Pain and Suffering in the Positive World

The unspoken (and deeply hidden) assumption behind the positive or ‘stated’ reality is that if we don’t pressurise ourselves (or force ourselves) sufficiently then we won’t actually exist!

 

In the positive reality straining is the thing, therefore – any ‘failures’ are automatically seen as being the result of us not trying hard enough. We are therefore always culpable for any (so-called) ‘failures’ and this implication is inherent in the very nature of the positive reality itself. Everything is about trying, and our skill and persistence in trying.

 

In one way this makes perfect sense, in one way this assumption is absolutely true. It’s true as far as the ‘positive reality’ is concerned, anyway. Nothing exists in the positive reality unless it is forced to do so, unless it is compelled to do so. That’s the whole point of the stated reality, that unless it is purposefully asserted then it isn’t going to be there! Everything is thus our personal responsibility, one way or the other…

 

So in one way the assumption that we are talking about here is entirely valid, entirely trustworthy as a ‘guiding principle’. In another way however the exact reverse of this is true; in another way the assumption we are working on the basis of is utter nonsense and that is because what we are calling the ‘positive reality’ isn’t actually reality at all but only our model of it, only our idea of it.

 

When we are talking about models then naturally it is the case that unless we specify something (unless we ‘spell it out’) then it’s not going to be there. There is no problem in understanding this point. But what’s true for the model is not true for the reality that is being modelled – we don’t have to specify reality in order that it be there. We don’t have to tell reality to be there in other words!

 

We don’t need to tell reality to be there, and we don’t have to tell it how to be there either. This is how we know that reality is reality, and not some mere arbitrary construct! As Philip K Dick says, ‘Reality is that which, when we stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’

 

Where the confusion comes in is because of the way in which we get our model (or picture) of the world muddled up with the actual genuine article. This confusion is bound to come about just as long as we are using the thinking mind to navigate by since the only way the thinking mind can apprehend reality is by representing it in ‘positive’ terms.  All representations are positive in nature. The TM actually has to ‘speak’ reality therefore; it has to aggressively assert ‘what is real’.

 

The TM can never ever understand the negative or unstated reality, and this ‘limitation’ is inherent – as we have already said – in the nature of thought itself, which is a positive or ‘doing-type’ thing. If we are operating on the basis of thought then we cannot at all comprehend what is meant by ‘the negative or unstated reality’. And yet at the same time we can clearly see – if we are not under the power of our thoughts and ideas and beliefs, that there is nothing else reality could be other than ‘unstated’. All the books in the whole world are written on humble blank paper, after all – what type of the situation would it be where there was ‘nothing but words’ and words could therefore only be written on other words?

 

Because we automatically confuse the positive reality with actual reality we make the mistake of assuming that trying (or straining) is the key to everything! Even if we aren’t aware that this is what we are assuming we are nevertheless doing so – our whole rational/purposeful culture is predicated upon this (false) assumption. That’s the type of world we live in – a positive world.

 

In everyday life we ‘get away with the mistake’ (after a fashion, in a way, although not really); when it comes down to mental health and our so-called ‘therapeutic approaches’ then this is where we really don’t get away with it. It backfires on us here big time here – the more we ‘try’ the more of a hole we get stuck in, and then everyone (including ourselves) blames us for not being able to get out. Everyone blames us (either implicitly or explicitly) for not trying hard enough. Perhaps we actually like being miserable, people might say, when after all the help we’ve been given we still don’t manage to pull ourselves out of the hole we’re in. What’s our excuse? What’s wrong with us? There must be some ‘secondary gain’ say the healthcare professionals, nodding their heads wisely to each other…

 

The truth is, however, that it is trying that lies at the very root of our problems. Essentially, we trying to force ourselves to exist; we are trying to wilfully redeem ourselves from whatever jinxed situation we are in by ‘pressurising’ ourselves, by ‘positively motivating’ ourselves. We are putting ourselves under pressure to be well, putting ourselves under pressure to be happy, putting ourselves under pressure not to be anxious or depressed.

 

This ham-fisted approach doesn’t work in negative reality however – it only works in the positive reality and the positive reality isn’t real! In the positive reality we need (as we have said) to forcefully assert ourselves if we are to ‘successfully exist’ – this is the ‘aggressive ego-world’ with which we are all so familiar. That’s in the make-believe world where we are forever playing ‘the game of egos’. In the real world it doesn’t work like this however. In the real world the more we pressurise ourselves to exist successfully the more unreal we become! In the real world the more we force ourselves (or ‘positively motivate’ ourselves) the more false we become, and it is this unreality, this inauthenticity that is the root cause of our suffering.

 

 

 

Image, The Strain Season 4, from denofgeek.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Environment That Compels

We are constantly being told that we should fit in to whatever it is that going on – this is the only message we ever hear. All messages are this message – obey, obey, obey. We’re all obeying machines and obeying is all we know. We’re either obeying machines or we’re failing machines. The message is so constant that it isn’t even as if we are being ‘told’ it. The environment itself is the message. We just know that we have to adapt, we just know that we have to fit in. The system isn’t just telling us that we have to comply – the system is compliance! Compliance is the only reality we know and so it isn’t compliance, it just ‘is’. It’s the inescapable condition of our existence.

 

 

The logic is inescapable. Logic is always inescapable; that’s the nature of logic – logic isn’t something that you’re supposed to be able to escape from! Logic leaves no loopholes. Logic is something you obey and the obeying is so total that it isn’t even obeying any more. It’s just ‘existing’. It’s the only form of existing we know of. It’s the alpha and the omega. This is the compulsive environment, the environment that compels. The only question is, how well do we comply? That’s what makes this into successes or failures, winners or losers. This is the world we live in – the world that tells you what to do and what to be. The world that tells you everything. What it doesn’t tell you doesn’t exist…

 

 

How well can you obey? How well can you obey? Only it’s not called ‘obeying’, is it? It’s called something else. Or it’s not called anything at all. Why call it something when there’s nothing else? Why call it something in particular when there are no other possibilities to talk about? You just have to get on with it; you just have to be what the system wants you to be. How well can you be what the compulsive environment wants you to be? Can you really make the grade? What will become of you if you don’t? Of course, the question we should really be asking is, what will become of us if we DO succeed? That’s the question we should be thinking about. What will happen then, huh? Not that we can think that – we never look that far. We’re not allowed to think it – it’s not within the parameters of our design. It’s not part of the game to question the game. How well can you obey, my friend? How successfully can do what you’re supposed to do, what you’re told to do? How well can you fit into a world that doesn’t allow ‘not fitting in’, a world that doesn’t have any concept for not fitting in, other than a wholly negative one? How will you obey even when you don’t know that you are obeying? How successful can you adapt and what will you become when you do attack? That’s the question the machine won’t ever let you ask!

 

 

Can you feel the pressure pushing down on you? Can you feel it there every minute of the day? Can you notice yourself straining to obey? Strain, strain, as hard as you can. Strain every day. Strain to obey the rule because you know what will happen if you can’t. Although you don’t really know. Strain to conform to the compulsion because you know the compulsion won’t allow you not to conform!

 

 

How well can you conform, my friend? Can you get it right? Will you feel at ease when you do so? Will you at last feel relief? Will you feel joy when you obtain the goal? Your attention is stuck fast to the defined surfaces that are being provided for you. Strain, strain, strain – strain to succeed! Strain to get it right! Your attention is glued to the concept of what you’re supposed to be, of what you’re supposed to do, and all you know is straining, all you know is straining. It’s the condition of your existence.

 

 

One illusion straining after another – do you know that feeling? One illusion trying to reach another. And what happens when you get there? What then? Will there be joy? Will there be happiness? Will there be relief? What happens with one illusion reaches another illusion, what does that add up to? What happens when you add one illusion to another? That’s the question we ought to be asking ourselves. Just what do we expect to happen then? Did we think that far ahead?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenging The Concrete Identity

The greatest cause of mental ill health on the planet is without question the Generic Mind which we all have to fit into. The Generic Mind is ‘the sickness that masquerades as health’, it’s the game we are all supposed to play. Carlos Castaneda explains the GM by saying that it is a ‘uniform’ mind – “a cheap model: economy strength, one size fits all.” By all having the same model of mind, we are able to readily communicate with each other – we all know instantly and exactly what the other person means because we share the same point of view. This ‘ease of communication’ is an advantage in one way therefore but it’s a disaster in another because we lose our own unique point of view. In his novel Breakfast Of Champions Kurt Vonnegut talks about ‘cuckoo ideas that we have no immunity to’ – these ideas circulate freely in society and automatically infect everyone they touch. These cuckoo ideas originate outside of ourselves (they are ‘foreign installations’, as Castaneda says) but we instantly adopt them as our own just as soon as they come into our heads – we incubate them lovingly and do our very to propagate them whenever we can. We obtain satisfaction from passing these viral ideas on, just as we experience irritation and annoyance (or possibly rage) when we hear them contradicted…

 

When we talk about the Generic Mind as being greatest cause of mental ill health the problem is that no one knows what we are talking about. We don’t acknowledge that there is any such thing as the ‘Generic Mind’ and so naturally we don’t see it as ‘the biggest cause of mental ill health’. We have lots and lots of other reasons listed for mental ill health and none of them have anything to do with the Generic Mind. And yet the GM is a very readily observable phenomenon: whenever a bunch of people agree that something is true then that is the generic mind right there! The GM is what happens when we join a group, in other words, and we all know the type of trade-off that has to be made when we become a member of the group. We first become aware of this insidious trade-off in the school playground and we only ever get more and more deeply embroiled in it as we grow up.

 

What happens when we become part of the group is of course that we lose our unique individuality – a collection of unique individuals can’t become a group matter how they try. A collection of individuals can ‘get on’ and ‘cooperate’ but the one thing they can’t do is form a group – individuality has to be surrendered for that! In a group, as we have said, certain things have to be agreed upon by all. What’s more, they can’t just be ‘agreed upon’ – they have to be agreed upon and then that agreement has to be immediately forgotten about. We have to first take a whole bunch of stuff for granted and then we have to charge on ahead wholeheartedly without ever looking back at what it is that we assumed in order to be able to charge full-speed ahead. This is what society is, and this is also what the Generic Mind is – 100% unreflective action.

 

The Generic Mind is always marked by its concrete nature, therefore – it is concrete because it can’t question its core assumptions and ‘not being able to question one’s core assumptions’ is the very definition of ‘concrete’. There is absolutely no way that the GM can ever be ‘non-concrete’ – the only way this could happen would be if the group broke up into individual persons, and this just happens to be against the rules of the group. Furthermore, when we are in the group, then being exiled from the collective is seen as the worst possible thing that could happen to us. What is really happening when we adapt to the Generic Mind therefore is that we get locked into a type of blindness, type of stupidity. Not being able to question our core assumptions is a terrible form blindness, and there’s no getting around it or compensating for it, no matter how clever we get. The whole enterprise simply becomes ever more absurd, evermore ridiculous, and ever more doomed to eventual disaster.

 

From the point of view of the Generic mind (or the concrete individual) there is nothing more unthinkable than having to question (or ‘let go of’) our core assumptions. Our very blindness has somehow become infinitely precious to us and we will protect it fiercely – we will protect our toxic ignorance to the very best of our ability! The basic motivation behind a group is always exactly this – it is always conservative and never ‘exploratory’. We’re locked into this position of protecting our core assumptions even though we don’t actually have a clue as to what they are! We don’t of course want to know what these core assumptions aren’t because (on some level) we realise that this would involve finding out that they aren’t true, and because of our ‘absolute commitment to the cause’ this would spell the greatest possible ‘unwanted outcome’. As far as motivations go therefore, this is a very strong one! It is both a very powerful motivational force, and a lethally dangerous one; not only can it never lead to any good, it is without question always going to lead us to utter disaster in the long run.

 

We can say two very simple things about the Generic Mind therefore – one is that it is always concrete, and the other is that it is driven, at all times, by the utterly inflexible need to avoid questioning itself. We can say this about the Generic Mind and we can also say it about all social groups, including of course society in general. In this ‘peculiarity’ of the concrete mind can be seen ample cause for mental ill health – it is hard (if not impossible) to think of a better recipe for mental ill health than this! There is no arguing with a concrete-minded person, just as there is no arguing with an organisation (or the people making up the organisation); there is no arguing (i.e. no possibility of genuine communication) with the GM because the GM has zero flexibility in it and there is no communication without flexibility. As far as the GM is concerned therefore, it is always ‘my way or the highway’…

 

The ‘sickness that masquerades as health’ is therefore the fixed identity that cannot question itself; the fixed identity that must always assert itself above everything else. For me, as a ‘concrete person,’ this sickness is actually ‘myself’ therefore; the sickness is me and if there is one thing that I am guaranteed not to understand then it is this! For me, ‘sickness’ is always going to be those forces that are acting against me, those forces that are standing in the way of me ‘continuing to not question myself’, whatever it is that stands in the way of me continuing to see the world in the way that I am used to seeing it and think I ought to be able to see it. The fixed identity sees its own integrity as the very bench-mark of mental health, in other words, which – from its own point of view – is entirely understandable!

 

Similarly, for us as a culture, we find it flatly impossible to grasp the idea that the sickness which is afflicting us is ‘the sickness of the fixed concrete identity’! We just don’t get this and we aren’t about to get it either, which isn’t surprising since – as we have said – society itself is a fixed concrete identity. So too are the healthcare organisations that we encounter if we do develop mental health challenges and we want some help and support. This in itself is inevitable,  nature of organisations being what it is, so where the problem really comes in is where we meet workers and therapists who completely reflect (or embody) the unyielding concrete nature of the healthcare organisation that they are working in. In this case we are stuck between a rock and a hard place – we are ‘trying to force ourselves to get better’ (in accordance with our concrete viewpoint on the matter) and so too is the healthcare machine that we are now under the care of. Either way, it’s all about control, it’s all about ‘forcing’, and the way we are trying to force ourselves to be is only the ‘right way’ because we’re looking at everything from the closed (or conservative) viewpoint of the concrete mind set.

 

The point (that we keep making) is that the concrete mindset can’t do anything other than try to force things to be the way it thinks (i.e. assumes) they should be. Just as it cannot question its assumptions, so too it can’t NOT try to force things to accordance with the ideas that it has concerning how things should be. The concrete mindset is utterly blind, as we have said – it is blindness personified. Everything it does comes out of this blindness; there is nowhere else it can come from because all the concrete mindset has is its own viewpoint, which it totally takes for granted. That’s what ‘concrete’ means – that’s the whole point, the whole point is that the concrete mindset demonises everything that hasn’t got its official ‘stamp of approval’ on it, and it only puts its stamp of approval on its own productions.

 

There is no substitute for an individual (or ‘unaffiliated’) person in the heavily regulated world of mental health-care; there’s no substitute for someone who isn’t a company man or company woman, anyone who isn’t singing from the prescribed hymn sheet. There is no substitute for actual consciousness, in other words, and consciousness hasn’t anything to do with this dreadful old thing we are calling ‘the fixed identity’. Fixed identity is the very antithesis of consciousness; it is that principle of consciousness turned on its head and made into a perverse parody of itself. When we switch from consciousness to ‘concrete mode’ therefore, we aren’t moving ‘from one end of the spectrum to the other’, or anything like that, we’re switching from an allegiance to the truth, at ‘whatever cost,’ to allegiance to the lie, no matter what price we might have to pay for that unwise affiliation. These two things are frankly incommensurable – we can’t ‘serve two masters’ in this regard, if we do then, according to Luke 16:13 we ‘…will be devoted to the one and despise the other’. Or as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:21: ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.’

 

If we have no unexamined allegiance to our unconscious assumptions then we are free to do anything – we are free to let any idea go, no matter how attached to it we might be, and this is what mental health truly consists of. Mental health is all about courage therefore – we are not being governed by a hidden (or not so hidden) core of fear, which is what lies behind the security-seeking ‘concrete mindset’ that we keep talking about. So what we are really saying here is simply that fear and fearlessness are incommensurate – fear is after all the only possible reason we would swear allegiance to a bunch of unconscious assumptions! ‘Conscious assumptions’ are on the other hand a totally different matter: we can operate on the basis of assumptions if this turns out to be useful for practical purposes (i.e. if making assumptions in some particular matter actually works) but that doesn’t mean that we have to make a religion of them! We can use rules when it suits us to do so, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let these rules have free reign to determine everything about us.

 

When we make a religion of our unexamined assumptions (which necessarily involves making the act of questioning them ‘heretical’ or ‘taboo’) then the only possible reason that could lie behind this is fear. Nothing else would make us do such a stupid thing! What we are essentially doing here is that we’re putting all the money we’ve got on a totally mad gamble – the totally mad gamble that our unexamined assumptions will somehow turn out to be correct, even though we’re not going to actually look at them.  We’re acting out of fear rather than wisdom. The fact that we are so very reluctant to investigate our own brash claims ought in itself to be enough to tip us off that something fishy is going on. Any impartial observer could tell us that there is something extremely dodgy going on here when we behave like this but somehow we turn this dodgy manoeuvre around so that it becomes something to feel good about. We have made our lack of honesty and integrity into a virtue to be proud of – the classic ‘red-neck’ trick!

 

This then is exactly how the Generic Mind works, by turning its inflexibility, blindness and aggression into a virtue, into something to be proud of. We are proud of our fixed identity; it’s the thing we’re most proud of – we’ve actually made it into something essential, something we can’t ever let go of. We’ve made it into something we can’t even think of ever ‘letting go of’. This throws everything we think and everything we perceive one hundred and eighty degrees out, so to speak. Our understanding is what of what is meant by ‘mental health’ is turned on its hand, as we have said. Our understanding of what is meant by the term ‘mental health’ is turned on its head to mean the automatic validation of what we have arbitrarily taken to be true, the aggressive promotion of what we have arbitrarily taken to be true, and that isn’t health by any stretch of the imagination! That isn’t health – that’s inverted health, that’s ‘the sickness that masquerades as health’! Health isn’t where we spend all our time glorifying our own stubborn ignorance and making a virtue of it; health is where we find the courage within us to start looking at these assumptions, and seeing them for what they really are. Mental health necessarily involves rebelling against the collective mind-set therefore, and this is particularly true in the highly conservative area of mental healthcare…

 

 

Image – New York Bushwick Street Art, from rebelone.de

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem With ‘Coping Strategies’

It is impossible to put across the idea that it is helpful and useful to use a particular skill or coping strategy without at the same time giving the jinxed message that we ought to be (or need to be) ‘coping’ with whatever difficult situation it is that we are in. Pressure of this sort however is always counterproductive in therapy; pressure of this sort is guaranteed – in other words – to have quite the ‘reverse effect’!

 

This is a ‘therapy dilemma’ that no one ever seems to spot! It’s a ‘dilemma’ because therapy is supposed to be about helping people but selling someone the idea that they need to be ‘coping’ with (or dealing correctly with) whatever it is that’s going on for them is most definitely not helping anyone. This is a jinxed message; it’s like saying that we have to ‘manage life’ correctly and this is the least therapeutic message it is ever possible to give anyone!

 

It takes a little bit of insight to see this of course and insight into psychological matters tends to be rather thin on the ground in our culture. We are all about techniques, not insight! The insight here is that what we really suffer from isn’t the emotional pain that we’re in so much as the attempt to ‘cope’ with it. As soon as we get the idea that we have to cope we’re finished!

 

What on earth do we imagine ‘coping with emotional pain’ means, anyway? Anybody who happens to be suffering from mental or emotional distress is of course going to be trying to cope with it – this is a very strong instinct – and what this actually comes down to is ‘hanging onto some semblance of normal’. We try to pretend (either to ourselves or to others) that everything is still okay; we keep trying to ‘keep up the act’, so to speak. Another way of talking about ‘coping’ would be to say that it essentially involves us trying to impose our will on the situation; we’re trying to get things to be a little bit more ‘the way we think they should be’, in other words. We’re trying to exert control on the way we feel. In psychological terms, we are resisting. We are resisting things being the way that they actually are.

 

This is all very normal and natural and ‘only to be expected’, but at the same time it is completely unhelpful, completely non-therapeutic. What we resist persists’, says Carl Jung and if we can’t see this then we are on the road to nowhere! Resisting is what we do ‘by reflex’ – it’s our automatic response to pain both mental and physical, and ‘going along with the automatic response’ is never going to be the helpful thing to do. Never in a million years is this going to be the helpful thing to do!  On the contrary, it is precisely our automatic defensive reactions to emotional pain that cause us to get stuck in it, as Jung says.

 

We tend to think that ‘coping mechanisms’ aren’t the same as ‘automatic pain-avoidance’ reflexes but they are. They’re just a little bit more methodical, just a little bit more ‘well thought-out’. ‘Coping’ is resisting the way we are; very obviously, if we weren’t resisting the way that we are, then there would be no need for us to be coping! Coping wouldn’t be ‘a thing’ then, it wouldn’t be an issue as to whether we ‘cope’ or ‘don’t cope’.

 

‘Coping’, or ‘the need to cope’, seems to be very important to us when we’re in the thick of things and we feel very much that we can’t cope or mightn’t be able to cope, and this is very natural. Of course we’re desperate to cling on to whatever little bit of control we have, or think we might possibly be able to have, but this doesn’t mean that we should be validating this tenancy in therapy, so to say that you should be trying to cope on the one hand, and that there is a right ‘way to cope’ on the other. As we have said this is a disastrous message to be giving people – it isn’t just ‘not helpful’, is the very opposite of helpful.

 

Really, this is a punishing message. It wouldn’t be a punishing message if it actually worked but it doesn’t work and not only does it not work, it is indicative of a complete lack of understanding that we think that it should! ‘Coping’ is the thing we can’t do and yet at the same time absolutely feel that we need to, and it is this ‘untenable’ position that causes us that very particular form of suffering with which we are all so familiar. If we weren’t caught in the jaws of this conflict then this would be a very different matter – the suffering wouldn’t be the same at all. We’d be ‘free to suffer’ in this case, rather than ‘suffering at the same time as believing that it is very wrong (or very unacceptable) that we should be suffering’…

 

We always think that not coping with our emotional distress is the ‘bad thing’ – we think that ‘not coping’ means freaking out or causing a scene or embarrassing ourselves, or something highly undesirable like that. But ‘not coping’ doesn’t mean ‘reacting in a harmful or inappropriate way’ – ‘not coping’ isn’t just ‘acting out’ (i.e. displacing our pain by some kind of behaviour). Actually, ‘acting out’ or ‘displacing’ is a form of coping with mental pain or distress. It’s a strategy. Reacting (or ‘freaking out’) is how we do try to cope, by refusing to be present with the pain and ‘acting it out’ instead. This is a very basic coping strategy – the most basic of them all. It’s either this or we batten down the hatch and repress everything for all we’re worth…

 

‘Coping’ – as we have said -essentially means gaining control of our situation such that it stays within certain tolerances, certain predetermined parameters. This is such a normal idea to us that we never question it; we apply it across the board, even when it’s not the helpful thing to do. There are all sorts of processes that we do need to control in this way – cooking food, for example, so that it isn’t undercooked on the one hand or overcooked on the other. Physiologically speaking, we need to make sure we stay within certain parameters – we need to stay between being too hot and being too cold, we have to eat enough but not too much, et cetera. If we are bleeding, then we have to make sure that we staunch the wound and don’t bleed too much.

 

When it comes to feelings however then the same doesn’t apply – to try to keep ourselves within specific parameters with regard to emotions, with regard to how we feel, isn’t a helpful approach at all. We can very easily imagine that we ought to keep ‘the way that we feel’ within a certain normative range, so that the feeling in question is a ‘normal’ one, but when we try to do this we create this whole perception that ‘we need to cope’, that it is a very bad thing (unspecified as to exactly why) if we fail to stay ‘in control’, where ‘coping’ (or ‘staying in control’) means preventing ourselves from feeling the way that we actually are feeling. We have, without consciously realising it, set limits for ourselves in terms of how we supposed to feel and because these self-imposed limits don’t tally with reality, we’ve put ourselves in a very tight spot indeed. We actually feel that we are ‘cracking up’ when this happens – this is exactly what the phrase ‘cracking up’ means, it means going beyond our self-imposed arbitrary limits.

 

The experience of being on the edge of ‘cracking up’ (or ‘being on the edge of not coping’ when not coping is a very bad thing)  is something that we have created for ourselves by trying not to crack up – we ourselves have imposed these limits on ourselves and they are limits that don’t naturally exist. It feels very bad indeed when we feel that we are on the edge of not being able to cope, but ‘coping’ (or ‘managing’) is not a helpful idea to bring into our situation. ‘Coping’, as we have said, means ‘controlling what’s going on’ and ‘controlling what is going on’ very quickly turns into ‘trying to make what is happening not be happening’! When it comes to mental health, trying to make what is happening not be happening is definitely Number One on the list of unhelpful things to do! This doesn’t mean that we don’t all do it of course but – at the same time – it’s the most punishing situation we could ever put ourselves in. We’ve have given ourselves a task that can never be carried out (it can never be carried out since no one can make ‘what is happening not be happening’) and at the same time we have said that it is imperative that we succeed at it. What a thing this is to do to ourselves!

 

What confuses things even more is this talk of ‘managing emotions’ that we hear so often about in recent times. When we hear this phrase then of course we are very likely to think that we should be controlling how we feel, and keeping our emotions within ‘safe’ or ‘appropriate’ boundaries. There is definitely a lot of scope for confusion here because no one should be led to believe that anything we experience – emotion-wise – is ‘wrong’ and needs to be controlled. There is no dial within us that can, like a thermostat, be adjusted to keep the emotional temperature from getting either too hot or too cold. There’s no way for us to change the way we feel, and yet here we are being told that this is our responsibility, that this is exactly what we should be doing

 

The confusion comes about because we are talking about two very different things – when we talk about ‘managing emotions’ what we actually mean is that we should refrain from ‘acting-out’ our emotions in ways that are harmful either to ourselves or to others. Strategies are sought to prevent these unhelpful reactions, therefore. The problem is however that we automatically jump to the conclusion that the way to do this is to quieten down the feeling/emotion so that it is no longer so intense. We assume that we have to ‘turn the dial down’ with regard to the strength of the emotion or feeling, and that is what ‘coping’ or ‘self-soothing’ strategies are all about. But we really have jumped to an unwarranted conclusion here because it’s quite possible to feel the emotion without either acting it out either towards oneself or to others. Very oddly, it seems that we just have no interest at all in exploring this possibility!

 

Feeling an emotion is an art not a science or technology, and this is the reason why we are not interested in it. If it were a technology we could ‘roll it out’; we could standardise and regulate it and teach therapists how to facilitate it. We can’t do this with an art however – we can’t standardise an art and ‘roll it out’ as a generic, ‘one-size-fits-all’ therapy. The thing about an art is that it is individual; the thing about an art is that is going to be learnt in a different way for each person and this is hugely inconvenient to us as a rational (or control-based) culture. The therapists themselves would have to ‘master the art’ and even then it’s not something that we can teach as such. There are no rules, no principles that we can point out; it isn’t a system, and as Bruce Lee says, how can you teach something that isn’t a system?

 

We can teach ways of not feeling emotions or ways of repressing them of course. For this, strategies exist. For feeling the emotion, just as it is, there are no strategies. There are no strategies for this any more than there are strategies for ‘living life’ or ‘telling the truth’ or ‘relating authentically to other human beings’! For all the most important things, there are no strategies. It’s not that easy! All the things that we can teach people to do are very trivial indeed and it is a mark of our remarkably un-psychologically minded culture that we think we can ‘teach mental health’. To teach mental health is to teach someone how to live life and this is one thing that just can’t be done. We can programme people for sure, we can condition them or train them or brainwash them, but we can’t teach them how to live life. We don’t know how to do that ourselves, anyway! We would have to teach ourselves first and we can’t do that because we don’t know how. Who can teach us to be authentically ourselves? Who can teach us how to be present, in this utterly unique situation? All we can do is teach people is how not to be here, how to ‘be here in a conditioned (or inauthentic) way’, and this is therefore exactly what we do teach people! We brainwash people, we condition them, we ‘train their minds’. To call this a ‘therapy’ is however a bit rich…

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Escaping

It is possible to imagine (if we are given to thinking in this way, which of course a lot of people are) that we could – if we wanted – live life in a more ‘spiritual’ way. It is also possible (perfectly possible, in fact) to try to do this, by replacing our old, more crudely ‘ego-orientated’ and materialist way of thinking about the world with a more refined, subtle and spiritual approach. This is like getting rid of your old smelly sofa and getting a brand new suite from British Home Stores or IKEA, or getting rid of the old lifestyle and welcoming in the new. It is possible to imagine that this is how we go about the process of ‘spiritualizing in our lives’ but this isn’t how it happens. This is getting it ‘back to front’! This is ‘putting the cart before the horse’!

 

What’s happening here is that we have jumped ahead and tried to put into place the type of life that we would have if we were more spiritual, and then by ‘stepping into this life’ assuming or hoping that this will somehow ‘spiritualise’ us. The reason this approach may be said to be ‘back to front’ is of course because ‘a more spiritual life’ (so to speak) is what we live after we become ‘more spiritual’ – leading what we understand to be a more spiritual life most certainly isn’t going to make us so, it’s just going to involve us in the type of ‘unconscious mimicry’, changing our costume rather than changing the one who is wearing the costume, to use Alan Watts’ memorable analogy. The clothes don’t change the person wearing them. We smile when we’re happy – we don’t smile in order to become happy!

 

The very fact that it is our understanding of what constitutes a spiritually-orientated life ought to be enough to tip us off. If I have not yet developed this spiritually-orientated attitude (which obviously I can’t have done or I wouldn’t be looking into making changes in this direction) then how on earth am I going to know what ‘a spiritually-orientated life’ would look like? I can of course read about it in books and magazines and absorb ideas from the burgeoning spiritual improvement industry but this can only ever provide me with certain notions about what this thing called ‘the spiritual life’ should look when seen from the outside, not what it’s like from the inside (so to speak). And – what’s more – the one who is absorbing all these ideas, the one who is forming an impression of what the spiritual life should look like, is the ‘spiritually-unimproved me’, which is me as I actually am right now.

 

The thing about this is that anything understood by this current self (by the ‘me’ I actually experience myself to be right now) can only ever serve to reinforce the unconscious assumptions about life that go to make that self, that ‘me’, be what it already is. I can only understand stuff that fits in with my unexamined assumptions about life; or to put this the other way round, everything I understand is necessarily understood on the basis of my current conditioning. This inevitably means that when I try to change – by buying into whatever ideas, whatever theories or model appeal to me – I’m not really going to change at all. Genuine change can’t come about as a result of purposeful or deliberate action because purposeful or deliberate action is only ever going to reaffirm our current way of understanding the world. How could we imagine otherwise? Change cannot be something that I can impose on myself because the ‘I’ which is seeking to impose the change will itself remain unchanged. As Alan Watts says, the self that seeks to do the improving is the very one that needs improving! This is the invisible glitch behind all ‘managed changed’ – the glitch being that the one who does the managing will never change. Deliberately setting out to change ourselves ensures that we stay the same; it actually reinforces our position.

 

As soon as we see this glitch (in all its glory) then the point we’re making becomes very very clear, it becomes ‘as clear as clear could be’, but then after we have assimilated the point the question arises as to how we can proceed if we do genuinely wish to lead a more spiritual life. If there isn’t – as Krishnamurti says time and time again – a method, a path, then how do we go about getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’? The point that we are missing when we try to deliberately adopt a more spiritually-orientated life (or when we in any way try to ‘improve’ or ‘better’ ourselves in general) is that we are trying to walk away from ourselves as we actually are. We want to be different from the way that we are, but this isn’t ‘being spiritual’ – it’s simply an exercise in escapism! We’re trying to escape into a more spiritual way of life, a more spiritual way of being. If we were genuine about it then we wouldn’t be getting involved in escapism but rather we would be interested in seeing things as they actually are. If we were sincere in ourselves with regard to the wish to ‘walk a more spiritual path’ we wouldn’t be walking away from ourselves the whole time, turning our backs on ourselves as we really are, but rather we would be staying present with ourselves in our actual, ‘unimproved’ lives. This isn’t a matter of willpower (in the usual sense of the word), it is purely a matter of courage.

 

Courage means ‘the willingness to see the truth about how we are’. It also means the willingness to live our lives as we are, even though this may not be very pretty to look at. The more willingness we have to see this unvarnished truth, the more we change as a result! So let’s say that I’m not very spiritually-orientated and I’d like to be more so. Suppose I am ‘egoically’ or ‘materialistically’-orientated (and – again – presumably I must be or I wouldn’t be wishing to change) then in this case ‘being the unspiritual person that I really am’ is the spiritual path! All I have to do is live my life as it unfolds, in the plain old ordinary way that it always does unfold. This may sound too easy to be worth anything, it may not seem like any sort of meaningful challenge at all, but the thing here – of course – is that I have to do it consciously, without making excuses for myself! I live my regular old life, as it unfolds for me, but I see myself as I do so as I actually am.

 

This – needless to say – turns out to be not so easy after all. What normally (almost always) happens is that there is lots of self-deceiving activity going on (both of the conscious and unconscious variety); this is activity that is specifically aimed at preventing us from seeing ourselves as we really are. What this activity essentially comes down to is self-validation – no matter what we do, there is always ample validation (or justification) for it. All of our actions take place within some kind of ‘validating context’, a validating context which serves to make it okay for us to be the way that we are; quite possibly it makes it more than just okay, quite possibly it makes us absolutely right to be that way. This sort of ‘self-excusing’ or self-validating’ is of course a deeply familiar kind of thing. Living consciously isn’t therefore to do with whether we manage to stick to the accepted moral or ethical code or not (moral codes are validating contexts in themselves) but rather it is to do with what would in the past have been called ‘the conscience’. It has to do with a ‘truth sense’ that we all have. Living consciously has nothing to do with what is seen as right or wrong by our thinking mind (which is the ultimate ‘validating context’) but right or wrong (speaking figuratively here) with respect to our innermost nature, our true nature, which is usually kept effectively silenced!

 

This isn’t a matter of judging ourselves and then feeling either good or bad according to whether we have succeeded or failed – which is of course how it works in the traditional religious context. Living our lives consciously doesn’t mean thinking that we should be different from how we actually are and feeling bad when we can’t change this state of affairs – that’s living unconsciously, not consciously! Consciousness means seeing ourselves as we really are which – as we have said – turns out to be the very thing that we don’t want to do! Our whole motivation in the so-called ‘spiritual quest’ was to get away from seeing this, after all! Why – we might wonder – is it so very difficult to see ourselves as we are, rather than either automatically validating or automatically condemning ourselves (which is really just reverse-validation)? This is – as investigation shows – always the case, but the question is ‘Why should it be the case?’ What’s going on here? What’s the big problem in ‘seeing ourselves as we really are’?

 

The ‘big problem’ is of course that we want so desperately for there to be a self to lead this ‘spiritual life’ – we want for there to be such a thing as ‘the spiritual self’! That’s the identity we want. Given the fact that there is no such thing as ‘the self’ – spiritual or otherwise – where does this leave us? What direction do we go in, now and (given the fact that there is no self there to develop) who is the one who wants to go there? This is where purposeful behaviour meets its abyss – and this is an abyss that no one can ever get past. It also happens to be an abyss that no one can ever see, which means therefore that we don’t know that we can never get past it. When we are unaware of the abyss then we can happily carry on with our purposeful activity and our rational thinking; we can carry on with our dreams. When on the other hand we see the Abyss, when we see the Great Discontinuity, then all of that is cut off as if with a knife!

 

Purposeful behaviour is how the self carries on being the self – as long as it can – via its purposes – (or via its fears, which are the same thing) extend itself into the future (or rather extend the idea of itself into the future) then it is happy. When the Discontinuity is spotted however, then that is the end of all that! The Sword of Manjushri (which is the sword of wisdom) cuts all our goal-orientated activity away, all our thinking away. To see the Discontinuity is to have awareness of the essential relativity of all of our thoughts and all of our goals. It is in other words to have awareness of the way in which all of our thinking is utterly nonsensical. Inasmuch as our identity is created entirely out of our thinking then to see the Discontinuity (between our thoughts and reality) is to see that our notion of having an identity (either good or bad, successful or unsuccessful) is also ‘utterly nonsensical’. Is this really what we want to discover, however? Do we really have an appetite for this sort of thing?

 

 

 

 

The Secret World Of Suffering

The most terrible ‘mistake’ we could ever make would be to miss the point of what life is all about and spend all our time preoccupied with something else, something that isn’t life, something that has nothing whatsoever to do with life. What bigger mistake could there possibly be than this? What worse screw-up could there be than this?

 

This is of course a rhetorical question because we never could make a bigger mistake than this. You really would want to kick yourself for making a mistake like this – you’d want to kick yourself particularly hard! The point we’re making here is of course that this is exactly the mistake that we – as a culture – are making; we are making precisely this mistake and we are far too stubborn to listen to those amongst us who try to point this fact out. We absolutely won’t be told.

 

This is an astonishing statement to be able to make – it is a staggering statement to hear as well (if, that is, we were able to hear it). How could we have got things so wrong? It is however very clearly the case that very few people are ever going to take this on board, and of those who do see it, none of them have a position in the rigid hierarchy of society and this means that no one is going to listen to them even if they were to say something about it. We only listen to people in positions of authority, and positions in people in ‘positions of authority’ (those people whose opinions get listened to) are inevitably the most heavily conditioned of us all, as Noam Chomsky points out. Who cares what the misfits and eccentrics think, when by definition what they think doesn’t matter?

 

The two main ‘parts’ of life, we might say, are ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ and – as things stand in our society – neither of these two things has anything to do with life. We could just as well say that neither of these two things ‘have anything to do with who we really are’, which is another way of saying the same thing. Most work doesn’t require us to be able to ‘tap into who we really are’ – it’s hardly necessary to point this out! No one is going to pay us to ‘be ourselves’; quite the contrary is true – most of us are actually being paid to be who we aren’t! As Philip K Dick says in Do Androids Dream, ‘we are required to go against our own nature’. The other way of putting this would be to say that ‘no one is going to pay us for doing what we would do anyway’ but only for ‘doing what we don’t want to do’, and therefore wouldn’t do, and that this is why we are being paid. We’re being paid to compensate us for doing what we don’t want to do…

 

In a rather simplistic way, we could say that when we have a job we have a role to play and that role isn’t us, obviously. This in itself is harmless enough: if I am a waiter then I can step out of role when I’m not working. I know very well that I’m not this role and, what’s more, it is probably that I can even be myself, to some extent, when I am in role at work – I don’t have to act like some kind of robot, after all. If I happen to be working in a very expensive restaurant then I will be required to be ‘more in role and less myself,’ it’s true, but I still know that it’s only a role. The problem is however that in the last few hundred years in particular life has become more complicated and our roles have become ever more two-dimensional, or artificial. As the social world becomes more abstracted from nature, and the demands that the natural world place on us, our conditioned sense of who we are gets correspondingly more removed from who we really are. The ‘natural world’ is replaced by the ‘designed world’ and so thought becomes the guiding principle rather than the natural (or ‘spontaneous’) order of things. Thought itself gives us roles to perform, roles that are – moreover – extremely hard to see through. We have ‘ideas about ourselves’, in other words, and we live our lives on the basis of these ideas.

 

It’s actually extraordinarily hard to not do this – we never stop to consider that the ideas we are living our life on the basis of are only ideas. Who does that? The urgency to ‘get on with life’ is such that we never had time to stop to reflect on matters such as this. Certainly don’t feel that we have the time to do much in the way of reflecting, or philosophising The whole ‘trip’ of thought is that it never allows us to pause to consider the fact that the thoughts which we are basing our lives on are only thoughts – if we did this then we could there would be the chance of radical change in our lives. As it is however, there is no chance of radical change, and we don’t miss this possibility either! We don’t miss it because we are convinced – without ever reflecting on the fact that we are convinced – that everything we could ever possibly want or need or aspire to is to be found within the realm of trivial change (which is the only type of change we know or understand). And because the realm of trivial change is the only type of change we know, we don’t see it as being ‘trivial’, obviously!

 

When we are ‘in role without knowing that we are in role’ then it is of course the case that the only type of change that we will ever know or acknowledge is change of the trivial variety. The only way there could be radical change would be that if we were to come out of role, but because we don’t actually know that we are ‘in role’ we are profoundly incapable of conceiving of or in any way comprehending that possibility. This then gives us a very neat way of looking at the mechanism by which we can miss the whole point of ‘what life about’ without knowing that we have missed anything – a whole world becomes invisible to us when we ‘are in role without knowing that we are’, a whole world that is actually the only word there is! What other the world could there be than the world we see when we are not in role, after all? The world we see when we look through the conceptual filter of the thinking mind isn’t the world at all, and – as we have already said – this isn’t something that we ever stop to reflect on.

 

When we are in role without knowing it then we are not at all interested in any other world than the world that makes sense from the point of view of the ‘part’ that we are playing. Because nothing else is of any interest to us, the possibility of our lives changing in a radical way is not going to be a possibility that we are in any way curious about. If we ever were to have the inking that that there were such a possibility – which we will inevitably do from time to time, no matter how carefully we organise or regulate our lives – then our only response will be fear. We will be terrified without knowing why we are terrified; we will be afraid without being interested in finding out why we are afraid. When we are in role without knowing it (or conditioned by thought without knowing it) then awareness of the type radical change that we have implicitly denied is bound to manifest as ‘ontological terror’.

 

If we were in role but at the same time knew ourselves to be in role then the possibility of radical change, the possibility of ‘dropping out of role’, would of course not be terrifying to us. It would simply represent a greater degree of freedom; it would represent ‘blessed relief from the onerous set of restrictions that we are operating under’. It would be ‘good news’ not ‘bad news’, in other words. When we are unconsciously identified with the part that we are playing however then – as we have said – radical change is synonymous with ‘ontological terror’ and for this reason we are going to take very great care never to permit any awareness, however faint, of the possibility of such a thing. What this means therefore is that we are straightaway going to be constrained to ‘a false life’! We are confined to an area of experience that has nothing to do with who we really are, but only to do with who we are playing at being. This ‘area of experience’ is the world which only makes sense in relation to the identity we mistakenly think we are!

 

There is a very interesting question that comes up here and that is the question of whether it is possible for us to continue in life in this very restricted mode of being (the mode of being in which we think trivial change is the only type of change there is) and yet remain undistressed by this fundamental restriction? Can we get off ‘scott free’, in other words? In one way we might come to the conclusion that it is indeed possible for us to continue indefinitely in this mode without ever missing the wider reality from which we are cut off; we might come to such a conclusion as a result of our observations of the people around us, the people we know and have regular interactions with. On the whole, people seem to be getting on well enough, and if we take into account the media’s unduly positive representations of how we are getting on then it would seem that we are certainly not distressed or troubled by our ‘lack of Wholeness’. Life has never been better, if we are to believe the media’s super-glossy representations of modern life!

 

We could on the other hand make the sober point that there is an invisible side to society, a side that isn’t on general display, either in terms of how human life is represented to us by the media, or in terms of how we personally wish to see it. What we are talking up here could be spoken of as ‘a secret world’ – the secret world of unacknowledged suffering. We ‘filter for misery’, as psychiatrist Scott Alexander puts it – we see the world as being a happier place than it really is. To a significant extent, we also filter other people from seeing us as being miserable, of course. On the outside we might seem to be fine – or ‘halfway fine’ at least – but what’s really going on with us on the inside? How would it feel if we really tuned in to ourselves, instead of only going on the images that we are fed? This secret world is the world of the ‘walking wounded’, we might say – we are still functioning (in some kind of a fashion) and we can still keep up the front (more or less) but the passion (or ‘sense of meaning’ with regard to life) has long since fled. This is the world we don’t see represented very often, or even at all; there can be no doubt that it is a substantial world, that there are many of us in it. Statistics do not exist to tell us just exactly how big this world is however; there are no stats to draw on here since this type of profound alienation from life is the norm rather than the exception!

 

When we can’t keep up the pretence anymore (and are forced to ‘declare our hand’) then this means that we have automatically graduate into another ‘secret world’, which is the secret world of overt or acknowledged mental suffering, where there is at least now a degree of honesty about what’s going on. This too can rightly be spoken of as ‘an invisible world’ inasmuch as we are no longer part of ‘visible society’. Whilst it is true that there is a movement to bring the various types of ‘mental ill health’ into the public consciousness (in contrast to the policy adopted in Victorian times where the main purpose of the asylum, as Erving Goffman says, was to ‘segregate the mentally unwell’ so that us normal folk would never have to have the unpleasant experience of actually encountering them) our approach to the whole matter of mental suffering is still to see it as some sort of pathological process that can be cured without ever having to look at the deeper causes that might exist in society itself. We’re trying to be more inclusive, which is good, but we still don’t want to look into the real causes of mental suffering, and so we’re not actually going to get anywhere with our efforts.

 

We certainly don’t see any connection with the profound artificiality of modern society and the way in which – ultimately – it causes us to ‘miss the very point of life itself’, as we put it earlier. Who amongst those of us who are adapted (and therefore invested) game-players are ever going to admit to such a thing? We are not exactly inclined to ‘ask big questions’, we are not exactly very likely to start wondering if our whole way of doing things (or seeing things) is wrong – on an individual level it usually requires a massive crisis to bring such questioning about and on the level of the ‘collective mind’ which is society, even the biggest crisis isn’t going to trigger honest reflection of this sort. The generic/collective (or ‘adapted’) mind isn’t able to ask big questions like this – it has an unholy terror of them. Our only option in this case is to assume that the patterns of mental suffering that we are witnessing are due to individual pathology that can (hopefully) be cured without bringing into question the overall structure we are adapted to, which is the game we are committed to playing without knowing that we are.

 

 

In short, we just don’t want to see that 100% adaptation to society causes us to miss the key point of life itself. We just don’t want to see it and we won’t see it. Society causes us to ‘miss the point’ by giving us a false basis upon which to live life and – as we have argued – the way in which it does this is by compelling us to see ourselves as being who it says we are. ‘The system says who we are’, in other words – it defines everything about us and we’re perfectly happy about that! There can be absolutely no doubt that this is what society does. Just to emphasise the point that we have already made: society would not be society unless we were all socially constructed, socially conditioned. If we all came ‘out of role’ at the same time, where would society be then? What would happen to the collective way of seeing things if we did this? Society is after all nothing more than a set of agreements that we covertly make with each other and what we are ultimately agreeing to is to be ‘in role’ without acknowledging either to ourselves or anyone else that we’re actually doing anything at all!

 

In conclusion, the point that we never want to look at is that it is utterly impossible for us be mentally healthy (or ‘mentally well’) and be socally conditioned at the same time and the reason for this is that being socially conditioned or socially adapted means that we are who society says we are rather than who we actually are, and if we’re not who we ‘actually are’ then it is absolutely the case that we’re not living life. We might be doing something else alright but whatever the hell it is that we’re doing we’re definitely not living life. We’re ‘playing at living life’, which isn’t the same thing at all…

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Alienation

The everyday sense of ‘self’ never changes and this is an extraordinary observation. It may not seem like an extraordinary observation (it may not even seem true) but it is. The self has this absolutely extraordinary property of never ever changing; even in a hundred years the everyday sense of self will not change – it’s as if we’re going back to ‘Square One’ every single time. More properly, we never actually leave ‘Square One’, we never actually leave the starting point. We’re always at the starting blocks, but never actually moving on. The fundamentally static nature of the self is an extraordinary thing to note because there is nothing that doesn’t change, nothing that isn’t part of the ongoing flow of change that is reality, and yet the static viewpoint that we call ‘the self’ always stays the same. How then can this be?

 

The self never changes because it’s only a viewpoint on reality, not the actual reality that is being viewed – it’s just a fixed set of rules that we can use to manipulate incoming information about the world. The ‘self’ is a screening-device that we filter reality through. There is a little slot, a little aperture through which the light of the world comes in and an inverted static image is thrown up on a screen, which we relate to and mistakenly call ‘reality’. We have therefore our own ‘tame version# of reality which is a frozen snapshot of the original; we don’t see the conceptual reality as being a static picture but there’s no way that it can’t be – ‘concepts’ are pictures of reality that are governed by rules, and genuine movement can never come about as a result of following rules. Rules always proceed from a fixed point, and so no matter what may seem to be happening, we are only ever going to be looking at the extrapolation of that fixed point. We are only ever going to be looking at the logical extrapolation of this fixed point and the thing about this is that there are no fixed points! There’s ‘no such thing’…

 

There is no such thing as ‘a fixed point in reality’, something we can orientate ourselves to and measure the world against. The only way this could happen would be if we could somehow isolate one specific element from reality as a whole and then make observations of this specific element ‘as it is in itself’, with no reference to anything outside of it, no reference anything else apart from it. When we do this however (and we always are doing this, because that’s how the conceptual mind works) we create an ‘unreal thing’; we create an unreal thing because it isn’t possible to separate out one element from everything around it and look at it purely ‘as it is in itself’. This is implicit in the holographic model – if every little bit of the world contains every other little bit (as is symbolized by the image of Indra’s Net of Jewels) then how can we hope to extract one bit, and yet at the same time hope to have that isolated or abstracted bit continue to be real? The only way anything gets to be real is by being part of Indra’s Net, after all!

 

Our problem in understanding this lies in the fact that we are always operating from the basis of the categorical mind and the categorical mind works by assuming the existence of ‘the world of things’, as Colin Wilson puts it. Categories are the machinery by which we create ‘things’, after all – ‘things’ are the projection of our abstract categories onto the world. Erich Fromm makes the same point when he says, ‘We live in a world of things, and our only connection with them is that we know how to consume or manipulate them’.

 

Consuming is of course always going to be a hollow business, which is precisely why it works so well as a system. This has been said many times before but it’s worth saying again – the system known as ‘consumerism’ works by keeping us hungry, keeping us unsatisfied, keeping us insecure! We are constantly thinking that someone somewhere is enjoying what we are not and this highly unpalatable feeling keeps us on our toes, keeps us being properly ‘competitive’. This is of course the standard critique of the ‘consumerist way of life’ but that doesn’t mean that we ever actually stop to think about it. Obviously we don’t ever stop to think about it – if we did then we wouldn’t be able to carry on in the ridiculous way that we are carrying on!

 

This is a point that is well worth contemplating however, if we happen to have any concern at all for our actual well-being! It is well worth contemplating because if we don’t then we are inevitably going to be steered ever more in the direction of being identified with the concrete or disconnected self. It’s the concrete or disconnected self that buys all the products, after all! The disconnected self watches all the ads and buys all the products because – unbeknownst to itself – that is the only way it has of (symbolically) regaining its lost connection with the world. To consume, and to dream the consumerist dream, is the disconnected self’s only way of ‘participating’ in life. If we were not being socially engineered to operate in the world as this ‘isolated or alienated consumer’ then society (our type of society, anyway) would straightaway start to fall apart. To ignore the mechanical forces that are operating on this therefore (and which are compelling us to experience life on behalf of the disconnected or alienated self) would be extremely unwise therefore – the life of the disconnected/alienated consumer is not a happy one, as we have already indicated. Who wants to be a hungry ghost, after all? Having a population made of hungry ghosts is great for powering the economy but there are not many laughs to be had in actually being one! Hungry ghosts don’t do much laughing…

 

So what other type of direction is there to go in, apart from the direction of ever-increasing narcissistic withdrawal? We started off talking about the central oddity of the self, which is – we said – that it never changes. The world is constantly changing, but the fixed viewpoint that we have haplessly identified with does not. Fixed viewpoints don’t change, after all – they don’t have to change because they aren’t part of reality; they are abstractions from reality not part of it! To move back into reality restores our connectedness, our ‘relationship’ with the dynamic world around us, but from the point of view of the disconnected desirer or consumer (i.e. ‘the alienated manipulator’) there is a high price to pay for this – the highest price of all, in fact. The ‘alienated manipulator’ which is the static self ceases to exist when we re-establish our relatedness with the dynamic reality!

 

In order to have an existence as a static self we have to be thoroughly insulated from any possibility of seeing our actual connectedness with reality therefore, and this is the absolute precondition for taking part in the rule-based system which is society. That’s the precondition for the game! Naturally no one is ever going to point this out for us – no one is would ever sign up to the deal if this spectacular ‘downside’ were to be brought to our attention. The very suggestion that taking part in the collective way of life that is society automatically disconnects in the fundamental away from reality (and from ourselves) is incomprehensible to us – no one is going to take this on board. ‘Spoiling the party’ doesn’t come into it! Yet for anyone with a modicum of psychological insight only a few moments of careful consideration will suffice to show the truth of what we are saying here. When ‘everything is about the image’ then how can we ever possibly allow reality into the picture?

 

This is such a basic principle – if the description of (or ‘signifier for’) reality is to ‘take on a life of its own’ (as it must if we are to play the game) then that which is being described (or that which is being signified) must be banished completely, must be taken out of the equation completely. This ‘banishment of reality’ is the lynchpin of the whole mechanism – this is how the map takes over from the territory, by eliminating that territory. This is of course the principle behind Baudrillard’s hyperreality; the fake can only thrive in the absence of the real, and in the absence of the real the fake thrives like the most virulent of weeds! In the absence of the real the fake has a field day. In the absence of the real the show is absolutely unstoppable – it is of course utterly worthless, conducive to nothing but various shades and flavours of confusions, misery and frustration, but it is unstoppable all the same!

 

So no one is ever going to come up to us and tell us at the price we are paying for being ‘one hundred per cent adapted to society’ is that we have to be disconnected both from the reality of the world and the reality of our own actual nature, and – as we have said – even if they did we wouldn’t know what they were talking about. We wouldn’t know what they were saying and we wouldn’t want to know. It is therefore both extremely important that we should know this thing, and at the same time we are supremely resistant to ever taking it on board. So why is it so important, we might ask? Certainly it is not important in the moral sense – it’s not as if there is a moral framework there that we have to obey! All frameworks – without exceptions – are arbitrary impositions, and so too are the so-called ‘moral imperatives’ that derive from them. This is easy enough to show – the most essential element in life is –we could say – freedom, since without freedom there can be no chance whatsoever of happiness or any type of well-being, and yet we can’t make freedom into a moral issue without straightaway becoming ridiculous. Should we make a law saying that ‘we have to be free’? Obviously, as soon as we do this we have actually taken away our freedom – we have ‘made freedom compulsory’, we have taken away our freedom not to be free.

 

We can’t say that it is ‘important’ that we should understand the crisis that has been created by the loss of our connection with reality, the loss of our connectedness from our own inherent nature, in a moral sense therefore, and yet there is an ‘urgency’ to the matter all the same. The imperative here is not a rule that is imposed on us from the outside, an ‘official guideline’ that we have to adhere to, but rather it is an impulse that arises naturally within us when we become aware of our true situation. If we say that our true situation is that we are ‘unknowingly trapped within a false reality’ (as the essential Gnostic myth puts it) then the impulse that arises within us might be said to be ‘revulsion with regard to this state of affairs’. This is the ‘inner revulsion’ spoken of in the Lakāvatāra Sūtra. If I suddenly see that I’ve been tricked to into accepting a vastly inferior ‘pseudo-reality’ in place of the real thing, a pseudo-reality that is utterly inimical as regards the expression of my true nature, then what would my response be? Certainly I will be not acting out of any sense of morality, out of any idea about what is ‘right or ‘wrong’. This situation isn’t something we need to ‘think about’!

 

If we look at this in terms of Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality, then we can say that hyperreality represents an ‘inverted form of freedom’ – we are ‘free’ to adapt ourselves to whatever deterministic templates are provided for us, we are ‘free’ to buy into whatever static identity it is that the system is offering us. The Realm of the Hyperreal offers us ‘freedom from our true nature’ therefore, but this is a distinctly odd form of freedom because it what it really translates into is ‘the freedom to be enslaved by whatever images or thoughts the thinking mind throws at us.’ We are represented in such and such a way, but there is no choice in this for us – straightaway our consciousness is sucked up and magnetically compelled to believe that it is ‘this, that or the other identity’. Freedom from our actual undetermined nature always means slavery to the fixed form, therefore. We can be ‘free’ from who we really are only by being plunged into a state of compulsory identification with whatever image the thinking mind presents us with – that’s the only way ‘freedom from our true nature’ can ever work, obviously!

 

So when we say that the everyday self never changes, and that this is that this is ‘proof of its unreality’, then this is just another way of saying that the Realm of the Hyperreal never changes. Of course hyperreality never changes, never flows, never recklessly jumps over its own boundaries; if it did that then it would be the real, not the hyperreal! Hyperreality is all about identity – things are always what they are said to be, they can’t deviate from this in the slightest! Identity is by its very nature ‘stuck to itself’ and on this account it can never have any depth. It can never be otherwise than what it is literally stated as being and this is exactly why it can never have any actual depth. And yet at the same time there is no ‘identity’ to anything really, there is ‘no such thing’, and so all this fuss is about nothing. We have the security of having an identity, it is true, but the price we pay for this ‘security’ is being locked into an artificial state of being that we might call fundamental alienation – the fundamental alienation of being identified with a static viewpoint, the fundamental alienation of being identified with a viewpoint that never ever changes, the fundamental alienation of being removed from life itself…

 

Art: Speedy Grafitto