ can hardly be regarded as being particularly mentally healthy – if I’m concrete in my approach to life and always stick to the known, the tried and trusted strategies, the conventional way of doing things, and censure anyone who doesn’t do as I do, then this means that I am being governed by fear. This is a common enough modality of existence that we talking about here to be sure (the commonest, in fact!) but that doesn’t make it into a healthy way to be. It’s ‘normal’ but it’s not good! Acting on fear causes us to contract and react violently against anything that contradicts our closed way of life; if fear were not governing our lives then things wouldn’t be the same at all – we would be completely different in our attitude in this case. We would be open rather than closed, and this makes all the difference in the world.

 

It’s not overstating matters to say that almost all of our troubles are caused by this tendency of ours to ‘close-down’, or ‘shut ourselves off’ as a result of running from fear. The denial of fear always shows itself in the form of aggression; the attempt to escape fear breeds violence and intolerance, both directed towards others and ourselves and this violence / judgementalism justifies itself in the name of the ideal that is being promoted, it is seen as a ‘means to an end’ and this end is held to be so important as to make all possible means, however extreme, acceptable. When we are ‘governed by fear’ then we are uphold one specific way of doing things, one specific way of seeing the world, as being supremely important, as invalidating all others, and the reason for this is because this ‘idealised’ pattern of doing things is seen as our way of escaping the fear that drives us – our only way of escaping the fear that drives us.

 

It’s not that we are aware of this of course; we’re not aware that we are being governed by fear and so naturally we don’t see what we’re doing as ‘trying to escape fear’. We don’t see that our violence and intolerance towards ‘all other ways’ is a result of our belief that the way of seeing the world we are adhering to represents some sort of ‘magic formula’ that will save us from the nameless threat that is lurking in our unconscious. We are driven by these forces, these beliefs, and that means that we are in no way aware of them. Fear becomes the very basis of our world and so it is not something that we can see; it gives rise to a particularly aggressive and insensitive way of relating to the world, but – as we have just said – we see our behaviour as being necessitated by some great good that is either to be achieved, or upheld. If someone were to come up to us and put forward the suggestion that our way of seeing things is as precious to us as it evidently is because it ‘unconsciously represents’ a solution to the fear that is gripping us then we simply wouldn’t understand what they were talking about. We undoubtedly take against them for what they are saying – our precious ‘ideal’ (whatever might happen to be) is being disrespected, after all. ‘If you aren’t for us, then you must be against us’, the logic of fear says.

 

The question then arises (if we are talking about this thing called ‘mental health’) as to what the consequences might be for us living in this rigid conservative modality. If this concrete mode of existence isn’t healthy (as clearly it isn’t!) then how does this ‘lack of health’ manifest itself? Very simply put – and this is a very straightforward matter to talk about – being ‘shut down’ in the defensive/aggressive mode means that we will suffer, it means that we will feel bad. This is the inevitable consequence of being ‘shut-down’. We then either displace this pain onto others, and become even more aggressive than we were before, or we blame ourselves for it and become even more self-critical, even more controlling and punishing of ourselves. Whether we are harsh (if not to say positively hateful) to others, or to ourselves makes no difference; either way we have become ‘our own enemy’ – in the first case we afflict ourselves collectively whilst in the second case we afflict ourselves ‘personally’. Quite aside from the original suffering, we now have the extra suffering of our reaction to the original pain to contend with, and this is a spiral of thinking and behaving that feeds on itself and – with grim inevitability – becomes ever more toxic, ever more destructive.

 

What we are saying here therefore is that it is ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’ that lies at the very root of our troubles. It is not going to be any kind of a ‘remedy’, therefore. We are holding on ever-tighter to our ‘pattern of being in the world’ (which is a pattern of ‘reacting’) and this is making things worse not better. Contrary to our unconscious assumption, maintaining and consolidating our pattern of doing things (which essentially equals our identity) is not the solution to our suffering, but the root cause of it. The only helpful process as far as neurosis is concerned therefore is the process of self-transcendence (or ‘reaching out to the unknown’) which – as we have already said – is not something that we can have a strategy or method for. There are no methods for self-transcendence, there is no strategy for ‘reaching out to the unknown’.

 

There is no strategy for reaching out to the unknown because this is something that has to ‘happen all by itself’. It can’t be forced – ‘reaching out’ can neither be ‘forced’ nor ‘prescribed’, obviously. It happens when it is ready to happen, just as forgiveness comes ‘when it is ready to come and not before’. There is a whole side to life that is like this and – as a culture – we are hugely dismissive of this aspect of life. We are only interested in that aspect of ourselves that can be managed, that can be controlled or forced. We dismissive of ourselves therefore because this act of ‘reaching out’ is who we really are, not the ‘holding on’. The fear isn’t us – the fear is the denial of us! In ‘holding on’ we go against our true nature, and that is why it causes us to suffer. When we react to fear we go against our true nature and start trying to secure things for ourselves, ensure things for ourselves, and generally ‘keep things the same’. We start trying to ‘take charge of the process ourselves’, in other words, and this is invariable bad news. This is how we try to ‘help ourselves out’, but it is no help at all. Our way of trying to help ourselves becomes our greatest affliction, and this is neurosis.

 

There is no strategy for ‘reaching out’, there is no method for ‘self-transcendence’, but there is such a thing as a supportive atmosphere within which this ‘movement’ can take place when it is ready to do so. Instead of being all businesslike and clinically efficient (and apparently ‘all-knowing’ as a result of our extensive education) what really does help in the field of mental health is simply to become more sensitive, more open-minded, and less controlling. Or as we could also say, what really helps is to become stronger and braver ourselves!

 

We don’t need a fancy, high-powered technical language to talk about the journey that takes us towards a deeper state of mental health; this isn’t a ‘technical’ business, it’s an opening-up business and there are no labels, or no instructions for ‘opening up’! Life doesn’t come with an operating manual, after all…

 

 

Image: Tick tock Traveler