The Secret World Of Suffering

The most terrible ‘mistake’ we could ever make would be to miss the point of what life is all about and spend all our time preoccupied with something else, something that isn’t life, something that has nothing whatsoever to do with life. What bigger mistake could there possibly be than this? What worse screw-up could there be than this?

 

This is of course a rhetorical question because we never could make a bigger mistake than this. You really would want to kick yourself for making a mistake like this – you’d want to kick yourself particularly hard! The point we’re making here is of course that this is exactly the mistake that we – as a culture – are making; we are making precisely this mistake and we are far too stubborn to listen to those amongst us who try to point this fact out. We absolutely won’t be told.

 

This is an astonishing statement to be able to make – it is a staggering statement to hear as well (if, that is, we were able to hear it). How could we have got things so wrong? It is however very clearly the case that very few people are ever going to take this on board, and of those who do see it, none of them have a position in the rigid hierarchy of society and this means that no one is going to listen to them even if they were to say something about it. We only listen to people in positions of authority, and positions in people in ‘positions of authority’ (those people whose opinions get listened to) are inevitably the most heavily conditioned of us all, as Noam Chomsky points out. Who cares what the misfits and eccentrics think, when by definition what they think doesn’t matter?

 

The two main ‘parts’ of life, we might say, are ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ and – as things stand in our society – neither of these two things has anything to do with life. We could just as well say that neither of these two things ‘have anything to do with who we really are’, which is another way of saying the same thing. Most work doesn’t require us to be able to ‘tap into who we really are’ – it’s hardly necessary to point this out! No one is going to pay us to ‘be ourselves’; quite the contrary is true – most of us are actually being paid to be who we aren’t! As Philip K Dick says in Do Androids Dream, ‘we are required to go against our own nature’. The other way of putting this would be to say that ‘no one is going to pay us for doing what we would do anyway’ but only for ‘doing what we don’t want to do’, and therefore wouldn’t do, and that this is why we are being paid. We’re being paid to compensate us for doing what we don’t want to do…

 

In a rather simplistic way, we could say that when we have a job we have a role to play and that role isn’t us, obviously. This in itself is harmless enough: if I am a waiter then I can step out of role when I’m not working. I know very well that I’m not this role and, what’s more, it is probably that I can even be myself, to some extent, when I am in role at work – I don’t have to act like some kind of robot, after all. If I happen to be working in a very expensive restaurant then I will be required to be ‘more in role and less myself,’ it’s true, but I still know that it’s only a role. The problem is however that in the last few hundred years in particular life has become more complicated and our roles have become ever more two-dimensional, or artificial. As the social world becomes more abstracted from nature, and the demands that the natural world place on us, our conditioned sense of who we are gets correspondingly more removed from who we really are. The ‘natural world’ is replaced by the ‘designed world’ and so thought becomes the guiding principle rather than the natural (or ‘spontaneous’) order of things. Thought itself gives us roles to perform, roles that are – moreover – extremely hard to see through. We have ‘ideas about ourselves’, in other words, and we live our lives on the basis of these ideas.

 

It’s actually extraordinarily hard to not do this – we never stop to consider that the ideas we are living our life on the basis of are only ideas. Who does that? The urgency to ‘get on with life’ is such that we never had time to stop to reflect on matters such as this. Certainly don’t feel that we have the time to do much in the way of reflecting, or philosophising The whole ‘trip’ of thought is that it never allows us to pause to consider the fact that the thoughts which we are basing our lives on are only thoughts – if we did this then we could there would be the chance of radical change in our lives. As it is however, there is no chance of radical change, and we don’t miss this possibility either! We don’t miss it because we are convinced – without ever reflecting on the fact that we are convinced – that everything we could ever possibly want or need or aspire to is to be found within the realm of trivial change (which is the only type of change we know or understand). And because the realm of trivial change is the only type of change we know, we don’t see it as being ‘trivial’, obviously!

 

When we are ‘in role without knowing that we are in role’ then it is of course the case that the only type of change that we will ever know or acknowledge is change of the trivial variety. The only way there could be radical change would be that if we were to come out of role, but because we don’t actually know that we are ‘in role’ we are profoundly incapable of conceiving of or in any way comprehending that possibility. This then gives us a very neat way of looking at the mechanism by which we can miss the whole point of ‘what life about’ without knowing that we have missed anything – a whole world becomes invisible to us when we ‘are in role without knowing that we are’, a whole world that is actually the only word there is! What other the world could there be than the world we see when we are not in role, after all? The world we see when we look through the conceptual filter of the thinking mind isn’t the world at all, and – as we have already said – this isn’t something that we ever stop to reflect on.

 

When we are in role without knowing it then we are not at all interested in any other world than the world that makes sense from the point of view of the ‘part’ that we are playing. Because nothing else is of any interest to us, the possibility of our lives changing in a radical way is not going to be a possibility that we are in any way curious about. If we ever were to have the inking that that there were such a possibility – which we will inevitably do from time to time, no matter how carefully we organise or regulate our lives – then our only response will be fear. We will be terrified without knowing why we are terrified; we will be afraid without being interested in finding out why we are afraid. When we are in role without knowing it (or conditioned by thought without knowing it) then awareness of the type radical change that we have implicitly denied is bound to manifest as ‘ontological terror’.

 

If we were in role but at the same time knew ourselves to be in role then the possibility of radical change, the possibility of ‘dropping out of role’, would of course not be terrifying to us. It would simply represent a greater degree of freedom; it would represent ‘blessed relief from the onerous set of restrictions that we are operating under’. It would be ‘good news’ not ‘bad news’, in other words. When we are unconsciously identified with the part that we are playing however then – as we have said – radical change is synonymous with ‘ontological terror’ and for this reason we are going to take very great care never to permit any awareness, however faint, of the possibility of such a thing. What this means therefore is that we are straightaway going to be constrained to ‘a false life’! We are confined to an area of experience that has nothing to do with who we really are, but only to do with who we are playing at being. This ‘area of experience’ is the world which only makes sense in relation to the identity we mistakenly think we are!

 

There is a very interesting question that comes up here and that is the question of whether it is possible for us to continue in life in this very restricted mode of being (the mode of being in which we think trivial change is the only type of change there is) and yet remain undistressed by this fundamental restriction? Can we get off ‘scott free’, in other words? In one way we might come to the conclusion that it is indeed possible for us to continue indefinitely in this mode without ever missing the wider reality from which we are cut off; we might come to such a conclusion as a result of our observations of the people around us, the people we know and have regular interactions with. On the whole, people seem to be getting on well enough, and if we take into account the media’s unduly positive representations of how we are getting on then it would seem that we are certainly not distressed or troubled by our ‘lack of Wholeness’. Life has never been better, if we are to believe the media’s super-glossy representations of modern life!

 

We could on the other hand make the sober point that there is an invisible side to society, a side that isn’t on general display, either in terms of how human life is represented to us by the media, or in terms of how we personally wish to see it. What we are talking up here could be spoken of as ‘a secret world’ – the secret world of unacknowledged suffering. We ‘filter for misery’, as psychiatrist Scott Alexander puts it – we see the world as being a happier place than it really is. To a significant extent, we also filter other people from seeing us as being miserable, of course. On the outside we might seem to be fine – or ‘halfway fine’ at least – but what’s really going on with us on the inside? How would it feel if we really tuned in to ourselves, instead of only going on the images that we are fed? This secret world is the world of the ‘walking wounded’, we might say – we are still functioning (in some kind of a fashion) and we can still keep up the front (more or less) but the passion (or ‘sense of meaning’ with regard to life) has long since fled. This is the world we don’t see represented very often, or even at all; there can be no doubt that it is a substantial world, that there are many of us in it. Statistics do not exist to tell us just exactly how big this world is however; there are no stats to draw on here since this type of profound alienation from life is the norm rather than the exception!

 

When we can’t keep up the pretence anymore (and are forced to ‘declare our hand’) then this means that we have automatically graduate into another ‘secret world’, which is the secret world of overt or acknowledged mental suffering, where there is at least now a degree of honesty about what’s going on. This too can rightly be spoken of as ‘an invisible world’ inasmuch as we are no longer part of ‘visible society’. Whilst it is true that there is a movement to bring the various types of ‘mental ill health’ into the public consciousness (in contrast to the policy adopted in Victorian times where the main purpose of the asylum, as Erving Goffman says, was to ‘segregate the mentally unwell’ so that us normal folk would never have to have the unpleasant experience of actually encountering them) our approach to the whole matter of mental suffering is still to see it as some sort of pathological process that can be cured without ever having to look at the deeper causes that might exist in society itself. We’re trying to be more inclusive, which is good, but we still don’t want to look into the real causes of mental suffering, and so we’re not actually going to get anywhere with our efforts.

 

We certainly don’t see any connection with the profound artificiality of modern society and the way in which – ultimately – it causes us to ‘miss the very point of life itself’, as we put it earlier. Who amongst those of us who are adapted (and therefore invested) game-players are ever going to admit to such a thing? We are not exactly inclined to ‘ask big questions’, we are not exactly very likely to start wondering if our whole way of doing things (or seeing things) is wrong – on an individual level it usually requires a massive crisis to bring such questioning about and on the level of the ‘collective mind’ which is society, even the biggest crisis isn’t going to trigger honest reflection of this sort. The generic/collective (or ‘adapted’) mind isn’t able to ask big questions like this – it has an unholy terror of them. Our only option in this case is to assume that the patterns of mental suffering that we are witnessing are due to individual pathology that can (hopefully) be cured without bringing into question the overall structure we are adapted to, which is the game we are committed to playing without knowing that we are.

 

 

In short, we just don’t want to see that 100% adaptation to society causes us to miss the key point of life itself. We just don’t want to see it and we won’t see it. Society causes us to ‘miss the point’ by giving us a false basis upon which to live life and – as we have argued – the way in which it does this is by compelling us to see ourselves as being who it says we are. ‘The system says who we are’, in other words – it defines everything about us and we’re perfectly happy about that! There can be absolutely no doubt that this is what society does. Just to emphasise the point that we have already made: society would not be society unless we were all socially constructed, socially conditioned. If we all came ‘out of role’ at the same time, where would society be then? What would happen to the collective way of seeing things if we did this? Society is after all nothing more than a set of agreements that we covertly make with each other and what we are ultimately agreeing to is to be ‘in role’ without acknowledging either to ourselves or anyone else that we’re actually doing anything at all!

 

In conclusion, the point that we never want to look at is that it is utterly impossible for us be mentally healthy (or ‘mentally well’) and be socally conditioned at the same time and the reason for this is that being socially conditioned or socially adapted means that we are who society says we are rather than who we actually are, and if we’re not who we ‘actually are’ then it is absolutely the case that we’re not living life. We might be doing something else alright but whatever the hell it is that we’re doing we’re definitely not living life. We’re ‘playing at living life’, which isn’t the same thing at all…

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Communication

Everything is communication of one sort or another. Or rather, everything is either communication or ‘the fake analogue of communication’ (which we may also refer to as ‘pseudo-communication‘). Pseudo-communication doesn’t mean ‘lies’ or ‘fake news’ so much as the appearance of a two-way interaction going on when actually there is none. Pseudo-communication isn’t a real thing however – its just some kind of ‘collective fantasy’. In genuine communication there is actually something happening; with pseudo-communication however nothing is happening…

 

There is no interaction at all going on in the case of pseudo-communication because ‘interaction’ means that it’s a two-way street – otherwise, what we’re talking about is merely control and control by its very nature only works the one way! Control tells but it doesn’t listen. Control is the antithesis of communication therefore and in this world of ours everything is about control – either of the overt or covert variety. And yet control – ultimately – is an unreal thing. From what we might call ‘a psychological perspective’ (rather than a straightforward ‘mechanical’ one, which is of course purely practical), control is always ‘fear-driven’ and for this reason we can consider it to be a kind of ‘postponement of reality’…

 

In the past ‘the authorities’, the ‘rulers’, saw no need to disguise their power – it was taken as part of the divine order of things that the powerful should rule over the less powerful. No explanation was needed other than this: ‘It is the divine right of rulers to rule‘. Actually, this so-called ‘explanation’ was itself a manifestation of power, a manifestation of ‘effective covert control’. When the population believes that it is the divine right of kings to rule, then the question of challenging their power never arises! It’s no accident that the monarchy and the church were traditionally so closely related, so closely intertwined with each other.

 

The Queen of England, for example, has a particular (and very peculiar) position of authority within the Church of England – this authority in some special circumstances exceeding that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the United States presidents talk a lot about God even though we might quite reasonably wonder what the connection what exactly the connection is between the shady business of power-politics and the divine. A democratically elected president might seem very different from a hereditary monarch, but there is still this implied relationship with God. We could quite reasonably ask what presidents (or the Queen) would know of God, but the answer (of course) has to do with the validation of their rule.

 

Within the last hundred and fifty years or so the idea that one human being should have power over another, for no other reason than the brute fact that they are in a position to assert this power, has become to be seen as completely unacceptable – is apparent in fact. ‘Might’ and ‘right’ are no longer synonymous. In one way this is undoubtedly representative of a huge leap in consciousness – humankind has woken up out of long dark slumber, or it seems. And yet in another way however it might be said that the gains we have collectively made in terms of freedom are more apparent than real. The change is that control is not explicit any more, as has often been pointed out – the wielders of power have simply grown subtler in their approach.  They have upped their game and we have failed to keep up with them. We have allowed ourselves to believe in the false freedoms that they have given us.

 

Everything is communication of one sort or another and communication is just another way of talking about consciousness. Consciousness is our essential nature and our essential nature is to communicate – this comes as naturally as breathing. What passes for communication’ in this modern age of ours is something very different however – it has the appearance of communication but not the nature. We could equally well say that what passes for freedom’ in this world is a pale shadow, a deceptive analogue, of the real thing. We are free to do anything we want just so long as it is within the terms of the game that we have not yet recognised as a game.

 

Similarly with what we like to call ‘communication’ – we are free to communicate about anything we want, just as so long as we do so within the framework of reference that has been supplied for us, without us ever realising that there was any choice in the matter. We talk about the things that we have been given to talk about, in other words. We’re interested in what everyone else is interested in; we follow ‘what’s trending’ and what’s trending is simply what everyone else is passively following. What could be dumber than this? But isn’t not so much the ‘things’ that we are thinking and talking about but the context of meaning within which these things are embedded – the messages that we focus upon are part and parcel of a framework that we don’t focus on and so we’re swallowing something without knowing that we are…

 

The overall point that we’re making here is that if I am thinking within some ‘externally imposed framework of reference’ without realising I am doing so, then I am being controlled without knowing that I am. My way of seeing the world has been decided for me, and what more effective exercise of power could there be than this? ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free,’ as Goethe famously says.  If I as ruler compel you to live within a certain predetermined structure (within a certain format of existence that has been decided by me) then this state of affairs is actually a communication in itself – I am communicating my power to you in no uncertain terms. That’s the message you are getting, loud and clear!  But when I control you (by ‘regulating your reality’ so to speak) in such a way that you never suspect that anything is going on, then in this case I am most definitely not communicating my use of power, which makes my the control of you all the more complete. The ultimate form of control is therefore where I control what things mean (i.e. ‘what is true and what is not true’). This is a type of control that cannot ever be questioned.

 

Within this set-up we imagine ourselves to be freely communicating when we are not. We aren’t freely communicating – as we have already said – because the terms that we have been given to communicate within are not our own. We’re playing someone else’s game. We are operating within the confines of a framework of meaning that has been imposed upon us from the outside without us understanding that we ever had a choice. Given these circumstances (given that we are ‘playing someone else’s game without knowing that we are’) there is of course absolutely no way that we can communicate freely. There is no way that we can be said to be truly communicating because in order to communicate we must first be able to see what is actually going on! Authenticity is needed first, in other words.

 

If we were to look at this in terms of interaction, we could say that there is no possibility of us genuinely interacting either with each other, or with anyone who might be in a position of power or authority over us. There is the appearance of this possibility, but that’s all – there is only the appearance. We are allowed to fool ourselves into thinking that our interactions are genuine and not ‘pre-programmed’. What’s happening is that we’ve been wrong-footed right from the start because we’re not responding from the standpoint of ‘us being autonomous beings’ (which is what we naturally assume ourselves to be) but inauthentic basis of us thinking that we’re autonomous when the truth is that we’re not. We’re actually heteronomous not autonomous – enforced heteronomy is after all ‘the rule’! There is – as we keep on reiterating – absolutely no way that we can be autonomous beings when our entire  way of seeing the world has been supplied to us by some ‘external authority’!

 

The ‘external authority’ that we’re going on about here can be very simply explained by saying it is the very same thing as ‘the game we are playing without knowing that we are’. The ‘external authority is the framework that we live out the course of our lives within without ever paying attention to the fact that it is there and that we are allowing it to decide for us what is real and what is not real. We could also say that ‘the external authority is the structure we adapt to, without ever paying attention the fact that we are adapting to anything’. If we had some understanding of the fact that we are in the position of being adapted to a common structure, adapted to a common system or ‘machine‘, then there would be freedom in this understanding and so we would be able to actually communicate. If we don’t have this understanding (the understanding that our way of seeing the world is only ‘one of infinitely many’ such possibilities) then we never communicate at all – all we’re doing in this case is ‘passing on the propaganda’. We’re passing on the propaganda that we have passively absorbed without realizing that we have! We’re allowing ourselves to be mouthpieces for the system’s ongoing super-virulent output of ‘pseudo-communication’, which isn’t communication at all but merely an exercise in covert control….

 

Art – florentjin hofman: big yellow rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surrogate Challenge

Life is hitting us with a big challenge every single day of our lives, and every single minute of every day, and yet – collectively speaking – we are completely oblivious to it. As a culture we do not recognise the existence of this challenge at all and – as we might expect – this obliviousness, this lack of recognition – brings about a whole heap of unpleasant consequences. It is simply not possible to ignore life’s essential challenge and get away scot-free!

 

The ‘essential challenge of life’ – if we may continue to speak of it in these terms – is inevitably reframed by whatever culture or society it is that we happen to be part of. This has always been the way – this is how human collectives work. This is how the ‘group mind’ works – it works by reframing life’s central essential challenge!

 

So what is this challenge, and how does society reframe it (or ‘bend it to its own purposes’)? Very simply put, the challenge is to work out, by ourselves, ‘who we are’! This was the inscription above the entrance of the temple of Apollo in ancient Greece; this is the famous Delphic maxim – “Know Thyself’.

 

This is the only challenge that counts since if we fail to ‘know ourselves’ and we just charge ahead and live our lives on the basis of ‘who we are not but who we mistakenly think we are’ then this isn’t going to do anyone any good!’ What’s your problem – mistaken identity‘ says Wei Wu Wei. If we don’t sort this critical issue out then how can we possibly to sort anything else out? If we start from the standpoint of delusion, then how can any of our activities come to any good?

 

The way that society ‘reframes’ this essential challenge is very simple – it tells us who we are and gives us various games to compete in on the basis of this false identity. That is society in a nutshell. The challenge thus becomes ‘can you win at the game which we insist on you playing?’ In the past this was often put in religious terms – we were told some stuff about God and His plan for us and the world, we were told about our immortal souls and the jeopardy we will place these souls in if we fail the test that we are being presented with by God in this life. The existential challenge is not to ‘know ourselves’ therefore, but to obey the rules that the church has set for us in God’s name. The ‘reframed challenge’ is therefore ‘can I conform to the system correctly or not?’ and this isn’t really the same thing at all!

 

We may think that we have moved on in the 21st century, but we haven’t at all. The situation is exactly the same – the essential challenge in life has been reformulated to become something entirely trivial – ‘how well can I adapt to the rule-based system that I have been presented with in place of life?’ The social system is a complicated game and it is constantly hitting us with its own distorted version of the ‘existential challenge’, which is ‘can the identity we have told you you are succeed at the game we have recruited you to play without ever telling you that it is only a game?’ Again, this is not the same thing as ‘Know Thyself’ at all. Actually – of course – it’s the very antithesis of it! It’s the very antithesis of life’s challenge because playing society game means forgetting all about ‘who we really are’.

 

What could be a better way of getting us to forget all about the question of ‘who we really are’ than giving us a ready-made identity and then giving that ready-made identity all sorts of supposedly ‘important’ tasks to succeed at? And what else is ‘society’ if not exactly this? We have been kept busy the whole time achieving these things that only make sense to the identity which society says we are but which we are not. What better way could there be to get us to neglect rising to the challenge that life itself has set us than to set us all sorts of false or spurious challenges that have to be accomplished on behalf of the false self?

 

In psychotherapy this sort of thing is sometimes called ‘pseudo-solution’ – pseudo-solution  means fixing the thing that that doesn’t need fixing, in place of the one that does! This doesn’t necessarily mean that the ‘surrogate tasks’ which we so enthusiastically involve ourselves in doesn’t need to be done (they might well do) but what it does mean is that they are ‘welcome distractions’! The whole point of pseudo-solution is that we are very much on the lookout for ‘semi-legitimate distractions’, and the social game is superbly effective in helping us out in this regard! Up to this point we have been talking about society as if it were some sort of sinister agency that is responsible for aggressively ‘side-tracking’ us so that we end up missing out on the whole point of life (which is Satan’s job, if we were to speak in theological terms). In one way this is perfectly true – the collective, the ‘group mind’, does serve this ‘adversarial’ or ‘antagonistic’ function, but the bottom line is that it only does this because – deep-down – we want it to!

 

We are after all hungry for distractions, and so the ‘mass-collusion’ which both supplies us with them, and collectively validates them at the same time, is exactly what we want. Blaming society for ‘putting us wrong’ is missing the point therefore – all are doing in this case is pushing the responsibility away from us again, which is exactly what we did when we let society tell us ‘who we are’ in the first place. Society serves the illegitimate function of both ‘defining reality for us’ and ‘defining ourselves for us’, therefore saving us from the trouble of having to work this out for ourselves, and then – after we have let the system take over this unwanted job for us – we can still evade responsibility by saying ‘look what the wrong things that society has done to us’. We get to have our cake and eat it this way, therefore!

 

Blaming isn’t really isn’t a very useful response to the situation, needless to say – it compounds our problems rather than solving them. What is helpful is for us to start taking responsibility for ourselves and realise the frightening truth, which is that we are – on a very deep level – divided against ourselves. There is some part of us which does not want to take on any responsibility at all (and which certainly doesn’t want to take on responsibility for ‘responding to life’s essential challenge’) and this part of us also doesn’t want to take responsibility for owning up to its own existence, which means that it can – since we don’t even know that it is there – act with complete impunity. This secret and murky part of us – which will do absolutely anything  rather than ‘take responsibility for itself’ – corresponds to what Carl Jung calls the shadow‘.

 

When  we all refuse to ‘own our own shadow’ then, as Jung says, this shadow gets to roam freely around the world and do what it will. When we talk about society and its repressive influence on our consciousness (or on our true individuality) then what we are actually talking about is our ‘collective shadow’. Our ‘shadow side’ is what drives and sustains the deterministic/controlling system that we live out the course of our lives within, and so the power and weight of this system (Philip K Dick’s Black Iron Prison) depends upon what proportion of the population are completely unconscious and are – therefore – completely manipulated (or rather possessed) by it. Statistics don’t exist to tell us what exactly this ‘proportion’ might be, but we can make a pretty good guess that it is greater than 99.5%!

 

Life is hitting us with this big challenge every day of our lives, and every minute of each day, and we are displacing it and keeping ourselves busy solving various ‘surrogate versions’ of that great challenge. Taking part in the game which is society is the ‘collective surrogate task’ and – unlike the core existential challenge of ‘finding out who we are’ – it is compulsory. Meeting life’s challenge isn’t compulsory – we are completely free to either rise to it, or not rise to it – that’s our own business! Participation in the distractions that are provided for us by society are, on the other hand, most definitely compulsory!

 

There’s no choice here – we are not free ‘not to play’ – how could we be, when we don’t even know that what we doing is ‘playing a game’? We don’t go around thinking that we’re ‘going around constantly distracting ourselves from what life is all about’ – on the contrary, we are – for the most part – entirely convinced that what we doing is ‘living life as it should be lived’ and so we’re not looking any further than this. How could we doubt that ‘this is what life is supposed to be’ when everyone around us is doing the same things that we are doing, believing the same things that we believe in? Unconsciousness is always compulsory, whilst consciousness is always free…

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No Technique For Mental Health

What we want in our mental health workers is not ‘technical smarts’ but actual wisdom. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement – in this the most difficult area of human experience actual bona fide wisdom is surely what is required, not just a fancy vocabulary and a few ‘off-the-shelf’ therapeutic protocols. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it is! It’s a very controversial statement…

 

The reason that this is a highly controversial territory is because, unbeknownst to ourselves, we have collectively put all of our money on a different horse entirely; instead of putting our money on the horse called ‘wisdom’ we have put it on ‘technical know-how’. The reason for this isn’t hard to understand – technical know-how has served us so well (or it would appear) in other areas that we assume it should serve us equally well here – the only thing being that it doesn’t! There’s no ‘technical fix’ for mental health difficulties and if we think that there is, or that they could be, then we are simply deceiving ourselves.

 

What we’re talking about here is part of a much wider problem – we don’t value wisdom at all in this modern world of ours! Even the word itself doesn’t fit anymore; it sounds quaint, like something from a fairy story, like something from a bygone age. There were wise men and wise women in a bygone age perhaps but now we have specialists, now we have experts. Specialists are produced on an assembly line – admittedly a lot of hard work is required, and more than just a bit of native ability, but the process is nevertheless one in which ideas and theories are passively absorbed from the outside. This is how the academic world works and there should be no doubt about it – it is ‘conformity on a global scale’.

 

There is a place for this type of process, which we can most accurately call ‘training’. There is a very big place for it – our world wouldn’t run otherwise! It would break down and there would be no one to fix it. If your computer develops a glitch and crashes on you then you need a proper IT specialist to get it up and running again, and if you sustain a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula then you need an orthopaedic specialist to get this sorted out for you. In both cases we will be very grateful for the specialist knowledge, skill and experience. With difficulties that occur in relation to our mental health it is a different matter entirely however. This is a whole different ball-game. Highly trained therapists and psychologists might sound as if they possess a hard technological knowledge like the IT expert or the consultant orthopaedic surgeon but they don’t. They don’t for the simple reason that no such ‘technical knowledge’ exists.

 

We just don’t have that type of black-and-white knowledge and that isn’t because we haven’t yet acquired it; it’s because the nature of what we are looking at here is far too complex to allow for the possibility of black-and-white theories or black-and-white maps. We can come up with theories, we can come up with maps and models for sure, but they aren’t going to be of any help to us. Why they won’t be any help is easy to explain – the rational mind works by taking a very narrow slice of the ‘complex whole’, and because the slice of the pie we are taking is so narrow this makes it possible to have a ‘sharp focus’ on the world. The narrower the slice the sharper the focus! This is why people who have a very blinkered view of the world find it possible to have very definite, very black-and-white beliefs! Those of us who aren’t blinkered aren’t able to be so very sure of ourselves, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out.

 

By the same token then (going back to their rational intellect and its capacity to come up with theories and models) when it comes to thicker slices of the pie (the pipe being reality itself, we might say) our sharp focus goes and we are no longer able to say definite things, no longer able to make definite statements about the world. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Relation is one example of this, complexity theory is another. The very essence of complexity theory is that in a complex system the future trajectory of that system bifurcates not just once but many times and we aren’t able to predict which path the system is going to go down. The bigger the slice of reality we take the more uncertainty comes into the picture; hence the science of ‘limitology’ which looks at necessary limits to knowledge that it is possible to have about a system.

 

We could of course try to argue that the human psyche isn’t a ‘complex system’, but who is going to buy that? Intuitively we all know that the psyche is a very deep phenomenon indeed, and no one has ever shown otherwise, despite the best efforts of the behaviourists! To try to argue that what we are is, at root, is no ‘big deal’ (i.e. that it is something that is could be very easily explained away by science) is a most peculiar impulse, and actually has nothing to do with science. True science isn’t afraid of irresolvable uncertainty – it isn’t about ‘explaining things away’. That’s not science, that’s what ER Schumacher calls ‘degenerate scientism’, which is a kind of substitute for fundamentalist religion, i.e. something that gives us all the answers so that we don’t ever have to think about anything. Really, when we come up against what we may term ‘mental health difficulties’ what we are looking at is the core question of what it means to be a human being, as the existential psychotherapists have pointed out. This is therefore not some kind of trivial problem that can be disposed of by the judicious application of CBT or ‘emotional regulation’ or ‘anxiety management’ or ‘distress tolerance’ or anything of that ilk. The greatest philosophical minds in history have wrestled with great question of what it means to be a human being yet we superficial moderns come up with CBT and emotional regulation techniques and think that we have done something clever!

 

What we really need our mental health workers who are genuinely wise, who have their own, hard-won insight into what it means to be a human being but our educational system is entirely wrong for this. Our system of training demands conformity, as we said earlier; it demands that we become the passive receptacles of some generic form of knowledge it is not our own, and which we are not allowed to question. Whoever got on well in training by questioning stuff, after all? At the end of the training process we know lots of ‘stuff’ for sure but it isn’t our stuff. It’s stuff from ‘the outside of us’, it’s ‘external content’. If you happen to be training as an electronic engineer or an organic chemist this is fine – you can hardly be expected to recapitulate the entire history of the discipline from scratch, all by yourself, in order to ‘make it your own’! With therapy however  things are different  – we really do need to have ‘discovered it for ourselves’, so to speak. What we are saying has to be a ‘living truth’ for ourselves, otherwise we are merely repeating empty phrases that we read in a book, or learned on a training course. Intellectual knowledge by itself is utterly useless when it comes to therapy – it is an insult! What is needed is ‘visceral knowledge’, ‘deep knowledge’, wordless knowledge, knowledge that we have won ourselves through personal work and which comes from the very heart of us.

 

In most types of psychotherapy this is – to some extent – how it works, but even here there is – almost always – the straitjacket of models and frameworks which prevent us from ‘seeing things for ourselves’. And even more significantly it is still the case that most psychotherapists, even with all the experiential work that they have done, are still constrained by deeply ingrained societal assumptions about what life is ought to be. We come out of our experiential work learning something about ourselves perhaps but still unconsciously subscribing to the Generic Mind. It’s as if we can be the two things at once, without any conflict at all – it’s as if we can be ‘mental health workers’ and ‘the products of our society’ at the same time. We imagine therefore that is possible to be socially conditioned and yet genuinely helpful to other people at one at the same time. This is obviously quite ridiculous. There are, as Alan Watt says in ‘Psychotherapy East and West’, two distinct types of therapist: the one who stands with society (and all its unconscious assumptions) and the one who stands with his or her client against society and all the blind senseless aggression that is inherent in it.

 

This doesn’t mean that we have to ‘fight’ society or be continually attempting to ‘destabilise’ it, it just means that we see through it and no longer take seriously what it takes seriously. More than just regular personal work is needed for this however, we actually have to ‘wake up’ somehow and there no ‘recipe for waking up’ that we can apply in any sort of a training course or programme. As Bruce Lee said (not in exactly these words) towards the end of his life to someone who wanted to learn from him, “I have no system to teach, so how can I teach you?” Only systems can be taught, and all systems are equal conformity to a set of rules. Systems equal unconsciousness, in other words – consciousness has no system that it needs to conform to!

 

This brings us to the nub of the problem – the reason that the type of suffering that comes about when our mental health is compromised has become such a pandemic is because we live in a world where (as we have said) ‘wisdom’ no longer has any value. Or – as we could also put it – it is because we live in a world which no longer places any stock in the value or importance of the individual. We think that we as a society value the individual but this is absolutely not the case. We don’t even know the meaning of the word! We are brought up not to value the individual but rather to cherish the mind-created ego or ‘self-image’ and that isn’t the same thing at all as the individual. The ego or self-image are nothing more than a collection of desires and fears, likes and dislikes, attachments and versions, and these – by their very nature – are always generic. They are ‘off the shelf clothes that everyone can wear’, they are a ‘one size fits all’ garment. As Jung says:

The more you cling to that which the whole world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch.

We become the individual we are really under this ‘cloak of the generic’ not by believing in our own opinions, not by allowing ourselves to be trapped by our own likes and dislikes; we become ‘who we truly are’ not by passively allowing ourselves to be helplessly imprisoned by our own preferences and biases, but by discarding them. Being an individual is not about having opinions about everything under the sun, contrary to popular belief; it’s not about defining oneself in terms of our lifestyle, friends or tastes – it’s about standing alone and not having any beliefs or opinions that we can share with other people, or fight with them about. Being an individual means that we have not identified with the Generic Mind in other words. It means that we are ‘travelling in our own motorcar rather than being the passive passengers on the public transport system’, to use Gurdjieff’s metaphor.

 

The cause of our malaise lies precisely in our loss of individuality, precisely in the loss of our genuine interiority. So the answer isn’t to ‘carry on as we are’ and have a corps of highly trained specialised professionals standing by in the wings to give us generic therapy when we need it – the answer is for all of us, therapist and non-therapist equally, to struggle heroically to regain our individuality in the face of society’s relentless and ceaseless mechanical pressure on us to give it up…

 

 

 

The Shoe-Leather Of Samsara

What society tells us is important doesn’t really matter. What our minds tell us is important doesn’t really matter either – neither society nor the thinking mind knows what really matters. Neither society nor the thinking mind have any wisdom in them – all they contain are innumerable recipes from the past, formulae from the past, pre-established patterns that we are compelled to adhere to, pressurized to adhere to. As Krishnamurti says, there is no actual intelligence there.

 

So what does matter then? What does ‘wisdom’ tell us? It’s actually much easier to say what doesn’t really matter than what does. It’s easier to point out the ‘red herrings’ as being red herrings than it is to point out what it is that truly matters in life and the reason for this is that ‘pointing out things’ almost invariably brings our unexamined assumptions into play and it is our ‘unexamined assumptions’ that always put us wrong. As a general principle, we can say that the ‘False Task’ in life is the task of validating our unwarranted assumptions and thus preventing ourselves from seeing that they are only unwarranted assumptions, whilst the ‘True Task’ (so to speak) is to see through all the clutter, all the rubbish, all the hocus-pocus, all the time-wasting nonsense masquerading as ‘the truth’.

 

In short then, society is always recruiting us into the task of validating and upholding its collective assumptions. That’s what it does. That’s what society is all about and this has got nothing whatsoever to do with uncovering the truth either about ourselves or the world we live in. Human society hasn’t (and never has had) anything to do with establishing a relationship with the truth – on the contrary, it’s all about ‘worshipping false idols’. It’s hard to see how anyone, looking honestly at the world that we have created for ourselves, could fail to observe that this is what is going on. How could we not see something as obvious as this? ‘If it were a dog it would bite you’, as the saying has it. The extent to which we have been recruited into worshipping all these ‘false idols’ is the extent to which we have turned our backs on what really matters to us. The degree to which we have been enlisted in the ‘False Task’ is the degree to which we have ignored the True Task, which is – as we have suggested – uncovering the actual truth about things.

 

Society is in the business of selling illusions, as Sogyal Rinpoche says. We think it’s about something else but it isn’t. We work all our lives in order to earn the money to be able to afford these by wonderful illusions and if we are diligent enough and hard-working enough we might get to accumulate a big pile of them! It makes us feel very bad if we aren’t able to accumulate all the illusions that we are led to believe we ought to be accumulating and yet if we do ‘succeed’ and manage to do what society tells us we ought to be doing then we’re still no better off! What good are illusions going to do us anyway? They’re only ever going to distract us what really matters. The pursuit of society’s goals is only ever going to waste our time; we’re wasting our time if we ‘fail’ and we’re wasting our time just as much if we ‘succeed’. We’ve been taken as suckers either way. No matter how we do in the game we’re wasting our time – the game is nothing more than a big red herring, after all. Society is nothing more than a big red herring. All the things that the thinking mind gives us to concern ourselves with, preoccupy ourselves with, worry about, are red herrings. That’s the name of the game…

 

Understanding this straightaway points us in the direction of understanding what ‘really does matter’. The thing that ‘really does matter’ is uncovering the truth that has been hidden so well, as opposed to burying it ever deeper. Even those elements within society that ostensibly claim to be concerned with the truth (especially those elements of society that claim to be concerned with the truth, such as education, religion and spirituality) are red herrings. As we’ve just said, that’s the nature of the game that we are playing! Education and religion have nothing whatsoever to do with orientating people towards the truth – all they do is encourage ‘mass mindedness’, all they do is brainwash us all the more effectively because we actually think we ‘know’ something! So-called ‘spirituality’ is no better – for the most part it just sells us ‘candy-coated dreams’; it sells us the illusion that we are (or could be) ‘living a more spiritual life’. This is a very nice illusion to have and we are very happy to buy into it by going on this course or that course, taking part in this online seminar or that online seminar, following this teacher or that teacher. That’s not how it happens though – seeing through all the falseness in our lives is an individual endeavour, something we do ourselves, on our own, working against the entire tide of collective thinking as we do so. Surrounding ourselves with the new (supposedly ‘enlightened’) type of collective thinking isn’t going to help us any. That’s why joining groups or organisations, no matter what they claim to be about, always has the opposite effect to the one intended – we become more brainwashed, not less. All that’s happening is that we are subscribing to ‘society in a different guise’.

 

The problem with the mass-mind phenomenon that we might call ‘online spirituality’ (which is a phenomenon that is currently burgeoning) is that we imagine that by adopting a new language, a new way of looking at the world and the new way of living or behaving in the world that goes with it we imagine ourselves to have become ‘more spiritual’. We imagine that we have become more spiritual because we have ‘changed our outfit’, so to speak. We’re wearing a new set of clothes. But becoming more spiritual doesn’t mean ‘becoming more spiritual’! It doesn’t mean becoming anything. That’s not it at all. That’s an escape, an evasion. If we want to see through all the falseness then adopting a spiritual lifestyle (a new, improved way of thinking and behaving) isn’t going to help us any – that’s just going to confuse us into thinking that those ‘falsehoods’, those ‘self-deceptions’, those ‘inner contradictions’ are no longer there. We’re going to become bliss ninnies, imagining that everything is OK when it isn’t! We might have the teachings of all the masters at our fingertips but diligently ‘counting our neighbour’s gold’ isn’t going to improve the state of our bank account any…

 

 

The only thing that’s going to help us see through the falsehoods that live in us is to consciously live our life as it actually is, and be ourselves as we actually are. This isn’t very glamorous and it certainly isn’t going to make our lives any easier but it will certainly open our eyes! We wear out the shoe-leather of samsara by walking on it, as Chogyam Trungpa says somewhere…

 

 

Art: Detail from Banksy’s Injured Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

Society Will Format You

Society will format you. People will format you. Your friends and relations will format you. Nature herself will format you. This being so, shouldn’t we just let ourselves be formatted? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen, after all? On purely practical terms, we could ask how we could possibly get on in a formatted environment if we ourselves are going around being unformatted. We wouldn’t ‘fit in’, after all…

 

It’s not as simple as that, however. If we just ‘succumb to the pressure’ or ‘succumb to the inevitable’ then that doesn’t work either. Short-term practicality isn’t everything – that brings its own problems! The thing is – as the lyrics of the song by Black Uhuru say – ‘life is a test’. Life itself is testing us, we might say, so simply going along with the overwhelming pressure could be what the system says we should be is not a satisfactory answer to this test. It’s not a ‘satisfactory answer’ by a long chalk!

 

To passively allow ourselves to be formatted, without even passing any heed to what is going on here is the ‘ultimate irresponsibility’. To be who we are told to be the ‘ultimate irresponsibility’! When we succumb to the pressure to be who or what we are told to be then something rather important is left out of the equation – what we could have been, if we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be formatted. This is something we shall never find out in this case; ‘what we could have been’ will haunt us to the grave, in this case. ‘Allowing yourself to be formatted’ is the same thing as ‘being unconscious’ and being unconscious is ‘the easy option’ – it’s the easy option because everything is decided for us and all we have to do is just go along with it! This is the easiest thing we could ever do – it is a total ‘abdication’ of our own responsibility of finding out ‘what it’s all about’. We take the easy option and we run with it. We become a clone of everyone else.

 

‘Responsibility’ is a funny word. The way that it’s usually used is to mean that we have to act in line with what is expected of us. To be ‘responsible’ to do what we are led to believe we have to do, what we ought to do. To be ‘responsible’ is allow ourselves to be controlled, in other words! To be responsible is to allow oneself to be ‘passively formatted’. Even the word itself has become a way of bullying or browbeating people. True responsibility, we might say, means not allowing ourselves to be formatted, just for the sake of convenience, just for the sake of fitting in. This is ‘the test’ – the test is to see whether we can be true to ourselves in the face of overwhelming pressure to be false, and as a consequence sell ourselves short just for the sake of having ‘an easy life’. In biblical terms this equals ‘selling our birthright for a mess of pottage’ – this is exactly what is meant by that phrase.

 

There is no moral pressure in this test however, and that’s the hard thing for us to understand. There is no ‘external authority figure’ waving the finger at us, poised between condemning us on the one hand, and approving of us on the other. How ridiculous is this – it makes absolutely nothing of us. Everything depends on what others say, everything depends on what other people have already decided for us – what we ourselves feel we want to do or be doesn’t matter at all. The notion that that ‘reality’ (or ‘the universe’) is putting pressure on us ‘to be one way rather than another’ is utterly absurd! Life’s test isn’t the type of ‘test’ that we automatically tend to think it is therefore – it’s us working out what’s right for us, without anyone else influencing us in this. It’s up to us and no one else; to put this in the simplest terms ‘true responsibility’ is nothing other than freedom itself, therefore.

 

We inhabit a heavily-formatted environment. ‘Not succumbing to the formatting’ is a societal crime – this is a transgression, an aberration that won’t be tolerated. We like to talk about an ‘open society’, a ‘tolerant society’, an ‘inclusive society’, but this is just another level of gloss, designed to distract us from what’s really going on. It’s window-dressing, in other words; it’s like a corporation which has a highly publicised ‘anti-bullying policy’ that is nevertheless predicated upon the practice of bullying and exploiting its employees. What better camouflage could such a company have? The minute there is any talk of bullying fingers will point at that prominent anti-bullying signs – “that sort of thing doesn’t happen here, you will be told. It’s a well-known fact that we are an anti-bullying organisation!”

 

Society is a mechanical thing and there’s no way that it can be directed to be non-mechanical. It is coercive and there’s no way that legislation can be passed to make it non-coercive. There’s no way anyone can be directed to be non-coercive or non-mechanical! There is no training that we can go on to teach us this; training can teach us to be mechanical in a different way perhaps, but this is no help. Mechanical is mechanical, and that’s all there is to it. The only thing that could really help us would be to be non-mechanical and only we can do that. That’s our responsibility – as we have already said – society has no role to play here. The moment we stop looking for answers from the Group Mind is the moment we stop being a machine. The moment we stop looking for answers from the Generic Mind is also the moment we stop looking for the generic mind to define us, to tell us ‘who we are’. Freedom means ‘freedom from being told who we are’, in other words.

 

This is what ‘being responsible’ and ‘being irresponsible’ really comes down to, therefore – if it means anything being ‘responsible’ means that we don’t allow someone else (or something else) to tell us who we are. Being ‘irresponsible’, on the other hand, is where we do allow this. This is our ‘essential malaise’, this is the malaise which we all suffer from – we allow ourselves to be told who we are by external factors. The absolutely preposterous claim that is being made here is that – somehow – other factors are ‘more important’, and we should let ourselves be defined (or formatted) for the sake of ‘the greater good’. No one ever puts it quite like this of course; instead, we are beaten about the head with endless talk about our so-called ‘responsibilities’ and pressurised to do what’s expected of us. Instead of being reprehensibly ‘wilful’ or ‘defiant’ or ‘resistant’ or ‘selfish’ we are told that we should join in with what everyone else is doing; without these words being used, we are told that we should ‘play the game’. The more people play this game (which is of course not seen as a game) the more powerful the argument becomes.

 

At any one point in time two very different roads lie ahead of us therefore. One is the road of adaptation where everything is all about according better and better with the template that has been provided for us. The motivation here is entirely external in nature – we are rewarded if we get it right and punished if we don’t. Reality ‘already exists’, in other words – reality is a known fact, a closed book, and so all that’s left for us to do is get on in this pre-defined reality in the way that we have been told to. This is – needless to say – life as most of us know it – our lives are always subservient to the mechanical reality that has been imposed upon us; we are slaves of the reality that our formatting determines we shall perceive and believe in. To allow ourselves to be formatted is the same thing as ‘accepting the reality that someone else has designed for us’.

 

The other road therefore, is the road of non-adaptation (so to speak), which doesn’t really sound like a very positive thing to us! The need to function optimally within the system that has been provided for us is no longer the ‘be all and end all’. This isn’t to say that it is no longer a consideration, but rather that it is no longer ‘the most important thing’ (or ‘the only thing’). Something else other than adaptation has now become more interesting!  We are now interested in something other than ‘the mere mundane practicalities’ of our situation. When it comes down to it of course, the mere practicalities are never actually ‘interesting’ at all – that’s the wrong word to use. Practicalities – by definition – aren’t interesting of themselves; they are only of value inasmuch as they serve some greater end. That’s the only reason we bothering with them in the first place, after all! We are either trying to obtain the outcome that we want or avoid the outcome that we don’t want, but neither of these forms of motivation have anything to do with ‘interest’. We have already made up our mind with regard to what we want or don’t want and so we’re not interested in anything other than that outcome that we have already decided on, and this therefore means that we’re not really ‘interested’ (‘open’) at all…

 

Wanting very much to see a particular outcome take place or wanting very much to avoid a particular outcome has nothing to do with ‘being interested’ in anything. We are not interested in the thing that we are trying to avoid – obviously – and we are also not interested in the thing that we are trying to obtain, which is perhaps not quite so obvious! We are interested in obtaining the goal to be sure, but we are not in any way genuinely curious about what that thing is. The ‘desired outcome’ is only ever a token and we don’t really want to look any closer than this. We don’t want to go any deeper than this superficial ‘tokenistic’ level. If we did look any closer then we would of course have to start asking what the token is a token for, and that would open a whole big can of worms! For one thing, we would see that our motivation is not at all what we took it to be, and that would take the wind out of our sails for a start. For another thing, we would then find out that the token represents something that isn’t actually real and that would take the last tiny bit wind out of our sails….

 

Extrinsic or external motivation is a trick, in other words, and we don’t want to find this out. That’s the thing we have to avoid finding out about at any cost. This isn’t such a hard idea to understand – we all know what that ‘playing a game’ involves chasing outcomes that don’t really matter outside of the game – this understanding isn’t going to be beyond anyone’s grasp! We all know what is involved in playing games. In the formatted world that is created by thought we are motivated by what the formatting says is important; the formatting says ‘this matters to you’ or ‘that matters to you’ and we duly go along with that it. We duly go along with it (when we are formatted then we have no choice but to go along with it!) But this doesn’t mean that it really matters to us. What really matters to us has been lost, covered up, and we are forever being pointed in the ‘wrong direction’ by our formatting, by our thoughts. We are forever ‘chasing red herrings’ and whether we catch these red herrings or whether we don’t catch them makes not the slightest bit of difference! We’ve ‘forgotten ourselves’ either way and this is what ‘being formatted by society’ is all about. It’s ‘the taboo against knowing who you really are’ as Alan Watts puts it. Our allegiance is to the façade not to the truth; our allegiance is to the system that represents (or rather misrepresents!) reality, rather than that which is supposedly being represented.

 

The irony is that the system of formal (or literal) representations which we have such absolute allegiance to doesn’t care for us one bit – it never did care about us and it never will. It is in fact completely ‘malign’. The system of formal representations only ‘cares’ about itself (inasmuch as a mechanical thing can be said to ‘care’ at all); it will ‘look after us’ (after a fashion) only if we serve its ends. The price of this however is that we understand ourselves only in the way that the system wants us to understand ourselves. The price is that we let ourselves ‘be defined by the system’ in other words, and this means that even if there is some ‘benefit’ to be gained as a result of the whole exercise (which in the ultimate analysis there isn’t because the system isn’t actually real), then it certainly isn’t going to be us that gains it…

 

 

Image – 9 (2009 animated film)

 

 

Demonic Literalism

To be certain of oneself and one’s place in the world is the greatest of all calamities and it is all the greater for being entirely invisible to us. We carry a huge weight of certainty around with us and yet never think anything of it. We never think anything of it because we never notice it.

 

We consider it normal and correct for us to be certain of ourselves and the world – we are brought up that way, it’s in our culture. It’s in most cultures. Being certain of ourselves and our place in the world is actually seen as a good or healthy thing – it’s seen as being the same thing as ‘being confident’. It’s seen as ‘something to aim for’, something to strive for as best we can. And yet it is the greatest of all calamities – second to none.

 

Being certain of ourselves and the world is a calamity because it means we will never see the truth. We will never see the truth because the truth doesn’t come in the form of mind-created certainties. What can be worse could be worse than never seeing the truth? To be certain that we are right in our views is to be certain that all other ways of looking at the world are wrong and this guarantees that we will have no relationship with reality. Our certainty about the world has ‘severed our connection’ with reality; certainty always servers our connection with reality, no matter what it is that we are certain of.

 

As we have said, being certain of ourselves and the world is normal; it’s how we are – that’s our modality of existence. There is a definite description of things and we just slot straight into this description. We are part of that description. It seems so natural to us that this should be the way that things are that we never think anything of it. It’s not just that we ‘never think anything of it’ but rather that we don’t in any way see it, or have the capacity to see it – conditioning can’t see itself, after all. When we operate entirely on the basis of the definite description that we have slotted ourselves into then there is none of our awareness ‘left over’ to see that we are ‘operating on the basis of the description’. This is where the certainty that we are talking about comes in – certainty arises as a result of us being unconscious of the fact that the description we believe in only is a description. Were we to see that our model of reality is ‘only a model’, our theory only a theory, then all traces of certainty would of course fly right out of the window.

 

We have therefore arrived at a useful way of approaching this whole notion of ‘mind-created certainty’ – certainty, we might say, is the by-product of this business of ‘confusing the description with the thing that has been described’. When we forget that our description is only is a description, and nothing more, then the result is this state of being in which we are ridiculously certain about things. Reality itself never provides us with certainty about anything – is not in the business of providing us with certainty! It’s not in that business at all…

 

This mental state of being ‘certain about things’ isn’t in the least bit synonymous with ‘good mental health’, even if we do tend to indirectly assume that it is. It’s actually more of a blight or affliction than anything else – it’s a dark cloud blotting out the light of the sun. In order to see this for ourselves all we have to do is observe someone we know who becomes – momentarily – more certain about things than they usually are. This happens to everyone on a regular basis; one example being when we find ourselves expressing a viewpoint or an opinion that we very much believe in. If we could see ourselves at such a time (which obviously we can’t) then what we would see would be rather shocking – to be in the grip of a strong opinion or belief as to have one’s humanity replaced by ‘something else’, something that isn’t actually human.

 

There is a horror in this – there is a horror in seeing another human being falling into the state of being possessed by an opinion or a belief because the nature of ‘conviction’ (in all of its forms) is without any doubt completely and implacably opposed to our essential humanity. When we are ourselves in the grip of a strong opinion or belief then, as we have said, we don’t at all see this antithetical mismatch between our own essential nature and the nature of this inhuman mechanical ‘conviction’ that has somehow possessed us – far from being appalled or horrified at what has happened to us we experience intense pleasurable identification, an identification which will express itself either in the form of huge gratification if someone agrees with us, or equally huge displeasure or rage if we come across someone who does not agree with us. A belief is a bias and biases only work in these two ways – it’s always either YES or NO, PLEASURE and PAIN…

 

What the belief does for us is to provide us with a very strong sense of who we are, and this ‘strong sense of identity’ is (in the initial phase, anyway) profoundly euphoric. Having a very strong or definite sense of ‘who we are’ is the source of all euphoria, without exception. What’s going on here therefore is at the belief, at the same time as engendering an intense feeling of certainty about some viewpoint that we hold regarding the outside world, also creates an equally intense feeling of certainty with regard to ‘the one who is holding the belief’. The hidden agenda of allowing oneself to be gripped in this way by some sort of ‘unreasonable conviction’ (and all convictions or beliefs are unreasonable) is that we get to create a strong (if entirely erroneous) sense of who we are.

 

This, then, is why we don’t notice ourselves being ‘possessed by something inhuman’ – we are too hungry for the addictive euphoria that comes with having a definite sense of identity. We’re simply not interested in anything else. We aren’t looking at the process that’s going on at all; we’re just buying into it as fast as we can. We buy into it wholesale. If you don’t happen to subscribe to the very same belief or conviction that I do, then you will spot me being possessed, even though you will probably not understand the process that’s going on in these terms. You will have an intuitive understanding of what is happening to me, without having to put a name on it, and make ‘allowances for me’. We all manifest this peculiar type of insanity from time to time, after all. What also happens however is that the conviction or belief becomes ‘contagious’, and in fact a lot of people at the same time. Whole communities can become infected, as we all know very well – ideas (or ‘memes’) spread like the plague. Jung of course spoke about this sort of thing, which he referred to as a type of ‘psychic epidemic’ that can affect whole nations.

 

On a less obviously ‘pathological’ level we can say that when lots of people share the same belief-structure then this forms the basis for cultures, communities, societies. The same principle remains true however – we achieve ‘community’ at the price of part of our essential humanity (hopefully not too big a part, although it can be). This isn’t the kind of thing we like to go around saying too loudly of course, but anyone with any psychological insight at all knows it to be true. There is no such thing as a healthy ‘group mentality’ any more than there is such thing as ‘healthy group-think’, and this is counterintuitive inasmuch as we generally consider being part of a group as actually being a good thing. There’s also this notion of ‘the therapeutic group’ – which is actually a contradiction in terms, when it comes right down to it! Groups demand the surrender of individuality and he only ‘healthy’ way to live life is as an individual; all groups deny our essential humanity to some degree or other – loose affiliations to a lesser extent, rigid, intolerant, high-conformity groups to a much higher extent. Again, we all know this on some level or other; we just don’t like to admit it to ourselves.

 

In order to be part of the group, a collective (i.e. ‘a participant in the consensus reality’) we need to carry this weight of certainty around with us because – as we have said – it is the ‘shared certainty’ that creates the collective. And yet at the same time (as we have also said) we have made blind to it by the process of adaptation (we have become incapable of knowing that we have taken on this burden) and the reason for this blindness is the nature of certainty itself. Certainty is the type of thing one can’t see beyond, obviously! We are carrying ‘the oppressive burden of certainty’ and the reason we are putting it in these terms is because to be certain is to be ‘shut down’ and to be ‘shut down’ is to suffer. We closed-off to our own true nature (which is rather like being dead!) but rather than perceiving this phenomenon for what it is – which is the pain of not-being – we see it as good thing, we see it as a source of support and security, and so on. We function on the basis of this certainty – we couldn’t carry on in the particular way that we live life for more than a few moments without the fixed basis that we operate from, even though that ‘fixed basis’ isn’t actually any sort of real thing at all.  Our basis (the conventions that we have agreed upon) may not be real, but we need to believe that it is – the challenge of having to live without the framework or matrix we work within would be so great as to be utterly unthinkable to us. What we talking about here is ‘ontological insecurity’ (or ‘fear of the unknown’) and it is this Great Fear that our manufactured certainty acts as a remedy for…

 

There are two aspects to this ‘manufactured uncertainty’ – one aspect, we might say, is the world that we have adapted ourselves to – which is a literal kind of thing (i.e. it doesn’t represent itself to us in terms of poetical, allegorical, or metaphorical meanings, but in terms of unambiguous black-and-white rules) and the other aspect is the fixed or definite idea that we have about ourselves, which presents itself to us in a similarly ‘literal or non-poetical’ way. The very suggestion that ‘who we understand ourselves to be’ would not be a ‘literal’ kind of thing will inevitably sound bizarre and somewhat crazy to us. Poetry, myth or metaphor is fine in its place, we might say, but there can be no time for such arty-farty fripperies when dealing with the real world; similarly, allegorical  language is no good when dealing important stuff such as the question of ‘who we actually are’. Poetry is okay in its place, we say, but the world we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is not a poetical type of thing – it’s concrete and unforgiving, and it demands concrete responses on our part. If a lion is coming down the road at you and it wants to eat you for breakfast, then you have to do something. You can’t treat the lion as a metaphor for something else. It isn’t ‘a metaphor’ for god’s sake – it’s a lion, end of story!

 

This argument sounds convincing but it doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s just well-rehearsed window-dressing. Of course there are times when we have to take things at face-value and respond accordingly – but that doesn’t mean that we have to go around like idiots taking absolutely everything we come across at face value (which is generally what we do do). Even when we are running for our lives, trying to get away from some concrete danger, that still doesn’t mean that we have to understand life in a concrete or literal way! Man-eating predators are comparatively rare these days but there is a much more dangerous creature out there – a veritable monster, in fact – getting ready to dine on us and we don’t even know that it’s there. We’ve actually made friends with it, and foolishly imagine that it’s going to help us! The ‘monster’ that we’re talking about here is of course the monster of certainty, which is the same thing as ‘the monster of taking things for granted’. When I fall into the trap of understanding myself literally – which is always how the thinking mind presents the situation – then as we have said I have actually disconnected myself from reality. I’m making do with a simulation of myself instead of the real thing, and I’m going to live a life on the basis of this simulation as this simulation on a full-time basis. As Paul Levy says in Are We Possessed,

We then live a simulation of ourselves, miming ourselves, becoming a master copy, a duplicate of our original selves.

All concrete or literal realities are copies, simulations, duplicates. A literal truth, as James Carse says, can be understood as a ‘special case’ of metaphor – it’s a metaphor that wants to ‘rule the roost’, it’s a metaphor that wants to get rid of all other metaphors! Joseph Campbell also argues that concrete explanations (or stories that present themselves as being ‘literally true’) are a ‘special case’ of metaphor in that they claim to be ‘the definitive account’ and out-rule all other possible explanations or metaphors for reality on this account. They are ‘competitive’ and ‘aggressive’ metaphors; they are concrete explanations that wish to eliminate all the opposition.

 

Dogmatic religions are an excellent example of this type of thing, as Joseph Campbell says here in the following passage, (taken from Living Myths: A Conversation With Joseph Campbell)

There’s a mystery dimension in myth—there always is, and you can’t put a ring around it. It’s the difference between drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a pebble into a pond from which circles go out. The myth drops a pebble into a pond, it tells you of a certain center, it puts you on a certain center—what the Navajo call the pollen path of beauty—but it doesn’t give you a definition.

What happens in dogmatic religions, however, is that definitions are contrived to circumscribe the myth and the ritual. I think that what is going on in the Catholic church now is something of a disaster. There you have the inheritance of one of the greatest ritual structures ever, anywhere, and what are they doing to it? It’s really incredible. Instead of simply presenting the mythic ritual beautifully, that rich mythologically-based heritage of beautiful, powerful ritual, for the individual to experience in his own way, they are destroying the clean lines of the rites and insisting, instead, on the dogmas, which are to tell us how we have to interpret our experience. Dogma simply cuts the individual off from his own potential of response.

The essential motif in Christianity – of the God who is killed and is then reborn as a well-known one – it’s a kind of a theme. The stories of Osirus and Odin are two obvious examples – Odin was actually crucified upside-down on the World Tree! This is a deep archetypal pattern whereby light apparently gives way to darkness and yet triumphs nonetheless (although not as an act of cunning but total surrender). Christianity however – as Joseph Campbell says – denies all other examples of the myth and says that its version alone is true. This turns the original myth into an aggressive ‘literal virus’ that infects everything and goes on the rampage. Although at root the story of the death and resurrection of Christ is still a metaphor (i.e. it has a bigger meaning than just the literal one) it has lost the fruitfulness (or ‘potential’) that used to be in it and has now turned into a blank, lifeless form of oppression – ‘the triumph of the letter over the spirit’, so to speak.

 

So as soon as a myth (or metaphor) becomes exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera (i.e. as soon as it ‘goes viral’) then it loses the life that was in it and becomes ‘demonic’ in nature; instead of being ‘life-affirming’ (so to speak), it becomes life-denying. This gives us a very clear way of understanding what it is about concrete certainty that is so ‘monstrous’ – if we may use that word. Even though it might seem ridiculous to speak of ‘the self’ as a metaphor (rather than the ‘final reality’ or ‘concrete thing’) it is only through understanding the self as such that we are able to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of’ demonic literalism. This is more than just ‘a trap’, this is the ultimate trap – this is the trap of traps. Once in it there appears to be no way out; once in it we don’t even want to find a’ way out’ – the thought never occurs to us! The thought actually couldn’t occur to us, it wouldn’t make any sense to us if it did. Once we see the world from the point of view of the literal self – which is the viewpoint that aggressively tries to out-compete or out-duplicate all other viewpoints (i.e. it is a viral viewpoint) then we aren’t actually interested in seeing the world in any other way. This is an obvious enough point to make once we see it – it simply isn’t possible to be ‘exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera’ and yet at the same time be genuinely interested in other viewpoints, to be genuinely interested ‘what it feels like to be the other person’. This just isn’t going to happen.

 

If we do start to be genuinely interested (i.e. not as a ploy or strategy) in what it feels like to be the other person (or be genuinely interested in what the world looks like to the other person) then what this means is that we have somehow escaped from ‘the trap of being the viral self’. The literal self is a castle with the thickest possible walls and all the doors and windows are locked down. It is ‘a fortification’ – a ‘secure place’. Whilst we can give good appearance of being interested in the world or other people in a non-agenda-based way (or as Antony De Mello says in Awareness, we can give a good impression of being unselfish!) but the literal or concrete self has no such capacity. It can never go beyond itself and this is the price we pay for the security of concreteness. To be concrete is to be separate! To be concrete is always to be separate and that’s the price we pay for being ‘safe’. When we understand the self as a metaphor however (i.e. when we understand that it doesn’t really mean what it says it means) then this understanding connects us. There is no final reality in ‘the self’ – there’s no final reality in ‘the self’ because the state of separation that we bring down on ourselves (through our fear of openness or uncertainty) doesn’t really exist…