The Jinx

To be ‘unconscious’, in the psychological sense of the world, means that we absolutely can’t help seeing everything via some kind of ridiculous arbitrary viewpoint that simply isn’t true and never could be! That’s the sort of ‘jinx’ that we’re talking about here – the jinx of being made a complete fool of by our thinking, by our ‘ideas about reality’, so to speak.

 

It doesn’t matter what perceptions or understandings of the world we have therefore, they are only there because of our conditioned viewpoint. Our perceptions and understandings of the world only make sense in relation to this viewpoint – they don’t and can’t make sense in the other way. No matter what ‘serious’ tasks we might engage in, if we try to tackle them without first tackling the wooden beam that is lodged solidly in our eye-socket, we can only succeed at perpetuating our folly. ‘Perpetuating our folly’ is the best we can hope for…

 

The very idea of a ‘serious task’ becomes not-so-serious therefore – we may be taking ourselves seriously for sure but this is really just a joke that we can’t see – it’s an invisible joke, it’s a ‘joke at our own expense’! The reason this joke is at our own expense is because we are forever acting as if we have a very solid and mature grasp on things (our whole demeanour, our whole comportment says as much) whilst the truth of the matter is that we are the victims of a ridiculous deception that we have unwittingly perpetrated upon ourselves.

 

How is looking at the world from the basis of a viewpoint that isn’t true and never could be true ‘serious’? We point the finger at all sorts of so-called serious problems that are to be found in the world and which need our urgent attention but stubbornly ignore their root cause, which is our extraordinary ‘one-sided’ (as Jung would say) view of the world. We see things the way our thinking mind says we should see them, and not in any other way – the advantage in this is that we can then effectively utilise the world in the way we wish to utilise it, whilst the disadvantage is that our awareness is completely contained within the game we are playing with the result that we simply don’t know that we’re playing it.

 

Putting matters like this gives us a way of looking very precisely at our predicament in life. If our unwitting one-sidedness results in us only being able to attend to that aspect of the world which corresponds to the unconscious (or unexamined) expectations that we are invisibly encoded into our way of thinking about the world then what has essentially happened here is that we have set ourselves up as being ‘outside of life’ (or ‘apart from life’), and not just ‘apart from life’, but also against life, in opposition to life.

 

If we are completely ‘on the side of thought’ (and have no balance whatsoever within us) then there is no way that we will not be living ‘apart from life’, and ‘in opposition to life’. Not being in opposition to life is going to be a complete impossibility. Life is the Whole Thing, not just the partial or fragmentary view. Furthermore, life cannot be subdivided without ceasing to be life – when we subdivide it life just becomes an idea! We can’t say what this thing that we’re calling ‘life’ is because to say this is to put life in a compartment and to put life in a compartment is to ‘separate it from itself’. This is the whole problem in a nutshell – the whole problem is our unconscious compulsion to turn everything into a mind-created abstraction!

 

So the next question we could ask is ‘what happens when we place ourselves outside of life and in opposition to life?’ Very obviously, to do this is to incur all sorts of calamities. When we headbutt the universe, then we end up with a very sore head! When we break harmony with the Tao (even though, as Alan Watt says, this is ultimately an impossibility) then just as we are in opposition to life, life is in opposition to us and no matter how we figure it, when life itself exists in opposition to us than the one thing that we may rely on is that things are going to get pretty rough!

 

In very simple terms, when we are in this situation of being on the ‘other team’ with regard to life, then everything is going to turn against us. As Jung says our own psyche is going to turn against us. We are creating our own nemesis with everything we do.  “The more compulsive the one-sidedness, and the more untamed the libido which streams off to one side, the more daemonic it becomes” says Jung (Collected Works Vol 6). In this statement it is clear that we actually have two devils on our back here, not just the one. We have the ‘daemonic forces’ that have been called into existence by our ‘one-sidedness’ (by our ‘opposition to nature’) and we also have the compulsivity that is inherent in this one-sidedness. There is nothing to choose between these two devils – they are each as bad as the other! Compulsivity is a demon because it never gives us any peace, it goads us on forever and ever and we can never keep it satisfied, no matter how hard we may try. We are in this horrible situation where we do what we do not because we really want to (or because there is any joy in acting out ‘what we have in mind’ as Macbeth says) but because we have to. We have no choice. There is no freedom in the moment for us, only slavery to a pitiless (and quite insane) master!

 

And then if this were not bad enough, the result of us obeying the compulsivity created by our one-sidedness in this way is that we set up a force that turns against us and ultimately destroys everything that we have put so much effort into creating. We can’t win either way, therefore – we try to get some peace by placating the devil that is persecuting us from the inside (which, ultimately, we can never do because no matter how much we give it it will always want more) and we bring the devil on the outside down on our heads as a result of trying so hard to appease the demon on the inside! To say that we are ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ is putting it far too mildly. We’re up shit creek without a paddle.

 

Needless to say, this conflicted situation creates great suffering. We try as hard as we do to enact all of our ideas, beliefs, and plans because we fervently believe this there is to be great benefit in doing so. Our rational-purposeful output matters a great deal to us – that’s why we are so very’ serious’ about it. It matters to us a great deal because we believe that we are going to set up some value in the outside world; we believe that we are going to ‘do some good,’ in other words. Our belief in the importance of our goals – whatever these might be – is however driven not by the genuine desire to ‘do good’ when we are in the grip of the thinking mind but ‘to do good by the criteria of the thinking mind’, which is not the same thing at all! ‘Doing good by criteria of the thinking mind’ simply means obeying its compulsions (or ‘doing what we are not free not to do’) – we just don’t see things this way when we are in ‘unconscious’ or ‘passively-identified’ state. We don’t see our true motivation.

 

So – as far as we are concerned ‘everything will come out all right’ just so long as we can attain our goals, and this is why they matter so much to us in the very serious way that they do. Yet, the fact that we are acting unconsciously (or one-sidedly’) guarantees that our efforts are all going to rebound on us in the most painful way; it guarantees in other words that we have set ourselves up so that the thing we see as being of the utmost importance is unfailingly going to go wrong for us, is going to backfire on us, and if this doesn’t spell ‘suffering’ then what does? The very thing that we are pinning all our hopes on is the one thing that could never work out for us. Action that comes out of one-sidedness is never going to work out for us.

 

The reason for this is of course because it is our unconscious or unexamined assumptions that are driving everything. Whenever we want to achieve we want to achieve on the basis of these unconscious assumptions and because these assumptions are completely unfounded (they can’t not be) we are heading off on ‘a journey to nowhere’ right from the very start. Thought can be a very useful guide in the pragmatic domain but it is never going to be of any service to us in the ‘absolute’ sense that we want it to be. Thought can never do us any good when used as an ‘absolute basis’ for how we are to live life! It can’t do us any good because in reality there is no such thing as ‘an absolute basis’. Life can’t be oversimplified on the basis of a theory or belief either of the religious or political or scientific variety. All theories/models/concepts/beliefs come out of the one-sidedness of the rational mind; they all come out of our ‘invisible assumptions’ and this is why they will always backfire on us.

 

We can use the rational mind to help us with the ‘little things’ in life, with the day-to-day mechanical details, but not with the big things, not the things that really matter. We can’t face life on the basis of a theory or model or belief as we have just said. To do so is an evasion of responsibility and this evasion will inevitably rebound on us! Nature unfailingly punishes unconsciousness, as Jung says. Ignorance is no excuse. Facing life on the basis of a theory/belief/model/opinion is living unconsciously (i.e. engaging on the basis of unexamined assumptions is living unconsciously) and to live life unconsciously is to be very thoroughly jinxed. We might not see it – we almost certainly won’t see it – but our ignorance doesn’t mean that the joke isn’t on us; our ignorance is why the joke is on us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mistaken Identity

Within the general terms of the Gnostic myth of the ‘False Reality’, or ‘Bogus creation’, we may take it as not just being the case that we are presented with a counterfeit version of the world which we – in all innocence – except at face value, it is also the case that we are presented with an equally counterfeit version of ourselves, which we accept – again – at face value, in all innocence.

 

We are caught in a ‘pincer movement’, so to speak; we are fooled on both fronts – the external and the internal. Between these two deceptions (which are of course ultimately the same deception) there is a vanishingly small chance of us ever finding genuine freedom. This is – beyond any doubt – the cleverest and most formidable trap ever devised. There are no inconsistencies; there is nothing there to ‘give the game away’.

 

When we reflect on it, it becomes obvious that there couldn’t be ‘the true self in the false world’, nor ‘the false self in a true world’. The true self would see the false world for what it is and would have no truck with it, whilst the false self would be shown up and exposed by the true world, and – as a result – be unable to continue with charade. Another (simpler) way of putting this is just to say that the counterfeit self is ‘part and parcel’ of the counterfeit world – it all comes in the same package.

 

This the idea of being supplied with a false a counterfeit version of ourselves is so radical, so audacious, that we would simply never suspect it. Anything else might be counterfeited and conceivably spotted, our surroundings, people in the street, our friends, our family even, but not ourselves. That’s the one place we will never look; the one place we will never think to look. My own identity is always going to be the ‘blind-spot’, in other worlds…

 

It’s not hard to see why this should be so. We only need to consider the coercive (and therefore unquestionable) nature of our wants, our desires, our needs – as soon as a desire (or a desire, or need) comes along we instantaneously go along with it and adopt it fondly as our own. We might fight against it but we certainly never question it. When a compulsive impulse (or desire) comes along I straightaway say it is me who wants (or doesn’t want) to do whatever it is that the compulsion wants me to do. We confuse the compulsive impulse for ourselves, in other words. There is no gap between ‘trigger’ and ‘reaction’ and it is the lack of any gap here that guarantees our identification with the impulse (i.e. that guarantees our ‘adoption of the false self’.)

 

When we look at things this way, it’s easy to see how it could come about that we would mistake the false, ‘coercive’ self for who we really are. It isn’t just our needs, our coercive impulses to act this way or that, our desires to obtain a particular outcome that we are talking about here either. When we think it is the very same thing – a thought comes along, coercively ‘hijacking’ our attention, and then straightaway we feel that it is us who are thinking. Straightaway I say that this is ‘my’ thought (which of course carries the implication that I am only thinking because I myself want to).

 

It’s very hard to meet anyone who doesn’t go around imagining that the only reason they think the thoughts that they are thinking is because they want to. We all imagine that it is ‘us who think the thoughts’, that it is us who are in ‘the driving seat’ with regard to the thinking process, and this just goes to show how solidly identified we are with ‘the counterfeit self’. How often do we doubt that this is the case, after all? How often do we doubt the super-compelling illusion of the volitional thinker who purposefully thinks the thoughts that he or she is thinking?

 

If we did see through the illusion this would appear to most of us as a particularly extreme form of ‘disorientation’ – it’s not that we don’t know where we are, or even that we can’t remember who we are (in the sense of remembering our phone number, national insurance number, name, address, etc)  – it goes a lot deeper than this. It’s rather than that ‘this person who I know myself to be’ (or rather knew myself to be) has nothing to do with who I really am. My normal everyday life has become strange to me, not really belonging to me, not really of any interest to me. My normal everyday activities and concerns have become profoundly meaningless to me…

 

‘This is not my beautiful house / this is not my beautiful wife,’ as the Talking Heads song goes. Turning away from the illusion in this way – the illusion of ‘who we’re not but who we nevertheless think we are’ – is what the Eastern traditions refer to as ‘Waking up’ or ‘Liberation’ therefore – we are being liberated from the illusion of who we think we are, we are waking up from the false identification with who were not, who no one is, and who no one could ever be! The remarkable thing here is just how extraordinarily resistant we are to seeing the seeing the illusion, to waking up from the false identification! We resist this liberating insight with everything we’ve got, we resist to the bitter end.

 

So what are we to make of this? What on earth is going on here? On the face of it, the notion that we should be stuck fast to a fictional version of ourselves (a cheap fictional version at that) so very effectively that no tools exist that could ever unstuck us, is bound to sound rather peculiar. Why should such an odd situation be the case? Why should we be so absolutely resistant to seeing the truth of what is going on, and letting go of our desperate attachment to this fictional identity’? It’s not as if there is anything particularly great about it, or – actually – anything intrinsically worthwhile about it at all. How can there be anything ‘intrinsically worthwhile’ about a fictional identity?

 

The whole scenario sounds utterly absurd, utterly bizarre. If someone were to write a play on this premise, we would all laugh at it. We’d either laugh at it, or walk out in disgust halfway through the performance, unwilling to subject ourselves to such nonsense. On the whole, it’s got to be true to say that we prefer our ‘culture’ to be about issues that we can more readily relate to! In another way however, it could be said that we have moved a step closer – culturally speaking – to having a certain familiarity with the Gnostic theme that we have been discussing. The motif of the False Reality (or ‘the Simulation’) is one which most of us have heard of; following the work of writers and philosophers such as Philip K Dick and films such as The Matrix or The Truman Show it is now firmly established as part of the intellectual/cultural terrain of the early 21st-century. How well do we really understand these motifs that we are playing around with though? Are they penetrating into our understanding of our own day-to-day lives, or is it just more entertainment in a world that is based on entertainment?

 

A familiar PKD motif is that of the ‘fake memory’. We are all familiar with the idea of being a humanoid android who has provided with an implanted set of memories. We live quite happily on this basis only to find out one day that none of it is true and that we aren’t that person at all, that we have no connection whatsoever with that ‘person that we thought we were’. It’s not androids in the near future that we are talking about though – it’s all of us right now. That’s our situation we are looking at – we just haven’t ‘got it’ yet!

 

This isn’t just some philosophical ‘curiosity piece’ – on the contrary, it has immense practical implications. It has immense practical implications with regard to our well being, with regard to our mental health. Wei Wu Wei, with the brevity that is characteristic of teachers of the Cha’an tradition, brings this all down to one line –

What’s your trouble? Mistaken identity.

We can get as complicated and as ‘scientific sounding’ as we like about the causes of mental ill-health, but all we doing here is ‘muddying the water’. We’re muddying the water big time! Never in the history of the human race has the water been muddied so much! Whatever our unconscious aims might be they certainly aren’t about shedding any light on the matter..

 

The only thing that will ‘shed light on the matter’ is to grasp what Wei Wu Wei is saying here – we don’t stand a chance if we don’t. We don’t have a hope in hell. If we insist, out of the pure force of our numbing unconsciousness, that we are this fiction, that we are this counterfeit self, then how we ever going to get to the root of our troubles? To insist – as we do insist – that we are this hollow counterfeit self is to take absolutely zero interest in who we really are, and it’s because we are taking absolutely zero interest in anything apart from the false self or phony identity that we are suffering from all the mental health difficulties’ that we do. What happens when I neglect, on a thoroughgoing basis, my true nature? What else can we expect to happen when we very forcefully deny the ground of our being and lavish all of our attention on the shallow fiction which we are compulsively identified with, in the utterly bizarre and ludicrous manner that we are? Can we really expect things to work out well for us on this basis?

 

When the nature of our trouble is ‘mistaken identity’, then everything we do in order to shore up the apparent validity of the mistaken notion who we imagine ourselves to be is going to ‘count against us’. The further we go down this road the greater our suffering will be, as is always the way with this thing we call ‘denial’. The only thing that we can do to free ourselves from our suffering is to see the mistake!‘To see the illusion is to depart from it’, as it says in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Oneself In The World

To ‘be truly oneself in the world’ is fantastically, exquisitely difficult, and at the same time it is so sublimely effortless! It’s a kind of a paradox – it is after all because we always assume that we have to make an effort that we find ‘being ourselves in the world’ so difficult.

 

Any sort of doctrine, any sort of belief, philosophy or theory always means that we have to make a ‘specific effort’ of some sort. This is what a doctrine/belief/philosophy/theory is – it’s a bias of some kind, it’s an ‘overvaluing of one thing and a corresponding devaluing of another’. That’s how the discriminative mind works – it works by discriminating! ‘Discrimination’ means ‘this rather than that’ (obviously enough!) and so how can we ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ on the basis of ‘this rather than that’, which is a specifically-directed effort? I have to stop one thing and promote another, which is controlling, and – very clearly – there is no way we can ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ by controlling! There’s nothing simple about controlling. Or perhaps ‘being ourselves’ is not what we want, in which case controlling is serving us after all….

 

But even if ‘being truly ourselves’ is what we want, and we are expending effort in order to bring about this state of affairs, we are still going to miss the mark. We’re going to ‘miss the mark’ – so to speak – because we’re directing all our efforts towards approximating a ‘mental image of’ who we truly are’, and the problem is that we just can’t have an image of this! We can’t formulate an image of who we truly are (in order to aim at approximating it) because we just don’t know. We’re wasting our time entertaining mental images when it comes to the question of ‘who we are’. We don’t actually know what or who we are, so how can we hope to find out by straining either in one direction or another? And yet if we restrain ourselves from straining, or ‘making the effort’, and do nothing instead, this doesn’t work either, as the following words by Chuang-Tzu indicate –

The Confucian and the religious Taoist jump too far and fall on the other side, while the hedonist, the Buddhist, and the recluse fail to get on it at all. Chaung Tzu would smile at this situation and say, “You folks are too drunk with all those ‘isms’ of yours. Just be yourself in the world, neither trying (wu wei) nor not-trying (wu–pu-wei), and then you will find yourself on the horseback. For the ‘horse’ is none other than ‘yourself-in-the-world”.

All we ever do with ‘effort’ or ‘striving’ (or by deliberate ‘not-striving’) is to follow the discriminative mind wherever it points and the one thing that we can be sure of in life is that wherever to discriminating mind points is not going to be ‘it’.  ‘Neither this, nor that’, says the verse in the Upanishads. You are neither this nor that, nor anything else the thinking mind says you are. If we could understand this then that would save us from an awful lot of wasted effort therefore – the thinking mind is forever sending us on wild goose chases of one sort or another and no matter how many times it happens to us we never seem to wise up. We are as gullible, easy to trick, as ever…

 

We can never find ‘balance’ (or’ harmony’) in life by thinking about it. We can never find harmony in life by thinking about it because thoughts are always disharmonious! Thought is disharmonious by its very nature; thought – as we have already said – always proceeds on the basis of bias, deeming – as it cannot help but doing – ‘one thing more important than the other’. Krishnamurti says that’ thought is conflict’, which is another way of putting it. Thought is always fighting to establish its way over any other way; it is always striving to validate its own arbitrary assumptions even though does not acknowledged that these assumptions exist. This being the case, how can we ever expect to find the harmony which we are yearning for (whether we know it or not) by ‘being clever’ (or ‘thinking about it’)?

 

The truth is – as all the mystics say – that we are already there, we’re already part of that harmony, and so we ‘spoil it’ by trying, by making efforts to be there, to be ‘in harmony’. ‘When we try to accord we deviate’, as the Daoists say. We always think that ‘things aren’t right’, and that we need to ‘X, Y and Z’ in order to make them right. And even if someone were to come up to us and explain this to us, in a way that we could understand, all that would happen then would be that we would start deliberately trying to undo or counteract the biased efforts of the discriminating mind to ‘secure advantage’. All that’s happening here then is that this same discriminative mind is still trying to ‘secure the advantage’. It’s still trying to ‘solve the problem’. Bias cannot be used to overcome bias; the thinking mind cannot be used to remedy the thinking mind. When we use bias to remedy bias the one does not cancel out the other; instead of ‘cancelling out’ they ‘add up’ and introduce another layer of complication to an already complicated picture!

 

Isn’t this what ‘spiritual practice’ so often comes down to, trying to become a ‘more spiritually-orientated person’ and thereby rejecting or turning our backs on ourselves as we actually are? This is what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘spiritual materialism’-

Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Spiritual materialism is – we might say – where we make a career out of being ‘spiritually-orientated people’; entering consciously into the unbroken harmony of life isn’t something that we can make a career of, or make any kind of a ‘thing’ of at all, however. This isn’t something that comes about as a result of making goals, as we keep saying – it’s not the sort of thing we can plan for. Similarly, there is no way we can develop a persona (or a life-style) around being conscious!

 

And yet – as we all know perfectly well – merely to carry on as we already are carrying on, mired up to our necks in our habitual thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, enmeshed in patterns we don’t have the power to break, is not going to do us any good either! We’re caught up in a ‘fundamental conflict situation’, at the heart of which is the FSOS (which is the ‘mind-created self’), and this conflict situation is only ever going to get more ‘aggravated’, more ‘inflamed’, more and more ‘entrenched’  as time goes on. This is the principle alluded to by Shakespeare in his play Macbeth where Macbeth famously says –

By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,

All causes shall give way. I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

We all know this principle very well of course; this is the very familiar situation where the lie we tell grows bigger and bigger (because that’s what lies do) and all we can do is ‘go along with it’, hoping (stupidly) that it’s all somehow going to come out OK in the end. So it is with the ‘assumed sense of self’, the ‘self construct’ which is ‘the fixed position we have adopted and then got stuck with’. So just ‘carrying on as we are’ is no good (because we are then going to be in Macbeth’s situation, although the chances are that we won’t have the insight he had) and yet if we try to improve ourselves so as to become more ‘spiritually-orientated’ then that’s no good either, for the reasons we have already gone into. All we are doing in this case is putting our ideas about what ‘leading a more spiritual life’ means to us into action and doing our best to follow through with them. This isn’t the same thing at all however; this is actually just what we always do – we are always ‘living our ideas of what we think life should be’, we are always imposing our own logic, our own brand of ‘order’ on the world. The art of living isn’t to find better or clever ways of imposing our own brand of order onto the world – that isn’t ‘art’ at all but mere bullying – the ‘art of living’ lies precisely in not doing this, it lies in ‘getting out of our own way’ (not in ‘imposing our own way’, which is what we think it is).

 

So just to summarise what we have been saying up to this point, using a method (whether it be a ‘therapeutic’ or ‘spiritual’ one) isn’t the answer because all methods are biases, because all methods are ‘disharmonious’. All we are doing is ‘thrashing around’. Who is using the method anyway apart from the ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ that we have randomly picked up along the way, and what exactly does that ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ want, other than to prove that it isn’t false! What else can the false idea of ourselves ever want to do other than ‘try to prove that it isn’t false’? What else could ever possibly motivate it? We can look at this in terms of guidance systems – the false idea of ourselves is, we might say, a ‘guidance system’ that is always going to lead us in the direction of increased suffering!

 

The false sense of ourselves as exactly the wrong thing to put our trust in therefore; the FSOS doesn’t trust itself either when it comes right down to it – it has no intuitive connection with anything (naturally enough) it is as a consequence ‘ all at sea’. What it does therefore is to pick up to pick some sort of angle or theory or belief at random, and then just ‘go along with it’ in a totally unquestioning way. It adopts a set of biases which it declares to be ‘true’, in other words! We need hardly point out that this pretty much sums up the entire history of the human race! Sometimes of course it may appear that the FSOS has no belief, has no ‘theory’ or ‘philosophy’ about life, but this isn’t so. When this seems to be the case – is it very often does – all that this means is that the FSOS has adopted the ‘default strategy’, the ‘default philosophy’. This ‘default philosophy’ – which is not a conscious one, by any means – simply states ‘I am always right’. In other words, whatever mechanical impulse may happen to come into my head I am just going to obey without question. This default strategy saves us from having to think any deeper about life – it is true – but only at the price of increased suffering.

 

To ‘be oneself in the world’ is not a matter of identifying with whatever deterministic imprint comes our way, it’s not a matter of blithely ‘going along’ with whatever phoney identity happens to land in our lap (which indicates that we don’t really give a damn what is true or not) that’s certainly not ‘ being oneself in the world’ – on the contrary, that’s being ‘the false idea of oneself in the world’! Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with that; ‘being the false sense of self is the world’ is a perfectly legitimate thing to do – we are of course completely free to do this. We could look upon it as a type of experiment – the experiment might be framed in terms of a question such as ‘what is it like to live life from the basis of the FSOS?’ (or perhaps, ‘What happens when we believe ourselves to be the FSOS in the world?’) It turns out that experiment – in one way – isn’t very interesting. It isn’t very interesting (or ‘fruitful’) because we only ever ends up in Macbeth’s situation, which is the situation where we’re ‘going ahead with what we’re doing because it’s easier to do this than it is to go back’! We press ahead to the conclusion, therefore, even if the conclusion is also our doom.

 

In another way (seen ‘the other way around’, we could say) the experiment is very interesting indeed! It is interesting because as soon as we get the hang of realizing that we don’t have to go along with the mechanical inertia of the situation, and that we are free to look at the world in ways that do not serve the narrow interests of the false or assumed sense of self, then we see that there is an awful lot out there to see. There’s a whole world out there to see and engage with – a world that has absolutely nothing to do with the predetermined script followed by this limited idea that we have of ourselves. This world is burgeoning with possibilities; it is as rich in possibilities as the ‘world’ which the FSOS concerns itself with is poor. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 3) –

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.

We are still faced by the central paradox however – we can’t carry on the same as before, and neither can we do anything about it! What are to do therefore? The key to this dilemma lies in our motivation, as we have just hinted. The motivation of the self-construct is a very superficial type of motivation, the type of motivation that only ever wants to know what the solution to the problem is. What I really mean when I want to know ‘what the solution to the problem is’ is ‘What do I have to do in order to carry on being able to believe that I really and truly am this assumed sense of self?’ Naturally enough, I don’t frame the question in quite this way, but that’s what I mean. That’s the question that I’m actually asking. Everything we do (when we are in the normal (unconscious) mode of existence) is motivated by this question; as we have already said, the ‘false sense of self’ only has the one underlying motivation and that is to constantly prove to itself that it isn’t false.

 

Everything the FSOS does is based on preserving the integrity of this belief, obviously enough. Everything is based upon ‘me believing that I am who I think I am’ – all of my actions derive from this premise; all of my hopes and expectations, all of my plans, exist in relation to this all-important foundation stone. And yet – of course – it isn’t a ‘foundation stone’ at all, it’s pure supposition, it’s ‘pie in the sky’, it’s ‘a bucketful of moonshine’. The life of the FSOS is necessarily orientated around one Very Big Problem therefore, the problem being – ‘how to keep on successfully avoiding seeing that its basis doesn’t exist’. This isn’t a problem that it can address consciously either since that would rather tend to give the game away! Instead of addressing the problem consciously therefore we address it unconsciously – we turn everything around so it seems to us that we are pursuing ‘positive values’ in the outside world when the whole time what we really trying to do is validate our idea of ourselves, or ‘prove to ourselves at the FSOS really does exist’. That’s what we’re motivated to try to do.

 

This type of motivation is a very ‘flat’ or ‘two-dimensional’ one however – is nothing behind it but ‘the truth we don’t want to know about’, and so we’re stuck operating on this very superficial (and deceptive) level. On the face of it, we are interested in all these different things, we’re interested in this and in that and it’s all very diverse. The truth of the matter is very different however – we’re only interested in stuff that supports our very narrow view of the world, stuff that ‘supports our assumptions’. We’re only interested in the type of information that supports what we want to believe in and this selective attention is where our terrible ‘inner poverty’ comes from. The cure for this poverty is simply – therefore – to take an interest in the stuff that we don’t want to know, to take an interest in the stuff that challenges our preconceptions. We don’t have to go looking too far for challenges to our world-view (or to our ‘self-view’!) – they are after all arriving on our doorstep all the time!

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Epidemic

What happens when we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind? What are the consequences of such a thing? This is turns out to be a crucially important question for two reasons – one reason being that we are all allowing ourselves to be completely defined (as if this were unquestionably a ‘good thing’) and the other being that the consequences of us allowing this are both extraordinarily far-reaching, and not at all good.

 

It’s not just ourselves we are defining – we are busy defining everything in sight! This is what thinking does, and we are all the grip of a mighty ‘thinking academic’, whether we realise it or not. Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine that letting the thinking mind take over (which inevitably means letting it define everything in sight) is what ‘progress’ (or ‘positive human advancement’) is all about. We are as a result in the throes of some kind of supposing growth spasm whereby, it seems to us, we are in the process of ‘thinking our way to greatness’. A glorious future is unfolding for us – or so we fondly imagine!

 

It’s not really ‘greatness’ that we’re thinking  our way to however – a better way of describing our destination would be to say that it involves ‘complete immersion in some kind of pointless, time-absorbing rational game which has nothing to do with life itself (although it claims – of course – that it does). We never tire of saying that what we are collectively doing is ‘celebrating life’ but nothing could be further from the truth! We not celebrating life – we are denying it. That’s what this pernicious business ‘defining everything’ (and ‘analyzing/organizing everything’) business really comes down to – the denial of life.

 

The process whereby thought insidiously categorizes and analyses and organizes everything it encounters under the pretext of ‘helping us’ can be seen as a form of ‘prototype bureaucracy’ that creeps up on us and, without us realising what is going on. The justification of the bureaucratic yoke is – as always – that it is serving us as a valuable tool which will facilitate us in living life in a better kind of a way. The end result is however always the complete opposite of this – bureaucracies choke life rather than facilitating it. Bureaucracies, we might say, ‘have no natural predators’ – there is nothing to prune them, nothing to limit them, nothing to stop them growing out of all proportion to their potential usefulness. The unspoken promise is always that once the necessary regulations have been obeyed, then we can get on with the important business of ‘living life to the full’ but the fact it is but the fact is that this just never happens – the bureaucracy just keeps on growing and growing until one day it actually substitutes itself for life, which was its ‘aim’ all along so to speak. ([It doesn’t have ‘an aim’ really of course, that’s just what it does.]

 

This is as true for actual bureaucracies as it is for the bureaucracy of thought, and if we can’t see this to be true then we really do need to shake the sawdust out of our heads! If we can’t see this to be true then this is because the insidious process of ‘bureaucratization has set in too thoroughly, has taken root too deeply, with the result that we can no longer ‘see the wood for the trees’. We started off this discussion what the consequences of us letting thought ‘run the show ‘ and organize the whole shebang for us according to its rules, its criteria, and its values, might be. We can take a stab at answering this question by saying quite simply that the consequences are that we become  as time goes on more and more alienated from all that is good (or ‘wholesome’) in life. The process is inevitably going to leave us very effectively disconnected from all that is wholesome in life and this disconnection – we may say – lies at the root of the ‘crisis in mental health’ that we are now witnessing at the start of the 21st century.

 

It might sound melodramatic to talk in terms of an ‘epidemic’ of thinking – people nowadays need to think anymore nor any less than they used to, we might argue. People think a lot – that’s fairly normal! There is a difference now though. In recent times we have, to a considerable extent, ‘externalised’ our thinking; out of our thinking we create this ‘designed world’ and then – as David Bohm says – this designed or constructed world ‘reaches back’ and thinks us! Or as we could also say, we determine our environment and then that environment turns the tables on us and determines us. We construct the designed world in time terms of our purposes, and then these very same purposes effectively trap us.

 

This is an old and familiar motif and we really ought to pay more attention to it than we do! There are a number of ways that the motif may show itself: the articer is trapped by his own artifice; the mechanical servant we create gets the better of us; the wish-fulfilling genie that we have let out of the bottle turns out to be more than we have bargained for… The lesson in all these tales is – we might say – that we should be careful what we ask for, because we might get it. Wishes are dangerous things! All machines involve a ‘simplifying down’ of the world – that’s what a machine (or a ‘model’) is – it’s an oversimplification of the world.  Stuff is (necessarily) left out. The peril here therefore is that we are very likely indeed to fall into the trap of mistaking the oversimplification of the world for the real thing. Or to put this in a slightly different way, we make a choice about ‘how to see the world’ and then some strange type of amnesia sets in and we forget that we have made a choice. We forget that there was any choice involved. This is what getting ‘lost in thought’ is all about – thought is a ‘choice we make about how to see the world’, only we never seem to remember that it is just a ‘choice’! We forget that our model is only ‘a model’.

 

What we are talking about here is remarkably simple and straightforward, and yet it turns out to be rather difficult to put into words. There’s an art in talking simply about things, and that art does not come easily. Carl Jung talks about our overvaluing of the rational faculty resulting in ‘a soul sickness’; and says that this malady manifests itself in terms of a profound lack of meaning in our lives. Of all the possible deficiencies that we might suffer from, this is without question the most insidious. For the most part, most of us would probably deny that we are suffering from any such thing. For me to admit to a ‘profound lack of meaning’ my life would be – in the current vernacular – tantamount admitting to being a ‘loser’; having no meaning in one’s life isn’t exactly what you would call ‘a success story’, after all!

 

It’s not usually the case that we deliberately pretend to have a meaningful life when we don’t; the lack of meaning that Jung is speaking about doesn’t ‘honestly manifest itself’ in the early stages of the process – that only happens right at the end. We could actually go so far as to say that it’s not the ‘lack of meaning’ itself that is the problem, but our inability to see it. There’s a very good reason why we are blind to the lack of meaning in our lives and that is – we might say – because we are so fixated on the arena of the outer life, that we entirely lose sight of the inner. It’s not just that we are ‘fixated on the outer life’ either; that’s not putting it strongly enough – we’re so entirely fixated on the outer life (i.e. the ‘show’ that is going on outside of us) that we don’t even know that there is such a thing as ‘the inner life’! For us, that simply doesn’t exist…

 

It doesn’t seem right to say this, of course. It doesn’t seem fair to say that we ‘have no awareness of the life that is going on within us’ because we all do perceive ourselves to be in touch with the internal world of feelings and emotions and cogitations. Sometimes it’s very busy in there; sometimes it’s so busy that it’s completely overwhelming, and so of course we know it’s there! The point is though that thoughts and the emotions that are brought about by thoughts, aren’t what we mean by ‘an inner life’ (or ‘a sense of interiority’); the true inner life is independent of what seems to be going on outside of us rather than being a mere reflection of (or ‘reaction to’) the outside world and the events taking place there. Similarly, our inner life isn’t a function of the thinking process, but rather it is ‘other than it’; the inner world is ‘its own thing’ so to speak, and not a mere ‘back-projection’ of the outside world, or an extension of the rational thinking process. The inner world is quintessentially ‘discontinuous’ with that rational mind – it belongs to another realm entirely.

 

The ‘external world’ (which is the world that is created by our thoughts and rule-based perceptions) has its own form of ‘meaning’. This isn’t really ‘meaning’ at all when it comes down to it but a system of motivation that is based upon’ reward and punishment’. It is of course easy to see how such a motivational system can substitute itself for ‘meaning’ – if I am yearning to achieve something that is going to bring about a very big reward if I succeed, then I’m very likely to say that ‘working towards this big reward’ is highly meaningful to me! Everything seems meaningful to me in terms of this final, all-eclipsing goal – the goal ‘gives meaning’ to what I’m doing. It ‘gives meaning to my life’, even. What we talking about is only a very superficial form of meaning however. It’s not meaning at all really since ‘steps towards the goal’ are only meaningful in terms of that goal, not in terms of themselves. Things are not ‘meaningful in themselves’ therefore. The moment is not ‘meaningful in itself’, but only in terms of a projected (i.e. ‘illusionary’) future!

 

So if we say that working towards the goal is a genuine form of meaning then we are saying something very peculiar indeed – we are claiming that seeing everything in life in terms of some projected future state (rather than appreciating it for what it is in itself) actually constitutes a genuinely wholesome and perfectly satisfactory way to live life. But it just plain isn’t – this is a very empty way to live life, it’s a way of going about things that is just not going to ‘feed our soul’ at all. What feeds the soul (so to speak) is the world as it actually is in itself, not the world as it appears when it seen as some kind of ‘stepping stone’ to a projected future state which is itself – when it comes down to it – no more than our own vacuous mental projection.

 

This brings us to the nub of the whole issue – the only type of meaning that the thinking mind produces is the type of meaning that is related to its own mental projections. There are two possible types of ‘mental projection’ – one is the type which we are attracted to, and the other is a type which we fear. There is the ‘reward’, and there is the ‘punishment’, in other words; these are the two types of projection that are created by the thinking mind. When we say that we find life ‘meaningful in terms of our goals’ then what this means is that we find life meaningful in terms of our attachments, which is to say, we find life meaningful in terms of the ‘projected world which we have mistaken or confused for the real one’. This is clearly absurd! How can we ever talk about ‘life’s meaning’ if we never see through the murky illusions of the thinking mind to life itself, which is what we are supposedly talking about?

 

The whole question of ‘meaning’ is very confusing; it is not at all as straightforward as we think it is. ‘Life itself’ is not a projection and so it doesn’t actually hold any meaning to us in the way that we understand the word! Obviously, when I talk about ‘meaning’ I mean ‘meaning in relation to me’ (i.e. ‘a subjective sense of meaning as it is determined by my own personal model of reality’); the unprojected world (i.e. the real world!) has no meaning in this sense. Because it’s not my projection it has nothing to do with me, and if it has nothing to do with me how can it be said to have meaning for me? If it’s not a function of my model or map then how can it be meaningful in relation to this model or map? The whole notion of life ‘having a meaning’ is problematic therefore; the way we use the word is referential, which is to say, it is meaningful only in terms of my own arbitrary viewpoint, only in terms of the game I am playing. The magic or mystery of life is however precisely that we are not projecting ourselves (or our ‘mental maps’) ahead of us wherever we go so although people often say that we ourselves are responsible for the meaning that life has (i.e.  that ‘we make our own meaning’) this is a type of ‘inverted truth’!

 

We don’t make meaning at all; what we make something very different – we make up games, we impose our own ‘private meaning’ on the world, but all of this is quite sterile. It is sterile because it’s only ‘us reflected right back at ourselves’ – it’s like looking in a mirror. When we define the world (or define ourselves) the result is always a perfect tautology. For us not to see that defining the world always produces a sterile self-referential reality is the most tremendous lack of insight. It is at the same time of course entirely to be expected given our proclivity for idolising rationality, but it is nevertheless a tremendous lack of insight! This state of affairs is what Professor James Carse calls ‘the silencing of the gods’ –

There is an irony in our silencing of the gods. By presuming to speak for the unspeakable, by hearing our own voice as the voice of nature, we have had to step outside the circle of nature. …

Forgetting that the way we have chosen to see the world is only a choice is what places us ‘outside the circle of nature’ – it is precisely this that traps us in ‘the tautology that we cannot see to be such’. We can’t really place ourselves outside the circle of nature of course, as James Carse goes on to say. We can’t really do anything that isn’t an expression of our own inalienable freedom. We’re only ‘outside the circle of nature’ on our own terms, the terms that we ourselves have made up. The thing is, however, that these are the only terms we believe in!

 

 

 

 

Aggressive Therapy

There is a sort of ‘basic principle’ in social psychology that no one seems to talk about, least of all social psychologists! This principle has to do with the inherent aggression of human communications; or more specifically, the inherent aggression associated with the consensus reality that none of us ever acknowledges as ‘a consensus reality’  This lack of recognition is unsurprising enough – as we have already pointed out, aggression becomes invisible when everyone tacitly agrees to go along with it! In this case, when we have all ‘gone along with it’, were anyone to put up their hands and say ‘Hey, there’s a whole lot of aggression going on here!” then we can look at them in genuine bewilderment and completely fail to see what they’re coming from. The consensus reality is something that we have all agreed to so automatically that we never see ourselves agreeing; if we did see ourselves agreeing to it it would no longer be ‘a reality’, it would simply be ‘something that we have agreed to’. It would simply be a convention, a convenient system for dealing with things. It’s not just an accident that we never see ourselves agreeing, therefore – that’s how the whole thing works.

 

There is however a way in which we can suddenly become extremely sensitive to this all-pervasive invisible aggression and this is when something happens to us to destabilise or call into question our sense of ourselves. When we don’t have to question our ‘assumed sense of ourselves’ then we can get along just fine and we won’t ever have to pay any attention to our ‘sense of ourselves’. This is like never having to notice an internal organ such as the appendix, until it becomes dangerously inflamed and painful. Then we become aware of it, but in a way that we really don’t want to! When our assumed sense of ourselves is destabilised or ‘called into question’ (which is a perfectly legitimate thing to happen!) then we are no longer on an equal footing with everyone whose assumed sense of themselves is still ‘100% intact’, or ‘fully functional’. A whole new world is opened up for us when we find ourselves operating in the consensus reality with an ego construct that is not ‘100% intact’, that is not ‘100% functional’ – we find that we straightaway become extraordinarily sensitized to power and the use of power in human relations. We may not know (we probably won’t know) that this is what’s going on because the distress involved stands in the way of any clear awareness but, unbeknownst to us, we have now transitioned out of the nice and comfortable consensus reality to the extent that the aggression involved in human communications has now become visible to us for the first time. We have actually become more conscious than most of our fellow human beings – we’re conscious that everyone else is ‘playing a game’, even if we can’t articulate this awareness.

 

Few people can understand this however, or even come close to understanding it, unless they themselves have had a prolonged experience of being ‘an outsider’ to the consensus reality in the way that we have just described. If you happen to be someone who has never had their ‘sense of self’ seriously undermined, then the idea that this can happen (and just how bad it feels when it does happen) is practically impossible to grasp. This is a world that only a minority of people know about, and it just so happens that this is a group or section of the population that no one ever listens to. Very obviously, the only way to have a voice in the consensus reality is to be a fully paid-up member of the club, so to speak. The world becomes very different place when we get unceremoniously ejected from the CR; it becomes a very different place specifically because we have become so intensely vulnerable to other peoples’ ‘aggressive interpretation of reality’, if we may call it that. We then come away from almost every human interaction feeling bad about ourselves in some way, feeling that we have failed or are a failure in some way, and this is simply because within the terms of the consensus reality we are indeed failing, and there’s no question about it! If the consensus reality is the only reality – which is necessarily how it is represented to us – then the only conclusion we can come to is that the fault (whatever that fault might be) lies in us and nowhere else.

 

For someone who is in this situation it is as if everyone we meet has a kind of power over us, probably without realising that they do, and this interpersonal ‘power differential’ invariably puts us at a disadvantage. Having one’s ‘assumed sense of self’ compromised, for whatever reason, is to be permanently at a disadvantage, socially speaking. Socially speaking, we are at a permanent disadvantage and it is also the case that others will exploit this disadvantage, either consciously or unconsciously. Most of us will of course deny that this sort of thing goes on on a widespread basis; equally, most of us would immediately deny that human beings are constantly playing games of one sort or another and find it extraordinarily hard to disengage from doing so. We don’t see ourselves playing games – we acknowledge that there is such a thing as ‘a psychological game’, but consider this to be somewhat of a rarity, and certainly not something that we would be doing. For anyone who suffers from social anxiety or low self esteem (for example) what we have just described would be very familiar territory indeed.

 

Every interaction between one human being and another has a context which we assume without realising that any assumption has been made. The ‘assumed context’ of the consensus reality has all the more power associated with it because of the vast number of people who automatically subscribe to it. To be up against this is to be up against a the biggest brick wall in the world, to put it mildly, particularly since we are now in a position where we find ourselves taking on everyone else’s criticism (either open or implied) of us. Everyone else is ‘right’ and we are ‘wrong’ on all counts, so it seems. As we have said, we are ‘wrong automatically’.

 

There is no getting away from this all-pervasive underlying dynamic – there’s no sidestepping it. If there is such a thing as a’ consensus reality’, then such a reality is inevitably going to be aggressive, such a reality is inevitably going to be ‘denying’ of all other possible contenders on the field. That’s how it works, that’s how the consensus reality gets to be the consensus reality – by steamrollering all the opposition out of existence without even acknowledging what it is doing. By the same token therefore, each one of us – inasmuch as we are subscribing to the consensus reality (and how could we not be, given that it is a precondition of being a member of society, which we can hardly afford not to be) – is going to be automatically (or ‘unconsciously’) denying of anyone else’s reality if it does not match the ‘assumed context’ that we ourselves are operating within. Anything that doesn’t match the assumed context is automatically wrong, after all. Anything that doesn’t match the assumed context can’t help showing up as an anomaly. This is the thing about games – if something disagrees with the rules of the game then – on the terms of that game – it is absolutely wrong, it is ‘wrong without question’. That’s how a game gets to be a game – precisely by doing this!

 

What we talking about here is of course the ‘state of being psychologically unconscious’. To be ‘psychologically unconscious’ means having our way of seeing the world (i.e. ‘our context of understanding’) supplied for us so that all sorts of things become either unquestionably true, or unquestionably untrue. When we see everything in terms of the context of understanding that has been supplied for us (without us knowing or suspecting that it has been supplied for us) then we get to live in a world of absolutes, world made up of things that are either unquestionably true or unquestionably not true, and that’s what secretly we want. That is the ‘benefit’ (so to speak) that being in the unconscious mode of existence provides us with. Essentially, we are 100% orientated towards ‘running away from uncertainty’ and this is precisely what the unconscious mode facilitates for us. It facilitates us in ‘not questioning’.

 

When we live in ‘unconscious mode’, therefore, we are not really interested in ‘seeing things as they might be in themselves’ – that’s the last thing we are interested in; that’s the last thing we are interested in because the way things actually are in themselves is always uncertain! What we are interested in is ‘sorting everything out so it gets to be slotted into its proper box’; we are interested in ‘organising or analysing all our various bits of experience in accordance with the system, in accordance with our established way of organising and analysing things’. If something is resistant to being organised or processed or sorted-out in the proper way, then this comes as an affront to us. We’re not interested in finding out why whatever it is isn’t fitting into the right box or ‘doing what it should be doing’, we’re just interested in the closed question of ‘how to get it to behave the way we think it ought to’!

 

In one way therefore, just as long as we are living safely within the consensus realm, then we don’t have to worry ourselves with any of this. As far as we’re concerned everything that we have just discussed is pretty obscure, pretty irrelevant. We can just get on with what we’re already doing, we can get on with ‘playing the game that we aren’t acknowledging to be a game’. We are after all perfectly happy living in the ‘unconscious mode’ (whilst at the same time not having our attention drawn to the fact that we are). The only time it does all become relevant is when we suddenly find ourselves excluded from the consensus reality and on the other side of the brick wall, so to speak. Then, it all becomes very relevant indeed! Another time at all becomes very relevant is when we are working or interacting with people who are in this situation, and when it is therefore incumbent on us to work or interact with them without inadvertently devalidating their reality, without inadvertently devalidating their experience. If we aren’t able to avoid devalidating (without meaning to) the people we working with, then we are clearly not doing a very good job of being a therapist, or a mental health worker!

 

The big problem is of course that our culture ‘trains people up’ to be therapists not by supporting them in their personal journey of growth to become more conscious (and therefore more sensitive) but by filling their heads with models and data and theory and skills and techniques, none of which are any good for anything other than furthering our ‘unconscious aggression’ (which is the aggression of ‘me trying to enforce my reality on you, without me even knowing that I’m doing this’). There’s no such thing as ‘an unconscious therapist’! There’s only an ‘unconscious enforcer of the consensus reality’, which is to say, ‘a person who have enforces the official story without ever realising or suspecting that it is only a story’!

 

Alan Watts (in his book Psychotherapy East and West) calls this unconscious enforcing of the CR ‘social adjustment therapy’ and says that this is always the result when the therapist stands with society against his client, rather than the other way around. Social adjustment therapy, Alan Watts points out, necessarily lacks all integrity as a therapy –

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

Obviously ‘social adjustment therapy’ (or ‘official psychotherapy’) lacks all integrity – it lacks all integrity because it doesn’t have the slightest bit of regard for the the clients’ true well-being! Social adjustment therapy is aggressive therapy, and aggression (towards anything at all) always works against the health of the individual. There’s no way to ‘aggress’ (or ‘force’) someone to be mentally healthy, in other words! We’re actually manifesting our own ‘lack of mental health’ (our own ‘unconsciousness’) by trying to do this.

 

This is a collective failing in our part – by failing the person we are working with we are failing ourselves. There are no winners here, there is no one being helped. And yet mainstream culture (which is always the most unconscious portion of society) remains firmly ‘in charge’ of saying what mental health is and what it is not; we have therefore put all of our psychological well-being in the hands of those most unsuited for the job! The answer to the ongoing global crisis in mental health is never going to come from the mainstream and yet it is only when we are fully paid-up representatives of the mainstream that we are allowed to voice an opinion. No one else has a voice, after all…

 

 

 

 

 

Life In The Box

So let’s suppose – just for the sake of the argument – that we have all been tricked or short-changed in the way that we have just been talking about. Let us assume that we have been pawned off with ‘a dummy reality’, a reality which a pale and tasteless imitation of the true thing. And – after all – since the way thought works is by ‘oversimplifying reality so as to make it agree with its categories’ (i.e. by steadfastly ignoring anything that doesn’t agree with them) it’s pretty much a dead certainty that this is the case! Assuming therefore that this is so, we can then ask what the psychological consequences might be of us being the victims of such a trick.

 

All we need to do – in order to arrive at some conclusions in this direction – is to think about all the ways all the things we can’t do in the fake reality. For example, we can’t be genuinely curious about anything, that capacity is lost to us. The reason why we can’t be curious any more is simply because there is nothing in the artificial world to be curious about! When reality is simplified down by only allowing that aspect of it which agrees with our assumptions (our’ evaluated criteria’, our’ categories’) then of course there’s nothing of interest in it. The only content that’s there is the content that we ourselves have put in it, so how can this possibly be said by any stretch of the imagination to be ‘interesting’?

 

When the content of my world is only what I myself have allowed or permitted to be there then my relationship with this predetermined content cannot be said to be one of ‘interest’. Curiosity cannot come into it; curiosity has no place in this world. They can be a kind of relationship to the prescribed content (obviously enough, since we do relate in some way to the artificial or oversimplified world) but it’s a relationship of a very different type. We can try to explain it by saying that it is somewhat akin to the relationship of miser has his goal, or the type of relationship an accountant has with his figures.

 

In the case of the miser (or the accountant) involved in an exercise in stock-taking there is a definite type of motivation involved – on the one hand there is the pleasure that comes with getting everything to add up properly, and on the other hand there is the annoyance and frustration, and ultimately despair, that come about when we can’t get the accounts to balance properly. This general setup is characterised by the fact that there is a’ ideal state’, which, if we meet it, will bring us great satisfaction – the target has been met, the criterion fulfilled. In short, the rule has been successfully obeyed. In the narrow or closed world, when the rule has been successfully obeyed then this is the ‘ultimate good’.

 

In the case of the miser, we may say that when he checks up on his stash and discovers that it’s all there, then this is the ideal. The discovery that’ ‘all my gold is there’ is what creates the pleasure or satisfaction. By the same token, when our miser checks his stash of gold and discovers that it’s not all there (or, even worse, he discovers that it’s all gone) then it is pain instead of pleasure that we get. What greater despair could there be than the despair of the miser who one day discovers that his stash has been stolen? All the pleasure that he has obtained as a result of ‘successful counting’ is now turned on its head and becomes its exact opposite. The more we have gloated, the more bitter is the despair when what we have been gloating over is one day taken away from us.

 

With regard to the accountant checking his figures, we can say that when the figures all balance out (when the debit column balances the credit column) then this (within the very narrow and rigid terms of reference of the accountancy game) is the ‘ultimate good’ – nothing trumps this, nothing feels better than this. And again – by the same token – when the columns don’t balance out then this is the ultimate disaster, the ultimate ‘disagreeable outcome’. This is the accountant’s nightmare. We can see from this discussion that simplifying reality (into a neat exercise in accountancy) automatically results in the situation where there is an’ absolute good outcome’ and the corresponding ‘absolute bad outcome’. If we weren’t simplifying reality down in this way and there couldn’t be any such thing as ‘an absolute bad/good outcome’ – this can only happen when we take a very narrow view of things. When we take the broad view, then all the so-called ‘absolutes get relativized (which is to say, they get turned into ‘non-absolutes’).

 

In a nutshell, what we talking about here are games, and the process of ‘turning games into reality’. When we turn reality into a game then straightaway we have the possibility of euphoria, along with the corresponding possibility of dysphoria. We all know this anyway of course – we all know that games contain the possibility of feeling euphoric and the corresponding possibility of feeling dysphoric. That’s why we play games, after all – we’re hoping to feel triumph rather than despair. This is what games are all about! There is a motivation for playing games therefore, but this motivation – as we have said – has nothing at all to do with curiosity! It can’t have anything to do with curiosity because there’s nothing to be curious about in the game. There’s nothing new in games (they can’t be anything new in games because a game is all about following the rules). The motivation in games have to do with arriving at a predetermined ‘known’ state that is nominated as being, for some reason, the ‘optimal one’. We can’t really ask ‘optimal for what’ because there is no answer to this; the only answer is ‘optimal for the game’. A game doesn’t acknowledge anything outside of it – if it were to do so then its integrity as a game would be fatally compromised.

 

This is of course exactly how thought works – it works by ‘creating a box and then not looking outside of it’. That’s the only way thought can work: there could be no such thing as ‘thinking’ if we didn’t do this! Before any logical process can happen we have to ‘limit the field’ (we have to ‘simplify the universe’, in other worlds). If we didn’t then we wouldn’t be able to create a definite model or theory of the world; we wouldn’t be able to define anything and if we can’t define things then we can’t think about them! It’s very hard thinking about something if you don’t know what that ‘something’ is it’s very hard thinking about radical uncertainty.

 

Representing our situation to ourselves in oversimplified way is of course a perfectly legitimate thing to do – if we didn’t discard all the irrelevant details then we’d never be able to get on with the job at hand. If I’m cooking a meal for example, and I allow myself to get interested in all sorts of random things that don’t have anything to do with the preparation of the meal, then this isn’t going to help me in my task. In all probability, the meal is going to turn out to be completely inedible. So when it comes to specific tasks like cooking food then it’s not just’ legitimate’ to disregard the relevant, it’s completely necessary. It’s necessary for the sake of doing whatever it is we’re doing! This isn’t to say that’ oversimplifying the universe’ is legitimate and necessary in any absolute sense therefore; only that it is necessary or legitimate in relation to this very specific goal.

 

This of course turns out to be the critically important point – this is exactly where (in one sense, anyway) it all goes wrong! Instead of being aware that our oversimplified view of the world (our ‘box’) is only necessary in relation to the pragmatic goal that is to be achieved (which means ‘keeping our awareness or some part of our awareness outside the box, so to speak) we get caught up in having the oversimplified version of the world on the table the whole time, for no pragmatic reason at all. We then get caught up living in a box without knowing that we are (without knowing that the box is a box) and we continue living our lives in this vastly oversimplified basis. Our superficial view of the world has now (for some obscure reason) become absolutely legitimate, absolutely necessary. And the other way of putting this is of course to say that it has now become absolutely illegitimate (or taboo) for us to ever depart from the oversimplified view, or admit or infer in any fashion that this might be a possibility.

 

On the face of it, we might say that this is a completely bizarre development – what on earth is there to gain from it? What could possibly be behind such a strange thing? On the face of it, from a psychologically naïve point of view, this might be a counter-intuitive, if not to say completely incomprehensible, development, but the point of view that is not psychologically naïve, it all starts to make sense rather quickly. This is a very basic human trait after all – hiding, running away, going into full retreat from openness. This is the operation of fear. When we ‘limit the field’ certain things pop into existence, as we have already mentioned. They’re not real things of course, but they are ‘things of a sort’. As we’ve already said, the possibility of definition comes into play. Definition doesn’t really exist, it is just something that’s imposed, not something that exists in itself, but when we’ limit the field’ (which again, isn’t actually a ‘real action’) then definitions (and the defined world) nevertheless comes into apparent existence.

 

When definitions come into play then – needless to say! – things get defined. All of a sudden they are all these definite things jostling around together, bouncing off each other, interacting with each other. Rule-based processes come into being, ‘logic’ comes into being, linear transformations come into being, orderly systems come into being. A whole ‘kind of’ world pops up – the world of mechanical order. This is like a company or organization coming into being, complete with all its policies and procedures. The point is therefore that – according to its own logic – the logical system has every reason for being there, every reason for existing. And yet – at the same time – the truth of the matter is that there’s no reason for it being there, no reason for it existing. Of course there is no ‘real reason’ for the logical system being there; it’s all just an artificial imposition, it’s all just a game. It’s only important from its own perspective. It’s an artificial imposition that has become ‘necessary’; it’s a game that has become real.

 

If we wanted to be more specific about what is happening here, we could say that what comes into apparent being as a result of us creating an oversimplified version of reality, as a result of ‘limiting the field’, as a result of ‘being constrained within a box that we cannot see to be a box’, we end up with the defined or conditioned self, which is the quintessential ‘game that has become real’. This is, naturally enough, a particularly hard thing for us to understand. It’s hard for us to understand because, we are almost entirely at the mercy of the framework which tells us what is real and what is not real. This framework tells us that the defined self is real (because definitions and defined things are real) and it implicitly tells us that anything outside of the framework (which is who we really are) is real. This is how frameworks (or ‘boxes’) work after all – by implicitly denying that there is anything outside of the box.

 

‘Living in the box’ means being disconnected from ‘mind at large’, to use Aldous Huxley’s term. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t any such thing as ‘mind at large’ (or ‘unconditioned consciousness’) – it just means that we are pragmatically disconnected from it. It just means that we are profoundly alienated from it. In pragmatic terms it’s exactly as if unconditioned consciousness does not exist – for us it doesn’t. The nonexistence of unconditioned consciousness (or ‘mind at large’) is however an entirely ‘subjective non-existence’ – it is a manifestation of our blindness. When we live in the world of definitions it is impossible to see beyond this world – it’s impossible to see how a ‘defined thing’ has no actual inherent thing-like nature, only the ‘apparent thing-like nature’ that we ourselves give it.

 

 

In the defined world (i.e. the ‘conceptual reality’) there is no place for curiosity as we have already said, and this ‘anomaly’ ought to tip us off that there is something artificial about it, something about it that is ‘not right’. How can we live without curiosity, after all? What degraded form of life would that be? And yet, for the most part, we don’t notice anything amiss. We take it as normal. On the whole, we don’t ‘smell a rat’ and the reason for this – as we have said – is that curiosity gets substituted for by an entirely humourless ‘concern with obtaining the positive outcome’. This ‘concern with outcomes’ which keeps us so busy, keeps us so ‘consumed’, that we simply never have the time to notice that we have no actual curiosity about life any more. This is the way the whole world has gone – we’re all ‘obsessed with outcomes’, we’re all ‘humourlessly concerned with goals and ego-competitions’, and no one seems to think that there’s anything wrong with this. It’s actually a sickness. It’s an abdication of our true nature; it’s an abdication of our true (open) nature in favour of ‘life in the box’….

 

 

 

Therapy Or Brainwashing?

There is something particularly odious – in my view – about the way in which we in the West approach what (until very recently) used to be called ‘mental illness’. We may use a slightly different terminology now, preferring to talk in terms of ‘conditions’ rather than ‘illness’, but our approach is still the same. There is something very unpleasant – toxic even – in our attitude, and this unpleasantness, I think, stems from our fundamental lack of respect towards the experiences of the people we, as mental health professions, are dealing with.

 

In a nutshell, we’re arrogant; we’re arrogant because we are so convinced that our ‘neat and tidy’ rational way of looking at the world – which we did not arrive at ourselves but rather passively absorbed from the cultural milieu (in a ‘default’ way that requires no effort on our part) – is the right way that we can’t even come close to empathizing with other, often very different, perceptions of reality. This is precisely where our unconscious arrogance lies therefore – it lies in the fact that we (by some special virtue of our own) know what the right way to view reality is. The great philosophers of the past may not have known what the right way to look at reality is, but somehow we do…

 

Not everyone is guilty of this unconscious disrespect of course. The point we are making is that the ‘disrespect’ is systematic – it’s built into whole structure of things and so it’s always going to set the tone. It’s always going to be the dominant influence. Disrespect is always systematic where there is an inbuilt ‘power differential’, when one group of people have more power given to them by society than another, and this is exactly the state of affairs in psychiatry, or in the mental health industries in general.

 

A crude but nevertheless very effective way of determining whether a power differential exists between the professionals whose job it is to work with people suffering from mental health conditions and the people themselves is to ask the question ‘Who is the most successful in society’s terms, a consultant psychiatrist or clinical psychologist (for example) or a psychiatric patient? We’re not supposed to ask this question, of course. It is very politically incorrect suggest that patients might be granted lower social status in the basis of the fact that they are patients (i.e. on the basis that they are not, in most cases, highly qualified professionals but are, rather, sufferers of a mental health condition); it is politically incorrect to suggest it but that doesn’t mean that it is true. We all know that it is true…

 

We don’t want to admit that the actual patients themselves may not have the same social status as the healthcare professionals who are trained to treat them but at the same time we all know very well that this is the case. Society operates purely on the basis of status and prestige, whether we want to admit it or not. Society operates on the basis of the power gradient that exists between those of high status and those of low, and it would be foolish in the extreme to pretend otherwise. Society isn’t a ‘free’ kind of an affair; it’s coercive, in other words. It’s based on following rules….

 

When you as a patient look across the desk at the mental health professional who is dealing with you it is evidently the case that you are looking at someone who has more power than you; this isn’t just power in terms of how we usually understand ‘social status’, it is power in the sense of ‘Which one of us has the authority to say what the proper way to see the world is?’ Power is a basic part of all human interactions – every time we interact with someone we are involved in a struggle (whether we are conscious of it or not). We are involved in the struggle to see who has the power to define the ‘consensus reality’ that is to be negotiated in the interaction. This contest can be very subtle, or it can be very unsubtle indeed! When we are involved in an argument, for example, then this is an unsubtle example of ‘the struggle to see who can define reality’! Our current way of understanding mental health conditions is a perfect illustration of ‘something that has been defined by the powerful’ – when depression (just to give one example) is defined as ‘a mechanical malfunction of the brain’ then this is ‘disrespect’, this is ‘an abuse of power’.

 

There are times when human interactions are not based on power, it is true, but my point is that they are comparatively rare. Interactions that are not based on power are interactions that are based on love, and love – as we all know – is not usually part of the equation! All interactions that are based on the roles we are playing, or the social personas that we are acting out, or on the unquestionable rules that exist in the social game, are predicated upon power. All games full stop are predicated upon the use of power, and we’re all playing games of one sort or another almost all of the time, whether we realize it or not. To not play a game is to be ‘totally honest’, and how often can we afford to be totally honest in a human interaction? When we see our therapist or our psychiatrist or our psychologist the chances are very much that we’re playing a game here too. We’re playing ‘the patient / therapist game’, as Ram Dass says in the following passage-

Then I was a therapist and so many hours a week I had somebody sitting on the other side of the desk, and he was playing patient, I was playing doctor I would run thru my list of theories as he would run through his list of symptoms and we’d compare them and match them up and, you know, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t quite gel.  It was as if psychology had a reason to be as defensive as it was.

The patient / therapist game is a very comforting and familiar one to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s therapeutic! Whilst a good old-fashioned power hierarchy has everything to do with the way we organize social groups (in baboons as much as humans) it has nothing to do with therapy. Therapy isn’t an exercise in power-play, it isn’t an exercise in ‘doing what you’re told’ (or ‘doing what you’re expected to do’). A power gradient between two people (or two groups of people) equals disrespect. The use of power IS disrespect! That’s the whole point – what the use of power comes down to is ‘My way of looking at the world is more valid than your way’. ‘Might is right’, would be another way of putting this. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, what we call truth is simply ‘an interpretation’ and the one who has the most power is – naturally enough – the one whose interpretation passes into law! This is why Nietzsche talks about ‘the impossibility of truth’ –

Against [empiricism], which halts at [observable] phenomena—‘There are only facts’—I would say, no, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact ‘in itself’: perhaps it is folly to want to do such a thing.

‘Everything is subjective [for example, a figment of your reasoning mind],’ you say; but even this is interpretation. The ‘subject’ is not something given, it is something added and invented … [Is] it necessary to posit an interpreter behind the interpretation? …

In so far as the word ‘knowledge’ has any meaning, the world is … interpretable, otherwise it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings—‘Perspectivism’.

Those who have the power have the right to say what is true and what is not true. It is not just that the powerful ‘decide upon the agenda’, the powerful decide on what game we should be playing (or to put this another way, the powerful decide what reality should consist of, what it is and what it isn’t). Inasmuch as society is a power hierarchy therefore, it is the top of the hierarchy that tells us what reality is, and we don’t get to question it. We don’t even know that our perceptions of reality have been defined for us! So if we’re in this situation of not being aware that our perceptions of reality have been defined for us (because we’re ‘socially adapted’) then it is inevitably the case that we will impose the very same assumptions we have passively absorbed upon everyone else we meet, without realizing that we are doing this.

 

This is of course a very important thing to be aware of, but when we’re talking about therapy, it becomes even more critical, even more poignant. Being unconsciously socially conditioned means that we are incapable of engaging in ‘honest human interaction’ – the only type of honest human interaction is after all that interaction which takes place without an assumed context, and because we can’t SEE our assumed context, that just isn’t possible. We’re not aware that we’re seeing the world via the lens of our social conditioning and this (as we’ve just said) means that we’re imposing that conditioning on everyone we meet, without knowing that we’re doing it. We’ve been set up as virally-infected ‘zombie-units’ whose job it is to unconsciously propagate the ‘officially approved view or interpretation of reality’ whilst imagining the whole time that we are acting as independent agents!

 

This situation is good from the POV of ‘perpetuating the socialized view of reality’, but not good from the POV of anything that might properly be called ‘therapy’! ‘Therapy’ and ‘brainwashing’ aren’t supposed to be the same thing, after all, and yet we confuse the two all the time… If we’re working in the field of mental health therefore, then the only way we can AVOID imposing our unexamined assumptions on everyone we meet is by taking the trouble to ‘examine’ them (and thereby examine ourselves). This isn’t what happens though – instead of becoming less programmed when we get trained as therapists or doctors or psychologists we get more programmed; instead of becoming more broad-minded we become narrower, as is always the way with specialization…

 

 

 

Art: Taken from bbc.com/ a-tour-of-melbourne-street-art