Playing The Game

One thing we never properly understand is the true function of the power differential in society. We can of course observe, as did Alfred Adler, that there is this drive to obtain and exert power (which Adler derived from Nietzsche’s subtler concept of the ‘will to power’) which effectively incentivizes us to climb as high as we can up the social hierarchy. There are obvious benefits to this – from the biological point of view, having a high social status means (for males, at any rate) that we will have a better chance of passing our genetic material on to future generations, which is of course what the basic biological game is all about. In societies all across the world there are male hierarchies of power but the incentive to compete for a place in them is clearly not about having the precious opportunity to father more babies than lower status males can! That old-fashioned biological imperative obviously doesn’t apply to us – it might be true for baboons but it isn’t particularly the case for humans anymore. There is however another benefit to being ‘high status’ and that is the psychological one of feeling better about yourself, of having a ‘positive image’ of yourself. This is of course the ‘lobster effect’ spoken of by Jordan Peterson.

 

But we can go deeper than this and (following Nietzsche) argue that the greatest benefit of being high up in the power hierarchy is that we get to be the one who says what is true and what is not true. We get to be ‘the one who defines reality’ in other words and this can (obviously enough!) bring many benefits. The cliché is that ‘power corrupts’ but it would be more accurate, and more telling, to rephrase this as ‘the ability to define reality corrupts’! If I have the power to define reality than I am pretty much untouchable; if I have the power to say what reality is and what it isn’t then I can get away with just about anything. How can I get caught out when ‘everything I do is right’ (or when ‘everything I do is eminently justifiable’) and you can be sure that everything I do will be excused in this way if I’m the one in charge of the ‘official validation procedure’!

 

We all know that totalitarian regimes stay in power or consolidate their power by ‘saying what is true and what is not true’, so as to always paint themselves in a good light (no matter what atrocities they may have committed). This is familiar territory – we need only to think of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a low-down dirty trick to redefine reality so that you can’t be seen as the scoundrel you are, and is also a trick that no dictator, no ruling elite, has ever shied away from! When you are in charge of what is true or not true it’s very hard not to abuse this power. What makes this so tempting is that when we distort reality to favour ourselves we believe in the distortion just as much as everyone else does. We never have to see that there is any ‘distorting of the truth’ taking place. ‘Telling a lie’ and ‘believing in the lie’ become one and the same thing.

 

This power of being able to distort the truth and straightaway believe our own distortion isn’t reserved for those at the very top of the social hierarchy of course – we all have this power, and we all use it. We are all ‘corrupt dictators’ when it comes to our own private reality bubble and if we think otherwise then that’s simply because we’re naïve. The difference is however that whilst we might be able to fool ourselves readily enough in any given situation, we are unlikely to be able to fool very many other people. Things change when we get up to the top of the hierarchy however; it all becomes remarkably effortless then – we are automatically on the right side of history, so to speak. We are automatically validated just by our very position, and this allows us to get away with a great deal – if we want to that is, and we almost certainly do!

 

We might argue with this by saying that, whilst it probably true that those right at the very top of the pecking order can get away with more, if they want to, this hardly explains the existence of power hierarchies in society and everyone’s need or desire to compete for the best possible position in them. We obviously can’t all ‘make it to the very top’ and most of us have no such ambition, but there is another dimension that comes into this and that is a dimension that we are – for one reason or another – particularly blind to. It’s not just that our self-esteem and confidence ‘go up when our social status is high’, that’s just a small part of it; there is another factor here that we are most unlikely to spot and that has to do with our ability to ‘pass on’ our own acknowledged existential pain and insecurity. The idea that this should be a significant (or maybe even an essential) factor in everyday human psychology is rather foreign to us – it’s not really part of our understanding with regards to the question of ‘how people interact’. Naturally it isn’t – if it was then this would compromise the mechanism by which we ‘pass on’ (or ‘displace’) our angst onto the people around us.

 

This is not something we focus on, and – as we have just said – this isn’t an aberration or an accident. There is a self-serving mechanism right at the core of ‘the everyday self’ that we never read about in any psychology textbook and that is the mechanism for getting rid of our inner pain without us knowing about it. It doesn’t make sense to us that we should have to have such a mechanism because – unsurprisingly enough – we see the situation of ‘being self’ as a perfectly legitimate state of affairs. It isn’t, though – it is on the contrary an artificial situation that has to be constantly propped up. Another way of putting this would be to say that the everyday self is an inherently insecure kind of ‘virtual entity’! When I have identified with ‘the idea that I have of myself’ (and the idea everyone else has of me too) – which is almost always – then I inevitably have to be doing something to ‘keep myself propped up’. I need to be continually validating myself in other words, and this is a job that I simply can’t get away from. I may not see what I’m doing (in fact it won’t work if I see what I’m doing) but this doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it.

 

Our assumption is that the self doesn’t need continually propping up, that it doesn’t need to be validating itself time and time again, and the reason we think this is because – as we have just said – we think that the idea which we have of ourselves isn’t a construct (just like all the other ideas that we have). To see this would constitute a total revolution in the way we perceive the world and our resistance to encounter such a radically new way of seeing things is of course always going to be maximal. Straightaway, therefore, we can see that there is some kind of ‘secret strain’ or ‘secret tension’ going on and that this tension itself is pain that needs to be promptly displaced if the integrity of the game is to be preserved. This might be said to constitute the type of ‘core existential pain’ that is contingent upon our conditioned mode of being in the world, but this is only the beginning. Just to cover up the awareness of how the self is being artificially presented to us not as a construct, but as an independently existing entity in its own right, isn’t good enough – the self-concept just can’t exist as some kind of ‘neutral player’, so to speak, it needs to be ‘head and shoulders above all the other players’, if possible. Or, alternatively, it needs to be head and shoulders above the environment that it finds itself in, which is to say, it has to be calling the shots and not the environment. The self-concept has to be ‘winning at its game’, in other words, whatever that game might be.

 

As Alan Watt says, the ego constantly has to be playing the game of ‘one-upmanship’. It has to do this in order to offset its ‘central weakness’ which is that it needs to be special in order to exist, whilst actually it isn’t special at all! The mind-created sense of self can never get away from this need to compete – even when it tries to be ‘humble’ and ‘unassuming’ it tries to be better at this task than anyone else! Essentially, it is the case that the mind-created image of ourselves is always aggressive (or rather we are always aggressive when we think that we are the self-image or self-concept). The self-image can’t not be aggressive because that is how it sustains its very existence, and this necessity is what no one seems to understand. We imagine that it must be possible for us to cooperate and be essentially peaceful and non-judgemental beings, when this is actually incompatible with our ‘identified’ nature, our nature as ‘conditioned beings’! On the surface of things, it appears that we do cooperate in society, for the most part, anyway; we not all out on the street fighting each other, at any rate (although that can easily happen if we have too much to drink). We may easily imagine – therefore – that humankind’s basic aggression has been sublimated and long last been turned into something more ‘productive’.

 

As we keep saying however, the type of aggression that we looking at here isn’t biological in nature – it’s psychological. Is the invisible aggression of projecting the thinking minds outwards onto the world and trying to make the world ‘be what we think it ought to be’ and ‘mean what we think it should mean’. This is the fundamental invisible and unacknowledged aggression of rationality. There’s still plenty of old-fashioned aggression around of course, but it is not so much ‘out in the open’ for the most part; when we look around us therefore, it does seem perhaps that the basic biological aggression has been sublimated into socially accepted channels. If we think that the aggression is gone however we’re very much mistaken; it’s merely been turned into the ‘manipulation of meaning’! We can’t see anything particularly forceful or coercive going on in the public arena perhaps, but that’s simply because everyone is perfectly happy to buy into the officially-manipulated version of reality – we are all quite docile in that respect. The tremendous homogenisation that’s taken place in the Western world with respect to culture is evidence of very great aggression; via the systematic manipulation of meaning, life has been turned into purely generic affair and the life of the autonomous individual doesn’t count for anything. Nothing ever happens that has not been programmed to happen, no one ever thinks what they are not supposed to be thinking.

 

Psychological aggression (as we have said) is where we control reality without admitting that we are doing so, which is something that’s going on a scale ‘hitherto undreamt of’. The question is therefore – who is manipulating reality, who is calling the shots with regard to all this control? This is – needless to say – a question that gets asked an awful lot; it’s a ‘classic conspiracy-type’ question, and anyone in this world who is even a little bit alert can smell a conspiracy going on somewhere. This isn’t an unfortunate mental aberration either – it’s just basic intelligence. Someone, somewhere, is cooking the books! Whole sections of potential reality been closed off to us on a permanent basis and no one is admitting to this. Something fishy is going on with the reality supply and anyone talks about it gets treated as if there’s something wrong with them; anyone talks about it is treated as if they’re mentally unwell. The official line is always that there is no funny business going; the official line is always that realty isn’t being tampered with. The official line, by definition, is always that ‘what we see in front of us the only reality that is’…

 

We could – if we wanted to – focus on the vexed question of who is at the very top of the power hierarchy. Who are the elite, who are the sinister manipulators? This is always a fascinating matter to think about for sure, but it’s much more fruitful to consider the uncomfortable question of ‘what’s in it for us‘. The point is that as far as most of us ‘invested players’ are concerned it doesn’t – in any practical way – matter who is at the top of the pyramid of power just so long as someone is. As long as someone is in charge then there will be such a thing as a tightly-organised hierarchy, and as long as there is such a thing as a tightly-organised hierarchy then we will be able to jockey for an advantageous position within it. This line from the film Sin City is rather pertinent here, where Senator Roark states that power comes from-

….lying big, and gettin’ the whole damn world to play along with you. Once you got everybody agreeing with what they know in their hearts ain’t true, you’ve got ‘em by the balls.

As long as we have a good position in the power hierarchy then we will be ensured of being able to invisibly displace our acknowledged existential pain on those who are either below us in the pecking order, or on the same level. We will do this of course at the same time as ‘sucking up’ to those above us – we fawn on those with more power and demean those with less. The times when we actually see this sort of thing going on however only makes up the very tip of the iceberg – we can see when a bully is doing their bullying (if the matter is brought to out in the open) but what is far harder to spot is the way in which this very same thing goes on in all ‘mechanical or role-based interactions’ between people. To exist within the hierarchy is always to displace pain (and also to have pain displaced onto us, if we not at the apex of the food chain).

 

This doesn’t mean that people never genuinely ‘kind’ to each other – we can meet with kindness wherever we are (although it’s more commonly encountered on the lower strata of society, where people are less concerned with status and have less to lose therefore by ‘dropping out of the game’) but when this happens it’s always because the people concerned have dropped out of the game and are responding autonomously, not as they have been told to respond by their social conditioning. Unless we disregard the rules of the game and become our true spontaneous selves, there is no way that we can be kind; unless we are being our true spontaneous selves then we are inevitably ‘passing on pain’. If we remain ‘plugged into the system’ (and continue to believe in the basic structure that is provided by society) then we are always going to be imposing that structure on everyone we meet, everyone we interact with, and this is an act of aggression. I aggress you and you aggress me – we both keep ourselves in our respective boxes, and the only real ‘winner’ therefore is the system itself. By seeking personal advantage all that happens is that we strengthen the machine (or the game) even more.

 

So much of what passes for ‘communication’ isn’t anything of the sort – it’s just control, it’s just ‘the use of power’. Communication can only take place between those on an equal footing. Anything we say that places any kind of constraint (or expectation) and the person we are talking to (when they are unacknowledged assumptions that are being imposed) is aggression, this control, and control is in itself paint displacement. The imposition of structure is paint displacement – this is obviously the case since there’s always an immediate penalty’ once we fail to accord with the structure that’s being presented to us. If we get it ‘wrong’ we are blamed’, in other words. If we disobey we get punished, and this is paint-displacement pure and simple. Those at the top of the pyramid are always right, whilst those at the very bottom are always wrong!

 

Even though we’ll never admit it to ourselves, being part of a determinate structure always creates pain (which is equivalent to saying, as we did earlier, that ‘being conditioned creates pain’, or that ‘being identified involves pain’). We have surrendered our actual autonomy after all, and the loss of autonomy is pure pain. We might as well say that ‘the loss of who we really are’ is pure pain; obviously it is – what could be a greatest source of suffering than this? The result is therefore that there is all this ‘free-floating’ pain in society and that is why we have to be so competitive, that is why we always have to be playing games. That’s why we have a top and a bottom to society; that’s why there has to be a hierarchy. This way we get to have ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and the losers get to carry the pain for all the rest of us! The hierarchy (or game) is a pain-displacement mechanism, therefore! The ‘losers’ don’t really deserve the pain that is being put on them of course but if the pain-displacement mechanism is to work someone has to be nominated as being worthy of blame, someone has to be seen worthy of ‘negative judgement’! Our ‘social hierarchy’ is all about pain displacement therefore, is just that we not accustomed to seeing things this way.

 

 

The significance of there being a hierarchy of power in society is therefore to a large extent a psychological one therefore in that it allows us to define ourselves, and ‘defining ourselves’ is how we keep the insecurity of our basic undefined situation at bay. If I am fully-defined then so too is the world around me fully-defined since I define my world and my world defines me, and so this leaves no ‘uncharted corners’ anywhere to worry about. Everything is neatly taken care of – too neatly in fact, because a completely defined situation is a highly uncomfortable one. It is a profoundly inhospitable one – there is irreducible suffering in it, as we keep saying. This sets up another problem therefore – we started off with the problem of ontological insecurity and then when we solve this we found that we had another problem in its place which is the existential pain of conditioned existence (the existential pain of ‘pretending to be who we aren’t’) and so – with great ingenuity – we solved this by creating a structure that has a top and a bottom! This way we can play the game of one-upmanship that Alan Watts talks about and those who do well in the game will obtain game. Opting for the safety of conditioned or defined existence inevitably brings about pain but we have found a way of using that pain (or the need to avoid it) as currency in a game, a game that has no end, a game that has no ‘happy resolution’…

 

 

 

 

Image: nzfilmfreak.com

 

 

 

 

 

Living Life Aggressively

There are two ways to live life – one is where we are constantly imposing our own expectations and goals (or other people’s expectations and goals) on the world and the other is where we are sensitive to what is ‘unfolding all by itself’, and are interested in seeing what happens when it does unfold, ‘all by itself’.

 

When we are in the mode of ‘imposing our expectations or goals on the world’ then we are absolutely not interested in seeing what unfolds all by itself, obviously! We are only interested in seeing our goals being realised; anything else – by definition – is a disappointment to us. The concept of being ‘interested in what unfolds’ is profoundly meaningless to us – we see that as merely ‘giving in to external circumstances’. Nothing is going to happen that is to benefit us that way, we say. No ‘advantage’ is ever going to come our way unless we fight for it to.

 

In one, very limited way, this is true. If we live in a world that believes that the only way ‘good things’ are going to happen is if we fight for them to happen, then because everyone’s interpretation of ‘a good thing’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘the gratification of our goals’, which all have to do with personal advantage’ (which is of course the way we operate in our society) then it is of course very much the case that if we don’t fight tooth and nail for our advantage then it’s going to be someone else’s advantage that is going to be realised instead, and so there is no way out of the struggle. There’s nothing for it but ‘struggle followed by more struggle’, even though it’s a guaranteed fact right from the beginning that none of this struggling is ever going to get us anywhere. The myth behind aggression (needless to say) is that all the struggling and striving will pay off; the truth behind the persistent myth is however that it won’t.

 

Living aggressively by always striving to impose our own ideas, our own expectations and goals on the world, does not come with a good prognosis. The prognosis for this type of approach is always bad, no matter what our goal-orientated society might tell us! As a modality of being in the world it seems to make sense, it seems very much to be sensible and to ‘hold water’ as the way of going about things. Actually, of course (as we have just said) when we caught up in it then we can’t see any other approach to take; we can’t see any other approach that doesn’t straightaway spell ‘defeat’ in terms of the game that we are playing. For this reason, therefore, it’s hardly surprising that we’re putting all our money on this approach – what else are we supposed to do?

 

Living life in the aggressive mode is actually addictive, when it comes down to it – it’s addictive because we can’t see any way possibility other than to keep on doing it until it finally pays off (if it’s ever going to, that is). Our only way to feel good is to put ourselves in the situation of being ‘one up’ in whatever struggle is going on; this feels good because it feels as if we’re getting somewhere. This addictive feeling of ‘getting somewhere’ is false however because – as we have said – ultimately we are not getting anywhere. No one ever gets anywhere on the basis of aggression – it’s an out-and-out lie that we will do! It’s a lie that everyone believes in, to be sure, but that doesn’t make matters any better; the consequences of folly aren’t made any less disastrous when the folly in question is conducted en masse. All that it means is that we have company in our mistake, and means of course that we are much less likely that we will see it as a mistake.

 

It doesn’t take too much effort to discredit what we have called ‘the aggressive mode of living life’. Being ‘aggressive’, just to recap, is where we proceed by imposing our own expectations and goals on the world so that everything (or as much of everything as possible) happens along the lines we want it to. There are all sorts of assumptions implicit in this way of life – assumptions that we never bother to look into. One is that ‘we already know everything that is important for us to know’ (except for a few details here and there that can be filled in later) and so it makes sense for us to make plans with regard to what we want to see happening in life. If we didn’t make this assumption then we could hardly put as much emphasis on ‘control’ and ‘making plans’ as we do! The other, related assumption is that nothing good or worthwhile will happen unless it is made to happen, forced to happen, and this assumption is what locks us into the aggressive mode of being in the world, as we pointed out earlier.

 

As we have said, we don’t generally see ourselves as having made these assumptions – we usually imagine that there is a lot more freedom in our lives than there is. The problem with the ‘positivist paradigm’ (which is another way of talking about psychological aggression) is that it comes with no freedom. They can’t be any freedom when we have already filled it up all the available space in ourselves with ‘what we think we know’! ‘Freedom’ and ‘the radical unknown’ are the same thing – there’s absolutely no way that there can be any freedom in the known, even though this – from the philosophically positive point of view – is something that we simply cannot see. From the ‘positive’ perspective the only type of freedom is the freedom to do whatever we wish to do within the realm of the known; there can’t be any freedom in ‘the radically unknown’ for the simple reason that we don’t admit that there is such a thing! The only reason we are able to proceed in the positive/aggressive way that we do this because we don’t acknowledge there being any possibility of ‘the radically unknown’. If we had acknowledged the possibility of radical uncertainty then we would never have been able to start off in the positive mode in the first place. We would have been too unsure of our ground to start building on it. We have to assume that we know something for sure or otherwise we have no basis for anything and if we have no basis for anything then there can be no such thing as ‘the positive assertion of goals and expectations’.

 

The positivist position is based on hope therefore – when it comes down to it, we’re hoping that our basis is correct, we were hoping that there are some things that we really and truly do know for sure!’ We have to hope this because otherwise nothing we believe in makes any sense! What we have essentially done when we jumped into the ‘positive mode of being in the world’ is that we made a ‘guess’; it is of course perfectly legitimate to make guesses, but the thing about the positive/aggressive approach is that we gloss over the fact that there has been any guesswork involved – we don’t acknowledge this in the least. Straightaway, we start acting as if the guess we have just made is known to be unquestionably untrue, and so absolutely no ‘window of uncertainty’ is left open at all. This ‘closing of the window’ facilitates a positive/aggressive approach in life, but at the same time it precludes any chance of actual freedom.

 

This always comes down to the same thing – if our guess happened to be ‘right’ (rather than being completely ‘wide of the mark’) then there would be no such thing as ‘radical uncertainty’; there would be no such thing as radical uncertainty because everything would have to seamlessly ‘dovetail’ with the positive knowledge that we already have (i.e. our core assumptions), and so there couldn’t be too big of a surprise floating around anywhere. There might be small surprises of course, but nothing radical, nothing that would well-and-truly upset the boat (and therefore prove our guess about the nature of reality wrong). In this case – as we have already pointed out – a type of freedom would be the type that is to be found within the Realm of the Known (i.e. the only type of freedom possible will be ‘the freedom of swapping one known outcome for another’). Radical freedom will be something that doesn’t exist at all.

 

This is all very well, but it all hinges on this one, very precarious thing, and that thing is that our original guess (which we are not admitting to be a guess) was right. But the point here is that even if our guess did happen to be wrong, completely unfounded, completely wide-of-the-mark, etc, we never have any way of knowing this. We would have no way of knowing this because the ‘Realm of the Known’ which we have now created for ourselves contains, as we have said, no ‘windows’, no means of asking any radical questions. The ‘positive reality’ doesn’t contain the possibility of ‘questioning itself’, in other words. If it did then it would no longer be a positive reality; it would be a ‘relativistic reality’, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. When it comes down to it, there is no way we can ever prove that there isn’t such a thing as the radically unknown, the radically surprising, the radically uncertain, out there somewhere waiting to pounce on us. Our positive logic will always tell us that there isn’t, but then it is in the nature of logic to say this. The nature of logic is such that it can’t question the assumptions that it has made in order that it should be there in the first place, as we keep reiterating.

 

Thinking about it, we’d have to ask ourselves why we would ever put ourselves in such a highly dubious position. What possible motivation could we have doing something like this? We base everything on a guess that we don’t admit to be a guess and then we charge ahead incautiously down a road that only goes one way, a road that takes us to a Realm of Positive Knowledge that can’t (by its very nature) ever be falsified from the inside, and which we can’t ever get out of! The only possible consolation we could ever have in this position (if we were looking for some, that is) is that we might possibly have been right in our original supposition even though – having entered into the lobster pot of Positive Reality – we now have absolutely no way of checking up to find out whether we were ‘right’ or not. All we can do is keep on telling ourselves that we were right to go down this road, that we are right to continue down it, even though whatever assertions or self-affirmations we do come out with invariably carry no weight at all. They carry no weight at all since they are presupposed by the assumptions that we have to buy into without knowing that we were buying into anything.

 

When we live our lives in the concrete, aggressive way that we almost always do live it, then with every purposeful action that we take, with every logical thought that we come out with, we are covering up the truth, covering up our own true nature. Everything we do on the basis of the concrete, ‘rule-based mind’ comes down to ‘the denial of radical uncertainty’; the world that has been created by concrete, rule-based mind constitutes a formidably thorough-going ‘system of denial’. The world that we have created for ourselves – most peculiarly – is the systematic denial of the possibility that we might have been wrong in our original unacknowledged ‘hypothesis’. If it happens to be the case (speaking purely hypothetically here) that we were correct in our original assumption, then this would make our purposeful actions, rational thoughts and pontifications on the matter completely righteous in the manner of a fundamentalist preacher who is speaking words of literal truth.

 

But if this were the case, could we not afford to be a little more generous, a little more gentle and kind-hearted in our attitude? Would we have to be so harshly judgemental, so very cruel and unforgiving? This is a telling argument because fundamentalists (of whatever type) are always harsh, always judgemental, always unforgiving. That comes with the territory. That is their nature, as we all know! The fundamentalist, the ‘concrete or literal believer’ is always right and if they are right then that means someone else has to be wrong! Right always means wrong – we can’t have one without the other. By the same token, when we cling less stubbornly to our rigid opinions, dogmatic points of view and beliefs, experience invariably shows that this makes it more tolerant of other people, not less. Not having some sort of fixed position or attitude in life allows us to be more generous of spirit, more humorous and fixed gentle in ourselves, which shows that – as the Buddhists say – there is strength in vulnerability that does not exist in the fixed position, and the clenched fist.

 

The secret to life itself – we could say – is this difference between aggression and non-aggression, and what a big difference this is! One way is ‘all about us’, whilst the other way is about ‘what it is that is revealed when we stop being so obsessed about ourselves’. One way is ‘all about us’, only it isn’t really all about us! It’s all about ‘who we pretend to be because we are afraid of finding out who we really are’. This is what living aggressively comes down to – it’s our attempt at pretending, as systematically as we possibly can and in collusion with others, to ‘be what we are not’, and that’s why it is always so dreadfully uninteresting, so dreadfully sterile…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Paradigms

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Image: Tick tock Traveler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consciousness And The Thinking Mind

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

All The King’s Horses

As long as ‘the machine inside us’ is allowed to do whatever it wants we won’t know that it is there. We won’t have a clue that it’s there. How could we know, how could we ever suspect? When the machine inside us is allowed to do exactly what it wants then all is peace and calm and we are allowed to get on with our lives. Only it isn’t ‘our life’ that we’re getting on with – it’s the machine’s life (or ‘the machine’s version of our life’).

 

This is our situation therefore – we’re letting ‘the machine inside of us’ live our life for us. We’ve handed over all responsibility to it, without even knowing that we have. We are living ‘the machine’s idea what life should be’ and it is keeping our constantly keeping us on track with a nudge here and a nudge there and something a lot worse than just ‘a nudge’ if we don’t get back on track quickly enough! We have complete unquestioning loyalty to the machine – its will is our will as far as we’re concerned!

 

The machine which is thought manifests itself as ‘the internal robot which lives our life for us’. Just so long as we are able, in an unimpeded way, to live the robot’s idea of what life should be then (as we have already said) we will continue on our way, content to believe that ‘all is as it should be’. There will still be problems of course, there will be many ways in which life fails to accord with ‘our’ (i.e. the machine’s) plan for it, but this won’t challenge the status quo in any way. Complaining about how things are going wrong only ever serves to affirm that they are wrong, after all.

 

We can continue in this way forever in the absence of any major upsets. We could in theory ‘question the status quo’ at any time of course, but in practice we don’t. Why would we? We are far too preoccupied with doing the machine’s bidding; we’re far too busy enacting the life of ‘the internal robot’, and thinking it our own. We are kept busy for this very reason – that’s part of the design. ‘The devil finds work for idle hands’ is one of the machine’s favourite sayings’! Even when we’re not busy in the sense of ‘physically engaging in tasks’ were busy we are busy – we are busy thinking robot’s thoughts and imagining that they are our own!

 

This is pretty much a perfect system, therefore – it can run and run and run. It can run along in this way – with us enacting the robot’s idea of what life should be, and us never noticing that this is what we’re doing – until our last breath. This isn’t just something that’s ‘fairly probable’ – it’s very nearly an absolute certainty, unless something happens to us to upset the apple cart in a big way. The machine has to be unable to ‘cope’ for a prolonged length of time, it has to find itself in a situation where it simply can’t control what is happening to it, and this situation has to persist for an extended period of time. Sometimes we have been in this situation right from the very beginning, right from the word ‘go’.

 

Alternatively, there could have been some type of trauma, not necessarily lasting very long, but sufficiently intense to disillusion us with the nice simple picture of reality that the machine has up to this point been providing us with. Up to this point we were (in most cases) living in a kind of safe and sanitised ‘bubble’ or ‘cocoon’ of ‘regulated reality’ – a ‘bubble or cocoon of regulated reality’ that was entirely illusionary, but which was nevertheless totally convincing for us. And just to help with the apparent stability or believability of this bubble, there are thousands (or millions) of people all around us who all believe in it in exactly the same bubble. Then something unexpectedly happens to burst this bubble, and once this bubble – the bubble of who we naïvely understood ourselves to be (i.e. the ‘assumed sense of self’) has been burst, it – just like Humpty Dumpty – can’t be put together again, even if we do have ‘all the kings horses and all the Kings men’ to help us.

 

‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men’ may be taken as meaning ‘the mental health services’ within the context of this particular discussion! Once the ‘ego illusion’ has been compromised, so that on some deep level we can no longer believe in it in the way that we previously had done, then no sort of ‘therapy’ is going to restore this naïve belief. That just can’t be done, no matter how much we might collectively pretend that it can be. As patients we are of course under pressure – both from ourselves and the mental health services – for this ‘recovery’ to take place, but the truth is that it just can’t. ‘What has been seen can’t be unseen’! Once we gain some glimpse of ‘the fundamental falsity of our assumed basis’ – i.e. a sense that it ‘isn’t really what it implicitly claims to be’ – then we can’t ever go back to the naive (or ‘innocent’) belief that we used to have, in a much matter how much we want to. We have gone beyond that, however unwillingly…

 

Even if – as is most likely – we have no way of understanding what has happened, no language with which to articulate it – we still ‘know’ it in some deep way, and this deep-down knowledge shows itself in terms of a systematic failure of the type of ‘confidence’ in ourselves to be able to ‘cope’ with the world, or ‘deal’ with the world, or ‘do what is necessary to obtain the desired outcomes in the world’. No amount of talk about ‘coping strategies,’ or ‘skills’, or ‘distress-tolerance’ is ever going to change this – no matter how ‘scientific’ such talk might sound. Once cracks have appeared in the ego-structure itself, no matter of sellotape is going to fix it. Possibly we might still be able to ‘limp through life’ on the basis of an ego that we have unwittingly seen through, on the basis of an ego that we have inadvertently lost faith in, but we’re never going to get that old naïve ‘confidence’ back again. That confidence (or ‘ego-strength’) was based purely on ignorance and we are no longer ignorant in the way that we used to be. Or perhaps that ‘bubble of safety’ never existed for us – that is another possibility.

 

This (i.e. ‘therapy’!) is really putting us in an impossible situation therefore – we have to live in a world which everyone implicitly believes in but which we can’t believe in – no matter how much we may want to. If it happens that we find ourselves in therapy, or under the care of the mental health services, then we will have that same naïve illusionary view of reality projected upon us from everyone around us. How are the ‘trained mental health professionals’ that we meet going to know any different, after all; aren’t they are every bit as ‘unconscious’ (or ‘asleep’) as everybody else? Why would they not be? When we are in this position there are only two possibilities open to us – either we keep on ‘pretending’ and hope that no one notices that we are, or we stop pretending and get blamed instead by all and sundry for not trying hard enough to get better (or perhaps even for positively wanting to carry on being mentally unwell). If anyone tells you that this isn’t what happens every day in the mental health services clearly they are living on another planet entirely!

 

This isn’t quite the full story though – there aren’t just these two possibilities, there’s another one too. We don’t have to keep on trying to find ‘some way back’ (which is impossible in any event, as we keep on saying) – we could actually ‘go forward’ instead! ‘Going forward’ – in this context – means that instead of trying to ‘get back what we never really had in the first place’ (because it was never really ‘our’ life that we were living, or ‘trying to live’), we can try out a different type of life, a type of life that hasn’t been dictated to us by the machine of thought. When we carry on without spending all our time looking back to ‘how we used to be’ and trying in a futile way to ‘get back there’ what happens is that we very slowly learn a new way of being in the world, a way of being in the world that isn’t based on unreflective aggression and ‘false confidence’.

 

This is very hard because – to a large extent – we just don’t know anything else. We don’t know what else there is apart from obeying the dictates of the machine of thought. It is very hard to be free when we have been so long enslaved – it feels very strange and we don’t have anything to guide us. When the internal robot is broken and can no longer help us (or when it is so clearly a menace to our well-being that we have had to refuse its help) we find ourselves in a kind of ‘no-man’s-land’. What’s broken is broken and there’s no fixing it, and this means that ‘there is no turning back’. The way is barred. There may not be any ‘turning back’ it is true, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any ‘going forward’…

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

Pseudo-Communication

Everything is communication of one sort or another. To exist at all is to communicate! Even non-communication is a communication, if we can see it for what it is! But – on the other hand – if it happens that we can’t see non-communication for what it is, and think instead that it actually is communication when it isn’t, then what we have here in this case is something very different. What we have in this case is something that we might call pseudo-communication.

 

Pseudo-communication doesn’t so much mean ‘lies’ – it means that there is the appearance of a genuine two-way interaction going on when actually there isn’t. When it comes down to it there isn’t any ‘interaction’ at all going on in pseudo-communication because the term ‘interaction’ means that its two-way (otherwise we wouldn’t use the prefix ‘inter-’). When there’s no two-way exchange going on then what we’re talking about isn’t communication but control – the very essence of control is that it only works the one way, the very essence of control is that it happens ‘one way but not the other’…

 

Control is the very antithesis of communication (or ‘interaction’) and in this world of ours everything is about control – either control of the overt variety or control of the covert variety. In the past the authorities or rulers saw no need to camouflage their power – it was taken as being part of the natural order of things that the powerful had every right to exert their power over everyone else. It was the God-given right of the powerful to rule and no other explanation was needed. Power is after all its own explanation! And when it comes to the very widespread idea that Princes and Kings and Emperors had the divine right to rule, very clearly no other explanation is necessary! When the population believes in the divine right of kings to rule, and generally do as they please without having to explain themselves to anyone, then of course the notion of questioning their power never arises. It is no accident that monarchies and religion tend to go hand in hand, even to this day.

 

Even today the Queen of the United Kingdom has the title of ‘Supreme Governor of the Church Of England’, which – in theory at least – outranks the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would otherwise be considered the episcopal head of the Anglican Church. In the United States, democratically elected presidents often bring God into their public addresses, implying that God is of course on their side, as they are – of course – on His. What better validation could there be for one’s point of view, than to see it as aligned with that of the Divine Will? Invoking the deity, in these cases, is less a matter of personal piety and more – needless to say – a matter of consolidating one’s power in the earthly realm and, ultimately, the best way of consolidating one’s power is to makes one’s position (or viewpoint) unquestionable.

 

Within the last one hundred years or so the idea that one human being or group of human beings should have the right to exert power over others for no better reason than the brute fact that they are able to do so is widely seen as being completely unacceptable, if not downright abhorrent. ‘Might’ and ‘right’ are no longer synonymous. In one way this undoubtedly represents a huge jump in consciousness – humankind has woken up out of a long, dark slumber, or so we might suppose. In another, more important way however the gains we have collectively made in terms of freedom are more apparent than real. Control is not explicit anymore – the wielders of power have simply grown cleverer, out of necessity. The rulers have ‘upped their game’, and we have failed to keep up with them. We have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked on a global scale.

 

Everything is communication of one sort or another. What else is there? ‘Communication’ is just another way of talking about consciousness and consciousness is our essential nature.  Our essential nature is to communicate – this comes as naturally to us as breathing. What passes for ‘communication’ in this modern age is in reality something very different however – it is something that has the appearance of communication but not its nature. We could equally well say that what passes for freedom in this world is a pale shadow (or ‘deceptive analogue’) of true freedom – we are free to do anything we want just so long as it takes place within the terms of the game that we are not acknowledging as a game.

 

In the same way therefore, we are free to communicate about anything we want to just so long as we communicate about those topics or issues that we have already been given to communicate about. Or to put this another way: we are free to communicate about anything we want just so long as we do so within the framework of reference that has been imposed upon us without us realizing that anything of the sort has been imposed on us. If I am thinking about the world within the terms of some framework of meaning (or framework of reference) that has been imposed upon me without me knowing that it has then I am ‘being controlled without knowing that I am’ – my way of seeing the world, understanding the word has been decided for me by some external agency and so what more effective ‘exercise of power’ could there ever be than this? This is the ultimate in control.

 

If I as a ruler or authority compel you to live within a certain structure, a certain format that has been decided by me, then this unpleasant authoritarian state of affairs actually comes as a pretty honest form of communication on my part. I am communicating my power over you in no uncertain terms – I actually want you to know about it. But when I control you by ‘supplying you with your reality’ (so to speak) then I am in this case most definitely not communicating my ‘use of power’ and this makes my power over you all the more complete. The ultimate form of control, therefore, is where I control ‘what things mean’ (or ‘what is real and what is unreal’); this is the type of control that can never be questioned, the type of control that will always go unnoticed.

 

We imagine ourselves to be freely communicating but we’re not, therefore. We’re not freely communicating because the terms that we have been given to communicate within are not our own – they have been decided for us by ‘the external authority’ for purposes of its own. We’re operating within the confines of a framework of meaning that has imposed on us from the outside, without us being wise to the event. Given these circumstances (i.e. given that we’re ‘playing a game without knowing that we’re playing a game’) there is of course absolutely no way that we can genuinely communicate! How could we – everything we supposedly communicate about has to do with a false reality that has been imposed on us. There’s no way that we can communicate about anything – in order to communicate one must be able to see what is going on!

 

If we look at this in terms of interaction, and our possibility of interacting meaningfully either with each other or with our environment, we can equivalently say that there is zero possibility of us genuinely interacting either with each other or with the system itself. There is the convincing appearance of that possibility, but that’s all it is – just the appearance. We’ve been wrong-footed from the start because everything is on a false basis. We’re not autonomously interacting, we’re ‘interacting as adjuncts or extensions or constructs of the system that defines us’, and this isn’t interacting at all. We can only autonomously interact with other people or with our environment when we are ‘autonomously ourselves’ in the first place, very obviously! If  our entire way of seeing the world has been provided for us by ‘the external authority’ then there’s no interaction – there’s no interaction because there’s only the system there, and in order for there to be such a thing as ‘interaction’ there has to be two things, not just the one. Or to put this another way, if I am interacting with my own ‘projections’, my own ‘externalized assumptions’ then this is just the illusion of interaction, the illusion of communication. For communication, there must be an ‘other’…

 

The ‘external authority’ that we’re speaking of here is simply ‘the game that we are playing without knowing that we are’ – which is the same thing as ‘the game which is playing us’. We live in a world of pseudo-communication because we live within the remit of this game, this ‘version’ of reality that has been imposed upon us. The crucial thing to understand about ‘living within a world made up entirely of pseudo-communication’ is that just so long as we continue to do this, then ‘who we really are’ never actually gets to be born, never actually gets to come into the picture. This then is what ‘control’ or ‘the use of power or authority’ actually does to us – it is (if only we could see it clearly) the ultimate form of violence, it is in fact what we might quite reasonably call ‘psychological murder’. Authority is ‘psychological murder’ because it prevents us from being here as who we really are…