The Naïve Approach To Psychological Therapy

The naïve approach to psychological therapy is to imagine that the therapeutic process is something that we both instigate and orchestrate ourselves – we believe the process to be – to a large extent at least – under our control. This belief has the consequence that if the therapy is unsuccessful then this must be due (to some part at least) to the person undergoing the therapy not trying hard enough, or not trying consistently enough. We might – as therapists – not like to acknowledge the inherent judgement here, but to the extent that we believe the therapeutic process to be purposeful, we must also – on some level – be allocating blame. We are – after all – taking the view that the person engaging in the therapy is responsible for the process themselves. That’s pretty much the whole point of the therapy – we are providing the tools by which change can be effected. We provide the tools (that’s our job) and then we want the person to ‘take responsibility for themselves’ (as it is said) and put these tools into action. We have taken care of our side of the deal after all, so now it’s up to them.…

 

This is where the confusion creeps in – we do indeed have responsibility for ourselves, but not in the way that is being implied here. Our responsibility (using the word carefully here, which is to say, not in any crude moralistic sense) is to be honest with ourselves (i.e. ‘not to lie to ourselves’. And if we do lie to ourselves – which is of course perfectly normal – then we take ownership of this as much as our awareness allows us to. We might well be lying to ourselves it’s true, but that doesn’t mean that we have two validate our lies to the hilt! We don’t necessarily have to invest in propping the lies up. The basic point that we’re making here is that we can’t have the responsibility to change ourselves; we can’t have the responsibility to change ourselves simply because that is not possible. How can we be ‘responsible’ for something that isn’t in any way possible for us to do? That isn’t a ‘responsibility’, that’s a ‘double-bind’! One of the easiest things in the world is for a therapist to double bind his or her client and the chances are very much that no one will ever notice this happening, either the therapist or the one having the therapy. The fact that both parties involved are utterly unaware of the double bind doesn’t make it OK however – obviously that doesn’t make it OK!

 

One of the biggest delusions going is the delusion that – if we try hard enough – we can change the way we are. This is why we are forever condemning our fellow men and women – because we firmly believe that they could change their behaviour if only they wanted to. If they don’t change their behaviour (the behaviour that is annoying us) then it is probably because they don’t want to, or can’t be bothered to. It is remarkably foolish however to think that people could change (as in ‘improve’) themselves if only they wanted to, if only they tried hard enough. We would only have to reflect on the matter for a few moments to see the flaw in this reasoning. Do we really imagine life to be as simple as this? We all have a tendency to act in such a way as to cause both ourselves and others unnecessary suffering – that is the human condition, as we can see merely by taking a look around us – and so is it really just a matter of us ‘copping on’ and giving ourselves (or perhaps someone else) a damn good kick in the pants in order for all of this to change? If this were the case wouldn’t we all have done this centuries ago – millennia ago, even? How do we persist in thinking that an ‘exertion of will’ is all it takes? How do we persist in not seeing how foolish it is to persist in this utterly ridiculous belief?

 

This whole business of ‘purposeful morality’ provide us with a good illustration of the utter futility of trying to change ourselves on purpose. We can keep ourselves in check (for the most part, at least), but only at the price of being constantly at war with ourselves. It’s as if ‘virtue’ means being totally repressive of ourselves, totally controlling of ourselves – the more we keep ourselves down the better a person we are, according to this view. This approach certainly hasn’t worked out for us in terms of public morality – people haven’t improved as far as their moral calibre is concerned as a result of being subjected to two thousand years worth of Christian ethics; if anything we are – in the developed nations of the West – more self-obsessed than we have ever been at any point in human history. It could be argued (and has been argued) that our present unfortunate narcissistic condition is a result of the decline of religion in modern times but this argument doesn’t hold much water. In Ireland (just to give one example) when the Catholic Church had near absolute power in the land and even the government and police deferred to them, great evil thrived under these conditions. History shows that religious folk are often capable of greater cruelty then their not-so-religious compatriots because they feel so justified in their attitude and actions. Overall, it is abundantly clear that ‘trying to be better people on purpose’ not only doesn’t work, but that it is actually counter-productive in terms of the stated goal. Trying to force ourselves to be good (which necessarily means repressing the part of us that isn’t up to scratch) empowers the shadow like nothing else. The shadow loves repression.

 

We can apply the same lesson to therapy – how do we ever imagine that people can – no matter how motivated they might be – change themselves to be a better way on purpose? What a lack of insight this shows! Do the therapists who espouse this approach have experience of changing themselves in this way? We can all change ourselves on the short term of course (always assuming that the incentive is great enough) – a leopard can indeed change its spots, if there is enough money in it! Similarly, if our aim is simply to change our behaviours or attitudes in order to escape or ameliorate the pain we are in without looking any deeper into ourselves we can – by dint of our efforts – effect a type of temporary change, a type of ‘elastic’ change, but nothing about us will have genuinely changed. Superficially perhaps, we can change ourselves – fundamentally, we cannot. We can put on lots of different masks, and convince ourselves that we are the person that the mask shows, but the one thing we can’t do is change the one who was wearing the mask!

 

The problem is that we are a superficial, image-obsessed culture and as such it doesn’t really make much sense to expect of ourselves that we should look more deeply into things when it comes to matters of mental health (or when it comes to any other matters either, come to that). We don’t breed philosophers, we breed businessmen and salesmen. We are very good indeed at selling stuff but not so good at checking to see if what we are selling so cleverly is actually worth a damn! There is absolutely only one thing that can help us when it comes to the restoration of our mental health however and that is not being superficial! What this means for a start is not trying to do ‘therapy’ out of a book or manual but – rather – drawing upon our own personal experience and understanding. ‘Doing it by the book’ is great for some things, but not for therapy. Therapy (if we are to agree that there is such a thing) comes out of a person, not a book or manual or some accepted protocol’. Life simply doesn’t work like this – it demands more of us than mere ‘off the shelf’ generic answers.

 

If we say that therapy is some kind of ‘order’ or ‘logical understanding’ that is imposed on us from the outside, by someone who – in their official capacity – ‘knows better than we do’, then this means that there is no therapy. This isn’t therapy at all, it’s merely brainwashing and brainwashing never improved the mental health of those being brainwashed – although it is undeniably good at changing their behaviour and way of thinking in the short term! If on the other hand we define ‘therapy’ by saying that it is essentially all about the recognition and appreciation of innate processes, processes that are already happening by their own accord, then we can perhaps allow that there is such a thing.

 

The bottom line is that therapeutic change is ‘facilitated by consciousness, not ‘imposed by strategic action’. Consciousness – on the part of the person concerned and those around them – does not ‘cause’ growth any more than the sun ‘causes’ seedlings to sprout and fruit to magically appear on trees. There is no causal relationship, no compulsion, no issuing of ‘instructions’ concerning the best way to grow or develop – the sun simply provides the necessary conditions for growth and other than that it is completely non-interfering. It does not applaud the seedlings when they grow nor does it criticise or question them if they don’t – the sun is fine either way! In the same way, consciousness is simply ‘there’– it has no agenda whatsoever. Consciousness has no agenda whatsoever and this is what makes it so tremendously different from the thinking mind, which cannot ever ‘not have an agenda’!

 

It is precisely this – the lack of any agenda, the lack of any bias – that makes it possible for consciousness to facilitate growth (or ‘therapeutic change’, just as it is precisely the fact that the thinking mind cannot not have an agenda that means that it ought not to be allowed anywhere near a therapeutic process! As soon as we can see this it becomes very clear where we are going wrong in our culture as regards this thing called ‘therapy’, or this thing called ‘mental health’. In our spectacular blindness, we have put thought in charge of everything! We have put thought in charge of therapy as if its brisk, necessarily cold and goal-orientated approach has any place here. As if mental health or well-being were a goal. We have put in place a ‘bureaucracy of thought’ to manage people’s mental health – if we knew how, we would turn mental healthcare into an algorithm to be fed into the health board’s computer network, and turned into an official procedure along with everything else. What we are always doing is ‘building machines to help us manage life’ and whilst this seems to work in some areas (‘seems’ being the operative word) it most certainly doesn’t work when it comes to mental health. Who ever heard of such a thing as ‘a machine to support us in our mental health’?

 

Machines are necessarily injurious to our well-being, to our mental health, when they are allowed to get involved. A ‘machine’ doesn’t have to be made of metal and plastic or cogs and wheels – any form of organisation that is based on rules is a machine. A hospital is a machine, a company or organisation is a machine, society itself as a machine. The designed world that we have created for ourselves is a machine and in order to survive within it ourselves we are obliged to turn ourselves into machines too. We have to ‘compromise ourselves’, in other words, in order that we might live in this world. We have to go against our true nature, as Philip K Dick says.

 

Compromising ourselves by becoming more and more ‘machine-like’ causes mental ill-health; adapting ourselves to society causes mental health, as Foucault says. Machines cause mental ill-health because they don’t give us space to be who we are. Society causes us mental ill-health because it doesn’t give us the space to be who we are. We could perhaps respond by saying, “Well in that case we will programme the machines to give us space to be ourselves” but that won’t work because no programme for that exists, nor could exist. We can’t adapt society to give us to give space to us either by passing the appropriate legislation because that legislation doesn’t exist – there is no formula to for providing space and so this is the one thing a machine can never do. That would be like having a rule that says there must be no rules! Only conscious human beings can be non-judgemental. Only conscious human beings can be non-judgemental, and there is an acute shortage of ‘conscious human beings’. Society doesn’t value them, after all – it has no regard for them whatsoever…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Side Of Positive Thinking

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Assumed Sense of Self’

Our collective viewpoint on what so-called ‘mental illness’ is and how it comes about is, I would say, remarkably obtuse! It’s as if we have a lorry-load of logs stuck in our collective eye. It’s not an accident that we’re so obtuse either – it’s just that this is where our personal and collective ‘blind-spot’ happens to reside and this blind-spot (as all blind-spots do) takes precedence over good sense. It takes precedence over everything. The blind-spot which we are talking about here has to do with the assumptions that we make about ourselves, and (unwisely) use as a spring-board to enthusiastically propel ourselves forward in life…

 

Collectively speaking, all we can ever do is ‘charge blindly ahead on the basis of our unexamined assumptions’. This is because a group of people (rather than ‘a random collection of people’), by its very nature, can only exist on the basis of conventions that are tacitly agreed upon but never actually acknowledged. The group would never hang together otherwise; society itself would never hang together and this is of course why oddballs, misfits and eccentrics are always treated so badly. Anyone in the group, or anyone in society, who does start questioning these ‘unacknowledged conventions’ is there never going to get anywhere; this is ‘a given’ – they’re never going to be listened to, their voice is never going to be allowed on the platform. Only ‘non-questioners’ are going to be allowed this privilege. And yet it is only by questioning the group’s hidden assumptions (or society’s invisible conventions) that wisdom is ever going to arise – in this case, wisdom with regard to these chronic patterns of unhappiness that we call ‘mental health conditions’. Our refusal to look outside of the box means therefore that wisdom is something we are going to have to do without! Wisdom isn’t ‘evidence-based’, after all!

 

The Big Question we never want to go near is the question of ‘who we truly are’ – this is the question we have all tacitly agreed never to look at, and yet this is also the door to wisdom, which is actually something that our particular expert-based form of knowledge doesn’t even acknowledge as ‘a real or significant thing’. When we assume ourselves to be something that we’re not, then this becomes a source of existential problems later on. How can it not? We can go further than this and say that when we go forward (or rather what we think is ‘forward’) on the basis of ‘who we think we are but aren’t’ then we’re never really going to get anywhere. We can’t get anywhere because we’re proceeding on the assumed basis of us being who we aren’t! We might, at times, imagine that we’re ‘getting somewhere’ and this will feel good to us, but the problem or snag here is that sooner or later we’re going to find that ‘the territory we thought we’d gained we haven’t’.  sooner or later we’re going to find out that we’ve been conned, we going to find out that we’ve paid good money for ‘real estate that only existed on paper but not in reality’…

 

This straightaway gives us a model that we can work with: when we have the perception that we’re getting somewhere when we’re not (because the ‘sense of self’ we’re identified with isn’t us) then this gives us the ‘positive feeling in life’ that we’re all trying to get. This particular mind-created illusion generates a type of good feeling that we might call euphoria – euphoria being (we might say) the feeling that attends the apparent well-being of the false sense of self. When on the other hand we experience ourselves (or rather the FSOS) as losing ground rather than gaining it then this produces a type of bad feeling that we can refer to as dysphoria. Everyday life is thus the constant play of euphoria and dysphoria –we are forever going ‘up’ and ‘down’ in our emotions depending on whether we feel that we’re getting somewhere or not getting somewhere on the basis of the FSOS. It follows that just so long as we are convinced that we are this FSOS then all we will ever experience is euphoria and dysphoria. Going up and going is all we ever know – the banal terrain of advantage or disadvantage will constitute the whole of life for us, therefore.

 

So far we have said nothing that relates directly to what is called ‘mental illness’. We have just described the arena of everyday life in its ‘unproblematic’ or ‘unglitched’ aspect – this is the game when it’s not manifesting any systematic faults, faults that cannot be ironed out or ignored. Two major glitches present themselves immediately however, when we start looking into it. One is where we get disillusioned with what we are calling ‘the game’ (i.e. ‘the game of pretending that the assumed sense of self is really who we are’) on some deep level such a way that we can no longer believe in the possibility of ‘gaining ground’. We have this deep-down feeling that we won’t be able to get anywhere (on the basis of us being who we mistakenly think we are) and even though we will try our hardest to fight against this feeling it keeps coming up time and time again. When the process progresses far enough it ends up paralyzing us; we can’t move forward (in the sense of acting purposefully or obtaining goals) because we have no more confidence in our ability to do so. What we’re talking about here is of course anxiety.

 

The other possibility is where we somehow become disillusioned, in a deep-down way, with ‘the game’ (i.e. with the assumption that we are the FSOS and that genuine honest-to-goodness possibilities await us on this basis) in such a way that nothing that we have achieved or gained seems to be actually worth anything. Equally, we are no longer motivated to try to achieve anything, not because we suspect that we can’t (as is the case in anxiety) but because we can’t help feeling that nothing we could achieve would be worth anything. Our so-called ‘achievements’ mock us with their fraudulency and we have been brought to a standstill because we can’t help knowing that nothing we could do would make any difference to this.  We ourselves – in our very core – feel hollow and worthless and – more to the point – we feel as if we’re pretending to be someone rather than being someone. This is of course utterly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t been disillusioned with the game and – more than incomprehensible – it is perceived as being a deeply sinister development…

 

From the conventional point of view (which is everyone’s point of view) this is a development that is both inexplicable and utterly malign – it is an evil to be resisted with every means at our disposal. We are – when this happens – pronounced by those who have the official authorization to make this sort of pronouncement to be suffering from ‘clinical depression’, which is said to be an illness like diphtheria or smallpox. From the point of view of the model that we are looking at here however neither anxiety or depression is  ‘sinister’ or ‘wholly negative’ sort of a thing, and certainly neither can be equated to a physical illness which is caused by some sort of pathological agent such as a virus or a bacterium. On the contrary, it is through the pain of seeing – in whatever indirect or occluded way – that we aren’t at all who we take ourselves to be (and that this was an utterly mistaken view) that we come closer to remembering who we really are.  Seeing through the false is the prerequisite of seeing the truth, no matter how painful that might be, and the pain we endure is certainly no reason to avoid seeing the truth – the truth is after all not a ‘bad’ thing, it’s just something we could never have imagined…

 

If everyone we came across were disposed towards supporting us in remembering ‘who we really are’ then this would make all the difference in the world but this is not the way it works – that’s not the way it works at all. To experience profound and painful disillusionment with the game (that no one recognizes as a game) is a tremendous opportunity, more tremendous than we could ever imagine, but neither anxiety nor depression (nor any other crippling disturbances to the life of the FSOS) is seen as any sort of an opportunity at all – all the talk is of ‘recovery’ or ‘being cured’, which is code for ‘returning to a wholehearted belief in the game that no one sees as a game’. If things were left to the proper authorities the opportunity would be crushed unceremoniously and we would be led to understand that there is something wrong with us – we would be led to understand that everyone else is well (in the way that they see the world and themselves) but that we are unwell. This has of course always been the way things are when the consensus reality has been called into question.

 

It isn’t the onset of anxiety or depression that is unaccountable but rather why some of us get disillusioned with the game (against our own wishes) whilst others don’t. If someone doesn’t develop a crippling neurotic condition this doesn’t mean that they’re not living life on the basis of a false sense of self – we’re all in the same boat there – it just means that they’re still sleeping soundly! So the question becomes, why do most of us sleep on soundly, obliviously, whilst others – apparently against their wishes – are called upon to painfully wake up to the true nature of their situation? This is the real mystery…

 

We now come to what is called ‘psychosis’ and how this relates to the model we are exploring here, but before we do that we could say a few more words about this question of ‘who we really are’ as opposed to ‘who we assume we are within the context of the game we are playing without admitting that we are playing it’. The assumed ‘sense of self’ that we’re all so familiar with (or most of us anyway) is such an extraordinarily limited sort of a thing – it’s fantastically limited, but we just can’t see that. The assumed SOS is made up of limitations (i.e. statements about what we’re not) rather than actual context, even though saying this does not make any sense at all to the rational viewpoint, which is the only viewpoint society cares about. We are constructed out of restrictions, out of denials, out of prohibitions, even though we don’t (and can’t) see it like this. When I say “I am this” (which sounds positive to us) I am at the same time saying that I am not everything else, whatever that ‘everything else’ may be (and I don’t actually know that). I have therefore reduced the ‘range of possibilities’ to virtually zero; I don’t see what I have just excluded in order to arrive at this positive statement – I don’t see what I have had to ‘throw away’ and – what’s more – I don’t care either because all my attention is on the ‘defined world’, which is an abstraction created by the thinking mind.

 

By making something ‘definite’ (i.e. by making it ‘this-but-not-that’)we exclude Wholeness, in other words, and by doing this we imagine that we have obtained something real, something that is tangibly true and ‘objective’. But when Wholeness is excluded – as it must be in order to define anything – we obtain nothing. Or rather, we obtain a skinny mind-created abstraction which now looks like a real thing to us (because we have excluded Wholeness from our awareness) whilst what is truly real has been placed ‘out of bounds’ for us. We can no longer relate to or have any connection to reality itself, and instead can only believe in the images that the thinking mind produces for us, which includes ‘the image of myself’, which is the assumed ‘sense of self’ that we keep talking about. I now have no way of relating to or connecting with reality as it is in itself and if by accident I did ‘run into reality’ then it would show up the basis of my experience of ‘being here in the world’ (which is the assumed SOS) as being a mere abstraction, something that is not there at all but only seems to be there when we look at the world in the peculiar narrow way that the thinking mind makes us do. Both the cut-and-dried world we believe so unreflectively and the black-and-white idea of myself that I place so much reliance in are shockingly  revealed as being insubstantial mind-produced phantoms – the ground is ‘cut away from under my feet’, in other words.

 

This brings us to the nature of psychosis. Using Stan Groff’s terminology, we can say that al psychotic experiences, without exception, are due to ‘holotropic intrusions’. The Whole manifests within the realm of the fraction that had up that point arrogantly considered itself to be the Whole, when it was no such thing. What happens when Indivisible Wholeness starts to show itself in the fractional world of the assumed sense of self? How are we going to relate to this occurrence? It is Everything and our entire world (never mind us) is nothing more than a mind-created abstraction, something like a cartoon or an ad on a subway wall. As far as we were concerned the Whole of Everything doesn’t even exist – the thinking mind has made it unreal, even though it is the only reality. We didn’t really think that the Whole of Everything ‘didn’t exist’ of course (as we have already said) because we have our ‘substitute’ for it, which is the image that we have in our minds of reality and our place in it. So when the substitute gets shown up as ‘only a substitute’ and the real thing sudden enters our little world, what are we going think then? This is like the Buddhist story of the frog in the well who doesn’t believe that the ocean could be bigger than his well until he goes to see the ocean one day and his head explodes…

 

To say that this eventuality comes as a tremendous earth-shattering shock is far too mild and feeble a way of putting it – it is Indivisible Wholeness itself we are talking about here, and what are we to compare this with? What happens to us when we try to cling to our mind-created world in the face of Indivisible Wholeness? And yet our trained experts in the field of mental health will tell us that what is going on is merely due to ‘chemicals misbehaving in our brain’ (or some such story), and that our extraordinary perceptions when we’re suffering from ‘psychosis’ don’t really mean anything at all really…