Challenging The Concrete Identity

The greatest cause of mental ill health on the planet is without question the Generic Mind which we all have to fit into. The Generic Mind is ‘the sickness that masquerades as health’, it’s the game we are all supposed to play. Carlos Castaneda explains the GM by saying that it is a ‘uniform’ mind – “a cheap model: economy strength, one size fits all.” By all having the same model of mind, we are able to readily communicate with each other – we all know instantly and exactly what the other person means because we share the same point of view. This ‘ease of communication’ is an advantage in one way therefore but it’s a disaster in another because we lose our own unique point of view. In his novel Breakfast Of Champions Kurt Vonnegut talks about ‘cuckoo ideas that we have no immunity to’ – these ideas circulate freely in society and automatically infect everyone they touch. These cuckoo ideas originate outside of ourselves (they are ‘foreign installations’, as Castaneda says) but we instantly adopt them as our own just as soon as they come into our heads – we incubate them lovingly and do our very to propagate them whenever we can. We obtain satisfaction from passing these viral ideas on, just as we experience irritation and annoyance (or possibly rage) when we hear them contradicted…

 

When we talk about the Generic Mind as being greatest cause of mental ill health the problem is that no one knows what we are talking about. We don’t acknowledge that there is any such thing as the ‘Generic Mind’ and so naturally we don’t see it as ‘the biggest cause of mental ill health’. We have lots and lots of other reasons listed for mental ill health and none of them have anything to do with the Generic Mind. And yet the GM is a very readily observable phenomenon: whenever a bunch of people agree that something is true then that is the generic mind right there! The GM is what happens when we join a group, in other words, and we all know the type of trade-off that has to be made when we become a member of the group. We first become aware of this insidious trade-off in the school playground and we only ever get more and more deeply embroiled in it as we grow up.

 

What happens when we become part of the group is of course that we lose our unique individuality – a collection of unique individuals can’t become a group matter how they try. A collection of individuals can ‘get on’ and ‘cooperate’ but the one thing they can’t do is form a group – individuality has to be surrendered for that! In a group, as we have said, certain things have to be agreed upon by all. What’s more, they can’t just be ‘agreed upon’ – they have to be agreed upon and then that agreement has to be immediately forgotten about. We have to first take a whole bunch of stuff for granted and then we have to charge on ahead wholeheartedly without ever looking back at what it is that we assumed in order to be able to charge full-speed ahead. This is what society is, and this is also what the Generic Mind is – 100% unreflective action.

 

The Generic Mind is always marked by its concrete nature, therefore – it is concrete because it can’t question its core assumptions and ‘not being able to question one’s core assumptions’ is the very definition of ‘concrete’. There is absolutely no way that the GM can ever be ‘non-concrete’ – the only way this could happen would be if the group broke up into individual persons, and this just happens to be against the rules of the group. Furthermore, when we are in the group, then being exiled from the collective is seen as the worst possible thing that could happen to us. What is really happening when we adapt to the Generic Mind therefore is that we get locked into a type of blindness, type of stupidity. Not being able to question our core assumptions is a terrible form blindness, and there’s no getting around it or compensating for it, no matter how clever we get. The whole enterprise simply becomes ever more absurd, evermore ridiculous, and ever more doomed to eventual disaster.

 

From the point of view of the Generic mind (or the concrete individual) there is nothing more unthinkable than having to question (or ‘let go of’) our core assumptions. Our very blindness has somehow become infinitely precious to us and we will protect it fiercely – we will protect our toxic ignorance to the very best of our ability! The basic motivation behind a group is always exactly this – it is always conservative and never ‘exploratory’. We’re locked into this position of protecting our core assumptions even though we don’t actually have a clue as to what they are! We don’t of course want to know what these core assumptions aren’t because (on some level) we realise that this would involve finding out that they aren’t true, and because of our ‘absolute commitment to the cause’ this would spell the greatest possible ‘unwanted outcome’. As far as motivations go therefore, this is a very strong one! It is both a very powerful motivational force, and a lethally dangerous one; not only can it never lead to any good, it is without question always going to lead us to utter disaster in the long run.

 

We can say two very simple things about the Generic Mind therefore – one is that it is always concrete, and the other is that it is driven, at all times, by the utterly inflexible need to avoid questioning itself. We can say this about the Generic Mind and we can also say it about all social groups, including of course society in general. In this ‘peculiarity’ of the concrete mind can be seen ample cause for mental ill health – it is hard (if not impossible) to think of a better recipe for mental ill health than this! There is no arguing with a concrete-minded person, just as there is no arguing with an organisation (or the people making up the organisation); there is no arguing (i.e. no possibility of genuine communication) with the GM because the GM has zero flexibility in it and there is no communication without flexibility. As far as the GM is concerned therefore, it is always ‘my way or the highway’…

 

The ‘sickness that masquerades as health’ is therefore the fixed identity that cannot question itself; the fixed identity that must always assert itself above everything else. For me, as a ‘concrete person,’ this sickness is actually ‘myself’ therefore; the sickness is me and if there is one thing that I am guaranteed not to understand then it is this! For me, ‘sickness’ is always going to be those forces that are acting against me, those forces that are standing in the way of me ‘continuing to not question myself’, whatever it is that stands in the way of me continuing to see the world in the way that I am used to seeing it and think I ought to be able to see it. The fixed identity sees its own integrity as the very bench-mark of mental health, in other words, which – from its own point of view – is entirely understandable!

 

Similarly, for us as a culture, we find it flatly impossible to grasp the idea that the sickness which is afflicting us is ‘the sickness of the fixed concrete identity’! We just don’t get this and we aren’t about to get it either, which isn’t surprising since – as we have said – society itself is a fixed concrete identity. So too are the healthcare organisations that we encounter if we do develop mental health challenges and we want some help and support. This in itself is inevitable,  nature of organisations being what it is, so where the problem really comes in is where we meet workers and therapists who completely reflect (or embody) the unyielding concrete nature of the healthcare organisation that they are working in. In this case we are stuck between a rock and a hard place – we are ‘trying to force ourselves to get better’ (in accordance with our concrete viewpoint on the matter) and so too is the healthcare machine that we are now under the care of. Either way, it’s all about control, it’s all about ‘forcing’, and the way we are trying to force ourselves to be is only the ‘right way’ because we’re looking at everything from the closed (or conservative) viewpoint of the concrete mind set.

 

The point (that we keep making) is that the concrete mindset can’t do anything other than try to force things to be the way it thinks (i.e. assumes) they should be. Just as it cannot question its assumptions, so too it can’t NOT try to force things to accordance with the ideas that it has concerning how things should be. The concrete mindset is utterly blind, as we have said – it is blindness personified. Everything it does comes out of this blindness; there is nowhere else it can come from because all the concrete mindset has is its own viewpoint, which it totally takes for granted. That’s what ‘concrete’ means – that’s the whole point, the whole point is that the concrete mindset demonises everything that hasn’t got its official ‘stamp of approval’ on it, and it only puts its stamp of approval on its own productions.

 

There is no substitute for an individual (or ‘unaffiliated’) person in the heavily regulated world of mental health-care; there’s no substitute for someone who isn’t a company man or company woman, anyone who isn’t singing from the prescribed hymn sheet. There is no substitute for actual consciousness, in other words, and consciousness hasn’t anything to do with this dreadful old thing we are calling ‘the fixed identity’. Fixed identity is the very antithesis of consciousness; it is that principle of consciousness turned on its head and made into a perverse parody of itself. When we switch from consciousness to ‘concrete mode’ therefore, we aren’t moving ‘from one end of the spectrum to the other’, or anything like that, we’re switching from an allegiance to the truth, at ‘whatever cost,’ to allegiance to the lie, no matter what price we might have to pay for that unwise affiliation. These two things are frankly incommensurable – we can’t ‘serve two masters’ in this regard, if we do then, according to Luke 16:13 we ‘…will be devoted to the one and despise the other’. Or as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:21: ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.’

 

If we have no unexamined allegiance to our unconscious assumptions then we are free to do anything – we are free to let any idea go, no matter how attached to it we might be, and this is what mental health truly consists of. Mental health is all about courage therefore – we are not being governed by a hidden (or not so hidden) core of fear, which is what lies behind the security-seeking ‘concrete mindset’ that we keep talking about. So what we are really saying here is simply that fear and fearlessness are incommensurate – fear is after all the only possible reason we would swear allegiance to a bunch of unconscious assumptions! ‘Conscious assumptions’ are on the other hand a totally different matter: we can operate on the basis of assumptions if this turns out to be useful for practical purposes (i.e. if making assumptions in some particular matter actually works) but that doesn’t mean that we have to make a religion of them! We can use rules when it suits us to do so, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let these rules have free reign to determine everything about us.

 

When we make a religion of our unexamined assumptions (which necessarily involves making the act of questioning them ‘heretical’ or ‘taboo’) then the only possible reason that could lie behind this is fear. Nothing else would make us do such a stupid thing! What we are essentially doing here is that we’re putting all the money we’ve got on a totally mad gamble – the totally mad gamble that our unexamined assumptions will somehow turn out to be correct, even though we’re not going to actually look at them.  We’re acting out of fear rather than wisdom. The fact that we are so very reluctant to investigate our own brash claims ought in itself to be enough to tip us off that something fishy is going on. Any impartial observer could tell us that there is something extremely dodgy going on here when we behave like this but somehow we turn this dodgy manoeuvre around so that it becomes something to feel good about. We have made our lack of honesty and integrity into a virtue to be proud of – the classic ‘red-neck’ trick!

 

This then is exactly how the Generic Mind works, by turning its inflexibility, blindness and aggression into a virtue, into something to be proud of. We are proud of our fixed identity; it’s the thing we’re most proud of – we’ve actually made it into something essential, something we can’t ever let go of. We’ve made it into something we can’t even think of ever ‘letting go of’. This throws everything we think and everything we perceive one hundred and eighty degrees out, so to speak. Our understanding is what of what is meant by ‘mental health’ is turned on its hand, as we have said. Our understanding of what is meant by the term ‘mental health’ is turned on its head to mean the automatic validation of what we have arbitrarily taken to be true, the aggressive promotion of what we have arbitrarily taken to be true, and that isn’t health by any stretch of the imagination! That isn’t health – that’s inverted health, that’s ‘the sickness that masquerades as health’! Health isn’t where we spend all our time glorifying our own stubborn ignorance and making a virtue of it; health is where we find the courage within us to start looking at these assumptions, and seeing them for what they really are. Mental health necessarily involves rebelling against the collective mind-set therefore, and this is particularly true in the highly conservative area of mental healthcare…

 

 

Image – New York Bushwick Street Art, from rebelone.de

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Psychology Of Everyday Life

When we lose ourselves, and don’t know that we have lost ourselves, what happens next? What’s the story then? How does this peculiar situation work itself out? The awareness isn’t there, so we can’t find out what happens through ‘direct appreciation’ of the fact, so to speak, and yet we will still find out one way or another, sooner or later.

 

How could we lose something as big as ‘who we are’ and not miss it? One point that comes up in relation to this question (the first point, perhaps) is that we don’t miss it at all and that this is something which is empirically verifiable with the greatest of ease. All we need to do is take a look around us, or think about all the people we know, and ask ourselves whether they seem to be aware of ‘missing something very important’. Quite the opposite is usually true of course – we go around thinking that ‘we’re all here’, we go around acting as if our assuming basis is ‘the only true and correct one’. We take this very for granted, and our unconsciousness with regard to this assumption is what gives us our (apparent) ‘confidence’ in everyday life!

 

We could say that this is a statement of the basic human predicament: there is something very peculiar going on, but we can’t for the life of us spot it! We are not here at all, and yet we are absolutely convinced that we are. Because there are so very many people all feeling that they are fully and properly themselves (rather than being merely ‘tokenistically themselves’) this creates a type of ‘illusion field’ that is very hard to break out of, or see out of. We can’t believe that there is something crucially important missing from our lives because everyone else is acting as if everything is perfectly OK and ‘as it should be’; we can’t believe that we are suffering from an absence of our genuine being (which is a kind of ‘negative elephant in the living room’) because no one ever talks about it.

 

This ‘illusion field’ makes it extremely unlikely that anyone is ever going to trust themselves if they do start to get the uncomfortable feeling that there is more to them, or more to life, than everyone says there is (or that ‘there is more to being a human being than society tells us that there is.’) This awareness – we might guess – probably happens to people often enough and there are two ways things can go when it does – either we will go around telling everyone about it (in which case we will quite possibly get diagnosed as being classically psychotic and delusional) or we will have the presence of mind not to inform the world and his uncle about what we have just discovered and ‘keep the news to ourselves.’ We will in this case be able to get on our lives without either being diagnosed as having a mental illness, or in any other way being judged as peculiar or abnormal. The biggest possibility of all however is that we will simply just go along with the very limited expectation of what it means to be a human being that we have been provided with. Any awareness that is contrary to this expectation will simply be disregarded as not making any sense, as not being commensurate with the all-important ‘consensus viewpoint’.

 

So – just to recapitulate – we lose ourselves completely and we have no way of recognising that there is anything missing. This is the basic statement of the human predicament. We have fallen into ‘a dark pool of forgetting’, and as far as we’re concerned there is nothing to have forgotten. There is nothing to have forgotten and so we get on with your business of doing whatever it is that we imagine we have to get on with. We get on with the type of life that we would be obliged to get on with if there were no more to us than just what the collective mind defines us as being, or what our own ‘operating system’ (i.e. the OS of the rational/conceptual mind) tells us we are. The awareness of ‘being present as we truly are’ (for want of any better way of putting it) is gone, and instead we have a sense of ourselves that – very oddly – comes from outside of ourselves via some kind of an ‘external all-determining authority’, whether that external authority be ‘the thinking mind’, or ‘the collective/generic mind which we are all a part of’.

 

We could call the ‘amnesiac’ version of ourselves (the version that’s forgotten who it really is) ‘the mundane self, ‘the everyday self’, and we could ask the question again: what ways does the everyday self have of practically encountering or coming across ‘the lack which is itself’? One (perhaps surprising) way to try to answer this question would be to say that the everyday self encounters the ‘limitation-of-being which it suffers from without knowing that it is suffering from anything’ when it experiences irritation, frustration or annoyance. There is a whole range of situations which routinely cause us to ‘lose our sense of humour’ in this banal and ridiculous way. We’re looking for things to be a certain way and things just aren’t that way, and – what’s more – we don’t have any tolerance for things being any other way than the way we want them to be. Who doesn’t know what this feels like? How many times a day does this happen?

 

What we’re talking about here may seem to be very commonplace and therefore not very illuminating for the purposes of furthering any argument that we might be making, but the ‘obviousness’ of the example that we are using blinds us to what its true significance. The point we’re making can be expressed very clearly and concisely – who we really are isn’t petty-minded, judgemental and intolerant like this! We’re operating ‘below ourselves’, in other words; who we really are isn’t in the least bit upset by things (or other people) ‘not being the way we absurdly think they should be’. This is like a litmus test therefore – if we find ourselves to be irritable, petty minded and judgemental about all sorts of nonsense then that shows us beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are ‘not ourselves’; it shows that we have mistakenly identified ourselves with some paltry illusion of ‘who we really are’.

 

P.D. Ouspensky says somewhere that the false self is an engine for producing negative emotions – it generates negativity of one sort or another on an ongoing basis, just as a badly tuned car engine produces black choking smoke. The reason for this (we might add) is that the ‘false self’ has absolutely no strength or flexibility to it. How can a false construct (or paltry semblance) of ourselves have any genuine strength or flexibility, after all? All it can do when it’s under pressure is to produce a terrible grating noise; all it can do when under stress is to emit toxic negativity, and thereby most regrettably pollute the environment around it. What’s more (needless to say!) the false self is almost always going to be under pressure of one sort or another, this being the nature of the world we live in. Things never work out as we would like them to. There will of course be times when everything is ‘going to plan’ and then the false self will be content, and not be bitching or complaining or sulking or creating bad feeling one way or another, but experience shows that these ‘periods of placidity’ are never going to last very long…

 

Carl Jung says something similar when he states that the big danger (or perhaps even the biggest danger) we face in life is when the mask (or persona) that we wear in order to fit the assumptions and expectations of society grows onto us and becomes part of us – a part that we can no longer remove. We no longer even want to remove the mask because we are falling under its hypnotic power and we think that it is who we are. We have become ‘possessed by the persona‘, and it lives our life for us; it lives life on our behalf, so to speak. Now it goes without saying that this mask, this persona, doesn’t have any genuine human qualities. It can mimic them, it can ‘ape’ then, but it can’t actually manifest them. The ‘mask-which-we-take-to-be-ourselves’ cannot be sincere about anything either – how can it ever be ‘sincere’ when it is not a real thing, when it’s not really us? A mask is by definition insincere. In addition to its lack of genuine human qualities’ (which we can hardly blame it for since these are not in its nature) the mask also has the propensity to generate what is generally referred to as ‘negative emotional states’, which all come down to the ‘passing on’ or ‘reallocation’ of mental pain. The mask has to pass on (or displace) mental pain since it has zero capacity within itself to bear that pain; it lacks this capacity because it isn’t a ‘real thing’, because it’s only a gimmick, a show that we putting on.

 

What we have here is therefore a very straightforward way of detecting the absence of our true, ‘uncontrived’ nature – when we react to difficult situations by ‘going into a sulk’ or ‘getting nasty’ or ‘cutting up rough’, etc, then we know that we aren’t living life ‘as we essentially are’ but rather we’re living life ‘as the persona’, ‘as the mask’, ‘as the artificial construct’. Furthermore, when we find ourselves acting violently or aggressively or in a controlling fashion, we can say the same thing – ‘something inside us’ is living a life for us, on our behalf. The mechanical/artificial version of us can only do two things after all – it can either control successfully and be euphoric, or it can be unsuccessful in its controlling and ‘cut up rough’ (i.e. ‘become dysphoric’). Ultimately, both euphoria and dysphoria are ‘toxic states’ since both derive from ‘the false version of ourselves’. Nothing good comes about as a result of putting the false self in charge of everything – everything is bound to go to wrack and ruin. If the false self is in a good mood this is not a good thing!

 

This is, then, the ‘litmus test’ any of us can apply to see whether we have ‘lost ourselves without knowing that we have’. When everything is going smoothly and ‘all is to our liking’ then we will be apparently sweet and good-natured, but when things are no longer going our way then we will immediately ‘show our true colours’, so to speak, and become sour instead of sweet, unpleasant instead of pleasant; we will start passing on pain to other people in order to make them feel bad instead of us, in other words. Either this, or we will ‘internally redirect’ the pain and blame/punish ourselves instead, which is the other ‘mechanical option’ that we have. Either way, we’re not ‘peacefully allowing to pain to be there’ but rather we’re recriminating about it – either we are targeting ourselves or others in a thoroughly non-compassionate (if not wilfully malicious) way.

 

This is of course the basic stuff of everyday life. It’s all part of the terrain, it’s all part and parcel of being a human being. Through being self-aware and taking ‘responsibility for ourselves’ (as we say) we journey in the direction of becoming more truly human, and ‘less of a machine in human guise’. If we don’t cultivate self-awareness, and we don’t take any responsibility for our ‘manifestations of toxicity’ then we journey in the opposite direction. This dual possibility’ is – we might say – what life is all about: either we become less mechanical, or more mechanical in our nature. It’s got to go either one way or the other! If we work consciously with our ‘toxic manifestations’ then they are of great help to us because they point to the absence of our true nature and if on the other hand we make excuses for them (or don’t pay any heed to them at all) then these manifestations send us down ‘the bad road’ – the road that ends up in a situation of very great suffering. Everything depends upon whether we ‘ignore the warning signs’, or ‘don’t ignore them’; the direction we are travelling depends on whether we live consciously or unconsciously, in other words.

 

What we have so far said represents a very straightforward approach to the psychology of everyday life therefore, the only thing being that it’s a negative approach rather than a positive one – it’s negative because rather than attempting to describe or say something about who we are (our ‘true nature’) it’s a description of all the things that come to pass when we are not who we are (or when we forget who we are). Instead of proceeding naïvely, as we do in ‘positive psychology’, and attempting to say something meaningful about our true nature (which we absolutely have no clue about anyway) negative psychology operates purely by looking at what we might call the symptoms of our absence, or the symptoms of our self-forgetting, (which is of course the usual situation). More than ‘the usual situation’, it’s the only situation we know about. We don’t live in a world populated by conscious human beings, after all!

 

Positive psychology is bound to be dismally unfruitful given that it’s based on the description of an idea of our self which has nothing to do with our true nature, but which is merely the mechanical construct that we have mistakenly identified with. It is accurate in one sense however; it’s accurate because the false mechanical semblance of ourselves is the basis upon which we actually operate. It is ‘useless knowledge’ all the same because no matter how well we describe ‘the false mechanical self’ it’s not really going do us any good. It’s a tremendously ‘arid’ knowledge for one thing, and for another thing the better we get at optimising ‘the performance of the false self’ the worst were actually making our situation! Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, we are bound to say that investing all our efforts in furthering positive psychology is something of a grotesque mistake therefore. All we really need to know about the mask is that it is a mask – we’re never going to make it into anything else, no matter how assiduously we work at it…