The Environment That Compels

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Finger-Trap

The world we see all around us has been put together by economic forces: just about everything we see in the socially-created world is because of economic forces. If it isn’t there to make money then what’s the point of it? We could of course agree with the above statement happily enough and yet at the same time not consider it a matter of any great importance. We may not see any problem with this at all; we are after all so very used to this way of life that we can’t see the world existing in any other way. Economics has been ‘God’ for a very long time now. Money has made the world go round for a very long time now…

 

And yet what is meant by this thing we call ‘economics’? When we look into it we can see straightaway that it is nothing more than ‘a system that is based on the manipulation of resources for personal gain’. No one can argue with this – that’s what capitalism is all about, after all! At the very root of economic theory is the tried-and-trusted idea that the motivation to personally benefit ourselves is the strongest and most reliable motivational force there is, which – goes the argument – makes it the ideal psychological drive to tie everything to. Whether this is really true or not is highly dubious however – if our motivation isn’t particularly wholesome, then neither will the outcome be! This goes beyond ethics and morality – it is starting to be accepted in the mainstream scientific world that what fulfils us the most – i.e. what is ‘healthiest’  for us – is not to live on the basis of narrow self-interest but on the basis of compassion and empathy, which doesn’t serve the interest of our way of life. Again, this isn’t anything to do with morality or ethics, it just seems to be the way that we are built. Now it isn’t of course exactly ‘breaking news’ as far as the great religions of the world are concerned, but it’s only very recently that a study of the anatomy of the brain shows that when the area of the brain known colloquially as in the centre – otherwise referred to as the medial prefrontal cortex.

 

According to Rebecca Gladding in This is your brain on meditation, it is also called ‘the self-referencing centre’ because it is the part of the brain are used to process information related to us. When the ‘me-centre’ is linked to strongly with other centres, such as the reactivity-producing amygdala, then this is bad news, according to Rebecca Gladding; it’s bad news because we’re always going to be taking things personally and ‘over-reacting’ accordingly. In general, it is clear that when relate to the world (and other people) in a ‘me-centred way’ (i.e. a way that is ‘all about us’) then we won’t have a very good time. We aren’t going to get on particularly well with other people either, obviously enough! This is a modality of functioning (or a ‘modality of being in the world’) that shouldn’t be overly encouraged or promoted, therefore! It certainly shouldn’t be made ‘top dog’…

 

Very obviously, if we are always operating on the basis of self-interest then we aren’t going to feel very fulfilled in themselves; if it were true that self-interest were a ‘healthy motivation’ then the richest people in the world would also be the happiest people and this just isn’t so! We don’t actually need to be experts on neuro-anatomy to see this – it’s as obvious as a nose on your face! How could we not see it? This is the most basic lesson in life there is; we learn it in pre-school and kindergarten – it’s the lesson called ‘learning to share our toys with the other kids’. If we never do learn to share our toys (or, even worse, if we learn to do the opposite and steal all the other kids’ toys so that we have all the toys ourselves) then this is not a very good prediction for us having a happy life! No one is going to be stupid enough to argue with this – how can I be incorrigibly self-centred and yet also be a happy person? There isn’t a person in the world who would go along with this, if they were to actually sit down and think about it!

 

This – as we keep saying – is just common sense – if we think that the world revolves around us then we are in for a rude awakening. If we think that life is all about ‘us securing our narrow advantage’ then we going to have a thoroughly miserable existence. And yet the message we receive every single day from this commercially-orientated world of ours is that the world ought to revolve around us and our wins; the message is that life absolutely is all about securing our own personal advantage. No one can deny this that this is the case – that’s how the consumerist paradigm works, after all – it works by having consumers being highly motivated to play the game that they’re supposed to be playing, and consume! Money is what makes the world go round, after all, as the song says.

 

 

Again, this is most emphatically not a contentious issue – we all know very well that consumerism works by getting people to operate on the basis of personal gain, and putting this uninspiring motivation on a pedestal. Such words as ‘successful’ and ‘winner’ say it all – we can only think well of ourselves when we are visibly better than those around us at obtaining personal gain. This is the measure of us as human beings, this is what determines our worth or lack of it. It sounds like we’re going over old ground here but the simple point that we’re making is this – the inbuilt structure of the world (or system) that we live in guides very strongly in the direction of operating on the basis of personal advantage in everything we do, whilst our actual mental health and well-being lie in exactly the opposite direction.

 

The way that the current set-up works is for each and every one of us to be acting and thinking as entirely ‘self-interested beings’. This is beyond any doubt, this is a ‘given’. We can very easily understand why it is that we are being constantly ‘tilted’ in this direction; why it is that we are being ‘formatted by society to be narcissists’. That’s what is required by ‘the current set-up’. There’s nothing else our particular society can do; that’s the world we have elected – however unwittingly – to go down. That’s the nature of the game that we are playing. Pragmatically speaking, all we can do is ‘go along with it’ – the argument is ‘irresistible’, so to speak. And yet at the same time, when we do ‘go along with it’ this is to the very great detriment of our mental health!

 

Our response to this dilemma (and ‘dilemma’ is putting it mildly) is to ignore it, is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We never really talk about it, either on the grass-roots level or – unsurprisingly – on the level of public policy. We do hear regular items about how immersion in social media is destroying our ‘resilience’ and turning us all into ‘snowflakes’, etc. etc. , or how sad it is that no one talks to strangers on the bus anymore because we are all too busy looking at our mobile phones. These are all well-known and deeply comfortable topics – they’re comfortable because they are of a manageable size, they are ‘discrete’ and therefore non-threatening issues, but it’s not mobile phones or social media that’s the real problem here but our whole way of life. The set-up that we are caught up in creates mental suffering for us and prevents us from ever expressing (or knowing) our true potential. The system we are part of is, by its very nature, hostile to our mental health, inimical to our true well-being. We just don’t like to see this.

 

No one can say that this is something that we sometimes discuss, either in private or in public. It isn’t. We daily hear leaders of state pontificating about this and that, discussing this weighty matter or that weighty matter, and it all sounds very serious, but at no time does anyone ever point out the fact that the commercially-orientated way of life which we have opted for (the way of life which in which our primary role is that of a consumer) is fundamentally inimical to our true well-being, that it stunts and distort us and prevents us from ‘being what we could be’. No one ever points out that it is impossible to be in this system and yet at the same time grow as the individuals we truly are. And if we refuse to acknowledge this biggest issue of all, the real elephant in the living room, then how can we possibly make out that we are being ‘serious’ or ‘responsible’ about anything? We might as well dress up as clowns and go to work in the circus – that at least would be an honest profession,, that course of action would at least would have some integrity.

 

This is an extraordinary challenge – we live in a world that is fundamentally hostile to ‘who we really are’ and yet always almost always refuse to see it. This certainly isn’t a situation that we can afford to get too complacent about. The world we live in is a world that conditions us to look outside of ourselves for everything that is good, everything that is worthwhile. This has two linked consequences – [1] is that we automatically identify with a contained or isolated sense of self, a tightly-wrapped sense of identity, and [2] is that we are very strongly motivated to act so as to obtain and secure all these ‘good things’, and this misguided motivation is what powers the commercially-orientated way of life and keeps it going. This system we are part of has one agenda and only one agenda and that is to maintain itself or perpetuate itself, and the only way it can do this is to keep us locked firmly into the position of the need-driven and tightly-defined self that always has to be looking out for its own interests.

 

We all know this well enough on one level, it’s just that we can’t afford to focus on it. It’s not pragmatically useful (on the short-term) to focus on it. All the pressure is on us to succeed within the terms of the gain that we have been inducted into from an early age. We have invested so very much in this game that it no longer seems like a game – it’s not a game to us, it’s everything. It’s all we know). We have waded through blood so much that going back is as painful as going forward, as Shakespeare says in Macbeth. We are locked into the contradictory position of ‘looking for our freedom on the outside’ and the more we do this the more unfree we become in real terms. This is a classic example of a ‘Chinese finger trap,’ as Alan Watts points out somewhere – the more we try to free ourselves the more trapped we become! Society happily provides us with limitless ways and means of trying to free ourselves, all of which embroil us all the more in the mess, but no way of actually recognizing our the true nature of our predicament. Freedom is there, but it’s not to be found on the outside…

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No Technique For Mental Health

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Sham Life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demonic Literalism

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Common Delusion

We are very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health, and what doesn’t. Our ‘automatic’ way to understand mental health is – of course – to see it as a measure of how well adapted we are to the consensus reality (which we take to be the only reality). This is hardly news – we all know how bad it feels to be somehow standing out from the crowd as being ‘strange’ or ‘odd’. This is an experience that every human being, no matter what part of the world they might come from, can relate to.

 

When we are in this situation of ‘looking odd in some kind of unwanted way’ only one thing matters to us (naturally enough) and that is ‘looking normal again’ or, ‘being like everyone else again’. If we can do this then we will have an embarrassing moment for sure but the awkward moment will soon pass and then the chances are that we will quickly get over it. Little ‘blips’ like this happen from time to time and it’s no big deal. When however we are unable to return ourselves promptly to within ‘the bounds of normality’, we’re almost certainly going to go beyond embarrassment and ‘internalise the wrongness,’ so to speak. We’re going to feel the wrongness to be some kind of ‘special taint’ of our own; a thing that ‘belongs to us and us alone’. It is in this case as if we ourselves become the fault or error that needs to be corrected.

 

When we feel like this it is very clear to us, on a deep and often inarticulate level, that ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) means one thing and one thing only, and that is ‘correcting the error’ and returning to the normative state (which is the ‘zone of safety’ where we don’t stand out any more). Other people will also have the same idea of what ‘mental health’ should mean for us – even mental health care professionals will for the most part subscribe to this equilibrium-based view of what MH consists of. It’s as if we simply can’t help defining MH normatively, it’s as if we don’t have any other way of seeing it! And yet there is no way in which this ‘reflex-reaction’ business of according with the normative values of ‘how we are supposed to be’, or ‘how we are supposed to appear’, (which is close to the mark) can be said to be in any way ‘healthy’! What we’re looking at here is simply ‘automatic pain-avoidance’ (or ‘safety-seeking’) and nothing more.

 

We can very clearly see that the movement towards social adaptation, the movement towards the equilibrium value, isn’t anything to do with ‘mental health’ just as soon as we take a good look at it. All are doing here – or rather all we’re trying to do here – is move quickly to a place where there is no more pain or embarrassment, a place where there is ‘no more challenge’. We’re trying to move to a place of place of ‘zero risk’, in other words, and this is a movement in the direction of psychological unconsciousness. This type of movement is always a movement in the direction of unconsciousness because we are abdicating the essential responsibility that we always have for being ‘the way that we actually are’. We are ‘fleeing from reality as it actually is’, which although it is very natural and understandable response on our part, is at the same time not a ‘healthy’ thing to do. It’s not what we could call a ‘healthy thing to do’ because it has punishing consequences both for ourselves and others. It’s not healthy thing to do because it is ‘taking refuge in the collectively-validated lie’ regarding what we say ‘the right way to be’ is, and no matter what else we might say about this state of affairs, whether it is natural or not or understandable or not, we can’t say that it is anything whatsoever to do with ‘mental health’.

 

What mental health consists of can’t be normally normatively defined in the same way certain aspects of physical health (such as body temperature or blood glucose levels) can be, but we can nevertheless say something about it. We can say for example that it isn’t automatically running (or trying to run) to a place of safety every time we are challenged, or we could say that it isn’t pretending that ‘what is happening isn’t happening’! We could also say that mental health isn’t about judging ourselves as being fundamentally ‘flawed’ or ‘at fault’ when we find ourselves painfully excluded from the consensus reality. A better way of expressing all these points is perhaps to say that what we are calling ‘mental health’ is somehow about being ‘true to ourselves’ (and ‘not engaging in any social collusions’) – we are being straight about how we are, rather than cheating or engaging in a deception or cover-up or what of whatever kind. We are not involving ourselves in any collectively-validated games or subterfuges (which is something that our peers will straightaway see as being ‘unhealthy’ or just plain ‘wrong’).

 

Another way of talking about mental health is to say that what that it essentially involves ‘not turning our backs on whatever we are being challenged with’. Life is one big challenge when it comes down to it and we are not putting all our money on the doomed attempt to escape it! ‘Life is difficult,’ as Scott M Peck says at the beginning of The Road Less Travelled, and so ‘being mentally healthy’ (or being ‘growth-orientated’, as we could also say) means facing this truth, even if we don’t do anything else. This type of approach could however very easily be misinterpreted and turned into some kind of a stick to beat ourselves with – we’re all very good at that, after all! It’s not that we ‘have to’ face every challenge that life throws at us (and that consequently, if we don’t face every challenge that life throws at us then we are somehow going ‘wrong’ and are therefore ‘at fault’). It’s not that we have to be ‘mentally healthy’, in other words! That would be completely ridiculous – that would mean that we are running away from the challenge of ‘seeing ourselves as we actually are’ (which is most emphatically NOT someone who never runs away from any challenge). Mental health doesn’t mean ‘trying to live out some ridiculous fantasy idea of who we would like to be, and beating ourselves up when we can’t do this’! That’s just escapism…

 

‘The way that we actually are’ is to be orientated primarily around ‘safety seeking’ or ‘challenge avoiding’. That’s simply the human situation. Even if we think we’re pretty good at taking on challenges, the chances are that we’re taking on the challenges that we do take on in order to avoid some bigger challenge that we won’t even let ourselves know about! This too is ‘the human situation’ – we deceiving ourselves on an ongoing basis and will deny that we are doing so to our last breath! What we are calling ‘mental health’ is therefore just another way of talking about being basically honest with ourselves – we don’t have to be any kind of special way, we don’t have to accord with any normative values that have been set for us by society or by any other group of people, we just have to be basically honest with ourselves about the way we actually are. How could we ever possibly imagine that we could have any sort of go at all at ‘living our lives’ without this precondition of ‘basic honesty’? What do we imagine our lives would amount to, otherwise?

 

Even just to have this understanding about what mental health really is (as opposed to what it is inevitably presented as being) frees us up enormously. We don’t have to ‘do’ anything – just to see the nature of the ‘jinx‘ that was being put on us (or that we were putting on ourselves) makes all the difference. It’s okay to want or to yearn to not be the way that we are (that’s natural, as we have already said), but this has nothing to do with any sort of ‘overarching moral imperative’ – is not wrong that we are the way that we are, it’s just difficult. ‘Being in a difficult place’ is a very different from being ‘wrong’! To be in a difficult place is to be engaged in some sort of challenge and that this is actually an indication of health. What’s not healthy is to hide away from the challenge so effectively that we don’t even know that it is there, and that is what this business of being ‘successful adaptation to the consensus reality’ is all about. That’s what being adapted to the consensus reality is always about.

 

What we implicitly see as being the state of optimal mental health (i.e. ‘being normal’!) is actually a state of ‘hiding away’, it’s actually a state of ‘zero existential challenge’. This is of course the case – being ‘socially adapted’ means that we have agreed to see the world in a particular way, it means that we have agreed to see the world (or ‘life’) in the particular specific way that everyone else sees it! This act of conformity takes us away from the truth straightaway, therefore! It takes us away from our truth. The thing that is so very attractive about this situation (i.e. the situation of ‘the validated lie) is precisely that there is ‘zero existential challenge’ in it – this is the great ‘advantage’ that we are so attracted to. Being able to successfully evade the essential existential central challenge of life is the great advantage, but it is at the very same time the great disadvantage! It’s the ‘upside’ of the deal, to be sure, but it’s also ‘the downside’!

 

This isn’t to say that everyday ‘socially adapted’ life doesn’t have its own challenges, its own difficulties, but rather that we are now seeing everything backwards; we’re fundamentally orientated towards the normatively-defined ‘equilibrium value’ so that all our efforts are efforts to obtain something that doesn’t exist (or ‘return ourselves to some kind of unreal place’). This sort of effort is fundamentally frustrated therefore because what we are trying to obtain isn’t real (because the place that we are trying to return to isn’t actually there). Our illusion – when we are adapted to the consensus reality – is that when we can get rid of all errors (i.e. when we can get things to be ‘the way that we want them to be’) then we will find the fulfilment that were always looking for. Essentially therefore, we are ‘working to avoid the need to work’ and we imagine that we have done this then everything will be wonderful. This is the ‘upside-down’ way of seeing things that we buy into when we are ‘psychologically unconscious’. We’re hypnotized by the goal-state of ‘having no more challenges’. In reality – of course – it doesn’t work this way at all – when (or if) we create for ourselves a situation of ‘zero existential challenge’ then at the same time as doing this we also create for ourselves a situation of very great suffering, very great frustration!

 

The situation of ‘zero challenge’ which we long for so much is actually a situation of ‘zero reality’ – it’s a situation of ‘zero reality’ simply because reality itself is a challenge! It’s not the case therefore that a challenge – when it comes our way – is ‘an error that needs to be corrected’, but rather that that challenge is actually life itself! In the psychologically unconscious state we are therefore trying to run away from life and we validate this ongoing effort to escape from life by saying that we are trying to obtain (or arrive at) an ideal state, the ideal state which is ‘the solution to our problem’. In effect therefore, we’re saying that escaping from the ongoing existential challenge which is life is ‘the right thing to do’! We’re saying that ‘believing the consensus lie’ is the right thing to do’. Our position (although we can’t see it because we’re seeing everything backwards) is to see the situation where we ‘successfully escape from life’ as being concomitant with ‘the state of mental health’! We see the ‘equilibrium state’ (i.e. the state of ‘being the same as everyone else’ or ‘the state of being normal’) as being ‘the thing that will somehow make everything all right’, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. Unconsciousness is the cause of our problems, not the solution. ‘Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour men go mad and rave.’ says Heraclitus. We think that we are worshipping life, whilst really we’re worshipping death!

 

So this brings us back to what we started off by talking about right at the beginning of this discussion, which is that we are all very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health and what doesn’t! How more confused could we be? We’re hypnotised by this mirage, this mirage of ‘what we think is mental health,’ whilst the truth is that what we’re longing for is actually the state of perfect unconsciousness. We’re actually chasing oblivion (or ‘nonexistence’) even though we can’t for the life of us see it. We chasing unreality, but we are seeing everything upside-down so that unreality seems a real and worthwhile goal. We’re seeing unreality as being real and reality as being unreal.  This means that we see mental health as being the state in which we accord with some kind of ‘mind-created abstraction’, some kind of ‘ideal situation’, some kind of ‘normative value’. What we don’t see – when were identified with the thinking mind – is that normative values are phantom appearances and nothing more. The normative value may seem as if it’s going to be ‘the answer to everything’, but that’s just the bait to get is to walk into the trap. That’s just the cheese. Who said that the lure had to be real, after all? All that matters (if the trap is to work) is that we believe in it, and we do…

 

Everyone believes in the illusion and this makes it all the more difficult to doubt it, or stand up and say anything against it. When it comes to it, speaking out about it just isn’t going to work – if you speak out against the illusion you will be shouted down. If you speak the truth you will be discredited. People will laugh at you being so foolish as to ‘not see the obvious’! If you can’t see that what is ‘obviously true’ has to be true (the same as everyone else can!) then clearly there’s something wrong with you. Believing in the ‘common delusion’ is what we all understand to be ‘the healthy way to be’, whilst seeing it to be not true at all what it is marks us out as being strange or odd, and being strange or odd is indistinguishable with ‘having something wrong with you’. Having a viewpoint that doesn’t accord with the consensus viewpoint proves that ‘there’s something wrong with you’, and yet ‘the consensus view of things’ is – by definition – an abstraction (just like an average is an abstraction).  If what we all see as ‘being true’ is an abstraction (as it has to be) then what this means is simply that it is a lie! Just how ‘mentally healthy’ is it to uncritically believe a lie, therefore?

 

 

Art – The high house low! “2011, by Elliot Hundley

 

 

 

Society Is An Advert For Itself

What we have succeeded in doing (without necessarily meaning to) is creating a completely ‘dishonest’ environment for ourselves to live in. We all heard about ‘fake news’ but what this amounts to is a fake world. We can make a very obvious statement at this point and that is to say that ‘living in a fundamentally dishonest environment is without any doubt going to be psychologically harmful for us’! This might seem like too obvious a point to make but we need to make it all the same because it’s such a vitally important one – it’s a vitally important point that we never actually pay any attention to! We might spend money in a health food store or go to the gym twice a week or practice yoga or meditation but we never seem to give any thought to the fact that our actual environment is fundamentally dishonest, and therefore toxic

 

I’m not making a metaphysical point here about the illusoriness of the world or anything like that – what I’m talking about is the fundamentally deceptive nature of the communications we surround ourselves with. Just to give one example – it is abundantly obvious that we are living in a world that is completely dominated by advertisements of one sort or another. Everything is an advert for something! This is therefore just another way of saying that the reality we are presented with on all sides is dishonest – it’s not what it seems to be. Everything we see or read is propaganda for the system that is being daily foisted upon us!

 

Adverts are ‘dishonest’ because they always claim to be about something else than what they’re actually about – the day has long since passed when adverts were purely and simply about providing information about a product. We have moved on a long way since that day. The science of advertising relies on the fact that we are very easily manipulated by ‘unconscious associations’, implications which are there, but which don’t need to be spelt out. These associations work on us without us knowing that we are being worked on. This is just the same as saying that ‘adverts work by manipulation’, which is very obviously true – no one is going to be foolish enough to try to deny this!

 

We might agree that this is true but say that it’s not really a big deal either – we all know that ads are about manipulation, but so what? We have got used it to this stage and presumably we all feel that we’re immune to it. Where advertising surely does become a problem however is when the whole world becomes one giant advert, one giant ‘publicity exercise for itself,’ as John Berger implies here –

Publicity has another important social function. The fact that this function has not been planned as a purpose by those who make and use publicity in no way lessens its significance. Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world. Publicity adds up to a kind of philosophical system. It explains everything in its own terms. It interprets the world.

The entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life. The world smiles at us. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same. …

Adverts aren’t just trying to promote the product that they happen to be showcasing, John Berger says elsewhere – they are, much more importantly, promoting our whole way of life, the particular way of life within which that product has a place. So how could we say that it’s not a ‘big deal’ when our whole environment is designed to manipulate or control us and there’s nothing left in it that’s at all honest? Surely we must realise that there are bound to be seriously adverse psychological consequences to living in a world that is totally biased, a world that is nothing more than ‘an advert for itself!

 

If we were unlucky enough to grow up surrounded by people who always had an ulterior motive, who were always duplicitous, who never did or said anything without a hidden agenda, then our mental health would of course suffer grievously as a result – we’d be in need of an awful lot of therapy if this were the case. The same is true therefore when we live in an environment is always comes with an ulterior motive, an environment that is designed to control us, an environment which always carries some kind of ‘disguised coercive element’. The usual way is for us to be more or less oblivious to the coercive (or controlling) aspect of our environment, and unaware of the all pervading dishonesty of the type of communications that make up the world we have to live in, and so this means that we are ‘unfree without knowing that we are’. Apparently – however – this very peculiar set-up seems to work; apparently – we can get by perfectly well this way!

 

There is a problem here though even if we can’t see it – there’s a problem especially if we can’t see it! In order to accommodate ourselves to this invisibly coercive and deceptive world we have to live on a very superficial level, and this is fundamentally unnatural and therefore unhealthy for us. It has harmful consequences. Human beings are not naturally superficial; we not naturally lacking in curiosity about the world we live in. All we need to do in order to appreciate this is to look at children – children are (of course) full of curiosity, full of questions. Adults  – on the other hand – aren’t! As adults (oddly enough) we seem to swallow whatever line in nonsense it is that is being fed to us at the time. We’ll go along with anything. The alternative seems to be just too frightening for us!

 

So the ‘problem’ that we are looking at here is the problem – we might say – of compulsory superficiality. We are given no choice in this matter – were pushed into this extraordinary limited state of being from a very early age. We don’t know that this fate has befallen us (we have no way of knowing it) but the quality of our lives has been degraded all the same. Another crucial aspect of this ‘compulsive superficiality’ that were talking about here is that we don’t have any genuine volition. If we are being swayed by superficial appearances the whole time then how can we possibly be said to have any genuine volition of our own? This is clearly an impossibility.

 

We can put all of this together – therefore – by saying that we have created the world for ourselves which, rather than being based on the Principle of Truth, is based purely upon the Principle of Deception. We so used to this that we think nothing of it – our eyes are accustomed to the systematic insincerity and so we pay it no heed. As Matthieu Ricard says,

We are very much like birds that have lived too long in a cage to which we return even when we get the chance to fly away. We have grown so accustomed to our faults that we can barely imagine what life would be like without them. The prospect of change makes us dizzy.

In this world it’s not about ‘what’s true’, it’s about what seems to be true. It’s about ‘image rather than content’. We all know this very well – who’s actually going to deny it?  The question we’re asking here is ‘What effect is it actually going to have on us to be living in such a world?’  One answer is to say that the consequences of this state of affairs is that we become completely gullible, i.e. ‘100% manipulable by external controlling factors’. We do what we told to do and we believe what we’re told to believe, and what this comes down to is a complete lack of autonomy. We have ‘lost ourselves,’ in other words. We’ve lost ourselves completely. It is one thing to have autonomy and find yourself in a world that is trying to manipulate you (or amongst people who are trying to manipulate you) and quite another to have never had that  in the first place and to live in a world whose very basis is manipulation and coercion!

 

This is such an extraordinary thing to contemplate – we have created a world that denies us, a world that is ‘against us’! It isn’t the case either – I would argue – that this world is ‘bad for most of us but is good for a small minority’, which is very much what it looks like on the surface, admittedly. What we’re looking at here is a fundamentally unfair system, it is true, but even the so-called ‘winners’ in this game aren’t winning anything worth having! By denying others we deny ourselves, after all. By controlling each other we are just as bound as our victims by our own need to control. It’s actually the business of ‘playing the game’ that denies us, not whether we win or lose, which is of course what we are brought up to believe. ‘Playing the game’ denies us because by always striving for personal advantage (which is what we have been brought up to do) we turn our backs on our true compassionate nature, and if this isn’t a recipe for misery and frustration then nothing is!

 

We can only truly be ourselves by being compassionate  – as all the great Wisdom Traditions tell us; to try to find meaning in life by being selfish and manipulative and competitive  (which is what our society demands of us, whether we see it or not) is a road to nowhere! Meaning in life doesn’t come from being good at controlling, or from being a ‘winner in the game’, but from nourishing the imagination, nourishing the creative and compassionate side of ourselves. Our true nature is incomparably greater than we have been led to believe that it is, but we are afraid to find that out, and this unacknowledged fear drives all sorts of toxicity…