There Is No Technique For Mental Health

What we want in our mental health workers is not ‘technical smarts’ but actual wisdom. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement – in this the most difficult area of human experience actual bona fide wisdom is surely what is required, not just a fancy vocabulary and a few ‘off-the-shelf’ therapeutic protocols. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it is! It’s a very controversial statement…


The reason that this is a highly controversial territory is because, unbeknownst to ourselves, we have collectively put all of our money on a different horse entirely; instead of putting our money on the horse called ‘wisdom’ we have put it on ‘technical know-how’. The reason for this isn’t hard to understand – technical know-how has served us so well (or it would appear) in other areas that we assume it should serve us equally well here – the only thing being that it doesn’t! There’s no ‘technical fix’ for mental health difficulties and if we think that there is, or that they could be, then we are simply deceiving ourselves.


What we’re talking about here is part of a much wider problem – we don’t value wisdom at all in this modern world of ours! Even the word itself doesn’t fit anymore; it sounds quaint, like something from a fairy story, like something from a bygone age. There were wise men and wise women in a bygone age perhaps but now we have specialists, now we have experts. Specialists are produced on an assembly line – admittedly a lot of hard work is required, and more than just a bit of native ability, but the process is nevertheless one in which ideas and theories are passively absorbed from the outside. This is how the academic world works and there should be no doubt about it – it is ‘conformity on a global scale’.


There is a place for this type of process, which we can most accurately call ‘training’. There is a very big place for it – our world wouldn’t run otherwise! It would break down and there would be no one to fix it. If your computer develops a glitch and crashes on you then you need a proper IT specialist to get it up and running again, and if you sustain a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula then you need an orthopaedic specialist to get this sorted out for you. In both cases we will be very grateful for the specialist knowledge, skill and experience. With difficulties that occur in relation to our mental health it is a different matter entirely however. This is a whole different ball-game. Highly trained therapists and psychologists might sound as if they possess a hard technological knowledge like the IT expert or the consultant orthopaedic surgeon but they don’t. They don’t for the simple reason that no such ‘technical knowledge’ exists.


We just don’t have that type of black-and-white knowledge and that isn’t because we haven’t yet acquired it; it’s because the nature of what we are looking at here is far too complex to allow for the possibility of black-and-white theories or black-and-white maps. We can come up with theories, we can come up with maps and models for sure, but they aren’t going to be of any help to us. Why they won’t be any help is easy to explain – the rational mind works by taking a very narrow slice of the ‘complex whole’, and because the slice of the pie we are taking is so narrow this makes it possible to have a ‘sharp focus’ on the world. The narrower the slice the sharper the focus! This is why people who have a very blinkered view of the world find it possible to have very definite, very black-and-white beliefs! Those of us who aren’t blinkered aren’t able to be so very sure of ourselves, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out.


By the same token then (going back to their rational intellect and its capacity to come up with theories and models) when it comes to thicker slices of the pie (the pipe being reality itself, we might say) our sharp focus goes and we are no longer able to say definite things, no longer able to make definite statements about the world. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Relation is one example of this, complexity theory is another. The very essence of complexity theory is that in a complex system the future trajectory of that system bifurcates not just once but many times and we aren’t able to predict which path the system is going to go down. The bigger the slice of reality we take the more uncertainty comes into the picture; hence the science of ‘limitology’ which looks at necessary limits to knowledge that it is possible to have about a system.


We could of course try to argue that the human psyche isn’t a ‘complex system’, but who is going to buy that? Intuitively we all know that the psyche is a very deep phenomenon indeed, and no one has ever shown otherwise, despite the best efforts of the behaviourists! To try to argue that what we are is, at root, is no ‘big deal’ (i.e. that it is something that is could be very easily explained away by science) is a most peculiar impulse, and actually has nothing to do with science. True science isn’t afraid of irresolvable uncertainty – it isn’t about ‘explaining things away’. That’s not science, that’s what ER Schumacher calls ‘degenerate scientism’, which is a kind of substitute for fundamentalist religion, i.e. something that gives us all the answers so that we don’t ever have to think about anything. Really, when we come up against what we may term ‘mental health difficulties’ what we are looking at is the core question of what it means to be a human being, as the existential psychotherapists have pointed out. This is therefore not some kind of trivial problem that can be disposed of by the judicious application of CBT or ‘emotional regulation’ or ‘anxiety management’ or ‘distress tolerance’ or anything of that ilk. The greatest philosophical minds in history have wrestled with great question of what it means to be a human being yet we superficial moderns come up with CBT and emotional regulation techniques and think that we have done something clever!


What we really need our mental health workers who are genuinely wise, who have their own, hard-won insight into what it means to be a human being but our educational system is entirely wrong for this. Our system of training demands conformity, as we said earlier; it demands that we become the passive receptacles of some generic form of knowledge it is not our own, and which we are not allowed to question. Whoever got on well in training by questioning stuff, after all? At the end of the training process we know lots of ‘stuff’ for sure but it isn’t our stuff. It’s stuff from ‘the outside of us’, it’s ‘external content’. If you happen to be training as an electronic engineer or an organic chemist this is fine – you can hardly be expected to recapitulate the entire history of the discipline from scratch, all by yourself, in order to ‘make it your own’! With therapy however  things are different  – we really do need to have ‘discovered it for ourselves’, so to speak. What we are saying has to be a ‘living truth’ for ourselves, otherwise we are merely repeating empty phrases that we read in a book, or learned on a training course. Intellectual knowledge by itself is utterly useless when it comes to therapy – it is an insult! What is needed is ‘visceral knowledge’, ‘deep knowledge’, wordless knowledge, knowledge that we have won ourselves through personal work and which comes from the very heart of us.


In most types of psychotherapy this is – to some extent – how it works, but even here there is – almost always – the straitjacket of models and frameworks which prevent us from ‘seeing things for ourselves’. And even more significantly it is still the case that most psychotherapists, even with all the experiential work that they have done, are still constrained by deeply ingrained societal assumptions about what life is ought to be. We come out of our experiential work learning something about ourselves perhaps but still unconsciously subscribing to the Generic Mind. It’s as if we can be the two things at once, without any conflict at all – it’s as if we can be ‘mental health workers’ and ‘the products of our society’ at the same time. We imagine therefore that is possible to be socially conditioned and yet genuinely helpful to other people at one at the same time. This is obviously quite ridiculous. There are, as Alan Watt says in ‘Psychotherapy East and West’, two distinct types of therapist: the one who stands with society (and all its unconscious assumptions) and the one who stands with his or her client against society and all the blind senseless aggression that is inherent in it.


This doesn’t mean that we have to ‘fight’ society or be continually attempting to ‘destabilise’ it, it just means that we see through it and no longer take seriously what it takes seriously. More than just regular personal work is needed for this however, we actually have to ‘wake up’ somehow and there no ‘recipe for waking up’ that we can apply in any sort of a training course or programme. As Bruce Lee said (not in exactly these words) towards the end of his life to someone who wanted to learn from him, “I have no system to teach, so how can I teach you?” Only systems can be taught, and all systems are equal conformity to a set of rules. Systems equal unconsciousness, in other words – consciousness has no system that it needs to conform to!


This brings us to the nub of the problem – the reason that the type of suffering that comes about when our mental health is compromised has become such a pandemic is because we live in a world where (as we have said) ‘wisdom’ no longer has any value. Or – as we could also put it – it is because we live in a world which no longer places any stock in the value or importance of the individual. We think that we as a society value the individual but this is absolutely not the case. We don’t even know the meaning of the word! We are brought up not to value the individual but rather to cherish the mind-created ego or ‘self-image’ and that isn’t the same thing at all as the individual. The ego or self-image are nothing more than a collection of desires and fears, likes and dislikes, attachments and versions, and these – by their very nature – are always generic. They are ‘off the shelf clothes that everyone can wear’, they are a ‘one size fits all’ garment. As Jung says:

The more you cling to that which the whole world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch.

We become the individual we are really under this ‘cloak of the generic’ not by believing in our own opinions, not by allowing ourselves to be trapped by our own likes and dislikes; we become ‘who we truly are’ not by passively allowing ourselves to be helplessly imprisoned by our own preferences and biases, but by discarding them. Being an individual is not about having opinions about everything under the sun, contrary to popular belief; it’s not about defining oneself in terms of our lifestyle, friends or tastes – it’s about standing alone and not having any beliefs or opinions that we can share with other people, or fight with them about. Being an individual means that we have not identified with the Generic Mind in other words. It means that we are ‘travelling in our own motorcar rather than being the passive passengers on the public transport system’, to use Gurdjieff’s metaphor.


The cause of our malaise lies precisely in our loss of individuality, precisely in the loss of our genuine interiority. So the answer isn’t to ‘carry on as we are’ and have a corps of highly trained specialised professionals standing by in the wings to give us generic therapy when we need it – the answer is for all of us, therapist and non-therapist equally, to struggle heroically to regain our individuality in the face of society’s relentless and ceaseless mechanical pressure on us to give it up…





The Shoe-Leather Of Samsara

What society tells us is important doesn’t really matter. What our minds tell us is important doesn’t really matter either – neither society nor the thinking mind knows what really matters. Neither society nor the thinking mind have any wisdom in them – all they contain are innumerable recipes from the past, formulae from the past, pre-established patterns that we are compelled to adhere to, pressurized to adhere to. As Krishnamurti says, there is no actual intelligence there.


So what does matter then? What does ‘wisdom’ tell us? It’s actually much easier to say what doesn’t really matter than what does. It’s easier to point out the ‘red herrings’ as being red herrings than it is to point out what it is that truly matters in life and the reason for this is that ‘pointing out things’ almost invariably brings our unexamined assumptions into play and it is our ‘unexamined assumptions’ that always put us wrong. As a general principle, we can say that the ‘False Task’ in life is the task of validating our unwarranted assumptions and thus preventing ourselves from seeing that they are only unwarranted assumptions, whilst the ‘True Task’ (so to speak) is to see through all the clutter, all the rubbish, all the hocus-pocus, all the time-wasting nonsense masquerading as ‘the truth’.


In short then, society is always recruiting us into the task of validating and upholding its collective assumptions. That’s what it does. That’s what society is all about and this has got nothing whatsoever to do with uncovering the truth either about ourselves or the world we live in. Human society hasn’t (and never has had) anything to do with establishing a relationship with the truth – on the contrary, it’s all about ‘worshipping false idols’. It’s hard to see how anyone, looking honestly at the world that we have created for ourselves, could fail to observe that this is what is going on. How could we not see something as obvious as this? ‘If it were a dog it would bite you’, as the saying has it. The extent to which we have been recruited into worshipping all these ‘false idols’ is the extent to which we have turned our backs on what really matters to us. The degree to which we have been enlisted in the ‘False Task’ is the degree to which we have ignored the True Task, which is – as we have suggested – uncovering the actual truth about things.


Society is in the business of selling illusions, as Sogyal Rinpoche says. We think it’s about something else but it isn’t. We work all our lives in order to earn the money to be able to afford these by wonderful illusions and if we are diligent enough and hard-working enough we might get to accumulate a big pile of them! It makes us feel very bad if we aren’t able to accumulate all the illusions that we are led to believe we ought to be accumulating and yet if we do ‘succeed’ and manage to do what society tells us we ought to be doing then we’re still no better off! What good are illusions going to do us anyway? They’re only ever going to distract us what really matters. The pursuit of society’s goals is only ever going to waste our time; we’re wasting our time if we ‘fail’ and we’re wasting our time just as much if we ‘succeed’. We’ve been taken as suckers either way. No matter how we do in the game we’re wasting our time – the game is nothing more than a big red herring, after all. Society is nothing more than a big red herring. All the things that the thinking mind gives us to concern ourselves with, preoccupy ourselves with, worry about, are red herrings. That’s the name of the game…


Understanding this straightaway points us in the direction of understanding what ‘really does matter’. The thing that ‘really does matter’ is uncovering the truth that has been hidden so well, as opposed to burying it ever deeper. Even those elements within society that ostensibly claim to be concerned with the truth (especially those elements of society that claim to be concerned with the truth, such as education, religion and spirituality) are red herrings. As we’ve just said, that’s the nature of the game that we are playing! Education and religion have nothing whatsoever to do with orientating people towards the truth – all they do is encourage ‘mass mindedness’, all they do is brainwash us all the more effectively because we actually think we ‘know’ something! So-called ‘spirituality’ is no better – for the most part it just sells us ‘candy-coated dreams’; it sells us the illusion that we are (or could be) ‘living a more spiritual life’. This is a very nice illusion to have and we are very happy to buy into it by going on this course or that course, taking part in this online seminar or that online seminar, following this teacher or that teacher. That’s not how it happens though – seeing through all the falseness in our lives is an individual endeavour, something we do ourselves, on our own, working against the entire tide of collective thinking as we do so. Surrounding ourselves with the new (supposedly ‘enlightened’) type of collective thinking isn’t going to help us any. That’s why joining groups or organisations, no matter what they claim to be about, always has the opposite effect to the one intended – we become more brainwashed, not less. All that’s happening is that we are subscribing to ‘society in a different guise’.


The problem with the mass-mind phenomenon that we might call ‘online spirituality’ (which is a phenomenon that is currently burgeoning) is that we imagine that by adopting a new language, a new way of looking at the world and the new way of living or behaving in the world that goes with it we imagine ourselves to have become ‘more spiritual’. We imagine that we have become more spiritual because we have ‘changed our outfit’, so to speak. We’re wearing a new set of clothes. But becoming more spiritual doesn’t mean ‘becoming more spiritual’! It doesn’t mean becoming anything. That’s not it at all. That’s an escape, an evasion. If we want to see through all the falseness then adopting a spiritual lifestyle (a new, improved way of thinking and behaving) isn’t going to help us any – that’s just going to confuse us into thinking that those ‘falsehoods’, those ‘self-deceptions’, those ‘inner contradictions’ are no longer there. We’re going to become bliss ninnies, imagining that everything is OK when it isn’t! We might have the teachings of all the masters at our fingertips but diligently ‘counting our neighbour’s gold’ isn’t going to improve the state of our bank account any…



The only thing that’s going to help us see through the falsehoods that live in us is to consciously live our life as it actually is, and be ourselves as we actually are. This isn’t very glamorous and it certainly isn’t going to make our lives any easier but it will certainly open our eyes! We wear out the shoe-leather of samsara by walking on it, as Chogyam Trungpa says somewhere…



Art: Detail from Banksy’s Injured Buddha






The Sham Life

The essential point is this – we allow society to nullify (or negate) ourselves in return for some kind of package which is supposed to be life, but which isn’t. That’s the basic deal. That is the basic story of what’s going on. That’s it in a nutshell. So how much more ‘to the point’ could we be? This is exactly the deal we make and there are no two ways about it. The matter is crystal clear – no one but a fool would argue otherwise!


The matter is crystal clear and yet we allow ourselves not to be clear about it. This is of course the only way that we can commit wholeheartedly to society – by not facing up to the cost. We are very good at not facing up to the cost of social adaptation; we spot threats and enemies everywhere but never do we number among them the threat of ‘losing custody of our very soul’, so to speak. Other things spook us, but this apparently does not…


This is not a new dilemma – it’s something that’s been around ever since human beings first settled down in large groups, presumably. There has always been the danger that we will end up making the unwise decision to ‘sell our birthright for a mess of pottage’. And if this was the danger thousands of years ago when this line was first written down – and the human population was so very much smaller than it is today – then what must the danger be like now? Even the word ‘danger’ is inadequate in this context – it’s more of an inevitability.


What takes place when we ‘adjust ourselves to the way in which everyone else thinks’ – which in one way seems to be a perfectly reasonable thing to do – this is that a type of ‘switch-over’ takes place. Beforehand, we might say, our orientation was towards ‘reality as it is in itself’, afterwards it is towards ‘reality as it is being presented to us by the Group Mind’. Another way that we could put this is to say that our natural orientation is to be ‘curious’, just as children are ‘curious’; the ubiquitous process of socialisation changes this however – instead of curiosity conformity is now the thing. Curiosity and conformity are ‘antithetical principles’; the whole point about the ‘consensus reality’ is that we reach it by agreement, not curiosity. No one ever bought into a consensus reality by being curious (which is to say, no one ever ended up believing in the CR via an actual healthy interest in the truth of things as they really are).


Kurt Vonnegut says something like this. Vonnegut says that we agree with people not because we think that what they are saying is right but more as a type of social nicety, because we want to establish a friendly relationship, because we want to ‘establish ties’ –

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: “Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

Establishing friendly relations with those around us is obviously important in one way – a very limited way – but we take it too far. We take it ridiculously far! When we are living within a consensus reality, a reality that we all collectively agree on, then curiosity actually becomes a thoroughly undesirable sort of the thing – no one gets on in the conditioned reality by being curious as to ‘why the rules are the rules’; we get on by accepting the rules, not by questioning them. We can of course see this happening all around us, in all corporate and institutional environments, in all organized groups – people become deliberately obtuse rather than acknowledging absurdities that are staring them right in the face. Who has not come across this type of deliberate obtuseness? If we don’t ‘play dumb’ in this time-honoured way then it is a fact that our careers are simply never going to get anywhere. More than this, our whole lives are going to be very hard indeed. We’re going to be ostracized. Who wants to swim against the tide of social convention?


This isn’t some fanciful theory that we are trotting out here – it’s very evidently the case in all arenas of human activity – when we are part of a group, when we are part of a consensus reality, then our fundamental allegiance is to maintaining the group, maintaining the (apparent) integrity of the collective viewpoint. There is therefore always going to be a conflict between ‘acknowledging the truth’ and’ maintaining the consensus reality,’ and when we are part of a group then ‘acknowledging the truth’ is always going to come very poor second! This might sound strange from the POV of our everyday thinking but the consensus reality is essentially a game and the only way to play games is by tacitly agreeing to ignore the fact that the game is only a game. Games work – as we all know – by substituting themselves for reality and – for obvious reasons – this substitution can never be an honest (or ‘upfront’) kind of a thing.


What we are essentially looking at here is the phenomenon sometimes known as ‘groupthink’. Groupthink is always a fundamentally dishonest business. If I’m engaged in groupthink then I speak the group’s truth and not my own and yet I cannot admit this to myself. I have to pretend otherwise. I have to pretend that I really do genuinely and sincerely mean what I say, even though, on another level, everyone (including myself) knows perfectly well that I don’t. This is the fundamental conflict that exists within all social groups; this is the ‘basic insincerity’ that lies behind society itself. It is of course perfectly possible to conform to what we are supposed to be saying whilst at the same time being clear that we don’t mean a word of it, but in practice this honesty is extraordinarily rare. We all know from our experience of living in this world that honesty of this sort is extraordinarily rare. It would be the height of foolishness to assert otherwise! We are not just talking about the isolated occasion every now and again when we are obliged to ‘tow the corporate line’ – adapting to the consensus reality goes far, far deeper than this. Our whole life has been constructed on the basis of the consensus reality and so to question any bit of it would be to question the whole thing. Pull on this particular bit of thread and the whole jumper comes undone, and then we’re going to get cold!


The example of someone who is obliged to tow the company line, or come out with the bland meaningless jargon that their organisation wants him or her to come out with is a very good one all the same however because we can all easily relate to this type of ‘internal conflict’. It feels very bad to go around being fundamentally insincere and knowing that one is and so – in practice – what we do is that we tune out of the conflict by allowing ourselves to believe our own lies. This is the oldest story there is – we end up believing in our own convenient fictions! No matter where you go in the world you will find this happening – people believing in their own convenient fictions. It’s just too uncomfortable to stay conscious in this world of ours otherwise – there are far too many lies going around for that. We might even find out that it’s all lies….


A simpler way of putting this is to say that we play games, but we are not conscious that our games are games. We could be conscious of our games (or ‘conscious in our games’, but that would be highly ‘inconvenient’, if we can continue to use that rather inadequate word. We exist within a system and in order to gain advancement in this system we need to take it for granted, not question it. There is no pragmatic advantage in becoming aware of the system as a system, of the game as a game. Moreover, this is a cumulative sort of a thing – lies always add up, in other words! In any one instance we might opt to do what is ‘pragmatically or politically advantageous’, so to speak, but over time the sheer weight of all these little decisions to ‘play the game’ add up to one vast inertial mass – a vast solid inertial mass that has become all but impossible to go against. Lots of little lies become one big lie; lots of little evasions become ‘one evasion’, and that ‘One Big Evasion’ is what we commonly call ‘society’.


We are so very averse to seeing this. Collectively speaking we are absolutely averse and we won’t see it; the generic mind will never see itself what it is (the generic group mind always assumes itself to be right and so of course it can never see itself what it is). As ‘individuals’ we are also extremely averse to seeing this truth, for the simple reason that society supplies everything for us – it supplies our identity, it supplies our way of seeing the world, it supplies our friends and our relationships, it supplies a whole life, in fact. We are dependent on the social system for so much (for far more than we would ever allow ourselves to see) and this dependency makes it impossible for us ever to look at it critically. As the character Morpheus says in the film The Matrix


The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.


The only thing about this is that the life which the system supplies us with, in return for our compliance, isn’t actually worth it, as we have said right at the beginning of this discussion. Deep down we know that it isn’t worth it! How could we not know? What possible worth could there be in a ‘second hand reality’, a reality that is never more than ‘someone else’s idea’ of what is real or true? And what’s more, we can’t ever find out who that ‘someone else’ is either because every person we come across is going to a fervent believer in ‘someone else’s idea of reality’. It’s ALWAYS ‘someone else’s idea of reality’ and that someone else doesn’t actually exist. That ‘someone else’ is ‘the system’ and the system isn’t real. It’s a thing we made up, supposedly to help us…


What could possibly be more ludicrous than living our lives on the basis of what ‘someone else’ has told us that life should be? Could our keenness to conform to the consensus reality really outweigh our own actual interest in (or curiosity about) what life actually is, or about what reality actually is? Could this really be the case? Could we really be that shallow? And yet it clearly is. We clearly are that shallow. It very clearly is the case, and who could possibly deny it? It is abundantly obvious (more than ‘abundantly obvious’, even, if that were possible) that all of our energy is channelled into conforming to the so-called ‘reality’ that has been presented to us by society, by ‘the system’ (by thought, as Krishnamurti says), and none at all on ‘checking it out for ourselves’!


The question is therefore, “What kind of a life can we create for ourselves on this on the basis of ‘second-hand ideas’ (and ideas are always second-hand)?” Very, very clearly, the answer has to be that it’s going to be an inauthentic life, a sham life. It’s not going to be our life that we are living, after all – it’s ‘someone else’s idea’ of what our life should be and – as we have already said – that ‘someone else’ doesn’t even exist!









Society Will Format You

Society will format you. People will format you. Your friends and relations will format you. Nature herself will format you. This being so, shouldn’t we just let ourselves be formatted? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen, after all? On purely practical terms, we could ask how we could possibly get on in a formatted environment if we ourselves are going around being unformatted. We wouldn’t ‘fit in’, after all…


It’s not as simple as that, however. If we just ‘succumb to the pressure’ or ‘succumb to the inevitable’ then that doesn’t work either. Short-term practicality isn’t everything – that brings its own problems! The thing is – as the lyrics of the song by Black Uhuru say – ‘life is a test’. Life itself is testing us, we might say, so simply going along with the overwhelming pressure could be what the system says we should be is not a satisfactory answer to this test. It’s not a ‘satisfactory answer’ by a long chalk!


To passively allow ourselves to be formatted, without even passing any heed to what is going on here is the ‘ultimate irresponsibility’. To be who we are told to be the ‘ultimate irresponsibility’! When we succumb to the pressure to be who or what we are told to be then something rather important is left out of the equation – what we could have been, if we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be formatted. This is something we shall never find out in this case; ‘what we could have been’ will haunt us to the grave, in this case. ‘Allowing yourself to be formatted’ is the same thing as ‘being unconscious’ and being unconscious is ‘the easy option’ – it’s the easy option because everything is decided for us and all we have to do is just go along with it! This is the easiest thing we could ever do – it is a total ‘abdication’ of our own responsibility of finding out ‘what it’s all about’. We take the easy option and we run with it. We become a clone of everyone else.


‘Responsibility’ is a funny word. The way that it’s usually used is to mean that we have to act in line with what is expected of us. To be ‘responsible’ to do what we are led to believe we have to do, what we ought to do. To be ‘responsible’ is allow ourselves to be controlled, in other words! To be responsible is to allow oneself to be ‘passively formatted’. Even the word itself has become a way of bullying or browbeating people. True responsibility, we might say, means not allowing ourselves to be formatted, just for the sake of convenience, just for the sake of fitting in. This is ‘the test’ – the test is to see whether we can be true to ourselves in the face of overwhelming pressure to be false, and as a consequence sell ourselves short just for the sake of having ‘an easy life’. In biblical terms this equals ‘selling our birthright for a mess of pottage’ – this is exactly what is meant by that phrase.


There is no moral pressure in this test however, and that’s the hard thing for us to understand. There is no ‘external authority figure’ waving the finger at us, poised between condemning us on the one hand, and approving of us on the other. How ridiculous is this – it makes absolutely nothing of us. Everything depends on what others say, everything depends on what other people have already decided for us – what we ourselves feel we want to do or be doesn’t matter at all. The notion that that ‘reality’ (or ‘the universe’) is putting pressure on us ‘to be one way rather than another’ is utterly absurd! Life’s test isn’t the type of ‘test’ that we automatically tend to think it is therefore – it’s us working out what’s right for us, without anyone else influencing us in this. It’s up to us and no one else; to put this in the simplest terms ‘true responsibility’ is nothing other than freedom itself, therefore.


We inhabit a heavily-formatted environment. ‘Not succumbing to the formatting’ is a societal crime – this is a transgression, an aberration that won’t be tolerated. We like to talk about an ‘open society’, a ‘tolerant society’, an ‘inclusive society’, but this is just another level of gloss, designed to distract us from what’s really going on. It’s window-dressing, in other words; it’s like a corporation which has a highly publicised ‘anti-bullying policy’ that is nevertheless predicated upon the practice of bullying and exploiting its employees. What better camouflage could such a company have? The minute there is any talk of bullying fingers will point at that prominent anti-bullying signs – “that sort of thing doesn’t happen here, you will be told. It’s a well-known fact that we are an anti-bullying organisation!”


Society is a mechanical thing and there’s no way that it can be directed to be non-mechanical. It is coercive and there’s no way that legislation can be passed to make it non-coercive. There’s no way anyone can be directed to be non-coercive or non-mechanical! There is no training that we can go on to teach us this; training can teach us to be mechanical in a different way perhaps, but this is no help. Mechanical is mechanical, and that’s all there is to it. The only thing that could really help us would be to be non-mechanical and only we can do that. That’s our responsibility – as we have already said – society has no role to play here. The moment we stop looking for answers from the Group Mind is the moment we stop being a machine. The moment we stop looking for answers from the Generic Mind is also the moment we stop looking for the generic mind to define us, to tell us ‘who we are’. Freedom means ‘freedom from being told who we are’, in other words.


This is what ‘being responsible’ and ‘being irresponsible’ really comes down to, therefore – if it means anything being ‘responsible’ means that we don’t allow someone else (or something else) to tell us who we are. Being ‘irresponsible’, on the other hand, is where we do allow this. This is our ‘essential malaise’, this is the malaise which we all suffer from – we allow ourselves to be told who we are by external factors. The absolutely preposterous claim that is being made here is that – somehow – other factors are ‘more important’, and we should let ourselves be defined (or formatted) for the sake of ‘the greater good’. No one ever puts it quite like this of course; instead, we are beaten about the head with endless talk about our so-called ‘responsibilities’ and pressurised to do what’s expected of us. Instead of being reprehensibly ‘wilful’ or ‘defiant’ or ‘resistant’ or ‘selfish’ we are told that we should join in with what everyone else is doing; without these words being used, we are told that we should ‘play the game’. The more people play this game (which is of course not seen as a game) the more powerful the argument becomes.


At any one point in time two very different roads lie ahead of us therefore. One is the road of adaptation where everything is all about according better and better with the template that has been provided for us. The motivation here is entirely external in nature – we are rewarded if we get it right and punished if we don’t. Reality ‘already exists’, in other words – reality is a known fact, a closed book, and so all that’s left for us to do is get on in this pre-defined reality in the way that we have been told to. This is – needless to say – life as most of us know it – our lives are always subservient to the mechanical reality that has been imposed upon us; we are slaves of the reality that our formatting determines we shall perceive and believe in. To allow ourselves to be formatted is the same thing as ‘accepting the reality that someone else has designed for us’.


The other road therefore, is the road of non-adaptation (so to speak), which doesn’t really sound like a very positive thing to us! The need to function optimally within the system that has been provided for us is no longer the ‘be all and end all’. This isn’t to say that it is no longer a consideration, but rather that it is no longer ‘the most important thing’ (or ‘the only thing’). Something else other than adaptation has now become more interesting!  We are now interested in something other than ‘the mere mundane practicalities’ of our situation. When it comes down to it of course, the mere practicalities are never actually ‘interesting’ at all – that’s the wrong word to use. Practicalities – by definition – aren’t interesting of themselves; they are only of value inasmuch as they serve some greater end. That’s the only reason we bothering with them in the first place, after all! We are either trying to obtain the outcome that we want or avoid the outcome that we don’t want, but neither of these forms of motivation have anything to do with ‘interest’. We have already made up our mind with regard to what we want or don’t want and so we’re not interested in anything other than that outcome that we have already decided on, and this therefore means that we’re not really ‘interested’ (‘open’) at all…


Wanting very much to see a particular outcome take place or wanting very much to avoid a particular outcome has nothing to do with ‘being interested’ in anything. We are not interested in the thing that we are trying to avoid – obviously – and we are also not interested in the thing that we are trying to obtain, which is perhaps not quite so obvious! We are interested in obtaining the goal to be sure, but we are not in any way genuinely curious about what that thing is. The ‘desired outcome’ is only ever a token and we don’t really want to look any closer than this. We don’t want to go any deeper than this superficial ‘tokenistic’ level. If we did look any closer then we would of course have to start asking what the token is a token for, and that would open a whole big can of worms! For one thing, we would see that our motivation is not at all what we took it to be, and that would take the wind out of our sails for a start. For another thing, we would then find out that the token represents something that isn’t actually real and that would take the last tiny bit wind out of our sails….


Extrinsic or external motivation is a trick, in other words, and we don’t want to find this out. That’s the thing we have to avoid finding out about at any cost. This isn’t such a hard idea to understand – we all know what that ‘playing a game’ involves chasing outcomes that don’t really matter outside of the game – this understanding isn’t going to be beyond anyone’s grasp! We all know what is involved in playing games. In the formatted world that is created by thought we are motivated by what the formatting says is important; the formatting says ‘this matters to you’ or ‘that matters to you’ and we duly go along with that it. We duly go along with it (when we are formatted then we have no choice but to go along with it!) But this doesn’t mean that it really matters to us. What really matters to us has been lost, covered up, and we are forever being pointed in the ‘wrong direction’ by our formatting, by our thoughts. We are forever ‘chasing red herrings’ and whether we catch these red herrings or whether we don’t catch them makes not the slightest bit of difference! We’ve ‘forgotten ourselves’ either way and this is what ‘being formatted by society’ is all about. It’s ‘the taboo against knowing who you really are’ as Alan Watts puts it. Our allegiance is to the façade not to the truth; our allegiance is to the system that represents (or rather misrepresents!) reality, rather than that which is supposedly being represented.


The irony is that the system of formal (or literal) representations which we have such absolute allegiance to doesn’t care for us one bit – it never did care about us and it never will. It is in fact completely ‘malign’. The system of formal representations only ‘cares’ about itself (inasmuch as a mechanical thing can be said to ‘care’ at all); it will ‘look after us’ (after a fashion) only if we serve its ends. The price of this however is that we understand ourselves only in the way that the system wants us to understand ourselves. The price is that we let ourselves ‘be defined by the system’ in other words, and this means that even if there is some ‘benefit’ to be gained as a result of the whole exercise (which in the ultimate analysis there isn’t because the system isn’t actually real), then it certainly isn’t going to be us that gains it…



Image – 9 (2009 animated film)



Consciousness And The Thinking Mind

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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







Making Thought Our Master

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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









Demonic Literalism

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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