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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The System Can Only Ever Do One Thing

The system can only ever do one thing and that is to keep imprinting on itself on everyone. This is the only action of which it is capable. In the field of mental health, therefore, it is inevitable that our understanding of what mental health means will always come down to the question of ‘how well has the unit taken the programming?’ (although we will not of course frame it in quite these terms).

If the unit concerned has taken the conditioning well then this equals ‘being mentally healthy’ and in cases where there is a problem with the conditioning therapy naturally consists of reinstating it, reaffirming it, ‘reinstalling’ it. Insofar as the individual therapist has himself or herself been socially conditioned this is — as we have just said — quite inevitably going to be the way of things. As a conditioned person, how can I do otherwise than pass on my own conditioning? How can I do otherwise other than assume that the conditioned state is the healthy one, that my way of seeing the world (as a conditioned person) is the right one. That’s what we all do, all of the time. That’s what it means to be ‘conditioned’.

How could I even find work within a healthcare system if I did not show myself to be subscribing wholeheartedly and unreflectively to the viewpoint that everyone else has dutifully subscribed to? This is how it is with all groups — we have to ‘subscribe’ in order to be accepted — and mental healthcare systems (or professional bodies) are of course no exception. Far from being an exception, healthcare systems are even more rigorous about the norms because they have the added excuse of ‘ensuring standards of care’. This sounds highly commendable on the face of it of course and it is on this account well-nigh impossible to challenge — if we do take it into our heads to challenge the norms then we are simply excluded. That’s how we get ourselves excluded, by challenging the norms — that’s the mechanism. Our prospects of future employment in our chosen field immediately become very doubtful indeed, and who is going to risk that? Furthermore, who isn’t going to doubt ‘their right to challenge’ (or ‘their right to question’) in the face of the very solid front presented by everyone else in the field, who — we may be sure — are not going to risk their status (or livelihood) by publicly agreeing with us even if they do happen to have their own reservations about ‘the official line’. We all know that this is the way things work — ‘the day you start working for a big organization is the day you stop thinking’!

The bottom-line is that if we are part of a group, then our allegiance is to the group norms, or to put this another way, insofar as we have been conditioned by the system, we see promoting the values of the system as being consistent with (or as being ‘the same thing as’) good practice. Or as we might also say, if our allegiances to the everyday mind, and the way that it necessarily understands things, then all we are ever going to be able to do is to impose this particular brand of order on everything and everyone we meet, through all of our rational evaluation and all of our purposeful activity.

Mental healthcare can never come about as a result of the successful acting out of our conditioning however. It can never come about as a result of enacting approved procedures and protocols. All that’s going to happen this way is the perpetuation of the particular brand of order associated with our (unexamined) looking at things. All that’s going to come about this way is the reinforcement of the status quo. Genuine mental health means that whatever process it is that is happening is allowed to show itself for what it is. Whatever is emerging is allowed to emerge, and our ‘mental health’ lies precisely in this. Our ‘mental health’ lies precisely in our ability to relate honestly to whatever it is that emerging, and what is emerging will never accord with ‘what we all think it should be’. If there’s anything at all that we can be certain of in this world, it is this.

This principle goes beyond the world of mental healthcare — reality itself (we may say) can be relied upon to never accord with what we can collectively agree for it to be. Our relationship with what is real can’t be decided via a committee, or via any kind of ‘group think’ — this is a matter for the individual alone, unaided. Who can aid us in this matter of establishing a relationship with reality, after all? The more we are ‘aided’ in this regard the more we are put wrong, the more we are led astray. This is the one responsibility that we can’t put onto anyone else, no matter how unequal we might feel to the burden. Reality will always fall foul of the expectations or requirements of the collective and this is just another way of saying that ‘consciousness is always unwelcome in the group’. Only people who agree with the group are welcome in the group, as we all know very well.

When consciousness appears on the scene this is always as a result of the programming failing — the ‘unit’ has failed to take the conditioning. Consciousness is in one sense the enemy of the socially-adapted person because it means that they cannot be socially adapted anymore! When consciousness arrives on the scene this is generally unwelcome to the individual just as it is unwelcome to the collective and so we will all agree to do whatever can be done in order to remedy the unfortunate situation that has come about. Certainly no one is going to be happy about what is going on and look upon it as a precious opportunity for growth. Instead of ‘growth’, we like to talk in terms of recovery, which is a kind of a buzzword at the moment. Recovery means ‘going back’, it means ‘going back to the way we were before’ which was ‘being socially adapted’ (i.e. unconscious).

When we are in the ‘socially-adapted mode’ then we can’t help seeing things this way. The fact that we are socially adapted provides us with a ‘baseline’ and this baseline is — needless to say — what we want to come back to. The baseline is always what we want to come back to when our normal mental functioning has been challenged; the baseline doesn’t offer us any ‘opportunities for growth’ it is true (it was of course never its business to do this) but it does provide us with great sense of security. We want the return of the brand of order that we are familiar with — growth is a very frightening thing, after all. The crux of the matter is therefore that’s what we generally call ‘therapy’ or ‘mental healthcare’ is actually social readjustment therapy, as Alan Watt says. We are being ‘returned to the way we were’ (or, at least, that is the idea). To quote Alan Watts (from Psychotherapy East and West) –

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

In practice things don’t always work out so well when we try to go down this road. Things often enough don’t work out so well because it’s not a ‘healthy’ thing to try to go against the movement of growth (which is the ‘movement away from the known’). The impulse towards ‘returning to the way we were’ is not a healthy one; the conservative impulse is not a healthy thing — being driven by ‘avoidance of the new’ as it is, how can it be said to be ‘healthy’? By definition we can say that readjustment therapy is not a healthy thing because to be healthy is to be whole and the life of the socially adapted person is a fractured and alienated one and can never be otherwise. We all crowd together in large numbers but the lives that we lead are never any less ‘fractured’ and ‘alienated’ as a result — we just have company in it, that’s all. We have company in the fractured and alienated life and we can thus validate ourselves, which we do all the time. Society itself is a mechanism for the validation of the group norms!

The journey towards mental health is the journey towards wholeness and wholeness means that we are manifesting our true individuality. The individual is always whole and the whole is always ‘individual’! Naturally wholeness is always individual (or ‘unique’) — what is there to compare it to, after all? The life of the socially adapted person on the other hand is always generic in nature, as we can easily see if we think about it for a moment. If we weren’t ‘generic’ then we wouldn’t be accepted within the group — that is precisely the price we have to pay in order to be accepted within the group. If we weren’t generic then we would be ‘different’ or ‘strange’ and if we were ‘different or ‘strange’ then there would be no place for us in the group.

Just as the journey towards mental health is the journey to wholeness (i.e. the journey to ‘who we really are’) it is also the journey away from all that is familiar and comfortable, and this is why we tend very much not to like it. ‘Growth’ is a word that we all bandy about freely and are generally very comfortable about, but the reality itself is far from comfortable. ‘Comfort’ is not a word anyone in the throes of growth would ever use. Growth is something we have to do alone, without the assistance of anyone else, as we have already intimated. We have to break away from our ‘support system’. No one can tell us ‘how to grow’ or provide us with any handy suggestions or advice. There are no ‘hacks’ for growth! What we can do however is provide an environment which is supportive of growth, rather than being inherently critical of it.

To be pushed right out of our comfort zone and at the same time to have this process universally regarded as ‘something pathological that needs to be reversed’ makes the situation so much harder — the experience becomes actually punishing. The experience of those of us who are going through a mental health crisis is generally a ‘punishing’ one of course, but this is because the attitudes that exist in society, both within ourselves and society at large. Our experience is punishing (as opposed to being simply painful) because it is being negatively evaluated on all sides — it is punishing because we understand that we are ‘wrong’ to be feeling this way. We may not be overtly criticised or blamed or judged (although on the other hand we might well be) but implicit in the response of everyone we meet is the deeply ingrained idea that what is happening should not be happening. This is the attitude of everyone concerned — it is my attitude and it is also the attitude of all the mental healthcare professionals I meet, and this is not helpful. ‘Negative evaluation’ is a ‘mechanical reaction’ and mechanical reactions are never helpful when it comes to mental health!

The Challenge of ‘Becoming Real’ (Part 1)

The whole area of psychological therapy itself starts to look rather suspect at this point, not just this modern thing called ‘resilience training’. If our core problem is that we are ‘unreal people living in an unreal world’ (and if this is what lies behind our neurotic symptomology) then no amount of two-dimensional ‘fixing-type’ therapies are going to help us! Band-aids aren’t really going to be the answer here, no matter how hopeful we might be. When we are unreal people living in an unreal world then no type of ‘trivial, rule-based procedure’ that we might enact us is going to cut it when things really start getting rough. Rules can’t help us in the task of becoming independent from rules, after all!

 

What’s more, we don’t have to be a stereotypical selfie-snapping narcissist in order to qualify as being ‘unreal’; this is a general condition rather than being some type of exotic psychopathology. We’re all ‘unreal’ in this particular ‘psychological’ way when it comes down to it. We can pick the most normal-looking, well-adjusted, competent person we know and the chances are very much that they will qualify as being ‘unreal’ in the sense that we are talking about. The whole point that we are making here is that it is possible to be superbly adjusted to this consensus world of ours and yet at the same time be unreal. We are unreal precisely because we are so superbly adapted to the consensus reality – we are taking the illusion much too seriously, in other words. We are taking something seriously that we oughtn’t to be taking seriously and that is the whole root of the problem right there. We are taking our games, our conventions, our arbitrary preoccupations, more seriously than we are taking reality itself, and there is simply no way anyone can say that this very peculiar orientation of ours isn’t going to have major ramifications in the field of mental health!

 

When we are adapted to the socially-constructed world we immediately feel confident in ourselves and this is the confidence of a game player who is good at playing their game. Within the context of this game, this confidence is entirely justified; outside of the game however it’s not, and this is where the big problem lies. The ‘big problem’ comes about because we don’t understand the game to be a game; we don’t think that there is anything outside of the game in other words, but there is – outside of the game there is this little thing called ‘reality’!

 

When we see people who are confident, self-assured, socially integrated, well-adjusted, and all the rest of it this doesn’t mean that we are in a state of good mental health. The inference is unwarranted. In societal terms, we are mentally healthy’ (or saying’, or whatever term you might like to use) (or well-adjusted’), but these are – as we have just been saying – very narrow terms stop test’ – as always – is when things get difficult. When things get difficult do we ‘rise to the occasion’ or do you ‘lose it’? Do we ‘keep our heads’ (as in Rudyard Kipling’s poem) or do we freak out and become utterly useless to everyone concerned, including ourselves? But it isn’t so much about some difficult external situation that comes along unexpectedly to challenge us, that’s only a rough and ready indication, albeit a rather good one. Our mental health isn’t just a measure of our ‘degree of equanimity with regard to difficult external situations’, it also has to do with our ability to be non-reactive and non-judgement in relation to our own state of mind when that state of mind becomes painful or difficult for us in any way.

 

This is a more intimate gauge of our mental health (or ‘resilience’), we might say – how well are we able to stay present with our own difficult mental states?’ It ought to be noted at this point that our ability to stay present with ourselves ‘through thick and thin’, or ‘for better or for worse’ doesn’t mean ‘coping’ with our difficult mind states. This is one of the great absurdities of Western culture – the idea that we have that mental health consist of to a large extent of something as frighteningly superficial as ‘coping strategies’! We are told to be strategic with difficult states of mind; we are taught appropriate ways of ‘managing’ them. Good mental health thus becomes a matter of being a good manager of our emotions, or a skilful manager of our anger, stress or anxiety. The current fashion – and fashion is what it is – is to learn off a whole bunch of coping strategies that are seen as being ‘healthy’ or ‘adaptive’ rather than relying on mechanisms that have been shown to be ‘unhealthy’, ‘non-adaptive’ or ‘dysfunctional’. To say that this is ‘trivializing’ mental health is a tremendous understatement, but it is very hard to find anyone in the mental health services that we even come close to acknowledging this. No one wants to ‘buck the trend’, after all…

 

This approach sounds so eminently reasonable that we never think to question it. We can plainly see that our ‘normal’ response to recurring mental pain is to react in ways that make matters worse rather than better, so it makes sense that the answer must be to do helpful things instead. The only problem with this commonsensical way of looking at things is that nothing we DO in order to help us deal with difficult mental states is going to be genuinely helpful – nothing we do in order to be able to ‘cope’ is going to be healthy or helpful because all we are doing – no matter what strategy in question is – is avoiding pain. So what’s wrong with avoiding pain, we might ask, if we can get away with it? What’s wrong with this plan is of course precisely that we can’t get away with it; we can’t legitimately ‘escape’ or ‘fix’ our own mental pain – all we can do is find ‘new and improved’ ways of ignoring the pain, postponing the pain and generally ‘dissociating’ ourselves from it. All we can do is disconnect ourselves from what’s going on with us, in other words.

 

This is ridiculously easy to see once we actually look into the matter – if something is happening to make me feel that I need to use some kind of coping strategy then this straightaway tells me that there is something there that I need to look at rather than ‘cope with’. If I find a strategy that allows me to use over than the one thing that we can be sure of is that we are not we won’t look at it! After all not taking a closer look at our mental pain (whatever that pain might be) is the one thing that we don’t want to do! Jung makes the point (speaking from the undoubted authority of over half a century of clinical practice) no one ever changes unless their back is well and truly against the wall. If we have the option of not changing (which is to say, if we have the option of utilising some convenient coping strategy) then we are most definitely not going to change. We’ll make the situation more manageable instead.

 

We utilise coping strategies as an alternative to changing, as an alternative to developing resilience. The popular idea that accumulating a whole load of coping strategies (so as to be able to avoid being in that zone where we are ‘no longer in control’) is what being mentally healthy is all about is an extraordinarily obtuse misrepresentation of what being a genuine human being actually is. To be ‘in control the whole time’ – which we think is a good way to be – actually means to be hiding from life; if it were possible to have strategies to cope with every difficult situation that comes along so that they never becomes too difficult (and ultimately it isn’t possible) then we would as a result be permanently removed from life. We would then be leading a life that is ‘safe but sterile’ and that would to be no fun at all. More than simply ‘no fun’, this type of ‘safe’ or ‘managed’ life actually turns out to be a living death – it turns out to be ghastly parody of what life is meant to be.

 

We don’t see things like this because we imagine that it ought to be possible to avoid the more challenging moments in life by using clever strategies and yet at the same time not be insulated from the rest of life (which is to say, the part of life that we would like to engage in / not be disconnected from). We want to ‘cherry pick’ in other words – we want the sweet without the sour, the good without the bad. We want to be reliant on gimmicks and strategies some of the time (the knife is getting tough) but independent from them for the rest of the time, and whilst this idea might seem reasonable enough when we don’t focus on it too much, if we actually were to give it any real attention at all then we would immediately see it to be the purest hogwash! We’re trying to have our cake and eat it.

 

What we are asking for here – without admitting the fact – is the convenient situation in which we can insulate (or remove) ourselves from life with our thinking when it gets too difficult for us and yet not insulate or remove ourselves with our thoughts the rest of the time. Unfortunately for us it just doesn’t work like this – what actually happens is that we get insulated (or removed) all of the time. To be directly in touch with what is happening to us (i.e. not in touch ‘via the agency of the thinking mind’) requires a type of muscle – it requires the development of a type of strength. This strength or muscle grows through ‘weight-bearing’, and the weight in question is simply the inherent ‘difficulty’ of life. Life makes us strong when we don’t avoid it in other words, and to say this is hardly to say anything very new or revolutionary! There are – in life – two roads that we can go down – the road of getting better and better at avoiding difficulty, or the road of getting better and better at not avoiding difficulty! The first road involves control, and the second road doesn’t. The key thing to note here is that we have to put our money on one horse or the other – we can’t ‘hedge our bets’, we can’t ‘chop and change’ to suits ourselves. This is a bit like saying that we either have to decide on lying or telling the truth in order to get by in life. Or to put this another way, we have to decide between ‘finding the easy way round all of our problems’, or ‘doing the required work, whatever that work might be and however much we don’t want to do it’. This doesn’t mean that if we opt for the ‘honest approach’ we won’t ever cheat or tell lies, it just means that we don’t believe that cheating or lungs can really get us anywhere worthwhile, and so because of this insight we won’t invest in the total way that we would have done before.

 

The ‘default setting’ is for us to absolutely wholeheartedly believe whatever it is that the thinking mind tells us, so that when the TM tells us that we are ‘onto a winner’ we get foolishly excited, and when it tells us that we have ‘screwed it all up’ we become equally foolishly despairing. We are ‘one hundred percent gullible with respect to what the TM tells us’ in other words, and this is what lends that particular and peculiar ‘mechanical’ quality to our responses. We don’t have to be 100% gullible though (that’s only our ‘default’, as we have said) – we can learn to doubt the thinking mind and become perhaps only 98% gullible instead! We will still ‘react’ even when we have – to some limited extent – started to see through the thinking mind; we will still react because our ‘perceived well-being’ is still linked or coupled to what our thoughts tell us about ourselves and the world, but there is now a part of us that is not buying into it as much as we used to. The ‘buy in’ is not total anymore, and this changes everything – something else has entered the picture apart from ‘mechanical reacting’. Consciousness has come into play…

 

The point that comes out of this therefore is that it actually suits us to buy into what the TM tells us because if we don’t then we can’t use the thinking process to insulate ourselves from the difficult times in life. This is the argument that we are making here – that if we want to use ‘strategies’ to help us when things get rough then we have to ‘believe our thoughts to be real’, but once we take the step of ‘believing our thoughts to be real’ then we can’t simply go back to not believing in the reality of our thoughts once the need for a coping strategy is past! If we invest in games and game-playing to make ourselves feel more secure in life then we can’t just ‘exit’ our games a bit later on. This is the point that we keep on making – that what we are looking at here is strictly a ‘one-way street’, which is to say, the process in question is ‘irreversible’. Once we ‘start playing the game’ then we can’t just ‘stop playing it’; we can’t just ‘stop playing it’ because we have now lost the capacity to know that the game is a game!

 

 

 

 

Art: wallpaperhi.com

 

 

 

 

 

Mental health in the Cybernetic Age

The fruit of our collective human endeavour is not quite what we think it is – the impression we have of ourselves is very much that we have been steadily improving our situation over the centuries and that we have – at this point in time – achieved something that is pretty much unprecedented. What we have achieved is unprecedented to be sure, but not in quite the way that we like to imagine it is!

 

What we have actually achieved is to have created an unreal world for ourselves and this kind of thing always comes with certain disadvantages, naturally enough! It is perfectly straightforward to explain how we have achieved this remarkable feat of ‘creating an unreal world’ – it’s very straightforward indeed, as it happens. We have created an unreal world by assiduously adapting ourselves to a system of meanings that we ourselves have created. We have become the victims of our own constructs, therefore. We have been ‘trapped by our own device’!

 

It’s not so much the physical environment that we’re talking about here – although that of course comes into it – but the system of meanings that we have overlaid the physical environment with. We don’t live in the physical environment after all but rather we live in a hyperreal world of ascribed meanings that we have superimposed upon that environment. We have in other words adapted not to the world as it is in itself but to the world that is made up of meanings that we ourselves have arbritrarily come up with. This is what Jung is saying in this passage taken from CW Vol 10, Civilization In Transition

The danger that faces us today is that the whole of reality will be replaced by words. This accounts for that terrible lack of instinct in modern man, particularly the city-dweller. He lacks all contact with life and the breath of nature. He knows a rabbit or a cow only from the illustrated paper, the dictionary, or the movies, and thinks he knows what it is really like – and is then amazed that cowsheds “smell,” because the dictionary didn’t say so.

 

When Jung talks about the whole of reality being replaced by words this is the same thing as talking about reality being replaced by thoughts or ideas and there is – needless to say – is very significant difference between the world itself and the two-dimensional ‘rational overlay’ that we replace it with. The problem here is that no matter how successful we are at the task of adapting ourselves to the system that we have collectively constructed, this does not in the least bit translate (or ‘transfer’) to the world that we did not create, which is ‘the world of reality’. And not only does it not ‘transfer,’ there is actually an ‘inverse law’ operating here such that the more we optimise our performance within the terms of the game that we are playing the more removed (and therefore alienated) we are from reality itself. This isn’t a particularly hard thing to see – if we were to spend years in front of an X-box then this clearly isn’t going to help us out there in the real world; quite the reverse is going to be true, as we all know.

 

Skills learned in games can transfer to other aspects of life that are also purely ‘rule-based’, but this is beside the point since other aspects of life that also rule-based’ are also games, they’re just different games. The key difference between games and ‘unconstructed reality’ is precisely that unconstructed reality can’t be understood in terms of rules. If we think that everything that life can be mastered by merely by ‘grasping the underlying rules’ then we are in for a very big surprise, as experience always shows. Life (or reality) is never as simple as we take it to be and this is the only ‘rule’ (although it is more of a principle than a rule) that we need to learn! As long as we remember this then we won’t go too far wrong…

 

Saying that life is never as simple or straightforward as we understand it to be as just another way of saying that there’s more to it than our theories or models allow for there to be; or as Shakespeare puts it, There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. There is more to the world than ideas our about the world (which is to say, the world is not the same thing as our idea of it). In mathematics this principle is expressed very precisely by Gödel’s two incompleteness theorems, which – according to the Wikipedia entry – is widely if not universally thought to show that the attempt “to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible.”

 

In the physical sciences this principle finds expression in chaos and complexity theory. According to Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (1985) therefore:

No single theoretical language articulating the variables to which a well-defined value can be attributed can exhaust the physical content of a system. Various possible languages and points of view about the system may be complementary. They all deal with the same reality, but it is impossible to reduce them to a single description. The irreducible plurality of perspectives on the same reality expresses the impossibility of a divine point of view from which the whole of reality is visible.

In more down-to-earth language, we could simply say that there is always going to be something that is going to surprise us, no matter how smart we might think that we are.

 

The process of ‘gaining wisdom’ in life might be explained therefore in terms of us learning – through first-hand experience – about this principle of incompleteness; gaining wisdom comes down to the process of discovering that our theories, models and ideas about the world are always incomplete, therefore. Gaining wisdom is a negative process, in other words. We might (if we were naïve enough) think that gaining wisdom means ‘knowing more and more about the world’, but that is not it at all, as many philosophers have of course pointed out. Having said this, whilst it is very clear that the process of learning about the world is the same thing as ‘learning that there is more to reality than our ideas or beliefs about it’ it is also crucially important to acknowledge that this process very often doesn’t happen, or at least is indefinitely delayed. We resist genuinely learning about the world, and content ourselves with accumulating ‘positive knowledge’ instead – ‘positive knowledge’ being a mass of dead facts and figures that never contradict our core assumptions.

 

We could suggest three main reasons why this process of learning might be stifled or indefinitely delayed. One reason would be where there is a belief structure that is particularly strong and where that belief structure is supported (or even enforced) by the culture that we are part of. Organised religion is of course a well-known culprit here – where there is some kind of dogmatic system of religious belief then discovering that ‘there is more to the world than our beliefs about it’ is strictly prohibited! Making a discovery like this immediately puts the person at odds with everyone else and leads to heresy, which is the crime of ‘not seeing the way the world in the way we are supposed to see it’. Heresy is of course the ultimate – most unforgivable – crime in a dogmatic system of religious belief.

 

Another possibility is where we have a strong belief that is not validated or supported by everyone around us but which we adhere to all the same. This type of belief also ‘holds us captive’ and prevents us from venturing beyond it and discovering that it is not ‘all-explaining’ in the way it seems to. A paranoid worldview would be one example of this; it is extraordinary hard to see that there is more to the world than our paranoid ideas about it – if we could do this then we wouldn’t be paranoid! Chronic anxiety would be another example – if I am acutely anxious then my (unexamined generally) hypothesis is that ‘if I don’t control successfully then things will inevitably go very wrong’. Anxiety – we might say – equals this underlying hypothesis plus a deep down lack of confidence that we can in fact control successfully. Because we are so defensively occupied therefore, we are simply not going to have the time to explore any other alternatives to our unconsciously held hypothesis. It is going to be too frightening for us to take the risk of doing so.

 

What we looking at here are instances of what we might call ‘chronic non-learning’ and we could go on exploring such instances indefinitely. What we are particularly interested in looking at in this discussion is something quite different however – what we are looking at here is ‘chronic non-learning as a result of being too adapted to the consensus reality that is society’, and this is something that we are almost entirely blind to. As Jung (1958, p 81) argues in The Undiscovered Self, the pressure to adapt to the social world is so great (and in the potential rewards so large) that it is almost inevitable that we are going to forget everything else in pursuit of the goal of ‘100% adaptation’ –

Nothing estranges a man from the ground plan of his instincts more than his learning capacity, which turns out to be a creative drive towards progressive transformation of human modes of behaviour. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of our existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings. It is also the source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e. by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious. The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself – a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, the drive for knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctual tendencies. His consciousness therefore orientates itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being.  In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.

When we are 100% adapted to the ‘purely conceptual realm’ then there is of course no chance that we will ever go beyond the system that we are adapted to, which is what we would need to in order to see that the whole thing is only an ‘arbitrary construct’ (and is on this account fundamentally unreal).

 

The immediate pressure to adapt to the social milieu is all but overwhelming of course – sometimes it actually is overwhelming! The rewards for successful adaptation aren’t just practical (or ‘material’) either; when we can’t ‘fit in’ this is acutely distressing for us in a psychological sense and this can be seen as an even bigger motivation for us to adapt to social world than the fact that we need to be part of it in order to have friends and some means of ‘making out’ in the world in the collectively agreed-upon reality. An important ‘additional factor’ – which would not have been so much in evidence when Jung was writing back in the first half of the Twentieth century – is something that we might perhaps call ‘the Dawn of the Hyperreal Era’ (in honour of Jean Baudrillard). We could also speak in terms of ‘the Advent of the Cybernetic Age’, which is an age in which ‘everything happens in the head’ and nowhere else, as Reggie Ray suggests here in this quote taken from psychologytoday.com

People are disconnected from their bodies, from their direct experience of life, more and more so as our cybernetic age reaches literally insane intensity; hence people are no longer able to find the depths, the sanity, the health, and the feeling of well-being that only their bodies can offer. We are all talking, thinking heads, more and more cut off from anything actually real.

There is no harm in talking about things, just as there is no harm in thinking about things; when all we do is to talk about things or think about things however then this is another matter entirely! We could equally well say that there is no harm in the Cybernetic Age just as long as we don’t dive headfirst into cyberspace and try to act out the entirety of our lives in this abstract, non-corporeal realm. When this happens – when we jump head first into the purely formal realm that we have created for ourselves (which is as we have said an artificial world that is made up only of meanings that we ourselves have made up) then insoluble problems inevitably start to arise.

 

The essential problem here is that when we adapt to an unreal world then we ourselves inevitably become unreal too. We won’t look unreal or feel unreal, but that doesn’t count for a lot – all that does is to prevent us from seeing the truth about ourselves! If I was unreal but could see that I was then this would in itself be a ‘real thing’ after all. Saying that we ‘become unreal’ sounds outlandish but it isn’t. This shouldn’t be taken as some improvable ‘metaphysical assertion’ – it is on the contrary a very practical type of thing that we are talking about here. When we tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘get real’ this isn’t metaphysics, it simply means that we are being encouraged to come out of our ideas about the world (which is a counter-productive situation) and back to the actual thing itself. It is – in other words – a very basic thing that we’re talking about here! What could be more basic than this?

 

‘Resilience’ is a buzzword these days and we can very easily see that there must be a link between the notion of ‘being resilient’ and the notion of ‘being real’. Real people are resilient, obviously! There has been a lot of concern voiced in recent years that we are becoming less and less resilient as the generations succeed each other. This is a road that is very clearly not leading us to a good place. Various hypotheses have been put forward and what people generally say that there must be it must have something to do with the modern way of life – which certainly seems to be a pretty fair guess. Through ‘less direct’ contact with the world (and the people) around us – because more and more of life happens via a digital interface – we become more and more fragile, less and less able to deal with ‘direct contact’. Direct, unmediated contact with the world around us can actually become frightening – it easily gets so we’d much rather just stay in our cocoons..

 

It’s not just that we have difficulty interacting with the world when there is no digital interface involved (if we can allow that this is the problem) – alongside the difficulty in directly interacting with our environment (or aspects of our environment that are unfamiliar to us) there comes a whole gamut of mental health issues that are created by the sense of ‘alienation’ – which is of course what disconnection (or ‘digitally-mediated connection’, which is the same thing) comes down to. Research in the UK has shown seems to show that the percentage of third level students suffering from anxiety, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts is increasing; in a research report (2019) published by the Society for Research into Higher Education Dr Yvonne Sweeney and Dr Micheal Fays state that –

In 2015/16, 15,395 UK-domiciled first-year students at HEIs in the UK disclosed a mental health condition – almost five times the number in 2006/07. This equates to 2 per cent of first-year students in 2015/16, up from 0.4 per cent in 2006/07.

The possibility that this is a real trend here is clearly a matter of great concern; it might well be the case that when Jung said that the greatest danger we face in modern times is the danger posed by the insidious onset of hyperreality (although he didn’t use those exact words) he was hitting the nail right on the head. Ironically, social media is now full of speculative reports that excessive absorption in social media is distorting the whole business of ‘what it means to be a human being’ and turning us into self-absorbed ‘snowflakes’.

 

College authorities across the world have been responding to this situation by offering courses and workshops on resilience training, which on the face of it sounds like an excellent idea. The only problem is that we don’t understand this matter of ‘resilience’ for what it actually is. This is very evident when we consider that our current idea of resilience that it involves the acquisition and implementation of various strategies and skills as an effective countermeasure to the problem.  As soon as we see that ‘being resilient’ is just another way of talking about ‘being real’ however, then the idea that we can become real by means of utilizing strategies and skills starts to look a lot less convincing! Can there be such a thing a strategy for being real? Is inner strength really just a matter of having the right skills and knowing how to use them? Is it just a matter of doing X, Y and Z? Therapies such as DBT assume that this is indeed the case but when if we were to reflect at all on the matter (which isn’t something that we aren’t particularly prone to doing in the ultra-conformist world of mental healthcare provision!) we would see that skills and strategies are a substitute for inner strength not a way of attaining it. Carl Jung made this same point over fifty years ago when he said that ‘rules are a substitute for consciousness’.

 

The point here is of course is that to go down the road of optimizing strategies to compensate for our lack of autonomy, our lack of ‘inner strength’, our absence of ‘consciousness’ we are accentuating the problem rather than solving it! We will no doubt be able to obtain measurable short-terms benefits this way (which will encourage us that we are on the right track) but these short-term benefits are only achieved at the price of a long-term collective ‘mental health disaster’. It’s ‘short-termism’ and we all know where short-termism gets us. We ought to know where it gets us to by now, at any rate. There is no such thing as ‘a strategy for becoming real’! Quite the contrary is true – strategies in mental health exist for the purpose of compensating for our lack of inner strength; they exist for the purpose of covering up this core deficiency. Our approach of assuming that what we call ‘resilience’ can be acquired via training and workshops is making what the deepest aspect of what it means to be a human being into something totally trivial – apparently, there is a recipe for becoming resilient just as there is a recipe for cooking spaghetti bolognese or baking fruit scones. There’s probably a YouTube tutorial on it, just as there is for everything else. This isn’t to knock online tutorials – it’s just that when it comes to the matter of how to go about ‘being a human being’ we’re looking in the wrong place; we should be ‘looking within’, not ‘looking on the outside’ for what someone else might have to say!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwing Out The Baby

The trouble with generic therapy is that it is all about copying. We can hardly deny this – we have after all made a virtue of copying, just as we have made a sin of deviance. To copy to be trustworthy and reliable, to deviate on the other hand is to be a loose cannon, an untrustworthy individualist. The idea is that when we all sing from the same hymn sheet then the effectiveness of the therapy will not be compromised. Moreover – and perhaps even more importantly – the organisation that you are working for can ‘stand over’ what you doing because it is guaranteed ‘best practice’. Best practice is what we are always hearing about. This then is what we are calling ‘generic therapy’ – it is a therapy that is fundamentally based on approved protocols and procedures.

 

This tends to sounds good to us – it certainly sounds good to organisations and to healthcare providers, but it isn’t by any means as good as it might sound. There is a very serious problem with it and that problem has to do with the way in which we are always ‘copying from a template’, which are of course what protocols and procedures are. Protocols and procedures are templates. If we base what we’re doing on a ‘model’ then this too, needless to say, is ‘copying from a template’. This again may not sound like a problem – templates are after all to a large extent essential in modern life (they are essential in all manufacturing and industrial processes, for example) but one place where templates for understanding and behaving are not useful is in the realm of mental health! Templates are not just ‘not useful’ here, they are a positive liability…

 

Templates are a liability when it comes to mental health because they represent the antithetical principle to consciousness. We may not consider that consciousness does have ‘an antithetical principle’ but it does and that antithetical principle is routine, or habit, or ‘acting on precedents’. Routine is something that we don’t think about but which we just ‘do’, just as a template is something that we don’t look at afresh each time, but which we just take guidance or direction from. A template is there to direct us, not to be questioned, not to be examined. What we are actually talking about here are rules therefore and rules are the quintessential antithetical principle to consciousness. Rules are the antithesis of consciousness because consciousness comes down to ‘freedom of attention’ whilst rules are – of course – the very absence of freedom.

 

When we follow a routine or act on the basis of a template then we are not looking at what we are doing and when we’re not looking at what we doing then we’re unconscious – our attention is following the channels that have been cut for it and this means that we are basically ‘seeing what we have been told to see’ (or ‘seeing what we have been influenced to see’) and seeing what we have been told to see (or seeing what we have been programmed to see)  is not seeing! We could therefore talk in terms of ‘operating on the basis of the templates that we have been given’, or we could talk in terms of ‘copying’ – ‘copying’ clearly indicates that the authority is outside of us, it clearly indicates that the authority is not us. We could also express this idea by simply saying that we are ‘obeying rules’, and this brings us back to the point that we have just made about ‘rules being the antithesis of consciousness’. If it is consciousness that are studying therefore (or trying to ‘work with’ if we are counsellors or therapists) then using models and protocols and procedures and strategies is ‘using unconsciousness to work with consciousness’. We are required to be unconscious (i.e. operate merely as an unreflective tool of ‘the system of thought’) in order to work helpfully as a therapist!

 

When we follow rules (i.e. when we operate on the basis of models, theories, protocols and procedures) then everything is coming from outside of us and nothing is coming from the inside. Everything is come from the logical system/framework that we are working within. This of course is the modern way! What is essentially happening here is that ‘the inside’ is not being trusted, either by the system or organisation that we are working for, or by ourselves. We need our officially approved maps to follow, we need our state-sanctioned rules to obey. This actually annihilates the individual of course and so we are again confronted with the same self-contradiction that we have just highlighted. The self-contradiction that we’re talking about is nothing if not clear – mental health is where we are operating in the world on the basis of our own true individuality, and ‘compromised mental health’ – we might say – is where there are factors that are denying our true individuality and therefore causing us to be what we aren’t. Our true nature has been distorted, in other words. Somehow, therefore, we are expected to work effectively as therapists by abdicating our true individuality, by repressing it, by submerging it under a suffocating blanket of ‘generic responses’.

 

Another way of looking at this in terms of wisdom. Wisdom is a traditional term and as such it doesn’t really have very much currency in the modern world. It has become a rather ‘quaint’ or old-fashioned term – it’s almost as if the word only belongs within the context of fairy tales, legends and myths. Carl Jung might have talked about ‘the archetype of the wise old man’ but what has that archetype to do with this modern ‘scientific’ world of ours? We have put ‘experts’ on a pedestal it is true, but experts are a very different thing to wise men and wise women; experts are a different kettle of fish entirely! Experts work on the basis of ‘evidence’ and evidence always comes from the outside.  We could say that ours is an ‘expert culture’ and although in common speech we will from time to time acknowledge a person we know or have heard of as ‘being wise’, this designation has no credibility within society itself. Wisdom is not something that is every officially recognised. There are no certificates for wisdom, after all; there is no professional body to regulate the ‘holders of wisdom’ and say whether they have a right to this title or not.

 

A huge (but nevertheless invisible) distortion has crept into our present-day culture therefore – a distortion that is particularly ironic in the field of mental health, as we have been saying. In one way of course it makes good sense to regulate the field of mental health and whatever therapies or approaches or professions there might be that claim to have relevance here – illness of any kind, when it’s chronic and not easily dealt with, has always drawn quacks and charlatans in their droves, a lot of them even managing convince themselves that they know what they are doing! When we take this too far however – as we have done – then it is undoubtedly a case of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’. When there is no possibility of truly independent thought (or truly independent perception, which is to say, perception that is not guided by models and templates) then to use the word ‘therapy’ is both misleading and irresponsible. Whatever else is going on here, it isn’t therapy! In the absence of unfettered (or unconditioned) consciousness, there is nothing one human being can genuinely do for another, as far as mental health goes, at least. The blind cannot lead the blind – or if they do, then it is only in the direction of the nearest cliff-edge!

 

The world of therapy is just one example of what we have been talking about here however, albeit a rather pertinent one. In contemporary society everything ‘comes from the outside’ – our ways of looking at the world, our ways of understanding ourselves, our very way of ‘being in the world’ – all of these come from the outside, all of these are supplied by ‘the omnipresent external authority’. This is convenient in one way of cause but it is deadly in another – it is deadly as far as our actual individuality is concerned and our ‘actual individuality’ is who we are! When everything comes from the outside there is no wisdom. Rules are a substitute for consciousness, as Jung says. Instead of wisdom we rely on skills and strategies, tricks and manoeuvres, protocols and procedures, that we take out of our famous ‘toolbox’ as and when needed. This – we hope – will get us through life. Most of the time it does indeed seem that our ‘bag of tricks’ (our ‘collection of coping strategies’) will get us through life safely – it seems as if it will until one day something happens that isn’t just some ‘minor upset along the way’. That’s when things start (very quickly) to fall apart.

 

When something of a more major or long-lasting nature happens we discover (even though we might not know at the time that we are discovering it) that the answer doesn’t come ‘from the outside’. The responsibility is ours and it always was. We might go looking for experts or trained professionals to help us when this happens but – unfortunately – it is almost always the case that our experts are just as empty of individuality and wisdom as we are! That’s the way our society is set up. That’s the predicament we’re in – although none of our experts or trained professionals will ever admit it…

 

 

Art: Thomas Chamberlain, on goodfon.com