The Naïve Approach To Psychological Therapy

The naïve approach to psychological therapy is to imagine that the therapeutic process is something that we both instigate and orchestrate ourselves – we believe the process to be – to a large extent at least – under our control. This belief has the consequence that if the therapy is unsuccessful then this must be due (to some part at least) to the person undergoing the therapy not trying hard enough, or not trying consistently enough. We might – as therapists – not like to acknowledge the inherent judgement here, but to the extent that we believe the therapeutic process to be purposeful, we must also – on some level – be allocating blame. We are – after all – taking the view that the person engaging in the therapy is responsible for the process themselves. That’s pretty much the whole point of the therapy – we are providing the tools by which change can be effected. We provide the tools (that’s our job) and then we want the person to ‘take responsibility for themselves’ (as it is said) and put these tools into action. We have taken care of our side of the deal after all, so now it’s up to them.…

 

This is where the confusion creeps in – we do indeed have responsibility for ourselves, but not in the way that is being implied here. Our responsibility (using the word carefully here, which is to say, not in any crude moralistic sense) is to be honest with ourselves (i.e. ‘not to lie to ourselves’. And if we do lie to ourselves – which is of course perfectly normal – then we take ownership of this as much as our awareness allows us to. We might well be lying to ourselves it’s true, but that doesn’t mean that we have two validate our lies to the hilt! We don’t necessarily have to invest in propping the lies up. The basic point that we’re making here is that we can’t have the responsibility to change ourselves; we can’t have the responsibility to change ourselves simply because that is not possible. How can we be ‘responsible’ for something that isn’t in any way possible for us to do? That isn’t a ‘responsibility’, that’s a ‘double-bind’! One of the easiest things in the world is for a therapist to double bind his or her client and the chances are very much that no one will ever notice this happening, either the therapist or the one having the therapy. The fact that both parties involved are utterly unaware of the double bind doesn’t make it OK however – obviously that doesn’t make it OK!

 

One of the biggest delusions going is the delusion that – if we try hard enough – we can change the way we are. This is why we are forever condemning our fellow men and women – because we firmly believe that they could change their behaviour if only they wanted to. If they don’t change their behaviour (the behaviour that is annoying us) then it is probably because they don’t want to, or can’t be bothered to. It is remarkably foolish however to think that people could change (as in ‘improve’) themselves if only they wanted to, if only they tried hard enough. We would only have to reflect on the matter for a few moments to see the flaw in this reasoning. Do we really imagine life to be as simple as this? We all have a tendency to act in such a way as to cause both ourselves and others unnecessary suffering – that is the human condition, as we can see merely by taking a look around us – and so is it really just a matter of us ‘copping on’ and giving ourselves (or perhaps someone else) a damn good kick in the pants in order for all of this to change? If this were the case wouldn’t we all have done this centuries ago – millennia ago, even? How do we persist in thinking that an ‘exertion of will’ is all it takes? How do we persist in not seeing how foolish it is to persist in this utterly ridiculous belief?

 

This whole business of ‘purposeful morality’ provide us with a good illustration of the utter futility of trying to change ourselves on purpose. We can keep ourselves in check (for the most part, at least), but only at the price of being constantly at war with ourselves. It’s as if ‘virtue’ means being totally repressive of ourselves, totally controlling of ourselves – the more we keep ourselves down the better a person we are, according to this view. This approach certainly hasn’t worked out for us in terms of public morality – people haven’t improved as far as their moral calibre is concerned as a result of being subjected to two thousand years worth of Christian ethics; if anything we are – in the developed nations of the West – more self-obsessed than we have ever been at any point in human history. It could be argued (and has been argued) that our present unfortunate narcissistic condition is a result of the decline of religion in modern times but this argument doesn’t hold much water. In Ireland (just to give one example) when the Catholic Church had near absolute power in the land and even the government and police deferred to them, great evil thrived under these conditions. History shows that religious folk are often capable of greater cruelty then their not-so-religious compatriots because they feel so justified in their attitude and actions. Overall, it is abundantly clear that ‘trying to be better people on purpose’ not only doesn’t work, but that it is actually counter-productive in terms of the stated goal. Trying to force ourselves to be good (which necessarily means repressing the part of us that isn’t up to scratch) empowers the shadow like nothing else. The shadow loves repression.

 

We can apply the same lesson to therapy – how do we ever imagine that people can – no matter how motivated they might be – change themselves to be a better way on purpose? What a lack of insight this shows! Do the therapists who espouse this approach have experience of changing themselves in this way? We can all change ourselves on the short term of course (always assuming that the incentive is great enough) – a leopard can indeed change its spots, if there is enough money in it! Similarly, if our aim is simply to change our behaviours or attitudes in order to escape or ameliorate the pain we are in without looking any deeper into ourselves we can – by dint of our efforts – effect a type of temporary change, a type of ‘elastic’ change, but nothing about us will have genuinely changed. Superficially perhaps, we can change ourselves – fundamentally, we cannot. We can put on lots of different masks, and convince ourselves that we are the person that the mask shows, but the one thing we can’t do is change the one who was wearing the mask!

 

The problem is that we are a superficial, image-obsessed culture and as such it doesn’t really make much sense to expect of ourselves that we should look more deeply into things when it comes to matters of mental health (or when it comes to any other matters either, come to that). We don’t breed philosophers, we breed businessmen and salesmen. We are very good indeed at selling stuff but not so good at checking to see if what we are selling so cleverly is actually worth a damn! There is absolutely only one thing that can help us when it comes to the restoration of our mental health however and that is not being superficial! What this means for a start is not trying to do ‘therapy’ out of a book or manual but – rather – drawing upon our own personal experience and understanding. ‘Doing it by the book’ is great for some things, but not for therapy. Therapy (if we are to agree that there is such a thing) comes out of a person, not a book or manual or some accepted protocol’. Life simply doesn’t work like this – it demands more of us than mere ‘off the shelf’ generic answers.

 

If we say that therapy is some kind of ‘order’ or ‘logical understanding’ that is imposed on us from the outside, by someone who – in their official capacity – ‘knows better than we do’, then this means that there is no therapy. This isn’t therapy at all, it’s merely brainwashing and brainwashing never improved the mental health of those being brainwashed – although it is undeniably good at changing their behaviour and way of thinking in the short term! If on the other hand we define ‘therapy’ by saying that it is essentially all about the recognition and appreciation of innate processes, processes that are already happening by their own accord, then we can perhaps allow that there is such a thing.

 

The bottom line is that therapeutic change is ‘facilitated by consciousness, not ‘imposed by strategic action’. Consciousness – on the part of the person concerned and those around them – does not ‘cause’ growth any more than the sun ‘causes’ seedlings to sprout and fruit to magically appear on trees. There is no causal relationship, no compulsion, no issuing of ‘instructions’ concerning the best way to grow or develop – the sun simply provides the necessary conditions for growth and other than that it is completely non-interfering. It does not applaud the seedlings when they grow nor does it criticise or question them if they don’t – the sun is fine either way! In the same way, consciousness is simply ‘there’– it has no agenda whatsoever. Consciousness has no agenda whatsoever and this is what makes it so tremendously different from the thinking mind, which cannot ever ‘not have an agenda’!

 

It is precisely this – the lack of any agenda, the lack of any bias – that makes it possible for consciousness to facilitate growth (or ‘therapeutic change’, just as it is precisely the fact that the thinking mind cannot not have an agenda that means that it ought not to be allowed anywhere near a therapeutic process! As soon as we can see this it becomes very clear where we are going wrong in our culture as regards this thing called ‘therapy’, or this thing called ‘mental health’. In our spectacular blindness, we have put thought in charge of everything! We have put thought in charge of therapy as if its brisk, necessarily cold and goal-orientated approach has any place here. As if mental health or well-being were a goal. We have put in place a ‘bureaucracy of thought’ to manage people’s mental health – if we knew how, we would turn mental healthcare into an algorithm to be fed into the health board’s computer network, and turned into an official procedure along with everything else. What we are always doing is ‘building machines to help us manage life’ and whilst this seems to work in some areas (‘seems’ being the operative word) it most certainly doesn’t work when it comes to mental health. Who ever heard of such a thing as ‘a machine to support us in our mental health’?

 

Machines are necessarily injurious to our well-being, to our mental health, when they are allowed to get involved. A ‘machine’ doesn’t have to be made of metal and plastic or cogs and wheels – any form of organisation that is based on rules is a machine. A hospital is a machine, a company or organisation is a machine, society itself as a machine. The designed world that we have created for ourselves is a machine and in order to survive within it ourselves we are obliged to turn ourselves into machines too. We have to ‘compromise ourselves’, in other words, in order that we might live in this world. We have to go against our true nature, as Philip K Dick says.

 

Compromising ourselves by becoming more and more ‘machine-like’ causes mental ill-health; adapting ourselves to society causes mental health, as Foucault says. Machines cause mental ill-health because they don’t give us space to be who we are. Society causes us mental ill-health because it doesn’t give us the space to be who we are. We could perhaps respond by saying, “Well in that case we will programme the machines to give us space to be ourselves” but that won’t work because no programme for that exists, nor could exist. We can’t adapt society to give us to give space to us either by passing the appropriate legislation because that legislation doesn’t exist – there is no formula to for providing space and so this is the one thing a machine can never do. That would be like having a rule that says there must be no rules! Only conscious human beings can be non-judgemental. Only conscious human beings can be non-judgemental, and there is an acute shortage of ‘conscious human beings’. Society doesn’t value them, after all – it has no regard for them whatsoever…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only Space Can Help Us

We can’t see anything unless we can see that thought operates within a realm within which there is no space, and that space is something that is driven out of our lives by our constant rationalizing and constant purposefulness. We can’t therefore see anything unless we can see that space is driven out of our lives by the constant advantage-seeking activity of the self-concept, and this is the one thing we never do see. The other side of this rather bleak-sounding observation is that any bit of space at all between us and the self-concept is going to be hugely beneficial to us. Any bit of space at all is going to break the strangle-hold that the tyranny of thought has over us – it will still be there, in all its strength, but we will now have another way of looking at things. Its way of seeing things won’t be the only way.

 

The problem is however that we don’t want to have any space between us and the self-concept. That’s not something we see as being a good thing! The whole point of the game that we are playing – without realising that we are playing it – is to identify with the Mind-Created Sense Of Self as much as we can and we do this by constantly manoeuvring, constantly scheming, constantly acting so as to obtain some kind of benefit or advantage for ourselves (which is to say, for the ‘self-concept’). This is all the MCSOS can ever do – it has no other mode of operation or orientation available to it and so when we are ‘passively identified’ with the concrete, mind-created self that’s all we can do as well. We’re ‘locked into it’ – we’re locked into a state of narcissistic self-absorption and the ‘self’ that we are so immersively absorbed with is an alien introject, a ‘foreign installation’, as Carlos Castaneda puts it. We do not therefore ever want to open up a space between us and the MCSOS – there doesn’t seem to be any concrete benefit in this for us! Certainly there is no benefit for the concrete self, which can only ever be demoted by the presence of space. We automatically want to do everything we can to affirm and validate the defined identity which is the Mind-Create Sense of Self, not reduce its Prima donna centrality on the stage of life. We don’t want to sideline our idea of ourselves by bringing perspective to ‘the game we are playing without knowing that we are playing it’.

 

Having said this, is also of course true that humanity has always made apparent moments in this direction. We are all naturally appalled by the spectacle of out-and-out self-obsession (unless we too caught up in it to see it ourselves) and so we generally make a deliberate effort not to be so brutally selfish. This is called ‘morality’ or ‘polite behaviour’ or ‘common decency’. All the great religions exhort us to see beyond the demands of the self and push ourselves to find generosity of spirit, to ‘give’ instead of ‘take’ all the time. There’s a glitch in deliberate morality though and the glitch is that we doing all of this for the sake of the self, in order to improve it or redeem it, in order to make the culprit more acceptable to our fellow man (or to God, if we happen to be religiously orientated). So we’re still trying to benefit ourselves; the self-concept – as we have just said – can’t do anything else other than constantly trying to seek the advantage. It’s no good expecting the self-concept to do anything different because it can’t. A leopard can’t change its spots, as it is said. As crude as it might seem, and it is crude, the basic gist of conventional or exoteric religion is that it is sold to us on the promise that it can guarantee us immortality in the afterlife – immortality in heaven rather than in hell, to be more specific! And what could play on the self-concept’s inbuilt mechanism for ‘seeking the advantage’ more than this? We are being presented with the ultimate advantage on one hand, and the ultimate disadvantage on the other. This is how it is seen from the viewpoint of the self-concept anyway: the thing that the self-concept likes best of all is the thought of ‘eternal validation’, whilst its ultimate nightmare is without question an existence made up of never-ending devalidation.

 

Conventional religion actually reinforces the illusion of self-concept, therefore. The whole point of our earthly existence becomes to secure a place in heaven and the twist here is that what we are seeking, without knowing it, is immortality for the Mind-Created Sense of Self. Since it is our unquestioning belief in the MCSOS that is responsible for all neurotic suffering (and all our psychotic suffering too, for that matter) this is not really going to do us any good! Our idea of the ‘optimum situation’ is that the self-concept will be ‘glorified by association’ at the right hand of God – what greater could there possibly be something doesn’t even exist in the first place? We are therefore preserving the source of our misery rather than seeing it for what it is and renouncing our automatic allegiance to it; if we could do this in the course of our lives then this would be genuinely helpful. This would be infinitely more helpful than the farce of purposeful morality. To spend our entire life obeying the rules of some dogmatic, one-size-fits-all system in the desperate hope that our (false) idea of ourselves will be somehow saved as a result couldn’t possibly be less helpful on the other hand. We couldn’t improve on this as a way of effectively denying (and ultimately betraying) our true nature if we tried.

 

It could be argued of course that is not our ego, our rational concept of ourselves, that is to be saved but our soul, which is naturally a lot less tangible (and less obnoxious) that the everyday ego. But when we fear the devil and the state of eternal damnation that awaits us if we fail the test of righteousness it is not our soul that is full of fear but the mundane rational ego that supposedly guides it. We don’t know ourselves as ‘souls’ (which is mere dry metaphysics as far as most of us are concerned), we know ourselves as we rationally understand ourselves to be. Furthermore, exoteric religion, as we have been saying, does not create a climate within which we feel encouraged and supported in looking beyond ‘the ideas of things,’ or beyond ‘the stated official version of things’ – that would inevitably lead to heresy after all; this would lead inevitably to heresy since we would then be then moving beyond the strict dogmatic understanding of the world that our religion has given us. Dogmatic religion (needless to say!) values the obeying of rules not the questioning of them, and ‘unreflectively obeying the rules’ is exactly the process that ends up in the creation of the concrete, mind-created self. It is fear that creates the mind created self in other words, and fear is what lies behind all dogmatic religions, no matter what proponents of these religions might say to the contrary. Dogma is always the denial of fear. Fear is always ‘the instrument of control’ – what greater fear can there be after all than the fear of spending all eternity in the inexpressibly tortuous state of damnation?

 

What could be ‘healthier’ (‘healthier’ meaning ‘leading to Wholeness or Haleness’) would be if we could learn to ‘die before we die’ as Sufis say; to deny the existence of death by the dodge of believing in the immortality of the soul (or rather the person, which as we how we interpret this in practical terms since – as we have just said – no one relates to themselves as immaterial souls) is the exact opposite of what Shams Tabrizi says in the following quote –

It is never late to ask yourself “Am I ready to change my life, am I ready to change myself?” However old we are, whatever we went through, it is always possible to reborn. If each day is a copy of the last one, what a pity! Every breath is a chance to reborn. But to reborn into a new life, you have to die before dying.

When we live ‘according to the rules’ (as is required by any dogmatic belief structure, religious or otherwise) then our life cannot be anything else other than ‘each day being a copy of the one that proceeded it’; this is how we obey the rules, after all – by repeating the same thing over and over again. To not do this is to break the rules. The idea of ‘each day being nothing more than the copy of the one that proceeded it’ provides us with a very good way of understanding what the mind created sense of self’ actually is – when we strip it whatever glamour might possess – the MCSOS is that state of being where every day is a copy of the other. It’s where we do the same thing today that we did yesterday (think the same thoughts that we thought yesterday) and create an identity out of this.

 

The identity is the duplication or copying, in other words, and the astonishing thing here is that it doesn’t in the lease bit matter what is being duplicated or copied – content isn’t what this is about (although this is of course claimed to be the case). The ‘identity’ doesn’t come out of the pattern that is being repeated but from the simple fact that it is being repeated, and this makes a nonsense of the way in which we understand the term ‘identity’ therefore. It’s not the particularities of our so-called identity that matter but that we should have that basic repetition, whatever it is that’s being repeated. To put this in the simplest terms, the whole thing is a sham. Not only is the MCSOS a sham, it’s a sham that is a perverse inversion (or parody) of our true nature, which is not an endless repetition of the same thing, but fluid or ungrounded change, change denies nothing. ‘Fluid change’ – change that doesn’t, out of fear, hang onto any vestige (imaginary or otherwise) of the past – is where every day genuinely is new, and is not a tweaked rehash of the old. There is nothing more marvellous than a new day dawning that truly is ‘a new day’, and by the same token there’s nothing more wretched than a new day which is actually not a new day at all but only a repeat of yesterday. There’s no reason for repeating yesterday indefinitely other than fear (the fear of letting go of the known), and it is this fear that drives the conditioned-self in everything it does and thinks.

 

When fear drives us into the place that it always does drive us into then there is only one thing that is helpful and that is to find a way of cultivating a bit of space in our lives – space between us and our thoughts about the world, space between us and our ideas of ourselves. Only space can help us, nothing that thought has made can do. None of thought’s tricks and tools are of any service here! The lack of space is what has made life so unlivable, for us, so unrewarding and gruelling for us, and space cannot be manufactured by the thinking mind; the one thing we genuinely need (rather than being told that we need) can’t be the result of the rational process, highly developed though it might be, and so we are thrown back on ourselves. Our society can’t help us; it can’t help us because it implicitly denies that there is anything such thing space; our society deals only with the known, acknowledges only the known, values only the known, and this is its curse -this why we are really and truly ‘thrown back on ourselves’. It’s only that bit of us that hasn’t been ‘put there’ by society that helps now; the part of us that was put there by society is now our enemy. It’s the ‘enemy within’ – it’s the inner critic, the inner judge, the inner saboteur, the inner controller…

 

Two things are needed to free us from the tyranny of thought therefore, not just the one. Cultivating space in our lives (rather than filling them up with our cleverness, and what we have made with our cleverness) is one thing, but learning to see the inner controller – and realize what it is (an enemy rather than a friend, a tyrant rather than the benevolence protector) is the other thing, and what a difficult thing this is! To doubt the system that we have always relied on to run our lives for us when this system has always been the force that functions by causing us to doubt ourselves is no small thing – it seems like a miracle that this should ever happen at all! From time to time, we will start to suspect that something is amiss, and we will start to that the authority that runs our world for us really is ‘on our side’, this is only natural, but what happens then is that we become alienated from our own insight, alienated from our own wisdom in this regard. Because our insight is telling us something that that ruling authority of the thinking mind doesn’t want to hear (or rather can’t allow itself to hear) this mind paints insight and wisdom as being ‘the enemy’ and we turn against ourselves as a result. We are very effectively turned against our own true nature and – bereft of this source of wisdom, bereft of the what the ancient Gnostic Christians called the Luminous Epinoia – we are left with no choice other than to believe what the ‘Tyrant Machine’ of the thinking mind tells us…