The Mechanism Of Unconsciousness

It is commonplace in therapy to hear people say that they feel that they have lost themselves, or feel that they have become disconnected from themselves. Alternatively, people might say that they feel disconnected from reality, or from the world, or from the people around them – both come down to the same thing. Jung points out that traditional cultures speak of the phenomenon of ‘loss of soul’ in these circumstances and no more eloquent or succinct description of this type of suffering exists, and yet in the language used by us mental health workers, the official, so-called ‘scientific’ language, we hear nothing that resonates with this. We certainly would never allow ourselves be heard talking about something like ‘loss of soul’! Instead, we enthusiastically generate a profusion of bizarre, artificial terms that are somehow supposed to assist us to understand the people we are dealing with. The highly technical language nature of the ‘official language’ gives us the impression that we have very clear and precise understanding of what is going on, but this is not at all the case! We don’t have any understanding, never mind an extremely detailed, in-depth ‘technically-advanced’ understanding. That’s pure moonshine! We’re kidding ourselves that we know what we’re talking about…

 

How can we say this? Quite simply, the dry and abstract nature of the language we as professionals use immediately tells us this – there is clearly no (or precious little) correspondence between our ‘technical’ language and the experience that that the person we are working with is having. In physical medicine it is possible to have a formal description of what is going on for the patient that has nothing to do with what it actually feels like to have the sickness the illness or condition and this is a legitimate state of affairs inasmuch as there is some kind of definable process at work that we can point to. Admittedly, our ‘formal description’ is never going to be the whole story, but it can be practically helpful nevertheless. In mental health this is however most emphatically not the case – there is no defined or definable biological ‘illness process’ taking place that we can point a finger at. This ‘illness process’ has never been found, let alone been measured, quantified and corroborated by experts. If someone were to find a causal connection between the physiological substrate and the commonly-presenting disturbances in mental health that would be very big news – we would know all about it!

 

There are processes taking place here of course and we can speak meaningfully about them, but only if the language we use is sensitive enough and flexible enough for the job – the realm that we are trying to talk about here is not a concrete one, it is most emphatically ‘not quantifiable’ and for this reason developing some sort of dense, ‘clunky’ pseudo-technical language is actually quite absurd. We are not talking about what’s really going on, so what is the point of this investment in a way of describing things that doesn’t actually have bona fide correlates in the real world? In the case of a physical illness such as malaria there exists a level of description that is quite separate from the experience of the various symptoms, such as high temperature, fatigue, weakness, shivers, etc, and this has to do with the nature of the malaria-producing parasite, its mode of transmission, and so on, and this body of knowledge, abstract though it is from the point of view of the sufferer’s actual experience, is clearly very relevant.

 

It’s a different kettle of fish however when we are talking about psychological disturbances – there is no ‘abstract level of meaning’ that we can usefully refer to here. Whatever my actual experience is, that is the meaning of what is happening to me.  No one is supposed to be ‘thinking’ about it – drawing conclusions about it, analysing it, etc. No ‘models’ or theories exist that can be of any genuine practical use. There is no ‘story’ that can be read from what is happening to me, nothing an expert clinician can extract from my experience that is going to be more relevant than the experience itself – all they are doing is imposing their own ‘version of events’ on me, and this is aggression not ‘helping’. It is, we might say, a widely practiced form of ‘institutionalized violence’; it is ‘violence’ or ‘aggression’ in the sense that it is ‘an enforced conformity to some widely-held set of assumptions about life’. This sort of talk will probably sound rather odd to most people since we that we all very much tend to take it for granted that there must always exist some ‘objective’ description of what is going on for us that we almost certainly don’t have any access to. To think this is very much to miss the point, however – if I am having some kind of painful/distressing experience and I try to interpret what I’m feeling in some kind of rational (or ‘scientific’) way then what I’m essentially doing is denying what I’m feeling. The only way not to deny it what’s going on for me is not to interpret, not to impose my own (or anyone else’s) framework of interpretation on my experience. Interpretation is aggression, and as such it is always going to rebound on me and add to my suffering rather than lessoning it.

 

This is a strange thing to say because our understanding is very much that the true, objective nature of things can only be known by scientific experts – the raw experiential data of our lived lives is only a subjective illusion, so we in our sophistication believe. It might be a subjective illusion, but at the same time it is our subjective illusion and we can’t dismiss it or in any way walk away from it. We certainly can’t hand it over to a bunch of big-brained experts to make sense of it! Whatever I’m experiencing it is my truth, and is worthy of respect on this account. My own truth is all I have, after all. In short, no one – no matter how highly educated or experienced they might be – can ever tell us ‘what our experience means’. We ought to know this, we ought to see it very clearly indeed, but we don’t. We have been bamboozled for too long!

 

Whatever ‘condition’ it is that I am suffering from has a meaning to me that manifests in the form of mental or emotional pain, obviously enough, but the point that isn’t so easily understood that the pain does carry a meaning, or – as we should rather say – that the presence of pain is a meaning’ in itself. The ‘meaning’ of the experience is the experience itself, as we have already said. This may become easier to understand if we go back to what we started off talking about: the pain of neurosis (we might say) is the pain of being separated from our own true nature, and of being compelled therefore to live in some kind of ‘removed format’, some kind of format that bears no essential relationship to who we really are. This doesn’t mean however that the condition of being separated from our true nature, in some kind of removed format’, is always going to be painful for us – very often it isn’t, very often we have no way of knowing that we are, in some fundamental way, ‘removed from ourselves’. We are not in the least bit aware of our ‘lack of a sense of interiority’ because that lack of interiority becomes projected out onto the world where it is invertedly perceived as ‘potential values’ that we may or may not be able to realise. To put this more clearly, we can say that our vanished interiority shows itself in a hallucinatory fashion as ‘prizes that we can win’. But our chance of realizing these external values, of winning these ‘prizes’, is zero; this is never going to be any more than mere ‘theatre’ – it is never going to be any more than mere theatre because the inverted projection of our missing interiority isn’t an actual ‘thing in itself’, it’s simply a symbol or not metaphor for what is missing. The Great Prize that we are trying to acquire in the outside world is a metaphor that we don’t see as a metaphor, a symbol that we don’t see as a symbol; on the contrary, we see the value that we are chasing – very naïvely – as being something that really does have an independent existence in the outside world. Rather than being ‘psychologically-minded’, we are being 100% ‘concrete-minded’ instead. What we have just described is the state of ‘psychological unconsciousness’ in a nutshell. Unconscious life (we might say) is the life in which we spend all our time displacing the unacknowledged pain of disconnection from our own true nature (i.e. our interiority) onto the outside world and then either chasing it when it appears in the form of attractive projections, or running away from it when it appears in negative (or aversive) manifestations.

 

This displacement mechanism is – therefore – why it is that we aren’t aware of our state of ‘removal’ from ourselves, why it is that we don’t know about our ‘lack of interiority’. We don’t know what is missing from our lives because we have unconsciously reformulated it in terms of some bogus ‘external possibility’ that we may (or may not) be able to realise in the outside world. This becomes the normal way for us to be, the normal way for the world to be. When we are in this ‘distracted’ mode of being we don’t miss our relationship with our true being, our actual core nature, then because we have what we might call a ‘delusional’ relationship with it as it (misleadingly) appears in projected form; we have a relationship with ‘the reflection of our interiority’, which is just like the reflection of the moon in the village pond, to use the Zen metaphor.

 

The remarkable thing about this is that we are able to construct our whole lives on this basis – not on the basis of a genuine relationship with our ‘interiority’ but on the basis of our relationship to a supposed ‘possibility’ that can’t actually ever come to pass, which is the projected eventuality of us being able to bring about the actualisation of the exteriorization (or displacement) of our lack of interiority, which (naturally enough) isn’t a real thing at all but – as we have said – merely a symbol or metaphor which we can’t see as such. So putting this a bit more simply, our lives are predicated upon this key assumption that ‘the symbol isn’t a symbol at all but the real thing’, which is clearly never going to get us anywhere!

 

This would sound very fanciful indeed as a basis for living life if it were not for the fact that we already know that it actually works very well indeed. We know that it works very well indeed because we can see the evidence all around us! We could of course ask how we know that we are all living ‘on the basis of symbol or metaphor that we can’t see such’, and this is a reasonable question. Everyone we meet (or at least almost everybody) seems to be operating in a perfectly authentic basis, after all. Nobody seems to be ‘unconscious’, nobody seems to be ‘lacking in interiority’! There is a key ‘yardstick’ that we could use here and that is the question of whether the structure of society actually makes sense to us or not, whether it seems like a perfectly reasonable and sensible way to be living our lives, or not. If it does make sense, if it does seem like a reasonable and worthwhile way to live our lives, then this clearly demonstrates that we are living life on the basis of the metaphor that we cannot see to be a metaphor. It clearly demonstrates that we are ‘living life concretely’, in other words. The values of society are all entirely concrete; this is of course the case because they relate only to ‘the concrete sense of self’. Society has nothing to say on the subject of ‘the inner life’ and that is the only life that really matters, the only life that is worthy of the name…

 

The social structure exists for one purpose and one purpose only – validating and facilitating the concrete identity. It only exists to support ‘the life of the outer man or outer woman’. If we are operating on the basis of the concrete identity then the structure of society serves us very well therefore (or at least it seems to) but when we aren’t looking out of the world from the concrete point of view then we perceive it as being hostile to us – it is hostile to us as we truly are in our essence. The black-and-white framework of meaning that is the social system is implacably hostile to consciousness; naturally the FW is hostile to consciousness – it’s hostile to consciousness because it always wants to put consciousness in a box! When we put consciousness into a box it ceases to be consciousness; it becomes something else instead – it becomes ‘the concrete self’!

 

We are using this observation as a way of throwing light on the way in which we live life on the basis of on the basis of symbols that we mistake for a concrete reality, but this is of course only going to work if we are able to step out of the concrete self! If we can’t step out of this viewpoint then our argument is wasted effort – the only way we can ever appreciate the significance of the statement that ‘we are unconscious because we live life on the basis of symbols that are taken in a concrete fashion’ is if we can already see things in a ‘non-concrete’ way and if we can’t then the observation will remain quite meaningless to us. This entire discussion is of course quite meaningless anyway if we are only thinking in a concrete way – the only thing the concrete point of view can understand is its own concrete, black-and-white logic and that logic always confirms the validity of the viewpoint that is using it. The concrete self has validation aplenty (which is of course how gets to be the concrete self) but at the same time (despite all this spurious validation) it still remains pure empty delusion.

 

To come back to the gist of what we are saying then, it’s clearly possible to live on the basis of displaced interiority, and when we do so we end up in the very familiar situation of ‘the concrete self living in the projected positive world’. We don’t need to say anything further about this particular situation because we all know it so well! When we make the experiment of living as the concrete self in the concrete world (as, for the most part, we all are doing) then we don’t notice our lack of interiority. This lack shows itself in terms of our ‘distractibility,’ our immersion within the world of fear and desire, but instead of lack of authenticity and independence, we just see this as ‘normal everyday life’ and see nothing wrong with it. We don’t know what we are missing, after all – reality has been murdered but there are no witnesses, as Jean Baudrillard says.

 

Our lack of interiority can impinge upon us however when it does it manifests in terms of an intensification or exaggeration of the tendency to be controlled either one way or the other by the mechanical force of attraction/aversion. Whenever this mechanical tendency of ours gets accentuated beyond a certain point it becomes painfully visible to us and it is shown up as being incongruous as a result of its painful visibility. When our attention is drawn to the overtly mechanical and compulsive nature of our behaviour and thinking then this is of course highly distressing for us – it is highly distressing because we can’t help seeing that the terrible lack of autonomy that is involved here – we can clearly see that we have been ‘taken over’ by external deterministic factors that are very obviously inimical to our true well-being. The truth of the matter is that we are almost always being controlled by these external mechanical factors but we don’t notice it because it is generally occurs within the range of what we see as ‘normal (or ‘socially-congruent’) behaviour. Generally speaking – when the mechanism of unconsciousness is running smoothly – then we obtain some degree of satisfaction and validation as a result of obeying the mechanical impulses that drive us. We feel ourselves to be in control and that we are ‘doing stuff because we want to do it’; we have the ‘illusion of autonomy’, in other words. This illusion is painfully ruptured when we find ourselves doing (or thinking) stuff that we don’t want to do (or think), and when these actions cause even more pain than the pain we are trying to get away from. Our attempts to escape the pain inside only bring us more pain and this is the neurotic situation in a nutshell.

 

In terms of ‘loss of soul’, we could say that the failure of the mechanism occurs when we can no longer distract ourselves from the pain of having lost that essential part of ourselves because our distraction strategies are now causing us even more pain than the pain we are already in. Paradoxically, therefore, our failed attempts to avoid the suffering of our lost interiority (our lost connection with our own essential nature) is what brings us to the point where we can’t help finding that connection again. All our tried-and-trusted exit routes have been ‘cut off’, so to speak, and so we have no choice but to confront the truth. Our ‘failure’ helps us where our ‘success’ could not, therefore…

 

 

 

Art: Corvi by Inkiostro Bianco, taken from architonic.com

 

 

 

 

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False Health

It is remarkable how much we talk about mental health when we, as a culture, have so little understanding of what this actually means. Just by taking a moment to look around us we can tell that – culturally speaking – we know (and care) nothing at all about mental health. All politicians and business leaders ever talk about is the economy and the importance of having growth in the economy, as if this were somehow going to solve all our problems. But what is ‘the economy’ other than the lynchpin of runaway consumerism, and what is consumerism other than the voracious pursuit of distractions? It is abundantly obvious that most of the goods and services that we are provided with are not being sold to us for the sake of improving the quality of our lives, but in order to make money for those selling them on the one hand, and – more importantly – for the sake of perpetuating the whole set up! This is what John Berger says in Ways of Seeing – we might think that an advert is seeking to promote the particular product being showcased but the more important function of the advert (or as Berger says, of ‘publicity’) is to sell our whole way of life. When we talk about the need to perpetuate the system then – needless to say – what we talking about here are ‘mechanical forces’, and if we elect to be ruled over by mechanical forces then the very last thing we can expect to obtain as a result of good mental health!

 

We can’t have it both ways – we can’t have a way of life that devotes itself to distraction and yet at the same time get to talk about mental health as if we actually genuinely care about it! It is very straightforward to tell the difference between the way of life that is orientated towards distraction and a way of life that isn’t. One way to talk about this difference is to say that a life that is orientated around distraction is a life orientated around the false, mind-produced image of the self. If I am operating from the standpoint of the mind-produced image of the self (which is of course never anything more than an idea) then it goes without saying that I’m only going to be interested in distractions! What else could I possibly be interested in? If I were to take an interest in the truth then this would – very painfully – show up the falsity of my basis, and that wouldn’t be very much fun for me; if I went down this road far enough then I would have to give up this illusory self-image of mine and I don’t want to give it up! All of my efforts, all of my striving, all of my activities are for the sake of promoting and affirming this illusory self-image and ‘having a relationship with the truth’ most definitely ISN’T for the sake of the self-image. Nothing could be clearer than this – the self-image (although it won’t ever admit it) doesn’t want to have any truck with the truth…

 

The self-image is interested only in the sort of things that validate its supposing existence and these just happen to be the sort of things that our society specialises in producing. This type of validation is exactly what our way of life provides us with. Could anyone really say that our generic ‘mass culture’ produces or encourages anything that has the function of drawing our attention to the falsity of our assumptions, and thereby helps us to wake up from the stultifying collective dream that we are all stuck in? Of course no one would ever say this – the idea is simply laughable. There is nothing in our designed world that has the function of reminding us who we really are; there is nothing in our environment that is there to help bring consciousness to us. There are no lamps to guide our way, only disinformation, only state-sponsored mirages. Drawing attention to the truth is not what’s going on here at all – all the stuff that is thrown at us by society has the express purpose of steering us in another direction entirely. We are bombarded every day with messages that have the specific function of orientating us towards the mind-produced illusion, towards delusion and not to the truth. As Sogyal Rinpoche says, our society specialises in ‘selling samsara’.

 

‘Samsara’ may simply be taken as meaning ‘the life of the false, mind-produced self’, and when this is the only life we know then – naturally enough – this ‘life’ is going to be all about distraction! As we have already said, what else would it be about? When we talk about ‘mental health’ in connection with this world of distraction, this ‘life of the mind-produced self,’ then we are talking utter nonsense, therefore. There’s no ‘health’ here and there never could be – this is the very antithesis of mental health – this is ‘the forgetting of our true nature’. The ‘forgetting of our true nature’ means that the thing that is most precious to us, most vital to us, has been lost and something else – some ‘false idol’ – erected in its place. The loss of what is most precious to us is nothing other than a wound, therefore – we have sustained a wound and as long as we remain oblivious to this wound then we can hardly claim to be interested in or orientated towards mental health! To claim this is simply farcical.

 

Just because it is straightforward – in principle – talk about what the differences between ‘something that operates as a distraction’ and ‘something that doesn’t’, this doesn’t mean that it’s equally straightforward to know the difference in practice, of course. Knowing the difference between ‘an impulse that is directed towards the truth’ and an impulse that is directed towards ‘perpetuating falsehood’ can be extraordinarily difficult in practice, particularly in a collective milieu where values have been inverted and self-distraction is celebrated as a way of life. Obtaining food, shelter and companionship (for example) is not a distraction or a validation for the false self, but all three of these things can become distractions, can become validations, as basic and as essential as they are. We could be dining in a fine restaurant for example, which is something that the self-image likes very much and derives a whole heap of self validation from! Having a fine big house to live in is another wonderful validatory asset for the poor insecure self-image, and so – as everyone knows – is the practice of ‘hanging around with the right sort of people’. We take care to associate ourselves with winners at the social game rather than losers and this (we hope) will reflect well on us…

 

These are of course rather crude illustrations of how basic needs can become contaminated with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self-image, but they make the point perfectly well. If we wanted to have a slightly subtler example, we could think of the whole field of social interaction. On the one hand the arena of social interaction is a great opportunity for honesty and self-discovery and the development of empathy / compassion, but on the other hand it is – in practice – a veritable morass of subterfuge, lies and compulsive game-playing. In a culture that placed more emphasis on personal integrity, candidness and self-exploration, and less emphasis on self-image and role then social interaction would present a huge possibility for growth, but this isn’t how things work. Almost invariably we interact on the basis of our ‘masks’, on the basis of our ‘roles’, on the basis of our ‘personas’, and we don’t have a clue that this is what we are doing. Out of this ‘unconscious dishonesty’, therefore, no good can come to anyone. No one benefits in this game, in other words.

 

John Berger is also referring to what we have called ‘the contamination of needs with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self’ when he says that publicity ‘feeds upon the real’. Our needs are real, Berger says, but the web of illusions that capitalist society spins around it is not:

Publicity is effective precisely because it feeds upon the real. Clothes, food, cars, cosmetics, baths, sunshine are real things to be enjoyed in themselves. Publicity begins by working on a natural appetite for pleasure. But it cannot offer the real object of pleasure and there is no convincing substitute for a pleasure in that pleasure’s own terms. The more convincingly publicity conveys the pleasure of bathing in a warm, distant sea, the more the spectator-buyer will become aware that he is hundreds of miles away from that sea and the more remote the chance of bathing in it will seem to him. This is why publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it. Publicity is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of others. Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others.

Another possible way of looking at the basic problem here is to say that it has to do with our confusing of ‘quality-of-life’ with ‘standard of living’. This thing called ‘standard of living’ is essentially a societal construct in that what constitutes ‘a basic standard of living’ has to do with our particular conditioned way of living life, rather than anything else.  It basically defined in economic terms, in terms of ‘buying power’, and this definition links very closely (of course) with the measure of the economic health of the nation, which is to say the Gross National Product. SOL is a measure of our ability to take proper advantage of the goods and services being produced by our society and although this includes essentials such as food and clothing, it is to a large extent a measure of ‘social adaptation’, i.e. it is a measure of how well we are able to function in the socially-prescribed way.

 

Quality of life however is not this, although there is a lot of confusion on the subject. For example, according to the Wikipedia entry QOL is linked to SOL and it is defined in terms of how well one’s own life ‘coincides with’ the expected standard. This type of ‘equilibrium-based’ definition is very deceptive, however; something very important is missing and we can’t see what it is. If QOL were all about matching either our or society’s expectations for life then this would be distinctly dire situation. In order for life to be life – and not some routine or habit that we are automatically repeating – it has to contain elements that are completely irrelevant to our expectations. It has to contain ‘randomness’, so to speak. Another way of putting this would be to say that in order for life to be life it has to ‘go beyond the known’.  Most of us would be rather unlikely to agree with this statement of course – our idea of life ‘as it should be’ is life that fits in with our expectations, rather than a type of life that is irrelevant to them or doesn’t correspond to them at all! This is because we are – generally speaking – pretty much stuck in the Goal-Orientated mode. Life, for us, is a matter of asserting our unconscious assumptions, whilst validating this activity as ‘achieving our goals’.

 

This is fine in one way (because it’s what we want and what are comfortable with) but it’s not so fine in another way – it’s not so fine because a life that does not go beyond our expectations for it is not life at all, as we have just said. It’s a ‘shadow-version’ of life. Life that does not disagree with (or deviate from) our ideas of it is ‘the Rational Simulation of Life’ and if we were to put forward a handy, all-purpose definition of what ‘mental health’ is, we could say that – essentially – it is where these two things – ‘life’ and ‘the rational simulation of life’ are not taken to be one of the same thing. That’s all we have to say! If they are taken to be ‘one and the same thing’, then we have a situation where ‘life itself is not allowed to happen’, a situation where life is actually repressed or denied, and this – when it comes down to it – is a state of pure suffering. This suffering itself is not ‘mental ill-health’ – mental ill-health (so to speak) is ‘where we are suffering but do not know it’, or ‘where we are imprisoned but make a virtue of our imprisonment’; mental ill-health is where we are in denial of our suffering and go from day to day firmly believing that everything is okay, that everything is ‘as it should be’. In the Rational Simulation of Life everything is always as it should be’ and this is precisely the problem; there is something very seriously wrong when ‘everything is as it should be’! When our suffering finally manifests itself (because the mechanism of ‘pain suppression’ (or ‘illusion-validation’) is not working as effectively as it used to) then we are very much inclined to call this state of affairs ‘mental ill-health’. It is this ‘manifest suffering’, that occurs when the when our mechanisms for illusion-validation are no longer working, that we are fond of seeing as ‘neurotic mental illness’. We are seeing neurosis ‘back to front’ therefore – we are seeing unconscious adaptation to a mind-produced illusion (or ‘the Rational Simulation’) as being healthy and the perception of the mind-produced illusion as being what it actually is (i.e. entirely sterile, pointless and futile) as ‘the illness’. We are orientated towards ‘a false version of health’, in other words.

 

Living in the Rational Simulation of Life isn’t the sickness; living in the Rational Simulation of Life and not knowing it is the sickness. When we live in the RSOL and we know it then we have ‘a relationship with the truth’ this and this is a sign of health! It might be a sign of health but it’s a painful sign and so we’re not very fond of it, all the same. When we are living in the RSOL and we don’t know it (i.e. when we don’t have a relationship with the truth of our situation) then ‘the truth’, when it appears (as it must do at some point) is going to be two things to us – [1] is that it is going to be very unwelcome to us, and [2] is that it is not (at first, at least) going to be recognisable to us as the truth. For this reason, we going to mobilise all our resources against it; we going to fight against it with absolutely everything we’ve got. We’re struggling to achieve ‘a false version of health’ – we don’t see ourselves as ‘fighting against the truth’ however, on the contrary, we see ourselves as ‘fighting against a very bad outcome’…

 

When we talk about mental health therefore, what we are inevitably going to mean by this – just as long as we are unconsciously socially adapted, that is – is a mode of being that is entirely ‘congruent with our ideas of life’ whilst at the same time not generating the suffering and meaninglessness that necessarily follows on from this. This means that mental health for us is completely unattainable since ‘restriction’ and ‘the pain of restriction’ cannot ever be separated! We can’t have one without the other, we can’t have our cake and eat it… What we have here is an impossible definition of mental health therefore and this means that it is quite, quite unattainable, just as all illusions are unattainable. We would be kept busy forever, trying to attain it, and we are going to be kept busy forever trying to attain it. This sort of exhausting futility (known as the Wheel of Samsara in Buddhism) is what living in the Rational Simulation of Life is all about

 

 

Art: Consumer Culture / Atomic Age Abundance, by Sally Edelstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is a ‘counterintuitive’ kind of thing, which is to say, it isn’t at all what we think it is. Mental health definitely isn’t ‘what we think it is’ because anything we think is bound to be ‘just another idea’ and mental health (or well-being) is not an idea! The intellectual approach to ‘wellness’ is always going to miss the point; it’s always going to be looking in the wrong direction.

 

This isn’t the easiest point to make because we always assume that our thoughts correspond to something real, which of course validates them and gives us reason to ‘take them seriously’. We can’t legitimately assume this in the case of mental health however. We can’t assume that our idea of mental health has any correspondence with the actual thing itself because mental health can be best described as ‘that state in which we are not being controlled or regulated by our own thoughts.’ This is a ‘negative definition’ – it’s not saying what the state of wellness or well-being is, it’s saying what it absolutely isn’t.

 

This is a somewhat subtle idea – it’s a ‘subtle’ idea because if we don’t know that we are being controlled (or determined) by our thoughts in the first place then of course we aren’t going to see mental health in the way that we have just described. We’re not going to see it as the state of being free from the controlling influence of our thoughts. The truth is however – as quantum physicist David Bohm says in his book Thought as a System – that thought controls everything about us –

But you don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.

We have unwittingly given thought the job of ‘telling us what is real and what is not real’ and so of course it’s going to ‘control everything about us’! How could it not? What freedom do we have left to us then? When an agency exists which tells us what is real or not, then this is the ultimate form of control…

 

The state of being in which we ‘automatically believe everything our thoughts tell us’ isn’t a healthy state at all, and yet this is the situation almost all of us are in. We would see that this is our situation straightaway if we actually took the trouble to look into it – our strings are being jerked this way and that by thought every minute (if not every second) of the day! ‘Don’t believe everything you think!’, as the internet meme says. But unless we have at least a bit of insight into the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts we won’t understand this at all. Our default setting – as we have said – is to automatically believe everything we think! When it comes down to it, we believe (or assume) that we actually are our thoughts, as Eckhart Tolle says. We don’t ‘separate ourselves from our thinking’ at all! Our thinking is at the very core of us, and it doesn’t actually belong in this position.

 

Our ‘relationship’ with the thinking mind is quite simply therefore that ‘it controls us’. The relationship here is that of the slave to the master and we are the slaves! We are all enslaved by the rational mind and yet no one you meet will believe this. There are times however when the truth of this statement becomes starkly obvious to anybody – when we are suffering from OCD for example this becomes very clear indeed. In this case whatever the thinking mind tells us to do we do, no matter how nonsensical or painfully time-consuming this is. We just can’t disobey it, as anyone who has ever suffered from OCD will be happy to tell you! The thinking mind is – at root – a machine and when it controls us we become a machine as well. This is probably most clear in the case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but it is also more or less obvious in all the neurotic conditions. Neurosis is the pain of being a machine.

 

It goes without saying that it’s not a good thing to be ruled by the machine which is the thinking mind and – as a consequence – become rigid and mechanical ourselves. It doesn’t feel good to be at a machine! It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, by any means. The more rigid and mechanical we become in our interactions with the world the more suffering we incur, and there is no limit to how much suffering we can incur. Neurotic suffering goes on and on forever and as long as we are identified with thought this is all we have to look forward to, so to speak. If we want to know what’s on the menu, it’s neurotic suffering…

 

Saying all this does throw light on what mental health is however. If the situation where thought is the master and I am the slave is mentally unhealthy (because it constantly pits me against myself and – as a consequence – generates unending unnecessary suffering) then the situation where the thinking mind doesn’t control or define my reality must be the mentally healthy situation. I’m not going to be put into a narrow little box the whole time then; I’m not going to be ‘suffering for its benefit’. The thinking mind is a tool, after all, and a tool is only useful when it is being used wisely. In the meditation traditions it is often said that thought is like fire in this respect – it makes a very good servant but an appallingly bad master! When the fire stays where we want it stay (in the fireplace or stove, for example) then it is of great use to us; when however it jumps out of the fireplace and takes root in the house we’re living in, in the curtains or in the furniture in the living room, then it becomes the most terrible tyrant imaginable. It’s not going to give us a break.

 

The same is manifestly true of thinking – when we have a problem that needs to be solved then thinking is the right man for the job, but when the thinking gets out of hand and starts telling us who we are and what we should be doing in the world and ‘what life is all about’ then it has become the very opposite of useful! What sort of situation is it anyway when the tool starts defining and controlling the so-called ‘user of the tool’ and creating all the parameters of his or her existence? This is called ‘being a prisoner of one’s own device,’ or ‘being hoisted by one’s own petard’. This situation might also be spoken of in terms of ‘booking into the Hotel California’, which – as we all know – is something that is very easy to do but very far from easy to undo…

 

Mental health – we might therefore say – is when we do begin to separate ourselves from our thoughts. It is the situation where we aren’t being constantly defined by the operational limitations of the mechanism of thought. We don’t have to ‘get rid’ of our unwanted thoughts or attempt to ‘control’ them or anything like that; there’s no ‘control’ involved, only awareness, which is incomparably more powerful. Only thought controls; only thought wants to control! What else does ‘control’ mean other than trying to get ourselves and the world to accord with our ideas, our mental pictures of ‘how things should be’? Through awareness we see that we are not our thinking (we see that ‘we are not our mind,’ as Eckhart Tolle puts it) and the separation then takes place all by itself. Thought doesn’t have to make it happen – thought CAN’T make it happen. Thought CAN’T free us from itself! ‘To see illusion is to depart from it,’ says the Buddha in The Sutra Of Complete Enlightenment.

 

The big problem that we have in understanding mental health – both collectively and individually – is that we think it is something that can be achieved via exercising the thinking mind, as if there is some kind of clever trick that thought can pull off for us. We’re asking our jailor for help in getting out of the prison! We want to hand over even more responsibility to the runaway train of the rational mind. “Please Mr Thought,’ we’re asking, “can you wave your magic wand over us and free us from the terrible affliction of our neurosis?” This belief, needless to say, simply exacerbates and prolongs our suffering – the runaway thinking mind is the cause of our troubles, not the cure! Putting on our white coats and becoming all ‘professional’ and ‘clinical’ about neurotic suffering, and attempting to treat it within the sterile confines of a psychiatric hospital, as if it were something we can ‘cut out’ of ourselves using the sharp instrument of rationality, is a prime manifestation of the underlying glitch, not the solution to it…

 

 

 

The Greatest Calamity

When we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind, the mind that evaluates and categorizes, then the result of this – quite simply – is the self. That’s how we get to experience life on the basis of ‘the self’ (instead of ‘in some other way’). Unless something is unambiguously defined in a black-and-white way then we are unable to identify with it, and without identification there can be no self.

 

‘Identification’ simply means that I see some fixed position, some fixed viewpoint as being ‘me’ – it’s the fixed nature of the position of the viewpoint that allows for the possibility of making any kind of ‘literal statement’ about the world. How can we make a literal statement if there is not a ‘literal’ (or ‘concrete’) point of reference to make it from? Literal statements actually are the fixed point of reference projected outwards onto the world. As soon we say this, we get a strong hint as to what the ‘calamity’ to which we are referring might be – identification means that everything I see and experience from the point of view of that ‘fixed position’ is already inherent in that position, and between my perception of myself as being ‘this viewpoint’ and ‘the world that I perceive around me’ (which is as we have said tautologically contained within my assumed frame of reference) what else is there? For me, that is everything – that represents the alpha and omega of my total field of possibilities.

 

The principle behind what we are saying here is very clear – when I identify with the fixed position then I am just not going to be able to perceive anything that does not ‘agree’ with this fixed reference point of mine. I won’t be able to see anything other than those things that make sense in relation to the fixed reference point that I have tacitly accepted as being ‘the only possible way of looking at the world’ – naturally enough! So what has happened is that I have become sealed off within a closed system. No possibility of ‘radical reorganization’ exists within a closed system – clearly there can’t be any such because what makes the closed system into a closed system is the fact that there are restrictions placed on what can be allowed to happen in that system. The ‘self consistency’ of logical systems depends upon the limits that are placed upon what is allowed to happen within that system – which is of course the very same thing as saying that logical systems ‘function as such on the basis of rules’! No one is going to argue with this…

 

There is no calamity involved in allowing everything that happens in a logical system to be determined by rules – that’s how logical systems work, as we keep saying. But what is good for a logical system (such as the national railway system network or a big modern hospital) is not good for us as individual human beings. The one does not imply the other, and although this may seem like a very obvious point to be making it clearly isn’t a point that we understand in any practical way because the story of mankind is very much the story of how we have allowed our own systems to enslave us and make us miserable as a result of this wretched state of enslavement. This is the one mistake we keep on making over and over again and the fact that we are repeatedly making it is very clearly because we do not understand what we’re doing! We’re not even close to understanding what’s going on – we are forever focusing on improving the systems that enslave us rather than looking at how we can become free from them.

 

Society is a logical system and we are all defined by it, no matter what we might like to believe. We don’t want to believe that we are defined by society, we want to believe that we are ‘unique individuals living our own unique individual lives’, but this is simply not true. How could it be true, when we are not actually putting any effort into it? Being the unique individual that one genuinely is isn’t just something that ‘falls into our lap’, like a ripe fruit when the tree is shaken – it can only come about via arduous effort. This isn’t ‘effort’ as we usually see it either – it isn’t  effort that is made in a particular direction, effort that is directed towards a particular or specified end. We not ‘improving ourselves in line with some idea that we might have with regard to how we or someone else might think we ought to be improved’. That is merely ‘optimization’ and optimization is the process of adapting ourselves to some kind of logical system. Optimization is movement in the direction of losing autonomy.

 

The effort involved in becoming the true individual that one actually is (or rather that one could be) is of an entirely different nature to this – it involves what the alchemists of old called the Opus Contra Naturam – the ‘work against nature’. Rules or precedents exist that propel us in a certain direction – the Opus Contra Naturam means not going in this direction! The work against nature is of course what Carl Jung calls individuation. Individuation (or rather ‘the fruit of the individuation process’) isn’t something that just ‘falls into our lap’ (as the socialised identity does) – it emerges slowly as a result of our struggle to be true to ourselves (or ‘find ourselves’) in the face of a hostile environment, which is what the social system is as regards our genuine individuality. The inertial forces that are ranged against us are immense and implacable and it is as everyone knows much easier to just give into them and be like everyone else! At least then we will have company, rather than feeling very much on our own and in danger of feeling that the ‘fault’ lies within us, and not within society as a whole.

 

So society is one big machine that that we have to struggle against in order not to be defined by it, but the other manifestation of ‘the machine’ is the thinking mind, which is what we started off by talking about. We’re caught between the machine on the inside and the machine on the outside, and neither of them has any tolerance at all for ‘who we really are’ – the machine – any machine – understands only mechanical things, and ‘who we really are’ is not mechanical. Or as we could also say, ‘a machine only understands defined things, and who we are is not capable of being defined’. The problem is however that who we understand ourselves to be is both defined and limited, and as such the one thing that it fears more than anything else is a reality that is not defined, a reality that is not limited. There is no challenge for the conditioned self that is greater than this; the unlimited / undefined reality is not merely ‘a challenge’, it is its greatest terror!

 

We see ‘being defined’ as being a strength – we know who we are, we know what we think, we know what we like and what we don’t like, and this seems like a strong position to be in. Almost anyone you talk to will tell you that this is a strong position to be in – society will tell you this. It is however strong only in a very limited way – it’s like being a world-renowned expert in a very narrow field – without any doubt we are formidably strong within the parameters of our specialization and if our area of specialization were ‘the whole world’ then we would be genuinely strong! But because our area of speciality isn’t the whole world (obviously enough!) we aren’t ‘strong’ at all –we only have a kind of ‘pretence’ at being strong and inasmuch as we allow ourselves to believe in this pretence of ours (which is easily done) we get to imagine that we are strong when we are not. When we fall into the trap of believing our own pretence we make fools of ourselves, in other words, and ‘making a fool of oneself without being able to see it’ is not a genuine form of strength.

 

Although this might at first glance seem like a somewhat obvious and therefore trivial example to give, it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that what we are talking about here is the situation of the conditioned (or ‘mind-created’) self. The mind-created self gets to feel robust and unrealistically confident in its outlook (if not downright arrogant!) because of the way in which it believes in a strength which it doesn’t actually have. The traditional virtue of humility originally meant something like ‘the awareness of the fact that we don’t really know anything’ (as opposed to what we usually take it to be, which is ‘the theatrical effort of the arrogant self to try to show that it is not arrogant when the truth is that it simply can’t help being so’). The incentive for us to fall into the trap of ‘believing in our own pretence’ (or ‘believing that our very limited area of specialisation is the whole world when it plainly isn’t’) is that it creates a feeling of ‘ontological security’ for us – a feeling of ‘security-of-being’ that we just can’t obtain any other way.

 

Being defined gives us a sense of security therefore, but only when we been live in a world that is made up of nothing more than our own mental projections. If we want that feeling of being secure – the feeling of being secure that comes from being totally defined – we have to pay the price of having to live in a very small world – the very small world of our own thoughts, our own expectations. What else are our thoughts anyway, if not ‘expectations of the world’? We don’t know that we are living in this absurdly small world, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we are, and there are going to be consequences to this choice that we have made, even though we don’t know that we have made it.

 

It’s not a good thing to shrink down in this way – it brings suffering, and not only does it ‘bring suffering’, it brings ‘suffering-without-the-capacity-to-bear-it’. Within this ‘absurdly small world’ (which is the only world that makes sense to the defined self) we are constantly subject to ‘irritations’ of a totally trivial nature. We can say that these irritations are of ‘a totally trivial nature’ because precisely they are irritations that make sense to the defined self, and the ‘defined’ (or ‘mind-created’) self is itself completely petty, completely trivial! We all know this on some level or other – we are all deeply familiar with the pettiness of the everyday self. The only time we aren’t aware of this is when we are wholly identified with this self, which is – needless to say – all too often! This is a calamity in itself; to be infinitely petty in the scope of our concerns, without knowing that we are because we are so caught up in them – is without any doubt a terrible calamity. We only need the smallest bit of imagination to appreciate just how terrifying a fate this is.

 

That’s only the beginning of it however. In order to enjoy the ‘sense of security’ that comes with being narrowly defined we need to restrict ourselves to ‘living within a very small world without knowing that we are’ and in one way this seems to be a price that we are willing to pay. There are however distressing consequences to this manoeuvre that only become apparent after a while. The ‘consequences’ that we talking about can be understood in terms of counterproductivity – ‘counterproductivity’ means that we that when we exert ourselves to accomplish one aim (and thereby hopefully resolve the situation in some way) other problems – which we have not foreseen – immediately come into play. And when we try to fix these unexpected problems what happens next is of course that a whole clutch of new problems come into being which also need to be fixed, and so on and so forth. On the ‘macro-scale’ this sort of counterproductivity is fairly well-known to us – our linear/technological approach to managing our environment is always rebounding on us in various unexpected (and unwanted) ways, as Gregory Bateson pointed out back in the 1960s. Ivan Illich also speaks of what he calls ‘specific counterproductivity’ in the fields of education, communication, transport and health.

 

We are at least’ halfway aware’ of counterproductivity on the macro-scale, whether it is in regard to the planetary ecology or industrialized society, but we are almost entirely blind to what we might call ‘intrapersonal counter- productivity’, which is the result of us trying to control or regulate ourselves. No matter how free we try to be in ourselves the mere fact that we are defined (just as the world we live in is defined) means that we are already controlled in the most profound way possible, even before we do anything else. This is like being ‘strangled at birth’! Intrapersonal counterproductivity is where we try to obtain a benefit for ourselves but incur suffering instead (or where we try to avoid pain, and instead of avoiding it we bring it down on our heads a thousandfold). The more common term for this is of course neuroticism and the concrete or literal self is the source of all neurotic counterproductivity…

 

 

 

The Limitations Of The Game

When all of our ‘capacity to do’ (or our ‘capacity to know’, for that matter) is supplied by the external authority of the game this might be said to be ‘fine up to a point’! It is fine (in a very limited sort of way, admittedly) up to a point, but then when that point is reached it immediately becomes not so fine at all. This critical point – which is the critical point at which external authority or ‘obeying the rules’ is no longer going to cut the ice for us – is always going to be reached sooner or later: either the environment we live in will place demands on us that the game-rules aren’t equipped to deal with, or – somehow – we lose faith in our ability for the rules or procedures to work for us, even though the tasks we are trying to carry out aren’t in any way new or especially demanding. In a nutshell, it could be said that what we’ve learned in life can no longer help us.

 

Whichever way it happens – and we could perhaps call the first scenario ‘stress’ and the second ‘anxiety’ – we’re caught out because we don’t have the capacity to call upon any resources other than those that are supplied by the external authority. If the EA can’t help us in a situation then it all starts to go to pieces, because we’ve never been encouraged to develop true autonomy. Nothing in society encourages us to (or supports us in) developing true autonomy; this is in fact the one thing the social system doesn’t want us to have! We go to pieces when we’re challenged in a way that the EA can’t help us with because we don’t have any intuition as to ‘what to do’  in the situation – intuition after all means ‘teaching from within’ and the only type of teaching we have (when we’re adapted to the game) is ex-tuition, or ‘teaching from without’…

 

Ultimately, it’s just not possible to live life solely on the basis of ‘teaching from without’ or ‘guidance from the operating system of the rational mind’. We’ve missed out something very important here – we’ve missed out ourselves and this omission is inevitably going to show up at some stage of the proceedings! Suppose I hit upon a neat way of living my life without me actually needing to be there – suppose I let the ‘inner robot’ of my habits run the show for me, to use Colin Wilson’s apt phrase. Suppose I just treat life as a kind of an established routine and just let it run according to the way it always does run – wouldn’t that be great? No real effort at all is needed in this case – I will never be challenged by anything radically new because all I’m doing is just playing the same loop over and over again. It’s all just ‘plain cruising’ in this case and I can put my feet up and hang an ‘out to lunch’ sign around my neck. I’m letting ‘the system’ run my life because I don’t want the bother, essentially. So the question we’re asking is ‘What’s the down-side to the plan? Where are the snags – if there are going to be any – going to appear?’

 

The question we’re asking is ‘How are the problems that arise from this business of me letting the system run my life (if there are any) going to present themselves?’ We have already said [in the Chapter Invisible Aggression] that when, in ‘the contest between realities’, the generic (or collective) reality wins out over our own unique non-generic reality – as it almost always does – then we have lost the core of who we are. We’re adrift as ‘an inauthentic constructed identity’ in the sterile, pointless world of society, trying to achieve goals that aren’t really ours, and which wouldn’t do us any good even if they were. Another way of putting this is to say that we’ve lost ourselves in the acts we put on to the extent that we know longer know that they are only ‘acts’! So we can now reformulate our question as “What problems are likely to arise when ‘the act we are putting on’ gets disconnected from ‘the one who is putting the act on’?’

 

We’re in the situation of a person who for the sake of convenience has put on a mask and then forgotten that they have done so and – as a result – are proceeding to live the ‘life’ of ‘the disconnected or unowned mask’. We have become identified with the mask and the point at which this identification takes place is the point at which the mask gets ‘a life of its own’, so to speak; the mask gets a life of its own, but at the same time it doesn’t really have a life because it’s not actually alive! Even just expressing matters this way (and it will be a very familiar perspective to anyone who has studied Carl Jung) clarifies things hugely. Already, the sense of ‘how the problem could manifest itself’ is very clear from this description of our situation. It is abundantly clear. When we look into it what we’re talking about here sounds more than just a little bit like ‘being possessed’ and Jung actually speaks in exactly these terms when we talks about ‘being possessed by the persona’. At the risk of being overly repetitive in our approach, we can now reformulate the question we have been playing about with here as “What psychological problems might conceivably arise of being possessed by a bundle of mechanical reflexes which masquerades as a self and has started living our life for us on our behalf, whether we like it or not?”

 

The question has in fact become little short of ridiculous at this stage – after all, what part of the situation that we have just described isn’t a problem? We would be better off asking if there is anything about the situation, as we have just set it out, that isn’t frankly and horrifically appalling! The only part of the package, as described, that is in any way ‘non-problematic’ would be the superficial representation of what’s going on, as provided for us by that mechanical agency, when we are able to actually believe in it (which will be, at best, only for some of the time). As we keep saying, the mechanical agency is living life for us (is living life as us) and the only way this is going to seem OK to us is when we are able to think that this highly limited (actually totally limited) frame of reference IS us. That’s the only way we’re ever going to feel good about the machine that lives life on our behalf…

 

There are two elements (we could say) to this illusion – [1] is that we think the machine is us (or that we are the machine) and [2] is that we don’t in any way perceive the machine to be only a machine, which is to say, limited or constrained to the point that there is actually nothing real about it at all. When both of these elements are present and intact then the illusion can function flawlessly; we will never smell a rat and the illusion will therefore perpetuate itself indefinitely!

 

The ‘fully-functioning illusion’ is one in which there is no question of this bundle of reflexes and judgements (or prejudices) not being who we are; it is the situation where there is not even the slightest shadow of doubt [1] that this ‘foreign introject’ is our own true self and [2] that the subjective world in which we live (which is made up entirely of attractive and aversive projections based upon the inherent biases of the machine) is expansive and full of possibilities (and not at all ‘closed’, therefore). These two requirements for a fully functioning, fully operational illusion are – when it comes down to it – quite inseparable – if one starts to fail then both do. When we start to feel that our world is limited to the point of being empty of any worthwhile content this in turn causes us to doubt the authenticity of who we think we are and if – looking at this the other way – if we were to doubt our own authenticity, our own worthwhileness as a person, then the world would appear to have nothing in it for us – it would hold no promises for us, no possibilities for us. There might be something in it for someone else perhaps but that doesn’t matter because there is nothing there for me… The world reflects our own state of mind when we are unconscious, as Johannes Fabricius says in The Royal Art Of The Alchemists – if I feel bad then the world is a bad place and if I feel good then it is a terrible place. The world is a projection of my inner state – the possibilities I see out there for me in the ‘projected world’ are really nothing more than illusions deriving from the ‘central illusion’ of the self-construct!

 

Another (possibly clearer) way of putting this is to say that there are two ways in which ‘malfunctions of the machine’ might start to manifest for us, one being in terms of limitations that affect our purposeful (or goal-orientated) actions in the world and the other being in terms of what we might call ‘limitation in our very being’. A ‘limitation in the potency of our purposeful actions’ simply means that we are not able (or rather that we feel we are not able) to do, whilst a perceived ‘limitation in our being’ means that – actually – we don’t have any being since being can’t be limited and yet still remain ‘being’! The nature of being is to be limitless, without edges or boundaries. To perceive oneself to be in any way ‘a thing’, in other words, is to perceive oneself as having no genuine being. That’s why we say ‘a mere thing’; thing-hood is a degraded state of being, a state of being with all the good taken out of it. It reduces us to a joke. Perceived limitation of purposeful action corresponds to anxiety therefore, whilst ‘perceived limitation of being’ corresponds – we might say – to depression. In the former we are impotent to do, in the latter we are equally impotent to be – our so-called ‘being’ is felt to be fraudulent…

 

We can bring this all back to what Gurdjieff says about us being unable, in our normal everyday mode of being, it either do or be. On the face of it, to the overwhelming majority of us, this sounds like utter nonsense. It doesn’t penetrate our consciousness even by a millimetre, even by a nanometre. It’s double-dutch – our acclaimed (but deeply unconscious) experts will scoff for all they’re worth. And yet what Gurdjieff is saying isn’t that hard to understand – not if we look at it from the perspective that we have been setting out here. Of course we can’t do if our internalized set of rules and procedures are already doing everything for us! We have become so dependent upon the crutch of the ‘inner robot’ that if it were taken away from us we would simply collapse on a heap on the floor!

 

Similarly, then, it is perfectly clear and straightforward to see that in our normal, everyday mode of existence, we cannot be. We don’t have to be – we have a machine that will do that for us! We have a fully-functioning ‘slave-system’ to do that for us (only things have flipped over for us and we’ve ended up being the slaves). It’s like having slaves to chew our food for us because we’re too lazy to make the effort – if our slaves were to leave us or die then we would be thrown into a crisis since our jaw muscles would have become far too weak to chew any unprocessed food. We would have become functionally incapable of mastication! It’s not that there is any shortage of food – the table in front of us is heaped with it – it’s just that we can’t eat it. We’d choke if we tried…

 

In this analogy, ‘the food on the table’ corresponds to reality (or ‘genuine being’), and the sustenance that lies within it. Genuine being is however unknown to us and as well as being unknown to us it is something we seriously don’t want to have to meet; we are averse to ever coming across it because it completely fails to facilitate us. More accurately, it completely fails to facilitate our ‘idea of ourselves’, i.e. – who we think we are. More accurately still, reality will facilitate our idea of ourselves (just as it will facilitate any of our ideas, any of our thoughts) but what it won’t do is facilitate our unquestioning belief in this idea. We have to do that bit ourselves! Reality can float any number of ideas or concepts, just as the sea can facilitate any number of waves, but it doesn’t insist that we take them seriously – it is us who insists upon that. Truth is not in the business of ‘facilitating illusions’ after all! Far from facilitating them, it ruthlessly undermines them. And in the same way, far from supporting our ideas and concepts, the truth fatally undermines them…

 

Oddly enough, therefore, genuine being is actually destructive to us. ‘He who is near to me is near to the fire’, warns Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Reality is destructive to us because it doesn’t support the illusions that we have about ourselves – it’s a food that is too rich for our blood! The only type of sustenance we can take is something that we might call ‘pre-digested being’, which is actually non-being in disguise. The conceptual self can only have conceptual being, in other words, and so to state that we, in our normal everyday mode of existence, cannot ‘be’ makes perfect sense. In the conditioned modality of existence, we cannot be, and what’s more, we cannot have anything to do with being. Our being is illusory and so too are our purposeful actions (naturally they are since they are ‘actions that stem from an illusory sense of self’). Our purposeful behavioural output – to a large extent – is actually our (covert) attempt to stabilize and promote our illusory sense of self and so it can’t be any more real than that mind-created self is.

 

The ongoing endeavour to maintain, stabilize and promote the mind-created self – no matter how apparently successful it might be – is always going to be fundamentally irresolvably glitched and what we call ‘neurotic suffering’ is how this irreducible glitch manifests itself. And yet as unwelcome as neurotic suffering might be (and there is no visitor more unwelcome at our door), it betokens a freedom far beyond anything we could ever have imagined…

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Assumed Sense of Self’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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