Human nature being what it is, we are much quicker to give advice then we are to understand what it is that we are giving advice about, and nowhere is this more true than in the world of mental health! The undoubted reason for this is that we are deeply challenged by the whole business of ‘mental ill-health’ and we just want to ‘shut it down’ as quickly as possible by firing off a barrage of ‘fix-it’ – type advice. We just want to get back to ‘business as usual’. Healthcare professionals are very often as bad as anyone else in this regard. We are – by and large – extraordinarily loathe to see that mental health isn’t the result of us applying our clever ‘fix-it’ – type technology. We are extraordinarily loathe to see that mental health isn’t something that we ‘do’.
Mental health is – rather – something that happens to us despite all our frenetic doing. It’s not a ‘positive choice’ that we make, even though we are always told that it is. The key thing to understand here therefore is that almost all of our ‘doing’ – whether we like to admit it or not – is geared at validating our illusions (and also geared towards furthering the state of ignorance that is necessary for us to go on believing in these illusions). That’s where our interest really lies, not that anyone is ever going to admit it to themselves. For us, ‘mental health’ means precisely this – it means ‘that mode of existence within which we can continually get to validate our illusions and endlessly perpetuate the cloud of darkness within which these illusions appear to make sense’. Without us ever actually seeing things like this (obviously enough!), we (unconsciously) take our continued well-being as being synonymous with the furtherance of our ignorance, and so if it were ever to be the case that we switched our outlook by one hundred and eighty degrees and became interested in our actual well-being instead (instead of the travesty that we are all busy promoting) then we would find ourselves in direct opposition to the prevailing climate, which is not in the least bit favourable to what we might call ‘genuine mental health’ (which is most emphatically not merely a matter of ‘returning to business as usual’).
Why should the prevailing climate (or general consensus) be so unfavourable towards genuine mental health? Why should our ‘true well-being’ be something that we are so pointedly uninterested in? There appears to be no sense to this – it makes absolutely no sense at all that we should be opposed to our own well-being! To put this another way, why should we condemn ourselves to a whole lot of unnecessary suffering, which we undoubtedly do condemn ourselves to? Why do we take on pain that we don’t need to take on? The answer isn’t particularly hard to come up with – the point is that we want everything on our own terms and not just that we want everything on our own terms but that we absolutely insist on having everything on our own terms, and this insistence is what is causing all our suffering. A simple way of explaining what these conditions are is to say that we want the world to fit in with our preconceptions of it. Of course this is true; of course it is true that we always want the world to fit in with our preconceptions of it. Who could argue with this? We like everything in the world to fit in with our plans, and are either thrown or annoyed when this doesn’t happen, but even more than this we want the world to fit in with our ideas for it, no matter how cock-eyed those ideas might be.
The fact that we are constantly fitting our perceptions of the world into the template of what we unconsciously believe it to be is not something we pay much attention to, naturally enough. If we were to be aware of this then it would spoil everything. The only way it can work for us (the only way we can obtain the concrete ‘sense of self’ that we want to obtain) is if we remain oblivious to any such process of manipulation occurring – if we were to know that we are constantly having to shore-up the comforting illusion then the comforting illusion would no longer have so much comfort in it! There’s a whole load of work going on in the background to keep the illusion (the illusion that reality is fitting in effortlessly with our expectations for it) and that work can never stop. This is the key point therefore – that our everyday perception of ourselves and the world – as natural as it may seem – is actually the result of some sort of manipulation, some sort of ‘jiggery-pokery’ that’s going on off-stage, some sort of ‘covert doing’ on our part. It’s a show that has to be put on. Were we to know about this then that would be a truly hideous awareness to have, but we don’t know about it and we are of course very keen to carry on ‘not knowing about it’.
When we insist on ‘having everything on our own terms’ (without knowing that we are) then this – needless to say – produces a state of being that is inescapably brittle, inescapably rigid, inescapably insecure. Not only this but it produces a state of being that is very, very small – as small as small can be! If the world has to present itself to me in terms that I can understand, within a format that I myself have invented, then it must necessarily only be as big as my understanding, only as big as my expectations. Whatever it is that I imagine life to be, then that’s what it will appear to be. ‘What the thinker thinks the prover proves’, as Robert Anton Wilson says. It’s not what I personally ‘imagine life to be’ of course but the set of constricted beliefs and assumptions that have been passed on to be to me by my culture, by the people that constitute my social milieu. I have been given a very narrow way of seeing things and I have also been given to understand that it is most sacred duty to uphold this narrow prejudicial viewpoint until the day I die. That’s my ‘duty’. Whenever I can pass the burden of this ‘restricted viewpoint’ on to someone else I will do, and I will consider myself to be doing them a favour.
When we give someone the gift of a very narrow way of seeing reality (or when we give ourselves that dubious gift) then we are giving them (or ourselves) the gift of never being able to relax and be at ease. How can we possibly relax when we have to keep the door closed to the ‘wider view’, which is the view that we ourselves do not have to arrange, the view that we ourselves do not have to be controlling all the time. This is the reason why religious fundamentalists are prohibited from practising meditation – because it involves letting go of our small view of the world. Within the terms of the religion in question ‘letting go of our small view’ is considered to be the very same thing as leaving the door open to Satan and his wiles; this is how we interpret what happens when we stop insisting on life matching our ridiculously small idea of it! And it is of course not even the case that our small picture of the world is at least partially true – it isn’t. Reality is either seen ‘for what it is’, or it is not seen at all. Any manipulation or control or distortion and is not reality that we are perceiving but only the reflection of our own limiting mind.
What’s true for the concrete-thinking religious fundamentalist is also true for us – only on a less obvious way. We pride ourselves on being ‘open-minded’ after all, which is a good joke. The gift that our culture gives us is the gift of being restricted without knowing it, narrow without knowing it, uptight without knowing that we’re uptight. This unnecessary burden makes itself known to us as neurotic pain, which we all suffer from to some extent or another. Whenever we believe that our mental health is ‘our own responsibility’ and that it is ‘up to us’ to ‘do something about it’ then this is only tying us up in tighter knots than ever. That’s a jinx. Anything we do deliberately, on purpose, as part of some plan that we have, is going to tie us up even in ever-tighter knots and mental health – as we started out by saying – is not something that we can do. Mental health is not one of our ‘doings’, it is not ‘the output of our rational purposeful mind’. It can’t be the result of anything we ‘tell people to do’!
This is a rather amazing thing to reflect on when we consider just how quick both professional mental healthcare workers and lay-people alike are in offering us advice when we are suffering from anxiety or anorexia or OCD or low self-esteem or depression, or whatever it is. We are – to a very considerable extent – pushed into the role where we become ‘the takers of well-meant advice’. Doctors, therapists, nurses, family members, friends – everyone we meet has got advice for us! And if this were not bad enough, we voluntarily go and buy a whole load of self-help books and allow the authors of these books adviser us too. It’s all advice – it’s a wall of advice – and all of it is unhelpful, all of it only ‘makes things worse’. It might sound very extreme to say this but just so long as the advice we are being given is about something we have to ‘purposefully do’ then how can it help us? Purposeful doing is how we ‘perpetuate our ignorance’, it is how we ‘perpetuate our narrow, pain-producing viewpoint’ – that’s all that purposeful doing ever does. We are projecting our conditioned mode of existence indefinitely into the future.
The glitch is that we have confused mental health with ‘going back to how we were before’. We use the word ‘recovery’ an awful lot, which actually devalidates the suffering that we are going through. Our suffering isn’t something that just needs to be ‘corrected’ so that we can go back to how we were before, when we were ‘well’ (!) – it is the precious means by which we get to discover how we were putting all our energy into defending this ‘illusion that we have of ourselves’ when this is actually ‘effort that is against ourselves’. We want to validate our illusions because – for most of us – this is what life has some how come to be all about. For most of us life is ‘all about validating our illusions of what we think life is all about’! This is thankless work however because it is work that is only ever going to ‘rebound’ on us in the form of amplified neurotic pain. ‘Fixing up the broken illusion’ isn’t the way to become well; repairing our leaky comfort zones isn’t the way to ‘recover our mental health’. The way to become well is to allow the illusion to remain broken! We don’t try to ‘cement over the cracks wherever they appear’ because if we do this then the light won’t be able to shine in. True mental health means having the courage to allow the cracks to appear, and even when we see that we are compulsively trying to repair them, realizing (in a peaceful fashion) that this isn’t the way to freedom, but only the way to ‘ongoing slavery to the thinking mind’…