Purposefulness and Spontaneity

There are two modes in which we human beings can exist, so to speak – one being the spontaneous mode and the other the purposeful one. These are like the ‘two gears’, so to speak. These are the only two gears we’ve got. When we are in Purposeful Mode then everything has to be done deliberately, obviously enough – everything we do has to be done ‘on purpose’! Effort and intention is needed on our part and if we slack off at all then the job won’t get done.The job won’t do itself. In Spontaneous Mode there is no design, no calculation and no intention, as we all know very well. There is attention on our part, and our willing (but not deliberate) participation is needed, but it’s not like laboriously rolling a stone uphill. The project – whatever it is – has a life of its own and we are not driving it. Purposeful activity takes us to an known destination and so it has to be guided and kept on track every inch of the way; spontaneous activity on the other hand takes us somewhere unknown, and because it is taking us somewhere unknown we can hardly ‘guide’ it! This is a genuinely mysterious process, and that’s why so profoundly interesting.

There’s more to it than just this, however. What we’ve said so far is all well-known stuff, but the real nub of the matter is something that we very rarely stop to consider, if indeed we ever consider it at all. The truly remarkable thing is that in Spontaneous Mode there is no ‘actor’ all, no ‘causal agent’, no ‘doer’, and seeing as how this ‘actor’, this ‘causal agent’, this ‘doer’, is a pretty big deal for us, that is a rather significant fact. The purposeful doer is who we think we are, this is our identity and this is obviously very important for us. It goes without saying that our ‘identity’ is very important to us; it would be no exaggeration to say that – for most of us, most of the time – it is all about our identity. Identity is the name of the game, so to speak; identity is the star of the show. When we do something we want everyone to know that we are doing it (or have done it); we need to have ‘ownership’ of it. In our culture prizes are awarded for successful doing, status is accorded (how else would we know if we are winners or losers?) When we win this gives us a very special sort of identity, the sort of identity everyone wants… So it is clearly of the greatest importance that we can lay claim to the ‘doing’ in question so that everyone can know that it is our doing and no one else’s. It is the identity of the actor or doer in question that is being rewarded (or acknowledged), after all.

Where spontaneous activity is concerned this simply cannot be done however – I can be awarded a prize for a portrait or landscape I have painted or a novel or poem I have written but at the same time I know very well that there was no causal agent, no ‘doer’ behind it. It ‘did itself’ and so I can’t have ownership of it; legally I might be able to claim ownership, but in any real sense I can’t. Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, there was no right way to do what was done, and no wrong way either, and so there can be no winners or losers, no successes and no failures. There is no such thing as ‘getting it right’ when it comes to spontaneity because we don’t know where we were going in the first place; if what has been produced is unique then there can be no comparisons with what other people have done either and so there can’t be any competition, dear though that is to our hearts. Psychologically speaking, spontaneity is how we become free from the defined identity or purposeful self; it is how we find release from this cumbersome, awkward, limited and misrepresentative version of ‘who we are’ rather than being a means of consolidating and validating this supposed identity.

This is why we as a culture put such an overwhelming emphasis on games, goals and competitive effort – because it consolidates and validates the concrete identity. This is the real reason we value purposefulness so much – because it has the effect of making the self-concept seem real to us, because it verifies the defined identity. As a culture we are dedicated to the endless celebration of the idea that we have about ourselves and there is no other way of putting this – we are all about ‘the mind-created identity’, as we have just said. That’s the name of the game – creating and maintaining the ego, as if there with this were the best and most inspiring thing we could think of. We pride ourselves as being cultured, mature and sophisticated as a culture, and the best thing we can think of doing – as a collective – is endlessly validating the ego-construct!

From a ‘mental health point of view’, this turns out to be not such a great idea at all (as we might of course expect). To be emphasising goals and games and competitive effort (i.e. to be defining ourselves by ‘comparing ourselves with other people who are playing the same game as us’) is in no way what we might call ‘a healthy way to conduct our lives’. Everyone knows that this is not good news; it brings out the worst in us rather than the best, despite the hype that we are subjected to with regard to the wonderful virtues of ‘competition’ and ‘striving for excellence’, and all of that tiresome old stuff. It’s not really excellence as such that we’re striving for but ‘excellence that I can personally lay claim to’ (i.e. enhancement of the ego) which is how the narrow ‘sense of self’ gets to feel good about itself, however transiently. Spending all our time vainly trying to validate the ego-construct is ‘unhealthy’ in as much as it never leads us the direction of well-being or happiness or anything like that. Quite the reverse is true – we are travelling in the direction of becoming more and more self-engrossed, to the point where narcissism (whether we like to admit it or not) has now become an accepted social norm. When we put all emphasis on the idea we have of ourselves (when we put all our money on purposefulness) then this means – needless to say – that we are neglecting the other, more essential side of ourselves, which is spontaneous in nature rather than purposeful. Actually, even saying this is misleading since the purposeful self isn’t who we are at all, it’s just an act that we put on. It’s an act that we put on because we get rewarded for it; we get paid in cash for successful social adaptation, as Jung says.

If there is a situation where we put all the emphasis on the act we’re putting on then, as a result of ignoring who we are behind this act, this situation is not going to be one that is conducive to our mental well-being, obviously enough! Because of our dedication to the game that we (and everyone else) are playing we ‘forget who we are behind it all’, just as all the mystic traditions say, and in this forgetting there is nothing but misery and confusion; we have allowed our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ and allowing our lives to be ruled by ‘wrong things’ (i.e. by mere mechanical impulses) is hardly going to result in our happiness or fulfilment. We say that happiness, peace of mind, creativity, compassion, well-being, freedom etc, are very important to us, but our overwhelming emphasis on the concrete identity takes us in a quite different direction. Our words and our actions have parted ways therefore, they have nothing to do with each other – we say that we value well-being and mental health and personal growth and yet we put all the emphasis on constructing and consolidating the defined identity and this means that our fine words don’t mean a thing!

The defined or purposeful self can never be creative, never be compassionate, or happy, or peaceful or anything like that. It absolutely can’t. The PS can never be sincere or genuine and if it can’t be sincere/genuine then how on earth is it ever going to find happiness or peace? How on earth are we (when we’re playing at being the concrete identity) ever going to feeling in any way well? If we’re not sincere then that is an impossibility; if we are ‘putting on an act’ the whole time then actual well-being (as opposed to ‘theatrical well-being’) is an impossibility; it’s an impossibility because the defined identity isn’t who we are. Just as long as we put all the emphasis on it we are always going to be fundamentally insincere, fundamentally ‘conflicted’. The purposeful self – no matter how many prizes it wins, no matter how much social approval/validation it gets – can never be genuine. No matter how much it wants to be genuine (and it really does want to be genuine, it wants this very much indeed) it never can be. The purposeful self can never be sincere no matter how hard it tries because it isn’t who we are, and what could be more straightforward to understand than this?

Just as long as we are identified with this narrowly-defined sense of ourselves then this is always the situation we are going to find ourselves in; the situation of wanting very much to be sincere (since that is how we get to know we are ‘a real person’) when this is an absolute impossibility for us is clearly not going to be conducive to any sort of well-being. It’s not actually going to be conducive to anything apart from ongoing frustration and suffering, and this isn’t in the least bit hard to see. Trying to live life on the basis of who we’re not (i.e. on the basis of the socially-approved identity) whilst ignoring our true nature (as if it had nothing to do with us) is not going to pan out well for us, no matter what the mental health ‘experts’ might tell us. The mental-health experts haven’t considered the possibility that we aren’t the ego-construct – if they had then they wouldn’t be advocating going all out to fix that ego-construct every time it starts to struggle. Our culture is simply not prepared to look at this possibility – it goes against everything we believe in.

That we should find ourselves in the situation is no accident however. Whilst being socially engineered to identify one hundred per cent with the purposeful self is not a recipe for happiness and well-being (and doesn’t do us any favours at all) it is very helpful for the system that we are operating in because the more alienated from our true nature we are the easier it is going to be for us to be manipulated or controlled to suit society. The more alienated we are from our true nature the more we are going to have to invest in whatever tactics it takes for us to find this thing called ‘external validation’ and it is our tireless striving for external validation that is driving the social machine and keeping it ticking over healthily. It might be good for the ‘health’ (if we can use that word) of the system that we are part of, but it is definitely not good for us!

To be perfectly blunt about it (and there is hardly any point in being otherwise), living in an overly rational or purposeful society pushes us inexorably in the general direction of becoming humanoid robots; androids without any sense of ‘interiority’. Who needs interiority, after all? And when we have no interiority we can’t know that we haven’t – we can’t know that there even is such a thing in fact. This means that we have no way of directly relating to the pain that comes about as a result of ‘lack of interiority’ and because we have no way of ‘seeing the pain where it belongs’ we go looking for answers on the outside, which only compounds our predicament…







Discovering Our Wholeness

The whole emerges when we look at something from all possible angles, when we ‘circumnavigate’ it, so to speak. This is the circumambulatio of the alchemists and it is also the way our dreams develop when we pay attention to them, as Jung says here in Psychology and Alchemy:

The way is not straight but appears to go in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals: the dream-motifs always return after certain intervals to definite forms, whose characteristic is to define a centre… As manifestations of unconscious processes the dreams rotate or circumambulate round the centre, drawing closer to it as the amplifications increase in distinctiveness and scope.

It doesn’t come naturally for us to perform the alchemical circumambulatio, however. That’s not our way – our way is the ‘linear path’, our way is to delve ever deeper into our subject from the same point of view and grow increasingly dismissive of all other viewpoints. Our authority derives in other words from our ‘ignorance of all viewpoints’, which is what academic specialism always comes down to. As has often been noted, the huge amount of detail that needs to be mastered when we study a subject means that we simply don’t have the time to do any broader reading. In some fields of study this doesn’t seem to cause any immediate problems, but when it comes to our mental health most certainly does. The word ‘health’ comes from the old English word for wholeness which indicates straightaway that our approach to mental health has itself become unhealthy!

 

It is not in the nature of the thinking mind to ‘circumambulate’ the topics that it is considering. As we have said, it does the very opposite of this – it ‘digs in’, it entrenches itself, it wilfully ignores all other perspectives. Thought works by ‘excluding the irrelevant’, and irrelevant is whatever it doesn’t happen to be focusing on at the time. The psyche itself however (if we may be permitted to use that currently unfashionable term) always ‘circles’ – it appears to move around in a random or accidental fashion. It is not logical as the thinking mind is. It hops about on its own accord, going where it will, and there’s no ‘plan’ to what it’s doing at all. The psyche has no gender in other words, whilst the rational mind always does. Thought can’t not ‘have an agenda’! All artists and writers and poets know this and have a very deep appreciation of this apparently whimsical or flighty quality of the psyche, which is like the wind which ‘bloweth where it listeth, as Alan Watts says. This is where very life of the psyche comes from and if we put a stop to this then we put a stop to all creativity, all spontaneity, all intuition, and what is life worth then?

 

What this comes down to is the difference between ‘directed’ and ‘spontaneous’ movement. As a culture we value directed activity pretty much to the exclusion of all else; we want to be ‘in charge’, in other words. We can equate this quality of ‘directedness’ with the rational ego – it’s actually the feeling that we are in control and that we are ‘directing the show’ that creates the phenomenon of the rational ego. If the ego didn’t feel that it could make things happen the way it wanted them to happen then it would start to lose its integrity as you go’. The fact that we value what Albert Bandura called ‘personal self-efficacy’ so much clearly shows that we are making the assumption that ‘life’ and ‘the (so-called) life of the rational ego’ are one and the same thing, and that there is therefore no life outside of the life of the ego, that – outside of this – there is actually nothing of any interest going on. Our society (our ‘collective way of life’) – very obviously – completely embodies this assumption.

 

Investing heavily in directed activity (and therefore using this as a way of defining who we are) – causes us to perceive ourselves as ‘being the rational ego’ and this mode of existence actually precludes spontaneity – we always act according to our agenda (which may or may not be conscious) and, furthermore, always has this quality of ‘self-consciousness’ going on whereby everything we do and say is always related back to the image that we have of ourselves. We can’t escape from our own image of ourselves, in other words – we’re actually ‘stuck to ourselves’ and this state of affairs constitutes a type of ongoing suffering or torment that we just can’t see as such. We are the prisoners of the rational ego and we ‘suffer from it’ rather than ‘benefiting from it’ or ‘enjoying it,’ which is what we imagine to be the case. The deal isn’t really as good a one as we might imagine being the case therefore.

 

Even though the situation of ‘perceiving ourselves to be the rational ego’ is a thinly disguised state of suffering we are tied into it by the way in which we value our perceived self-efficacy efficacy so much (we don’t just value it, we use it to construct our identity, as we have just said). Because willed action, or ‘making things happen on purpose’, is so supremely important to us we aren’t ever going to experience the exhilarating sense of freedom that comes from not having to make things happen on purpose (or rather not having to make ourselves happen on purpose). We have actually got it completely backwards because we understand ‘freedom’ as being the same thing as ‘the freedom to get things to happen the way we want them to’, which comes down to ‘the freedom to believe that we are the rational ego’. The rational ego is a painful prison, and yet we implicitly define freedom in terms of believing that we are this arbitrary sense of self and this – obviously enough – means that it is a prison we can’t ever question. ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.’ says Goethe.

 

We don’t want the freedom of not having to be the one who gets anything to happen according to the dictates of their will or intention because when we discover this freedom we also discover that we aren’t the rational ego, that we aren’t any sort of ego! We discover that there is no one there ‘making it happen’. We discover that life is ‘a happening’ without any self or ego behind it all, ordering things according to whatever petty agenda it might have. This is what ‘spontaneity’ actually means – it means that there is no self there making things happen. Spontaneity isn’t ‘the rational ego being free and easy’ – which is what we like to believe  – it means that it means that there is no rational ego and that is why, in our culture, we have no genuine interest in spontaneity, any more than we have a genuine interest in being whole. Going back to what we were saying earlier therefore, this also means that we have no genuine interest in being mentally healthy, which is a truly astonishing thing to consider.

 

Our mental health industries are staffed and run by ‘specialists’ – working within the field means training as a specialist and the thing about this, as we have already said, is that the demands of this training almost inevitably preclude us broadening out in any other direction. ‘Narrow’ rather than ‘broad’ is deemed to be the helpful thing, despite the fact that there is no absolutely evidence to show this to be the case. To work within a mental health care settings to work within a pyramid of control (or power), those at the top of the pyramid being the most specialised and those at the bottom (the ones with no power in system) being the least specialised. Therapeutic modalities such as art therapy or music therapy are accorded very little weight or status – the fact that they are ‘creative’ in nature rather than being strictly logical count against them as we don’t see creativity or spontaneity as being in any way key to our mental health! Creativity and spontaneity seem utterly frivolous to us in this respect.

 

In some (but not all) areas of physical medicine specialism can be exactly what we want – when we are undergoing thoracic surgery it’s not going to help those of the surgeon is able to read Homer in the original ancient Greek, or if they happen to be familiar with Native American folklore, or with the work of the existential philosophers. When it is psychology or psychological therapy that we are talking about however then it’s a different story – mental health means one thing and one thing only and that is the manifestation of wholeness in a person’s life. This might sound a bit airy fairy but it isn’t – all we’re saying here is that we are not focusing narrowly on ‘fixing the rational ego’ (by building up a false sense of ‘being in control’) but rather we are developing a relationship with the widest possible aspect or manifestation of the psyche. We are working towards – in an ‘accidental’ or ‘serendipitous’ way rather than the purposeful, goal-orientated way – finding out what it feels like to be living life as the totality of who we are (mysterious as that ‘totality’ might be) rather than always insisting on the supremacy of the ‘unreal fragment’ which is the rational ego…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Therapy’ Happens Despite Our Interference, Not Because Of It…

We can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth! This is the most impossible thing in the world. To say that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth (which is equivalent to saying that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in our own true nature) is a statement that has huge consequences for therapy, very obviously, and yet at the same time it’s not something that we have a tendency give much if any thought to.

 

If we force ourselves to see the truth (or try to force ourselves, rather) then what this means is that we don’t want to see (or establish a relationship) with our actual situation, which is revolves around the fact that we aren’t really interested in the truth. Not being interested in the truth is the default situation for all of us, strange as this may seem to the psychologically naive. If we were interested in seeing the truth then we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of trying to compel ourselves to be interested, obviously. The issue of ‘forcing ourselves’ would never arise – nothing that happens naturally needs to be forced!

 

How on earth could we ever force ourselves to be interested in anything? If the interest isn’t there then it isn’t there. If the interest isn’t there then we won’t be interested in the fact that there is no interest there! If the interest isn’t there then whatever we do to try to remedy this situation will only be an act, a façade, a hollow pretence; as soon as we stop putting the effort in then the so-called ‘interest’ is going to stop dead. It’s not a real thing, after all.

 

Coming back to the question of therapy – allowing that they might even be said to be such a thing – it’s clear that the matter – essentially – ‘out of our hands’. We can’t instigate it, we can’t orchestrate it. We can’t ‘manage’ it, much as we’d love to, much as we always talk about doing so… After all – as we have just said – there’s absolutely no way that genuine therapy can ever take place unless we are genuinely interested in the truth of our situation, and – equally – there’s absolutely no way that we can actually cause ourselves to be interested in the truth of our situation if we aren’t to start off with. So where does this leave us?

 

What brings about change is ‘one thing and one thing only’ – what brings about change is our relationship with the truth. If there is no relationship with the truth then there is no possibility of change, obviously enough. Change can never come about in any other way – it certainly can’t come about the sake of convenience’. As a rule, change is never what we might call convenient’! Also as a rule therefore, genuine change comes about despite us, not because of us…

 

So here we have a situation where the only thing that can ever bring about change is a relationship with the truth and – furthermore – as we have just said, this relationship is in no way subject to our will, in no way subject to what we want or don’t want. This is always our situation – there’s no other situation that we could be in, there’s no situation in which we can bring about a relationship with the truth because that happens to be ‘what we want’.

 

As we keep on saying therefore, this has major implications for therapy – all types of formalised therapy involve two things – they involve a blueprint for whatever it is that’s ‘supposed to happen’, followed by an official protocol of ‘how to make that process happen’. This is ‘rational therapy’ in a nutshell – you could walk into just about any psychiatric hospital, any mental health setting in the world, and see this sort of thing happening. This is how healthcare services think change should happen. We think that this is how to ‘do therapy’; we think that therapy should be done ‘on purpose’, in accordance with a formal set of ideas about what is supposed to happen, and why.

 

This isn’t therapy though, it’s just us imposing (or rather trying to impose) our ideas upon ourselves and other people, which is what we always do. That’s what ‘unconscious living’ is all about. We pretty much don’t know what else to do in life – we have the idea (or rather absorb it from someone else) and then we try to impose it, if at all possible, on the world around us. We call this ‘purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour’! Anything else is too ‘passive’ for us; anything else just feels like sitting on the sidelines twiddling our thumbs and watching as life passes us by. This isn’t to say that rational therapies ‘can’t produce any results’, only that the results in question will always be achieved at a price which makes them – in the end – not worth achieving. After all isn’t this always the way when it comes to forcing ourselves (or other human beings) to be the way that we think we/they ought to be? Alan Watts says (somewhere) something to the effect that society works by compelling us to do what we would naturally do anyway, and that – by doing this – it effectively alienates us from our own life. Society plays what is essentially a ‘self-contradictory game’, says Alan Watts.

 

To act rationally is to act with a purpose – this is inevitably the case. We can’t act in any other way when we are acting from the basis of rational thought. This being so, when we try to act so as to establish some sort of relationship with the truth of our situation, then we always have to have some kind of ulterior motive for what it is we are doing (or trying to do). We always have this ‘reason’ or ‘purpose’ that was there before we started trying to reach the position of ‘having established a relationship with the truth’, and so what does this tell us?  It tells us a hell of a lot – it tells us everything we need to know, really. Any reason or purpose or goal that we might have prior to us ‘establishing a relationship to the truth’ is necessarily going to be irrelevant to the truth, irrelevant to the actual reality of our situation…

 

There is (and can be) no reason for us wanting to establish a relationship with the truth, with reality, and this is something that the rational mind can never understand. There can be no logical reason for wanting to do this. It’s only through dropping all reasons, dropping all purposes (i.e. dropping all our theories and beliefs) that we can come face-to-face with the truth of our situation, and we can’t do this on purpose. There are no ‘reasons’ for letting go – letting go isn’t something that can be orchestrated by the thinking mind for its own convenience. If we do have a ‘reason’ for wanting to let go then we are ‘holding on’ to this reason, and this is a contradiction that we are never going to get beyond.

 

We can only establish a relationship with the truth of our situation we give up all hope of being able to orchestrate things for our own convenience. Another way of putting all of the above would be to say what actually helps is to work with the process that is already going on (which is not a process that has been created by the busy-body rational mind) rather than trying to instigate and manage the type of change that we want to see happening. Working with the process or processes that are already going on in the psyche is another way of talking about the natural, spontaneous process of healing, or ‘becoming whole’. This type of approach sounds hopelessly wishy-washy to anyone coming from a rational-intellectual platform but – when it comes right down to it – working with impulses that are genuinely our own, impulses that are spontaneous rather than directed is the only real thing that we can do.  Anything else is fantasy, anything else is make-believe, and what’s so ‘hard-headed’ or ‘pragmatic’ about that?

 

Ultimately, what we’re afraid of is ‘relinquishing control’ and it just so happens that mental health (or Wholeness) can never be attained via some sort of dextrous and resourceful controlling, despite what we might like to think! Not only that, but attempting in any way to control the process that is going on not only fails to have any helpful effect, it is actually the very opposite of helpful. Spontaneous processes are thoroughly jinxed when we try to ‘help them along’. Mental health can’t be a goal. I can’t make myself forgive you if I am holding something against you, and if I try to ‘make this happen’ then I’m actually putting the process into reverse; all that’s going to happen is that – deep down – I’m going to resent you all the more! The same is of course true for patience – if I try to force patience then all that happens is that I start to get impatient with my own lack of patience, so I am actually  – though my efforts – becoming less patient than ever! If I persist long enough with this nonsense I will eventually become extremely frustrated and angry….

 

We can work with what’s there, but we can’t work with what’s not there. We can’t impose our ideas of ‘how things should be’ on the situation, in order words, and if we try to then we’ll just make things worse for ourselves. We’ll dig ourselves into a deeper hole. What this comes down to is simply ‘working with the truth of our situation’, and no matter what our situation might be, there’s always truth to it, and this means that there’s always somewhere that we can start working. Our actual situation is that we are – in all probability – interfering with the natural process of becoming whole again, so rather than trying to fight against it we ourselves to relate to the truth of what’s going on here, and this is a far more genuine type of work than the so-called ‘work’ of trying to fix ourselves…