Fully-Programmable Humans

Ours is an age that specialises in the industrial production of fully-programmable human beings whilst at the same time generating the very persuasive illusion that it’s all about personal empowerment, personal freedom, personal choice, etc,.

It could be argued that we have always been subject to the invasive conditioning of whatever society we happen to have been born into and this is undeniable. It might also be argued – with some grounds – that personal freedom has increased dramatically over the last few hundred years. The grosser forms of enslavement and disempowerment would now be considered appalling anachronisms that no right-thinking person would tolerate for a second, but this visible progress could easily distract us from a more subtle form of bondage that has become both all-pervasive and extremely difficult to spot. We can explain how this could be by looking at what Douglas Flemons (1991) calls the Salesman’s Trick

As any good hypnotist, magician, or comedian knows, the offer or availability of freely choosing between alternatives at a given contextual level brings the particularities of choice into the foreground of conscious awareness. This necessarily relegates to the background (i.e. out of awareness and out of the realm of conscious choice) the higher-level context or premise determining the range and meaning of the offered alternatives. The presence of choice (between particularities) at one level masks – and in some sense precludes – choice (between premises) at a more encompassing level.


The way we trick someone in this way, as Flemons says, is by offering them a profusion of trivial choices that capture their attention in such a way that they cannot see beyond them. When we can’t see beyond the domain that is composed of ‘choices that are only trivially different from each other’ then these trivial choices cease to be trivial – they become deeply significant and entirely worthy of our deliberations with regard to what choice we want to go with. The trivial issue becomes a big deal, in other words. Being fully engaged with what we have been provided with means that we are wholly oblivious to the bigger picture, and so what we’re talking about here is simple distraction.

Society empowers us to the extent that it offers us all these trivial choices therefore, but it is a phoney type of empowerment since what’s happening here is that we are being kept unconscious of what’s really going on. We are being granted the freedom not to see that we have lost our freedom, in other words, which is a freedom that feels good at first, since it is easy, but which takes us to a bad place in the long run since we are now lost in a pseudo-world that is made up entirely of issues that don’t really matter one way or the other. Once we look at things in terms of the Salesman’s Trick it becomes much easier to see that this is what contemporary society is all about. It’s not about anything else – only the provision of false and therefore entrapping freedoms. We are provided with false and entrapping freedoms which we compete viciously for (since all of these so-called ‘freedoms’ have to be paid for and only those of us who are successful in the game will be able to afford them).

In the past when society was much cruder in the way that it oppressed its members, it was relatively easy to see the lack of freedom; nowadays we have been so very effectively sucked in by the salesman’s trick that no one is going to see the oppression. We consider ourselves to be educated, sophisticated, cultured, capable of making our own choices in life, and so on and so forth, which makes it all the more difficult for us to understand that we have been made fools of. To see that we’re being taken for fools isn’t of course consistent with our idea of ourselves as being ‘empowered and autonomous individuals’, and so this is another reason for us not to see it (if one were needed).

The way the setup works therefore is that we are kept busy competing for a false type of freedom that we can’t see to be false. It is false because what it comes down to is ‘the freedom to choose between options that are only nominally different’. If the difference was significant then the freedom here would be real but this isn’t the case – all of our so-called choices come down to the same thing – we are choosing to play the game. Actually – however – we aren’t really choosing anything since we don’t know the game to be a game. In order for us to see the game for what it is we would have to be able to see beyond it and this is the one thing we can’t do! This is what the salesman’s trick is all about – distracting us from seeing that we have been cheated. We’ve been given some cheap trinket with one hand whilst being robbed of something which has genuine value with the other. We have been cheated out of the possibility of being genuinely free – because we can’t see the game to be a game we don’t realise that we don’t have to play it. We think it’s simply reality and so we don’t question it.

This isn’t some philosophical or sociological observation that we can amuse ourselves with if we wish, if that happens to be our thing – it is of the most pressing significance to us anything ever could be. What could be more deserving of our attention than the fact that we have been cheated (or have cheated ourselves) of our intrinsic freedom, and have been press-ganged into taking part in a game we can’t see to be a game? We can talk about the advances that we have made in our civilization and point – for example – to technology and medicine, but this is a bit of a decoy. What is all the technology in the world worth if we are ‘unfree without knowing it’? What use is it for us to extend our lifespans (as we have done) if this only means ‘extending the period of our enslavement’? If we are not putting our autonomy first then anything else we work on is merely part of our collective denial, the collective denial of our true situation. If we don’t put the truth first then what good is anything we do?

We would all agree that theft is ‘a bad thing’, and that we ought not to do it, but when it comes to the biggest theft of all – which is the theft of our intrinsic freedom – we don’t say anything about it. This societal game that we have been subsumed within is not life but a poor substitute for it, a sham version of it. Life isn’t a matter of choosing between one trivial choice and another – the act of deciding (as much as we might value it) is a denial of the freedom we have not to waste our time with such nonsense. As Oscar Wilde has said, ‘The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, accept what is worth knowing’. It turns out – unsurprisingly enough – that it is not possible to rob people of their intrinsic freedom in this way (and replace it with the deceptive extrinsic freedom which is provided by the social game) without introducing a ‘jinx’ that can never be remedied. We can celebrate the realm of trivial choice as much as we like, we can talk it up as much as we like, promote it as much as we like, but nothing can ever cover up its essential hollowness – or at least, not for very long.

Our socially-sanctioned ‘job’ – so to speak – is to try to cover up that hollowness as best we can. That’s the denial – our duty is our denial and our denial our duty. We put a spin on this however and say that we’re ‘chasing our dreams’ or ‘striving to achieve our life goals’, or whatever else, but what we’re really trying to do is fill an existential void (and whatever we chuck into that void is going to disappear without a trace). That is – of course – how it always is with existential voids. Were we not constrained to live out our lives within a superficial game that we mistake for reality then there would be no existential void, and so that in itself would be the cure for our jinxed situation. Instead, however, we go in the opposite direction and engage all the more feverishly in the societal game. ‘More and better doing,’ is seen as the answer to all of our ills; ‘set goals and persevere until you attain them,’ we are told. ‘Gain the confidence that comes with successful purposeful action’ is the message we are given – ‘Keep on striving and don’t ever be discouraged, don’t ever be beaten. Make sure you stay positive no matter what…’

Our goals are just ‘the game’ however. Our striving is the game, our attempts to find validation for our lives within the social framework is the game, and so we’re trying to cure ourselves with the very thing that made us sick in the first place. The problem isn’t that we ‘aren’t trying hard enough’ but rather that the goals which we have been provided with are lures which are being used to trap us. We’ve been tricked on two fronts: [1] we’ve been tricked into thinking that what we’re doing is what we really want to do (when it’s not), and [2] we’ve been tricked into believing that these activities will make us happy (when they absolutely won’t). Ours is not an age marked by our valuing of the autonomy of the individual, but the exact reverse of this. The ‘valuing of the individual’ which we hear so much about in the West is a myth – we’re buying our individuality off the shelf, and so what we’re saying isn’t true. We value the appearance of individuality, not the thing itself…





When Consciousness Is The Enemy

The ego’s Number One Concern is that it should not see itself for what it is. If we could understand this then we would understand everything! If we could understand this then we would be freed from the web of illusion that the ego is forever spinning…

The ego’s game is to run away from seeing itself: to succeed in this game is pleasure, to fail pain. This game is all-consuming, which is to say, it doesn’t leave any space for anything else. The whole point is that there is no space left for anything else; if we saw that there was something else, something beyond the game of good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and pain, then the game would be over at that point. Then there would be no game.

The game allows no space for anything that is not the game and that is how all games work, by eclipsing reality, by substituting themselves for reality. The game for us is all there is, and for this reason it cannot be seen to be a game. Right versus wrong, pleasure versus pain, constitutes a continuum and there is no place to be on this continuum that is not about winning failing or succeeding, gaining or losing. We cannot have any awareness other than the compulsive type of awareness that is conditioned by polarity, conditioned by the continuum of [+] and [-].

We have no choice but to be busy when we are playing the game, in other words, and this busyness consumes our attention, with nothing at all left over. Being busy in the way that we are (being constantly concerned with the need to succeed rather than fail) is what keeps us from ever seeing the ego for what it is. Succeeding rather than failing is all the ego cares about, and this is just another way of saying that all the ego cares about is itself, which is not exactly news to anyone! That’s what makes the ego ‘the ego’, after all.

There’s more to this than meets the eye, however (or less to this than meets the eye, if we want to put it that way). We all know that all the ego cares about is the ego – that’s common knowledge – what we don’t see is that this self-obsessed ego doesn’t actually exist. When we identify with it as a viewpoint and put all our attention onto the never-ending business of ‘trying to win rather than lose’ then this absorption in the game of gain versus loss creates the very strong impression that there is someone there to either succeed or fail, win or lose. The more we struggle the more we reify the concept of ‘the struggler’!

This is the ‘fruit’ of our non-stop busyness, therefore: the fruit of our non-stop busyness is the perception that ‘I am this self’ (which is also the perception that ‘I am not anything else’). Here in the Western world we place a very high value on being busy, on industry, on the production of ‘stuff’  – ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’, we say, but the real reason we value busyness and striving for success so much is that we wish to reify the concept of ‘the one who is striving’, ‘the one who stands to be either a success or a failure’. This is a basic insight.

All our efforts are going into the project of creating (or trying to create) a comforting illusion therefore, and were we to see this it would of course put a very different complexion on how we view our activities. There’s nothing so very inspirational about this after all – what’s so inspirational about spending our entire lives creating and maintaining a suffering-producing illusion (because that’s what the ego is), without ever having a clue as to what we’re really doing and not wanting to know either? This is hardly the sort of behaviour we can feel good about, or award ourselves medals for, and yet – somehow – we do. That’s exactly what we do.

Consciousness is our enemy when we are in this modality of being; were we to gain insight into what we’re doing, and what our motivation is behind it all, the game would we be well and truly up for us. This is why we have so hysterically demonised the use of psychedelic drugs, for example – because we absolutely do not want to have any insight into what the real reason for all our activity is. We absolutely don’t want to see the ego for what it is – which is to say, a phoney, a pretender – an impostor hiding behind a smokescreen of fake, time-wasting activities. This is what gives rise to the ‘taboo against knowing who you are’ that Alan Watts talks about. This is why we are conducting a covert ‘war against consciousness’.

It’s perfectly understandable that we don’t want to see this, therefore – it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to see, an extraordinarily challenging thing to see. Catching a glimpse of what we’re really up to with this business of identifying with the ego (and our consequent total immersion in the game of pleasure versus pain, advantage versus disadvantage) is something rather like catching a glimpse of the devil himself! No one wants to see the devil but when we’re not aware of him (when we have our heads firmly in the sand) then we’re in trouble! When we talk about the Shadow this is what we really talking about; the shadow is a code word for our awareness of the dodgy business that’s secretly going on in the background; we have been recruited into a pattern of thinking, a pattern of behaviour, that is supposedly all about celebrating life, enjoying life, exploring life, but which is actually the very antithesis of this. It is actually an act of denial.

There is a smokescreen of nefarious activity going on that we get lost in, absorbed in, caught up in, which implicitly claims to be legitimate but which is actually all about perpetuating our web of illusions. It’s nefarious because by lavishing all our attention on the fake we miss out on the real. By devoting ourselves to the false, we neglect the true. We don’t realise it, but we are betraying ourselves – we’re betraying ourselves because we are forever striving to benefit who we aren’t at the expense of who we are.

We do gain awareness of this, ever so often, and when we do there is generally a lot of pain involved. There is pain because of the difficulty in processing the initial revelation, and there is pain because of the awareness that everything we have painstakingly invested in over the years is no use to us at all. This is a long drawn-out process of disillusionment and disinvestment and there is nothing we like less than disillusionment and disinvestment. If we could ‘stick the course’ then the insight – however bitter – would liberate us, but the chances are that we will be discouraged from this and rather than sticking the course we will attempt to reverse the process and run away from the painful awareness. Running away from unwanted awarenesses is – after all – a long-standing habit of ours…

Society itself – which is the game of the ego writ large – will discourage us from ‘staying the course’. The type of ‘painful awareness’ that we’re talking about here involves disillusionment not just with the social world that we have adapted (which is based on the values of competition, goal-orientatedness, and self-promotion) but also with ourselves, with our own ‘personal game’, so to speak, and for this reason the process of disillusionment is pathologized on all sides. Our painful awareness is treated like a sickness – we will be told that we are suffering from a mental health condition. We are almost inevitably going to ‘side with the game’ (or side with the consensus view) in this and this is of course hardly surprising given that ‘the game is all we know’. We don’t know that ‘the game is only a game’, and as a result we are much too frightened to let go of it…





Art: GOOD AND EVIL, (Straatkunst), on pinterest.ie







Making The Ego Great Again

The paradigm we operate under, in this modern rational era of ours, is the ‘Ego-Repairing’ one. Any mental health problems we have are always seen (either implicitly or explicitly) as being due to a lack of buoyancy or resilience on the part of the all-important ego. Our ego isn’t confident enough and so this missing confidence – so it seems to us – needs to be reinstated (however we are going to do that). Our ego-strength is insufficient for the daily demands that are being made upon it, we say, and so we need to build it up again. This is all we need to know about the Ego-Repairing Paradigm – it is nothing if not obvious!

This approach doesn’t work, however. We’re nothing if not determined in our attempt to make it work but we’re also remarkably reluctant to look at the fact that we aren’t really getting anywhere with it. We don’t have a lot – if anything – to say about this, and the reason for this is possibly that we simply can’t see any other approach that we could take. We can’t see what else we could be doing and so we really don’t want to admit that we might have gone down a dead end. If it’s the only game in town then we are obliged to keep on playing it, no matter what secret doubts we might have on the subject. The important thing is not to talk about these doubts, and we don’t!

Our problem is that we are taking a very narrow view of things and can’t for the life of us see that we are. This is what the rational ego is – it’s a narrow view of the world that we can’t – from this self-same vantage point – see to be narrow; it is a narrow viewpoint that has on this account become subjectively everything to us, a viewpoint that has subsumed within itself the whole of what is possible. The rational ego isn’t really who we are, in other words – it’s just a narrowing down of attention that we can’t see to be a narrowing down of attention. It is a limited or superficial version of who we are that we can’t see to be superficial or limited. This being so, it clearly doesn’t make any sense to see mental health as being somehow synonymous with having a ‘new and improved ego’. The robustness of the ego isn’t really the thing here. Bolstering up the beleaguered ego isn’t the healthy thing to do – it isn’t healthy because ‘healthy’ means whole and that is exactly what the rational ego isn’t. The ego thinks that it is ‘the Whole of Everything’ (it’s ‘a fraction that thinks itself to be an integer’, as Joseph Campbell says), but it isn’t. It thinks that it is (or should be) the boss, but it isn’t. It’s a fake boss, a usurper, just like the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham was a usurper.  Our ego wants to be ‘It’, as Alan Watts says, but it isn’t ‘It’. The self-construct can never be ‘It’! That I am It (or could be It if I try hard enough) is a vain fantasy that I keep on buying into; this is what repairing the ego construct is all about – ‘making the ego great again’, when the plain truth of the matter is that it never was.  The over-inflated, over-valent ego is a sickness we cannot see as such – we are busy worshipping a false god here!

The rational ego-identity is essentially nothing more than a boundary or dividing line, when it comes down to it. Thought fragments, as David Bohm says, and the ego-identity is the fruit of that fragmentation. The rational identity is constructed on the basis of the boundary between self and other and – whilst we might not disagree with this (how could we?) – what we don’t tend to think about, or talk about, is that where we draw this dividing line (or how seriously) we take it is entirely up to us. That depends upon how free we feel, how relaxed we feel. On a ‘good day’ we don’t bother hiding behind our ego boundaries so much at all; on a good day we can even ‘forget ourselves’ for a while. We can get ‘out of our heads‘. The times when we are happy and at ease are not the days when we are busy affirming our thought-created identity! What we don’t want to look at – in other words – is the way in which the concrete identity or ego is our own construct.

How sharply we perceive the boundary between self and other depends upon the state of mind that we’re in, it depends entirely upon our ‘inner state’. It depends upon how ‘up tight’ we are – when we feel that we are threatened then we retreat back into our shelter (so to speak) like a snail going back into its shell or a sea anemone snapping back into its thick protective trunk or capsule, and when that threat has passed then we slowly and tentatively come back out again and extend ourselves into the world. So the sea anemone’s trunk isn’t ‘who we are’ – who we are is the gracious flower-like creature that we see when there isn’t a threat. When we’re in the grip of fear then we retreat into the Domain of Thought – we retreat into the Domain of Thought and straightaway become sharply defined and thereby isolated – the pain or distress that we’re feeling isn’t due to the fear (contrary to what we might believe) it is due to us narrowing ourselves, it’s due to the sharpness of the divide between the self and the rest of the world, and the acute sense of separateness that this has created. We’re too ‘boundaried’, in other words. We might think that being boundaried is a great thing, but it turns out that it isn’t at all. How can being fragmented (or being isolated from our environment) be a good thing after all? We obtain the rewarding feeling of ‘increased psychological security’, but this safe place – as every psychotherapist knows – turns out to be our prison.

We exist somewhere between the two extremes of ‘being total trapped’ and ‘being totally free’, it might be said. In the first case, we experienced a profound suffering that comes when all we know is ‘the self in its isolation’, and in the second case there is the incomprehensible relief that comes when there is no more dividing line. Where we exist on this range of possibilities is dependent upon how tightly we are clinging to our boundaries (or contrariwise, upon how willing we are to let go of them). The former is a ‘positive’ act in that it has to be carried out deliberately whilst the latter is a ‘negative’ one since it involves surrender rather than aggressive self-assertion. It is incongruous therefore that our default position (the position that we as a culture insist on) should be that our mental health comes out of the healthiness or robustness of our mind-created boundaries, the mind-created boundaries that separate us from what is actually real.

This isn’t to say that the answer to our difficulties is simply to erase the boundary between self and other (in the spirit, it might seem, of the Buddhist slogan ‘no self no problem’) – the process by which we go beyond our notions of who we think we are (or the process by which we extend ourselves, as Scott-Peck says) is a very slow one and it proceeds in an organic way. This type of change cannot be achieved ‘convulsively’, as Jung puts it, as a result of us willing it to happen. That is merely the characteristic hubris of the ego-construct. The natural order of things has to be respected and that natural order is in no hurry to get to some crappy mind-created goal! The Dao cannot be rushed, but the point is not to ‘rush’ it but to trust it and stop trying to impose our own ideas on it quite so unreflectively. To keep on trying to repair the ego past the point where this endeavour becomes pragmatically untenable is only making more trouble for ourselves. We are creating ‘New Improved Suffering’, so to speak. We are in fact guilty of ‘socially engineering narcissism’ under the guise of promoting mental health!

If on the other hand we were to reverse our tactics and try to get rid of the egoic identity then this also backfires on us – who is it that wants to get rid of the ego identity other than that same ego identity, after all? Who wants to get rid of the self apart from the self? Where does our intention to change our thinking come from apart from this very thinking itself? Despite appearances to the contrary, there’s nothing that needs to be repaired – when we get to the point where we feel that we need to repair the ego (or shore up the boundaries of the self) this means that we have in fact outgrown it and so the helpful thing to do here is to see this and assent  – to whatever extent we are naturally able to  – the process that it is – of its own accord  – unfolding. This is ‘trusting the natural process’, and nothing comes harder for us than this! The ‘Non-Repairing’ (or ‘Non-Fixing) Paradigm is a subtle approach in a world where subtlety is not part of our repertoire. The ‘Non-interfering Paradigm’ is a subtle approach in a world where the only thing we seem to understand is having a great big hammer, and not being shy to use it…







The Natural Is Sufficient

We often hear that we should ‘love ourselves’ but this is much more problematic than it sounds. Obviously, it’s not helpful for us to hate ourselves or spend all our time criticising ourselves and so it might seem as if the thing to do is to turn this around and love ourselves instead. Instead of ‘negative self-talk,’ we argue, we should engage in the beneficial positive variety. Positive is good, we say. Positive will do the job. Positive will sort out the problem. This just doesn’t work out for us however, no matter what we might think – all we do when we try to flip things over in this apparently convenient way is involve ourselves in a mind-created polarity, and there is never any joy in this! There is never any joy to be had from involving ourselves in a polarity because all that happens then is that we go around in perfect circles – we’re flipping back and forth from one artificial attitude to another, and no good can ever come out of that.

What helps is not the artificial but the natural and the natural can never be contrived. As Wang Pi says, ‘The natural is sufficient. If one strives, he fails.’The question is therefore, is this hypothetical situation where we love ourselves and say helpful things to ourselves a natural one? Is this a natural and wholesome state of affairs, or is it just ‘how we think we should be’? Is it a real thing or is it just an idea that we have somehow gotten into our heads? The answer to this question is very clear – the situation where we love ourselves, or where have positive regard for ourselves and engage in positive self-talk, is most emphatically not a natural one. On the contrary, this is a situation that we ourselves have to deliberatively engineer, a situation that we have to strain ourselves in order to bring about, and even then we’re never going to get there, not really. It’s an unattainable goal. The best we will be able to do (the very best) is to repress one half of the love/hate polarity so that the other side of the coin stays out of sight. It will be there alright – it’ll always be there – but we might be able, with any luck, to push it out of the way for a while. Nothing more satisfactory than this is possible when it’s a polarity that we’re dealing with – what we’re talking about here is ‘the Sickness of Right and Wrong’, after all…


What we have quite lost sight of (in our frenzy of overthinking) is that the ‘natural state of being’ is one where we aren’t trying to force any particular state of affairs, where we aren’t trying – as we always are trying – to compel the world to conform to our cockeyed ideas for it. The natural is a state of ‘non-striving’ as Wang Pi says: all striving and straining belongs to the world of the artificial. All scheming and planning belongs to the world of the artificial. All methods and theories belong to this world too… The natural state of being is the uncontrived or spontaneous one and so there is nothing more to be said on the matter – ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘have to’s’ have no place here – all that is mere pernicious interference. Our natural and uncontrived state is the unselfconscious state, just as a young child is unselfconscious, and this absence of self-consciousness means not liking ourselves and not disliking ourselves either – it means not thinking about ourselves at all.

Unselfconsciousness is the Eden from which we as adults have been evicted – if there ever was an essential understanding of what is meant by the Fall, this is it. Curiously, we celebrate the adult state and take the attitude that nothing of the innocent ‘child-state’ is of interest or worth to us; being an adult is where it’s at as far as we’re concerned and when we are adults then everything we do is based on calculation, everything we do is based on the inherently painful state of ‘self-consciousness’! Everything is considered, everything is calculated, nothing is left to chance… This might sound eminently prudent (from one point of view, at least) but it is anything but – when we’re caught up in this loop of monitoring ourselves, comparing the information we get as a result of our monitoring with our notions of how things should be, and then regulating or managing ourselves on this basis, then all innocence has been lost. Childhood has been slain. Everything genuine about us is lost in this case and yet -somehow – we don’t see anything wrong with this at all. On the contrary, we are constantly looking for new, improved ways of regulating our emotions, managing our anxiety, anger or pain, and so on.

All our talk of ‘self-esteem’, which is a subject mental-health workers have been wittering on about for over half a century now, is further evidence of this peculiar sickness of ours – all self-esteem – whether it be categorized as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ comes out of our self-consciousness, our self-monitoring. When we are free from this affliction then we have no self-esteem, either of the good or the bad variety. We aren’t thinking about ourselves and so we can’t have any ‘self-esteem’! Mental health – we assume – must involve seeing us seeing ourselves in a positive way; most of us would probably agree with this idea but if we do go along with this handy formula then what we’re actually saying is that being compulsively self-conscious is actually a sign of mental health, which is a truly bizarre position to take. Were it possible to be self-conscious and yet at the same time ‘always see ourselves in a positive way’ (or were it to be possible for us to be monitoring and controlling ourselves and at the same time always be able to get things to work the way we think they should do) then there might be some basis for us taking this position. But – as we’ve already pointed out – what we’re dealing with here is a mind-created polarity and all that’s going happen as a result of our unwise ‘flirtation with polarity’ is that we are going to be forever going around in circles, and this is a state of interminable frustration rather than being a manifestation of mental well-being. This is dukkha, which is the subject of the Buddha’s ‘First Noble Truth’.

Mental health, according to our cultural bias, can be defined as that state of being in which we are able to successfully regulate ourselves. We see mental health is being a state of ‘successful self-consciousness’, in other words. This is the unconscious message or implication behind the term ‘positive psychology’ – what else does ‘positive’ mean, apart from the indirect (but very seductive) implication that ‘things are going to go the way we think they ought to go’? The idea that mental health means being perfectly natural (or being spontaneous) simply doesn’t occur to us. There’s no appeal for us in this because it gives us absolutely nothing to grab hold of – it’s actually got ‘nothing to do with us’, as David Bowie says in The Man Who Sold The World, and we don’t like this. We want to have some kind of valuable and important role to be playing in the process; we want to be in charge, to be quite blunt about it. We want to be in charge, but this comes out of fear (or our lack of trust in the natural order of things, which can take perfectly good care of itself). The urge to dominate and control our own mental processes most certainly doesn’t come from any good place.

We want to be in control and make sure that we ‘love ourselves rather than despise ourselves’ (or make sure that our mental processes go the way we think they ought to go, rather than any other ‘erroneous’ way) and because of this we automatically tend to think that control and mental health belong together in the same sentence, which they absolutely don’t. These two words should never be conflated, not under any circumstances! Control (when we’re speaking about the psychological realm) always comes out of fear and nothing that comes out of fear (or ‘the compulsive avoidance of risk’) can never be seen as healthy. Fear always shows itself in terms of conservatism, in terms of ‘holding on,’ while courage or equanimity shows itself in the uncluttered willingness to ‘let go’. What do we think is the more mentally healthy – ‘stubbornly holding on’ (i.e. controlling) or ‘letting go’? Struggling to stay in control when all the signs are that this isn’t going to be possible isn’t an indication of courage or equanimity – obviously enough! It’s an indication of something else entirely…

The state of being innocent or spontaneous or perfectly unselfconscious is a very mysterious one and – as a compulsively rational culture – we aren’t very happy about that. We aren’t very happy about that at all. We like to ‘know what’s going on’ because ‘knowing what’s going on’ is a very important part of being in charge or being in control. We can’t be ‘in control’ when everything is all mysterious, after all! Not knowing what’s going on seems like a massive disadvantage to us, and definitely not something to feel good about. It is our desire to know ‘what’s going on’ and ‘control what’s going on’ that creates the self-reflexive knot of tension that we call ‘the ego’ or ‘self’. Our mental well-being is not something to be obtained cheaply via the deeply delusional strategy of spinning the polarity wheel – we’re going to have to do better than this! We’re going to have to do a lot better than this… It’s not extra helpings of cleverness we need but wisdom, and wisdom has something to do with the understanding of what kind of a beast polarity is, and why doesn’t pay to mess around with it. Cleverness traps us, we might say, whilst wisdom sets us free. Cleverness leads us in the direction of creating a positive reality all around us, just as a snail secretes a hard shell around itself, but what makes sense for the snail doesn’t make sense for us, psychologically speaking! We are, via this act, denying our own nature and denying reality itself. Reality is open just as our nature an open nature, so when we see create the positive (or ‘defined’) reality all around us what exactly is it that we’re doing? We have forsaken the natural for the artificial and once this has happened – once we have made this ‘mistake’ – all we can do is to keep on trying to remedy the problems that come about as a result of us unwisely interfering with the natural process with yet more ‘problem-producing interference’…






Image – wallpapercave.com








Exploratory Mode

One definition of mental health could be to say that what is healthy (what leads to our psychological well-being) is when there is a movement away from the self, away from who we think we are. This of course is counterintuitive in a big way; we would tend to see mental health as being a measure of the robustness of the self, the robustness of who we think we are. This is what almost every mental health worker would believe to be the case – this is what we are trained to believe, after all. There is (whether we know it or not) an unspoken or taken for granted description of reality that we all buy into and ‘who we are’ (or ‘what it means to be a person’) is an important part of this official description. This is the ‘equilibrium view’ and the equilibrium view is kept in place by everyone who subscribes to it. It is therefore inevitable that any collective or agreed-upon definition of mental health (whether explicit or implicit) will be normative with respect to the equilibrium values.

In current times – when the criteria we use to gauge what is mentally healthy and what is not is collectively decided upon by groups of ‘like-minded’ experts, who can essentially be seen as an elite club who are even more homogenous in their thinking than the wider social group – we are moving very strongly in the ‘equilibrium direction’. The question is, therefore, how can we allow a tightly-knit collective to be in charge of how we understand mental health when this situation of ‘operating as a collective’ is itself profoundly unhealthy (which it clearly is when we look at things in a ‘non-institutional’ way)? Imposing implicitly-accepted group-norms on individuals suffering from mental health conditions is of course an act of aggression that we can’t see as such – it is an act of aggression disguised as ‘helping’.

Any independent viewpoint on the matter is always going to take issue with how ‘the club’ agrees to see things. A ‘club’ is made up, after all, of people who have tacitly agreed to put their individuality to one side in favour of how everyone else sees things. In a purely practical way, it is very hard (if not impossible) for a person to further their career within a profession if they don’t take the party line. The greatest danger facing humankind – we could say – is the danger of mass-mindedness; as Jung says, mass-mindedness (far from being a good thing) is the breeding ground for psychic illnesses and pestilences. As a breeding ground for psychic malaises of all descriptions mass-mindedness can hardly be expected to come up with a helpful or enlightened way of dealing with the problem that it itself has (at least in part) created! The non-equilibrium way of looking at mental health is, as we have said, to see it as being the movement away from who we think we are, which is also the movement away from who the consensus mind (i.e. society) says we are. Once we put it like this it is of course very easy to see why, as Jung very clearly states, the process of individuation isn’t exactly encouraged by the people and institutions around us. The ‘consensus mind’ – so to speak – is incapable of appreciating or valuing anything other than itself and since the process of individuation is a process which leads away everything that the consensus viewpoint values this process (which is the process of growth) is going to be actively inhibited. As far as equilibrium thinking is concerned, any deviation from normative values equals ‘error’ and nothing more and errors only exist to be corrected.

All of us have two distinct tendencies at work within us – one (we might say) is the conservative tendency and the other is what we might call the exploratory one. In the first case the values of the past are what matters and all change is regarded with suspicion; in the second case ‘the old ways’ are seen as a trap precisely because of our attachment to them and our subsequent reluctance to outgrow them and what is of interest to us (instead of repeating the established pattern forever) is seeing what lies beyond the known and the familiar. Or, as we could also put it, conservative mode is where we value security above all else and exploratory mode is where we value the truth more than security. ‘Truth’ and ‘security’ are always opposed for the simple reason that, in truth, there is no such thing as ‘security’! And if we were to put this the other way around, we could say that the only way we can find this supposed thing we call ‘security’ is by firmly turning our backs on what is actually true. It’s either the one way or the other, in other words. We can’t play it safe and yet be interested in the truth at the same time.

We can reformulate our definition of mental health at this point simply by saying that what is beneficial for us is to move in the direction of becoming more aware. From a conventional point of view this statement doesn’t make any sense of course because we are convinced that we are perfectly conscious already. We’re not however, that’s just an idea that we have – the idea that we are actually aware when we are not. When we are in conservative mode then we have thoughts about the world rather than being aware of it. We judge the world and have beliefs about it rather than taking a genuine interest in it. It is often said that thinking is how we make sense of the world, but it would be more true to say that thinking is how we protect ourselves against the real, and insulate ourselves against change. Conservative mode is essentially where we live in our maps or models of reality in preference to ‘the thing itself’ (which doesn’t offer us the security that our systematic representations of it do). If we were to ask why reality doesn’t offer us any security – which is of course a perfectly reasonable question to ask – then the answer would be because the real cannot be defined or categorized or modelled, since it is always infinitely more than the boxes we attempt to squeeze it into. If we value our boxes (or our maps) more than the truth, then the truth (or ‘reality’, if we want to put it like that) is always going to appear as an enemy, as curious as this may sound.

We have defined mental health or mental well-being as being ‘a movement away from what we know’ – anything else simply takes us into a stagnant cul-de-sac. Conservative Mode takes us into a stagnant cul-de-sac. What helps us is to question what we think we know therefore; this is helpful because when we question what we thought we knew then it inevitably proves to be not as true as we thought it was after all and – when we see this ‘what we thought to be true’ can no longer imprison us in the way that it did when it was unquestioned. This is a simple enough principle to understand but a problem arises just as soon as we start using a model to work with difficulties in mental health, and insist therefore that all mental health workers subscribe to this model in order to ensure ‘best practice’, as we say. The problem is that – without appreciating it – we have fallen into Conservative Mode ourselves, as if this were somehow a helpful or appropriate thing to do…





Purposefulness and Spontaneity

There are two modes in which we human beings can exist, so to speak – one being the spontaneous mode and the other the purposeful one. These are like the ‘two gears’, so to speak. These are the only two gears we’ve got. When we are in Purposeful Mode then everything has to be done deliberately, obviously enough – everything we do has to be done ‘on purpose’! Effort and intention is needed on our part and if we slack off at all then the job won’t get done.The job won’t do itself. In Spontaneous Mode there is no design, no calculation and no intention, as we all know very well. There is attention on our part, and our willing (but not deliberate) participation is needed, but it’s not like laboriously rolling a stone uphill. The project – whatever it is – has a life of its own and we are not driving it. Purposeful activity takes us to an known destination and so it has to be guided and kept on track every inch of the way; spontaneous activity on the other hand takes us somewhere unknown, and because it is taking us somewhere unknown we can hardly ‘guide’ it! This is a genuinely mysterious process, and that’s why so profoundly interesting.

There’s more to it than just this, however. What we’ve said so far is all well-known stuff, but the real nub of the matter is something that we very rarely stop to consider, if indeed we ever consider it at all. The truly remarkable thing is that in Spontaneous Mode there is no ‘actor’ all, no ‘causal agent’, no ‘doer’, and seeing as how this ‘actor’, this ‘causal agent’, this ‘doer’, is a pretty big deal for us, that is a rather significant fact. The purposeful doer is who we think we are, this is our identity and this is obviously very important for us. It goes without saying that our ‘identity’ is very important to us; it would be no exaggeration to say that – for most of us, most of the time – it is all about our identity. Identity is the name of the game, so to speak; identity is the star of the show. When we do something we want everyone to know that we are doing it (or have done it); we need to have ‘ownership’ of it. In our culture prizes are awarded for successful doing, status is accorded (how else would we know if we are winners or losers?) When we win this gives us a very special sort of identity, the sort of identity everyone wants… So it is clearly of the greatest importance that we can lay claim to the ‘doing’ in question so that everyone can know that it is our doing and no one else’s. It is the identity of the actor or doer in question that is being rewarded (or acknowledged), after all.

Where spontaneous activity is concerned this simply cannot be done however – I can be awarded a prize for a portrait or landscape I have painted or a novel or poem I have written but at the same time I know very well that there was no causal agent, no ‘doer’ behind it. It ‘did itself’ and so I can’t have ownership of it; legally I might be able to claim ownership, but in any real sense I can’t. Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, there was no right way to do what was done, and no wrong way either, and so there can be no winners or losers, no successes and no failures. There is no such thing as ‘getting it right’ when it comes to spontaneity because we don’t know where we were going in the first place; if what has been produced is unique then there can be no comparisons with what other people have done either and so there can’t be any competition, dear though that is to our hearts. Psychologically speaking, spontaneity is how we become free from the defined identity or purposeful self; it is how we find release from this cumbersome, awkward, limited and misrepresentative version of ‘who we are’ rather than being a means of consolidating and validating this supposed identity.

This is why we as a culture put such an overwhelming emphasis on games, goals and competitive effort – because it consolidates and validates the concrete identity. This is the real reason we value purposefulness so much – because it has the effect of making the self-concept seem real to us, because it verifies the defined identity. As a culture we are dedicated to the endless celebration of the idea that we have about ourselves and there is no other way of putting this – we are all about ‘the mind-created identity’, as we have just said. That’s the name of the game – creating and maintaining the ego, as if there with this were the best and most inspiring thing we could think of. We pride ourselves as being cultured, mature and sophisticated as a culture, and the best thing we can think of doing – as a collective – is endlessly validating the ego-construct!

From a ‘mental health point of view’, this turns out to be not such a great idea at all (as we might of course expect). To be emphasising goals and games and competitive effort (i.e. to be defining ourselves by ‘comparing ourselves with other people who are playing the same game as us’) is in no way what we might call ‘a healthy way to conduct our lives’. Everyone knows that this is not good news; it brings out the worst in us rather than the best, despite the hype that we are subjected to with regard to the wonderful virtues of ‘competition’ and ‘striving for excellence’, and all of that tiresome old stuff. It’s not really excellence as such that we’re striving for but ‘excellence that I can personally lay claim to’ (i.e. enhancement of the ego) which is how the narrow ‘sense of self’ gets to feel good about itself, however transiently. Spending all our time vainly trying to validate the ego-construct is ‘unhealthy’ in as much as it never leads us the direction of well-being or happiness or anything like that. Quite the reverse is true – we are travelling in the direction of becoming more and more self-engrossed, to the point where narcissism (whether we like to admit it or not) has now become an accepted social norm. When we put all emphasis on the idea we have of ourselves (when we put all our money on purposefulness) then this means – needless to say – that we are neglecting the other, more essential side of ourselves, which is spontaneous in nature rather than purposeful. Actually, even saying this is misleading since the purposeful self isn’t who we are at all, it’s just an act that we put on. It’s an act that we put on because we get rewarded for it; we get paid in cash for successful social adaptation, as Jung says.

If there is a situation where we put all the emphasis on the act we’re putting on then, as a result of ignoring who we are behind this act, this situation is not going to be one that is conducive to our mental well-being, obviously enough! Because of our dedication to the game that we (and everyone else) are playing we ‘forget who we are behind it all’, just as all the mystic traditions say, and in this forgetting there is nothing but misery and confusion; we have allowed our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ and allowing our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ (i.e. by mere mechanical impulses) is hardly going to result in our happiness or fulfilment. We say that happiness, peace of mind, creativity, compassion, well-being, freedom etc, are very important to us, but our overwhelming emphasis on the concrete identity takes us in a quite different direction. Our words and our actions have parted ways therefore, they have nothing to do with each other – we say that we value well-being and mental health and personal growth and yet we put all the emphasis on constructing and consolidating the defined identity and this means that our fine words don’t mean a thing!

The defined or purposeful self can never be creative, never be compassionate, or happy, or peaceful or anything like that. It absolutely can’t. The PS can never be sincere or genuine and if it can’t be sincere/genuine then how on earth is it ever going to find happiness or peace? How on earth are we (when we’re playing at being the concrete identity) ever going to feeling in any way well? If we’re not sincere then that is an impossibility; if we are ‘putting on an act’ the whole time then actual well-being (as opposed to ‘theatrical well-being’) is an impossibility; it’s an impossibility because the defined identity isn’t who we are. Just as long as we put all the emphasis on it we are always going to be fundamentally insincere, fundamentally ‘conflicted’. The purposeful self – no matter how many prizes it wins, no matter how much social approval/validation it gets – can never be genuine. No matter how much it wants to be genuine (and it really does want to be genuine, it wants this very much indeed) it never can be. The purposeful self can never be sincere no matter how hard it tries because it isn’t who we are, and what could be more straightforward to understand than this?

Just as long as we are identified with this narrowly-defined sense of ourselves then this is always the situation we are going to find ourselves in; the situation of wanting very much to be sincere (since that is how we get to know we are ‘a real person’) when this is an absolute impossibility for us is clearly not going to be conducive to any sort of well-being. It’s not actually going to be conducive to anything apart from ongoing frustration and suffering, and this isn’t in the least bit hard to see. Trying to live life on the basis of who we’re not (i.e. on the basis of the socially-approved identity) whilst ignoring our true nature (as if it had nothing to do with us) is not going to pan out well for us, no matter what the mental health ‘experts’ might tell us. The mental-health experts haven’t considered the possibility that we aren’t the ego-construct – if they had then they wouldn’t be advocating going all out to fix that ego-construct every time it starts to struggle. Our culture is simply not prepared to look at this possibility – it goes against everything we believe in.

That we should find ourselves in the situation is no accident however. Whilst being socially engineered to identify one hundred per cent with the purposeful self is not a recipe for happiness and well-being (and doesn’t do us any favours at all) it is very helpful for the system that we are operating in because the more alienated from our true nature we are the easier it is going to be for us to be manipulated or controlled to suit society. The more alienated we are from our true nature the more we are going to have to invest in whatever tactics it takes for us to find this thing called ‘external validation’ and it is our tireless striving for external validation that is driving the social machine and keeping it ticking over healthily. It might be good for the ‘health’ (if we can use that word) of the system that we are part of, but it is definitely not good for us!

To be perfectly blunt about it (and there is hardly any point in being otherwise), living in an overly rational or purposeful society pushes us inexorably in the general direction of becoming humanoid robots; androids without any sense of ‘interiority’. Who needs interiority, after all? And when we have no interiority we can’t know that we haven’t – we can’t know that there even is such a thing in fact. This means that we have no way of directly relating to the pain that comes about as a result of ‘lack of interiority’ and because we have no way of ‘seeing the pain where it belongs’ we go looking for answers on the outside, which only compounds our predicament…







Not Mentioning The Travesty

One definition of mental health could be to say that it is when there is a movement away from the self, away from who we think we are. This of course is counterintuitive in a big way; we would tend to see mental health as being a measure of the robustness of the self, the robustness of who we think we are. There’s an unspoken or taken for granted literal description of reality that we all buy into and ‘who we are’ or ‘what it means to be a person’ is an important part of this official description. This is the ‘equilibrium view’ of how things are and the equilibrium view is kept in place by everyone who subscribes to it. It is therefore inevitable that any or agreed-upon definition of mental health (whether implicit or explicit) will be normative with respect to the equilibrium value. In current times – when criteria for gauging what is mentally healthy and what is not mentally healthy is collectively decided upon by groups of ‘like-minded’ experts who can essentially be seen as an elite club who are even more homogenous in their thinking than the wider social collective – we are moving very strongly in the ‘equilibrium direction’. The question is therefore, how can we allow a tightly knit group of specialists to be in charge of how we understand mental health when the process by which we come to agree with each other in a group is determined by what amounts to peer pressure rather than by each individual concerned thinking for themselves, which is of course the ‘mentally healthy’ thing to do? In this way we have actually institutionalized psychology, which is a terrible thing to do!


Any independent viewpoint on the matter is always going to take issue with the how ‘the club’ agrees to see things. A club is made up, after all, of people who have tacitly agreed to put their individuality to one side in favour of how everyone else sees things. Group thinking is always an act of cowardice, therefore. The greatest danger facing humankind is without any doubt the danger of ‘mass-mindedness’; as Jung says, mass-mindedness is the breeding ground for psychic illnesses and the contagions, and as a breeding ground for psychic illnesses and contagions mass-mindedness can hardly be expected to come up with a helpful or enlightened way of looking at mental health! The Non-E way of talking about mental health, as we have said, is to say that the movement away from who we think we are, which is also the movement away from who the consensus mind says we are, and since the consensus or group mind is incapable of appreciating or valuing anything other than itself, and since the process of individuation is the process which leads away from everything that the consensus viewpoint holds dear, it is very easy to see why this process of becoming who we truly are isn’t exactly going to be encouraged by the people and institutions around us. For an equilibrium system, any deviation from normative values equals ‘error’ and nothing more, and errors – as we know – only exist to be corrected. Social groups – by their very nature- don’t like deviance, and this is putting it mildly.


All of us have two distinct tendencies to work at work within them – one (we might say) is the conservative tendency and the other is the explorative one. In the first case the values of the past are what matters and anything that leads away from these values is a threat; in the second case the old is seen as a trap precisely because of our attachment to it and what is of interest to us seeing what lies beyond what everyone else takes for granted. Or as we could also put it, the Conservative Mode is where we value security above all else whilst the Exploratory Mode is where we value the truth more than security. ‘Truth’ and ‘security’ are always opposed for the simple reason that in truth, there is no such thing as ‘security’! Or to put it the other way round, we can say that the only way that we can find this supposed thing that we call ‘security’ is by firmly turning our backs on what is actually true. It’s either the one way or the other way – either we are interested in the truth or we are interested in our games, which are our way of avoiding the truth.


We can reformulate our definition of mental health at this point simply by saying that what is beneficial – health-wise – for us is to move in the direction of becoming more conscious. From the conventional point of view this statement doesn’t make any sense because we are all convinced that we are perfectly conscious already; we’re not however – that’s just an idea that we have, the idea that we are actually aware when we are not. When we are in Conservative Mode then the whole point is not to be aware! When we are in CM then we have thoughts about the world rather than being aware of it; we judge the world and have beliefs about it rather than taking an actual interest in it. It is often said that thinking is how we ‘make sense of the world’, but it could equally well be said that thinking is how we ‘protect ourselves from the onslaught of reality’. But why should reality be ‘an onslaught’, we might ask? This tends to imply that reality is somehow hostile to us, against us in some way, and how could that be the case? To think that reality is hostile is to suffer from a paranoid delusion, after all. The point is of course not that reality (as it is in itself, before we get around to thinking about it) is against us but rather that reality (as it is in itself) does not tolerate any insincerity from us. We can’t get away with any games in other words, and the reason for this is simply that reality is itself not a game. This is – needless to say – a fairly obvious statement: things just are what they are (or they aren’t what they aren’t) and that’s all there is to it. A game – on the other hand – is precisely where we pretend that things are what they’re not. Reality – by its very nature – falsifies our games (if we let it) and this is exactly the same as saying that truth has the ‘property’ of falsifying our lies. Of course it does – it could hardly be ‘the truth’ otherwise!


This has nothing to do with morality however, which is something that we ourselves invent in order to coerce ourselves to do whatever it is we think we should be doing, or not do whatever it is we think we shouldn’t be doing. What we’re talking about isn’t morality (i.e. rules) but simply ‘the natural way of things’. The natural way of things is that truth naturally shows up lies to be lies (this being implicit in the nature of the truth), or that reality shows up games for being games, since this is indeed what they are. No violence is being done here – the game is being shown up for being what it is, and the only problem here is from the point of view of the game, since we can only play a game when we don’t know it to be one. So it is the way of things for reality to falsify our games, just as it is also ‘the way of things’ for us to play our games, and to try to hang on to them for as long as possible. It’s all ‘the way of things’, it’s all the Tao, and so there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any ridiculous artificial morality.


The point we’re making here therefore is that it is natural for us to try as hard as we can to defend ourselves from ‘raw undiluted reality’ (which doesn’t give us any leeway to play our games) and that the way we do this is by thinking about the world so as to create a model of it, which we can then relate to exclusively as if the model were the real thing. This is the manoeuvre by which we dodge the essential complexity of the universe, complexity that would otherwise inundate us and overwhelm our made-up boundaries and – as a result – unfailingly falsify our pet models and theories which are always absurdly oversimplified. We avoid the challenge of a multivalent reality by describing it to ourselves in a literal way in other words, and this ‘literal description’ becomes the rule that we have to obey without knowing that we are obeying it, without knowing that there is any obeying going on. This puts us in the situation of ‘being slaves whilst thinking we are free’. First we create an oversimplified world with our thoughts and then we get trapped in this oversimplified or unreal world and this is how we keep a distance between ourselves and the actual truth of our situation!


When we all get together and make a big official ‘literal description of life’ (or literal description of reality) then this collectively agreed-upon description is called society. Part of that description – the most important part – is the description of who we are and this is why we can say that mental health is ‘the movement away from the self’ (or ‘who we think we are’), as well as being ‘the movement away from society’ (or ‘who society says we are’). Mental health is the movement away from our own defences, the defence is that we don’t know about, the defences that we falsely imagine to be some sort of ‘sacred reality’ that we must never offend against.


Societies isn’t just ‘society’ – as we usually understand the term – it is ‘a total package’, it’s a closed way of looking at things that we aren’t allowed to question. Society is the ‘generic mind’, we could say – it is the mind that doesn’t belong to any of us but which – all the same – controls all of us! Living out the course of our lives in the crudely limited version of reality (which is all that society permits us) is actually a travesty, even though no one will ever come out and say this. It’s a travesty that none of us (or few enough of us) will come out and say to be a travesty, for a very simple and straightforward reason that we owe our livelihoods (along with whatever status that we might have in society) to this same travesty.






Grasping At Peace

The Western world has turned mindfulness into a form of grasping – we are grasping at peace, we are grasping at ‘stillness’. Grasping is grasping however – it doesn’t matter in the least bit what we are grasping for. Naturally, grasping at peace or grasping at stillness isn’t going to work – we’re going wrong straightaway. We’re off on the wrong footing: striving for peace is a perfect self-contradiction, just as making ‘stillness’ into a goal is. Striving (or strategising) is the antithesis of peace and stillness (we might say) is when we stop having goals and trying to reach them!

We spend so much time striving (or ‘conceiving and chasing goals’) – it’s a full-time activity and so we’re fed up with it, exhausted by it, drained by it. The prospect of blessed peace, of abiding serenely in stillness, invokes such yearning for us, therefore. We know on some level that it’s what we need. Who wants to be ‘struggling for results’ the whole time, after all? When it comes down to it, this translates into suffering and nothing else. Striving is always suffering. We are constantly tantalised and unsettled by the thought of ‘something better’ and this keeps us striving and straining, but really this feeling we have that ‘one day we’re going to get there’ isn’t a good thing (even if we think it is); it isn’t a good thing because this mind-created mirage is the reason we’re striving and straining all the time.

We are fed up on a very deep level of struggling and striving the whole time because struggling and striving the whole time is really just a sort of illness. It’s an itch and the more we scratch at it the worse it gets. Constant, never-ending purposeful behaviour is a burden for us and so the prospect of finding relief from it is very attractive indeed – we want a break, we want a holiday from it. What we do then however – without realising the irony of what we’re doing – is to start striving to achieve the state of ‘non-striving’, struggling desperately to reach that place where we don’t have to struggle any more.

‘Not grasping’ is an alien concept to us, in other words – we think we get it but we don’t. We think that ‘not grasping’ is the kind of a thing that we can – as a concept – utilise to benefit ourselves and this sounds reasonable enough to us. Why wouldn’t it seem reasonable? We have discovered that meditation, when regularly practiced, reduces stress and anxiety and produces feelings of well-being and peace and so why wouldn’t we utilise this discovery? It wouldn’t make sense not to do so! This is very obvious logic but because it is so obvious we miss the more subtle point, which is a point that we really need to understand.

The ‘more subtle point’ is the understanding that if we have any notion at all in our heads that we are doing something that is going to benefit us then we are grasping and if we are grasping then we can’t be meditating! As Krishnamurti says [Quote taken from awaken.com] –

Every decision to control only breeds resistance, even the determination to be aware. Meditation is the understanding of the division brought about by decision. Freedom is not the act of decision but the act of perception. The seeing is the doing. It is not a determination to see and then to act. After all, will is desire with all its contradictions. When one desire assumes authority over another, that desire becomes will. In this there is inevitable division. And meditation is the understanding of desire, not the overcoming of one desire by another. Desire is the movement of sensation, which becomes pleasure and fear. This is sustained by the constant dwelling of thought upon one or the other.

‘Trust Krishnamurti to be awkward,’ we might think but it’s not Krishnamurti that is being awkward here (of course) but life itself. Life is insolubly awkward in this regard; we can’t obtain it by trying to obtain it – the ‘trying’ is precisely what messes it all up! ‘What we cling to we lose,’ as the Buddhist saying goes, and this is a formidably difficult lesson to learn. It’s no hyperbole to say that this is the most difficult lesson to learn full stop. It’s as difficult as it is because it goes totally against the grain, because it is so completely and utterly counterintuitive. It goes against our common sense big time.

‘What we cling to we lose and what we give up we gain,’ we might say, and even though this principle is very easily stated it’s not so easy to put it into practice. The understanding is not so easy to put it into practice because we automatically try to exploit it – we automatically try to exploit all of our insights. We understand that ‘if we give it away then we will gain it’ and so – being clever as we are – we change our tactics to ‘deliberately giving it away’!). This is what happens to so many religiously-minded people – they are being ‘good on purpose,’ but being good on purpose isn’t being good. It’s not the same thing at all. Being ‘good on purpose’ is grasping; all purposeful behaviour is grasping! All purposeful activity is grasping and all we know is purposeful activity. Take this away from us and what have we got left?

Coming back to mindfulness, it is of course perfectly reasonable, perfectly understandable that we would sign up for a course, or start learning by practising on our own, with the idea that this is going to be helpful for us, or that some of our problems may be addressed in this way. We can hardly be blamed for this; if it were not with this particular idea then the chances are that we would have never started practising in the first place! Pain, and the hope of being free from it, is what causes us to go looking for an answer; it also provides us with ample motivation to keep working at it and not give up. The idea that mindfulness is a strategy or tool that can help bring about the desired outcome of more peace (or less suffering) in our lives is therefore absolutely OK, but what needs to happen later on is for us to gain the understanding that meditation is not a sophisticated form of purposefulness and that it cannot be used to bring about some goal or other that we have in mind. The necessary learning is that ‘we cannot have a purpose behind our practice’, in other words.

It is only natural that this awareness will come about (all by itself) as a result of our increasing familiarity with the practice of meditation. What we are learning in meditation is precisely that grasping is counter-productive and that the more we grasp the less peace we will have. We get to see this by observing the mind and we also get to see that ‘grasping at non-grasping’ (or ‘trying to do not-doing’) isn’t going to work either. We can’t intend to have no intention and we can’t have an agenda to drop all our agendas. What are we doing in meditation is cultivating awareness and awareness is the state of non-grasping. It’s the thing that has ‘nothing to do with us’, in other words. Within the context of the particular type of culture that we are part of (which is a rational/purposeful culture) this understanding gets jinxed however. It gets jinxed because it is so very hard to separate ourselves from the society that we are part of and which duly determines our implicit understanding of life and who we are.

So because of the way in which we as a culture do over-value purposefulness (and it can hardly be doubted that we do so; all we have to do is look at all of our talk of tools and strategies and of managing this, that or the other and of beating depression and combating anxiety, and so on and so forth) those of us whose job it is to run mindfulness courses don’t appreciate how vital it is to give up our agendas and goals, and give up our desire for things to change as a result of practising meditation. As a result of this lack of insight what happens is that we end up being bizarrely split in two – we work harder and harder at ‘not grasping’ in a meditation practice but behind it all we have this big rational agenda for ‘things to change’. Mindfulness has become the tool of the rational mind in other words, and that’s getting it the wrong way around.

If we are using mindfulness as a tool then it is never going to work for us. It can’t work because we are putting thought in the driving seat when it was overvaluing rationality that created all our problems in the first place. This isn’t to say that ‘using mindfulness as a tool of the rational mind’ won’t result in any benefits because it can but rather that any benefits obtained will be paid for later on in terms of other difficulties that have not yet made themselves known to us. All systems are like this – they take us around in circles, they provide short-term benefits at the cost of long-term snags. They create new problems as they solve the old ones. This is a double-bind, as Alan Watts says. It is what Gregory Bateson refers to as ‘the cybernetic paradox’) and what Ivan Illich – speaking from a sociological viewpoint, calls specific counterproductivity. We’re trying to get somewhere and yet at the same time hang on to our ideas about the world and this isn’t ever going to work. We’re chaining ourselves to our underlying assumptions and so how is anything ever going to change?

The only way we can genuinely change is if we let go of control completely, and this happens to be the one thing we don’t want to do! We don’t want to ‘go all the way,’ even though we might like to pretend to ourselves that we do. We’re dipping our toes in the water but that’s as far as we’re ever going to go! We’re ‘playing at embracing change’ but that doesn’t mean a thing. The bottom line (which we very rarely own up to) is that we are terrified of letting go of control (this is what being ‘over-invested in purposefulness’ always means, of course) and so we put on a good show even though our heart isn’t really in it. Meditation – Krishnamurti says – is ‘a movement happens all by itself’ and just as long as we (however surreptitiously) are trying to ‘have a hand in that movement’ it is never going to happen.

Degenerate Scientism In Mental Healthcare [Part 1]

We live in the ‘scientific’ age but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we know what science is! Very few of us will be able to say what the philosophy behind science is, or indeed know that there is such a thing as ‘the philosophy of science’. We would probably think that science doesn’t need any philosophy since the general perception of philosophy is of something rather wishy-washy and we all know that science is a very hard-headed kind of thing. Who needs philosophy and philosophizing and all that type of vague, inconclusive stuff when you’ve got science, after all?

 

But science does have a philosophy behind it and if we don’t know what it is then we also don’t know what science is. There is a spirit behind science and that spirit has to do with a complete detachment from belief, and a healthy distrust of our automatic thinking process. If I know what I’m looking for and I end up ‘proving myself right’ then this is highly suspicious, to say the least. If the results of my so-called ‘research’ fits in with the superficial fashions and ideologies of the age, then this too is deeply suspect – I am merely enacting my cultural template! The scientific spirit is to try to prove ourselves wrong to the very best of our ability and then – if we can’t do this – we grudgingly accept what we have established as being ‘provisionally true’ (which means of course that we are totally prepared to drop it when a better way of looking at things comes along). Science is not the ‘bulwark of certainty’ that we very much take it to be. If science were all about pursuing certainty then it wouldn’t be science – it would be the very same as what humanity has always done, which has nothing to do with ‘seeking the truth’ and everything to do with ‘trying to obtain a sense of ontological security’ by shutting down questioning.

 

Talking about ‘a scientific age’ is therefore entirely inaccurate – most of us have the same basic orientation in life that humanity has always had, which is to say, it is serviceable belief-structures that we are interested in, not the noble endeavour of ridding ourselves of all comforting delusions. And of course even to say that we are ‘interested’ in our beliefs isn’t the best way to put it since it’s not the belief itself that we are interested in but the fact that there is something there we can believe in. Any belief – held to uncritically enough – will provide us with the ‘sense of security’ that we are looking for, after all. The whole point of the frame of mind in which we are forever seeking security is that we’re not interested – we’re not interested in unravelling any loose ends because, on some level, we know that if we do this then the whole garment will as likely as not come undone! If the ‘garment’ came undone then we’d find ourselves standing there naked and that would be a ‘nightmare come true’ for us.

 

What ‘being naked’ means in this case is that we are face-to-face with the world in which we live without having any cognitive handle on it, without being able to find any ‘angle’ that we can use to understand or exploit or manipulate it. As soon as we say this we can see a source of big source of confusion; as soon as we think of ‘science’ we think of all the big changes that come about as a result of it. Science – we might say – has (for a significant proportion of us) changed our lives almost beyond recognition, and what this comes down to the exploitation of the insights that we have gained as a result of scientific investigation. What we talking about here therefore is technology, and science and technology are of course two separate things. It could easily happen that we get to the point where – for the most part – science is only valued because of the technologies it can spawn, but that still doesn’t detract from the unprejudiced nature of science itself. We – as a culture that is fixated upon ‘economic growth’ almost to the exclusion of all else – are inescapably prejudiced because our Number One Incentive is always about making money, but science itself isn’t prejudiced – if it was then it wouldn’t be science.

 

To say this isn’t to say however that what we call ‘science’ and teach as ‘science’ in our colleges, schools and universities isn’t all geared towards the exploitation of insights rather than ‘knowledge for its own sake’ because it clearly is. Governments and big businesses aren’t in the least bit interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge and this is of course where the funding for our education system comes from. It also doesn’t mean that we as a culture don’t have a very distorted view of what science means and that we haven’ turned it into a belief structure to obtain comfort from, which is what we human beings have been doing since the beginning of recorded history, and doubtless long before that. This false ‘security-producing’ distortion of science is what EF Schumacher calls materialistic scientism. Materialistic scientism is a degenerate variant of science that serves the highly dubious purpose of ‘comforting us rather than challenging us’. This is nothing new of course because we’ve always done exactly the same thing with religion – religion was surely never meant to ‘put us to sleep’ and yet this is exactly what it has done. When Jesus said ‘He who is near to me is near the fire…’‘ he was not trying to comfort us and yet untold millions use the external form of religion to allow themselves to feel that they’re ‘doing the right thing’. We feel that our path is officially sanctified and so we don’t need to question ourselves. The Yiddish proverb tells us ‘God is not nice, God is an earthquake,’ and yet we have turned worshipping the Deity into a bland, insincere act of social conformity.

 

The meaning of ‘He who is near to me is near the fire…’ is clearly that everything we are holding onto will get burned up if we approach too closely and this is the biggest ‘test’, the biggest ‘challenge’ there is. Challenges don’t come any bigger than this. Religion is almost invariably used to validate ourselves and our way of life however, not rudely strip us of all of our spurious validation (and all validation is spurious). Generally speaking, we have not the slightest interest in examining ourselves in an unprejudiced way – we simply want ‘the seal of approval’ so that we can safely assume that we are on the right track, and carry on as usual. External validation feels good, as we have indicated, because it does away with the need to examine oneself. There is no such thing as ‘right’ however – <right> means that we have successfully adapted ourselves to some external structure and all this means is that we have sold ourselves for the sake of the illusion of security where actually no such thing and never could be. Life isn’t a matter of conforming to some social fiction; the challenge of existence isn’t resolved by finding some convenient rule to follow and then closing our minds to everything else. Religion doesn’t (for most of us) have the power that it used to and it is – without any doubt – science that is responsible for this. Charles Darwin’s death blow against the literal interpretation of the Chapter of Genesis and the theologian’s estimation of the age of the universe, is just one snapshot (albeit a significant one) of this process. The dogmatic utterances of organised religion no longer does the trick – what is needed now are the equally dogmatic utterances of science! The problem here however, as we started off by saying, is that science isn’t some kind of dogmatic authority – that isn’t its job at all. Science isn’t a system of beliefs but rather it is a method of ongoing inquiry. Beliefs tell us absolutely everything we need to know about life – once we have a belief in place then all we need to do is act in accordance with this belief no matter what the circumstances might be. This (and this alone) is the mark of the true believer: the more we are tested, the more we hold firm to what we believe to be true! This is living entirely on the basis of the thinking mind and what the thinking mind has thought and the key thing here is that the ‘evidence’ doesn’t count unless it confirms whatever it is that we want to believe in. Everything is solidly ignored unless it agrees with our pre-existing models and theories about the world, in other words.

 

Fidelity to our unexamined template is the only virtue here and this is what society always demands of us – just as it is what our master the thinking mind always demands of us. The fact that we are a rational/technological culture rather than a religious one makes not the slightest bit of difference here because, as we have said, we use ‘science’ as a cudgel in order to ensure the uncritical acceptance of whatever it is that science supposedly tells us. ‘Experts say’, ‘the science tells us’, ‘research has shown’, are typical phrases that are thrown at us on a daily basis. In the field of mental health therapies are brought out that are laughable said to be ‘evidence-based’, thereby ensuring that we don’t question them. Not that as workers in the field of mental health – where conformity to the template is particularly highly-valued – we are especially good at questioning our models at the best of times!

 

Mental health is – we could say – where our misunderstanding of what the word ‘scientific’ becomes particularly obvious. We have tried our best to turn mental healthcare into a technology and we seem to be quite incapable of seeing just how absurd we are being here. Technologies always run off templates – we know whatever it is that we want to obtain and we have a rule-based process that will allow us to do this. We want to make aluminium metal or carbon steel, or polystyrene, or fructose syrup, or whatever and we have tried and tested methodologies that will allow us to do just this. Technology isn’t a process of inquiry therefore, it’s a process of ‘applying known standards and getting specified results’ and what this means is that if we are to have a technology of mental healthcare then we need to know what ‘mental health’ itself means. We need to know the specifications of our product.

 

We need to be able to specify the desired outcome and we also need to be able to measure whether we have successfully achieved it or not. We have to say what ‘mental health’ is and yet to say this is to say what it means to be human being. We can’t separate the two. This is an intractable philosophical question therefore and not a narrow technical one, so how can we possibly presume to do this? We can make assumptions about what it means to be human (and what it is that life is properly about) and then try to enforce these ideas – that’s not a problem for us because we do that all the time – but trying to enforce our standards without ever properly examining the assumptions that they are based on is hardly a recipe for good mental health! It’s a recipe for nonsense; it’s a recipe for disaster…

 

As a culture we are ‘mentally unwell’ and so that’s our starting off point. We are mentally unwell because we are heteronomous rather than autonomous (i.e. we’re always looking for security from the outside, from an external authority) and this is the epitome of mental ill-health. We’re operating off ‘an external template’; we’re afraid to take the risk of being ourselves and so we copy everyone else! This been the case, how on earth can we be expected to have anything even remotely meaningful to say on the subject, still less be professional ‘experts’ on it? We even copy everyone else when we try to say what mental health (or the lack of it) is. We go to college to learn what to think about it. Our idea of what it means to be mentally well is that we have to be ‘fitting in to what everyone else thinks being mentally well means’, and that we don’t question what everyone else thinks it is, and tells us it is, and what this shows is that we’ve actually got everything completely upside down! We couldn’t have got it more wrong if we’d tried…

The Imaginary ‘Mental Health’ of The I-Concept

Almost all of our mental activity, all of the stuff that goes on in our heads, is happening as a result of our identification with what Wei Wu Wei calls the ‘I- concept’. All of this constant agitation, this constant busyness, this constant yearning and striving, is happening in relation to the concept that we have of ourselves, and the crucial point here is that this concept doesn’t actually refer to anything existing in reality.

 

The undeniable fact that we are always being unsettled, agitated or disturbed by this ‘background mental activity’, the fact that we are forever being pulled ‘this way and that’ shows that we don’t realise that the I-concept has no correspondence with actual reality. We don’t see that at all and this is why we never have any peace of mind. If we ever do have peace of mind (which can still happen every now and again, but not because we have done anything to bring it about) then that would mean that we are no longer acting in relation to (or on behest of) the concept that we have of ourselves and what a blessed relief this is! That’s why it is a relief – because the self-concept isn’t there with all its demands, all its hopes and fears, all its constant unremitting agitation. When we talk about ‘peace’ or ‘tranquillity’ this is what we actually mean – we mean peace from the I-concept (not peace for that I-concept).

 

We don’t see it like this of course – we see ‘peace’ as being something to be gained by the I-concept and then enjoyed by it. We see peace as being some sort of ‘prize’ to be won, in other words – maybe we can go somewhere to find it, or meet someone who will help us discover it, maybe we can learn some sort of discipline to help us gain it. Maybe relaxation techniques or practising regular mindfulness will work. We’ve actually got a backwards way of looking at things therefore and the chances are that we will never realise this. It’s not part of our culture to have this particular realisation, after all! Our culture assumes (just as we individually assume) that the I-concept is rightfully supposed to be at this very centre of things, that everything should happen for the I-concept’s benefit. Modern ‘consumerist’ culture works by encouraging the tendency which we already have to believe that we are the I-concept, and – as a result – put all of our eggs into this particular basket.

 

There are problems associated with living life on the basis of the celebrated and highly-esteemed I-concept, however, and these are problems that can’t ever be solved! They can’t ever be solved because the root problem is ‘us thinking that we are the idea that we have of ourselves’ and we aren’t about to address this core problem any time soon. We spend our whole lives trying to sort out this problem and that problem but the root problem we never go anywhere near. The root problem we never even want to talk about. This makes our collective endeavour in the area of mental health rather ridiculous – if we spend all of our time searching for answers to the secondary problems that have been caused by the invisible ‘root problem’ and yet never come close to addressing the original problem itself, what does this say about us? What exactly is going on here?

 

What we are actually trying to do in the field of mental health is ‘avoid the main issue by chasing red herrings’ and we all take this business of chasing red herrings very seriously (as we’re supposed to). We have a high opinion of ourselves and our endeavours and what we have so far (supposedly) learned in our endeavours. We talk endlessly about ‘research’ in psychology as if this research has ever actually informed us of anything useful, which it absolutely hasn’t. Since when has research in psychology revealed anything interesting, let alone genuinely helpful? All the research in the world is useless if it is based on a confused (or back-to-front) way of seeing things. If this is the case it doesn’t matter how impressively rigorous we are. The scientific spirit – we might say –has to do with the commitment to uncover the truth regardless of how that truth may conflict with our precious beliefs and opinions and this is what sets science apart from most other human endeavours (which – for the most part – come down to the attempt to validate our pre-existing beliefs and opinions). This is not at all what is happening in psychology however because everything we do in this field is done on the basis of the core assumption that ‘we are the I-concept’.

 

This necessarily means that our understanding of what mental health entails or consists of is going to be totally skewed – when we talk about ‘mental health’ – as we do very freely – what we mean is ‘mental health for the idea that we have ourselves’. This is inevitably going to be the case when we are investigating matters from an exclusively rational point of view; when we are looking at things in an exclusively rational way we are only ever going to be dealing with our own ideas – rationality doesn’t believe in anything else but its own ideas, its own theories. The thinking mind won’t have any truck with anything that doesn’t dovetail neatly with its own pre-existent assumptions about the world and what this means (when it comes down to it) is that it won’t have any truck with anything other than its own ideas. Thought is a closed system, in other words, just as David Bohm says. The result of this rational approach advises that we cause ourselves to become flatly incapable of seeing the absurdity of imagining that they could ever be any such thing as ‘the mental health of the I-concept’.

 

The idea that we have of ourselves can’t have any sort of mental health for the simple reason that it is only an idea. The I-concept can never be ‘mentally healthy’ because it is only a concept (i.e. it isn’t real). We can relate this back to what we were talking about a short while ago about ‘peace’ coming about as result of the absence of the I-concept – all of the mental agitation which we notice going on in our minds on a full-time basis is due (we were saying) to the belief that we have that we ‘are’ this concept. This identification is what drives almost all of our thinking; almost everything that happens in our heads comes about as a consequence of us being totally convinced that we are the idea of ourselves and so to try to figure out how the I-concept can enjoy peace or tranquillity is absurd because this construct is itself the cause of our agitation, the true origin of our ‘lack of peace’. The self-construct – being a construct – requires constant maintenance, constant defending and constant promoting, and so there is no peace ever to be had here! No matter what else a life of the ‘self-construct’ might entail, it will certainly never entail peace.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that the type of life that we lead when we are living in the ‘conditioned realm’ is a life of perpetual struggle, a life of constant striving, a life in which we are continually (and unsuccessfully) trying to control both ourselves and the world around us. The concrete sense of self is a striver and it can never not strive – it might drive itself mad with its own unremitting striving (or controlling) but it can never figure out a way of ‘not striving’ or ‘not controlling’, however much it may want to. Our collective endeavour in the field of mental health, for the most part, comes down to the efforts of this very same I-concept to find ‘a remedy for itself’, we might therefore say. The more purely rational the approach, the more true this is, and in the case of modern psychology – which is overwhelmingly rational – this is very starkly the case. We are being super-clever in order to cure ourselves from the curse of our own cleverness (although we won’t of course ever see things like this).

 

One problem that arises for us when we live life (or attempt to live life) on the basis of the I-concept is that we are forever striving, forever struggling, forever analysing and calculating, forever plotting and manipulating, and this is all very wearisome for us. We try to improve our situation by investing in control (or more effective control) but this is a slippery slope because the more we control the more we have to control. ‘Once you pop you can’t stop’, as the Pringles ad says. The more we get drawn into controlling the further we move away from who we really are; the more we invest in cleverness, the more alienated we become from our true nature and from the world around us. Our neurotic mental suffering quintessentially comes down to this ‘alienation’ – what could be worse than living in a state of alienation from our own true nature, or from the world into which we were so innocently born? We start off innocent, but we all-too-quickly become corrupted by ‘the ways of the world’. This is – moreover – an alienation (or corruption) that we do not understand or in any way acknowledge. We’re alienated but we don’t know that we are alienated and the reason we don’t know this is because we are so well-adapted to the artificial world that we have created for ourselves – we’re too well adjusted to the ‘Designed World‘ that we have so industriously constructed all around us.

 

The Designed World is the world that perfectly fits the needs and desires of the I-concept and were the case that this limited identity really is ‘who we actually are’ then all would be well – there will be no major problems involved. But there are problems involved, irreducible problems, problems that can never be fixed, and these problems come about – as we have said – as a result of our hapless identification with the I-concept. Being identified with the self-construct doesn’t mean that we are the self-construct however – it just means that we are confused! Or as we could also say – it just means that we now live in a very narrow, artificial way that can only exist or seem to be meaningful to us because all traces of ‘who we truly are’ have been denied. We have been ‘subsumed within the game’, in other words, and the game is a heartless kind of a thing. There’s nothing in the game other than struggling and we don’t even know what it is that we are struggling for. There is nothing in the game but suffering when it comes down to it but we deny the suffering, or minimise it and ascribe it to all sorts of false causes, ‘causes’ that we can imagine we can solve by the judicious application of even more ‘cleverness’, even more control’…

 

The cure for the pain that is engendered by the game (or rather engendered by the fact that we are playing the game without knowing it) isn’t to learn to ‘play the game better’ (i.e. ‘optimization’) but to abandon it altogether, which is the ‘radical solution’ that no one wants. Instead of taking the mind-created sense of self so very seriously, and doing our level best to ‘fix’ it and return it to its state of imaginary mental health – which is the phantom which keeps on eluding us – what’s genuinely would help us would simply be not to take this mind-created sense of self so very seriously, and there are no fancy ‘scientific’ ways of doing this! There are no methods for not taking ourselves so seriously (any more than they could be such a thing as ‘a method for understanding jokes’) – techniques for this do not (and cannot) exist. No ‘tricks’ exist by which we can pull this off and this is what has us so baffled, since all we know or believe in are our tricks…