Mental health, when it comes right down to it, is the capacity to ‘let go’. It’s as simple as that. We could also say that mental health comes down to the capacity to risk – it’s the same thing. Without this capacity we slowly but surely choke ourselves. We cut ourselves off from the oxygen of reality and suffer greatly as a result. We become alienated and abstracted, isolated and insulated, disconnected and dissociated. We end up unhappily existing in a sterile mind-created world which is all promises but no follow-through, all desires but no satiation – we become ‘Pretas’, we become ‘hungry ghosts’. Because we can’t let go (because we don’t want to lose what we falsely imagine ourselves to have) we end up being the embodiment of impoverishment, and the more inwardly impoverished we feel the more desperately we grasp for some kind of substance (or solidity) as a result…
Because we can’t let go, we are forced to go down the road of investing in some mind-created structure or other, and this is where all our problems begin. We invest and invest, we invest for all we are worth, but the benefits are only on the short-term. We’re actually investing in something that is absolutely bound to let us down in the end and so of course the only benefits are going to be on the short-term! Not only is it the case that the ‘advantages’ we obtain as a result of adopting the strategy of ‘holding on’ are strictly short-term in nature, it is also the case that they are going to be subject to the well-known ‘law of diminishing returns’. We put more and more in and get less and less out as a result, until eventually we reach the point at which we are allocating just about all of our available resources simply to maintain the status quo, simply to stop things getting worse, simply to stop things going ‘pear-shaped’.
And even this unhappy state of affairs is not the end of it – at some point or other the tide of our fortune is going to turn against us and our situation is going deteriorate even with all of the effort that we are putting in. Things are going to slide out of control; our ‘empire’ – for what it’s worth – is going to crumble. It isn’t that the situation is deteriorating despite all our best efforts – its deteriorating because of these efforts. Our decline, our unhappy situation, our suffering, is being directly fed by our efforts – we are feeding the very thing that is dragging us down. We are pumping all of our energy into ‘the system of denial’ and this system is inevitably going downhill – there really was no other outcome in store for it no matter what we might deludedly have thought. It was ‘going downhill’ right from its very inception – we just didn’t see it. There was never any other way for it to go.
We lose all clarity on the matter right at the moment we start investing in the construct because part of the ‘investing’ process is that we can’t allow ourselves to see things in any other way than the way we have decided to see them. Because we have decided that ‘hanging on to stuff’ is the way to go we are bound to look upon the ‘maximization of security’ as the golden rule, even though what we are so intent on securing for ourselves is the very thing that is going to go downhill (rolling faster and faster down the inexorably entropic slope), and drag us with it. We’re locked into the path of denial and this means that we are going to be denying the truth of what is happening to us even as it does happen to us. We will persist in our folly to the last…
Right from the very start, therefore, we start confusing our mental health, our intrinsic well-being, with that of the mental construct we are investing in. This confusion gives rise to what we might call a ‘false version’ of mental health, a surrogate or substitute form of mental health that has nothing at all to do with our own well-being and everything to do with the well-being of the system of denial that we are investing in. We’re going down a bad road right from the very beginning by ‘validating our holding on’ and this business of ‘propping up the mind-created structure’ quickly snow-balls, quickly escalates, and develops a ‘life of its own’. The system of denial takes over. It is of course quite inevitable that we shall go down this ‘bad road’ once we start confusing our own health, our own well-being, with the ‘health’ of the construct, with the ‘health’ of the system of denial. What else could we expect – we are promoting the false over the true for the sake of the short-term benefits that this will (supposedly) bring us…
In the West our understanding of mental health is entirely about propping up the construct, entirely about propping up the system of denial that we have identified with. How could it not be, given our exclusively rational outlook? We champion the cause of the mental construct because we can’t see that the mental construct actually exists in denial of the reality that it is supposed to be representing. We have ‘confused the thought with the thing’ because all we know are thoughts. When we talk about ‘mental health’ – as we so glibly do – we’re really talking about the ‘health’ of our idea (or image) of ourselves, which is putting the cart before the horse. In fact – as Jean Baudrillard says – we have gotten rid of the horse altogether. Who needs a horse? We are ‘promoting the hyperreal over the real’ because the hyperreal has become the new real. The hyperreal always becomes ‘the new real’ – that’s the whole thing about the hyperreal, it can’t work any other way!
It can very readily be seen that we as a culture are promoting the ‘health’ of the construct (rather than promoting the genuine mental health of the actual individual). All we need to do is pay attention to the type of language that we are using – we talk about ‘coping’, we talk about ‘acquiring skills’ and ‘implementing strategies’. We talk of ‘managing our anger’ or ‘managing our stress / anxiety’. We talk about ‘regulating our emotions’. What type of talk is this? How more transparent could this be? If we think this type of talk has anything to do with mental health we must be totally deranged! This is the spiel of the beleaguered self-image. This is the empty yap of the hard-pressed rational construct. This is the characteristic stilted psychobabble of what Wei Wu Wei calls the I-concept – that tensed-up insecure little nexus of stress and control that knows nothing apart from the shoring up of its perennially failing defences.
When we talk about acquiring skills and implementing coping strategies, of managing stress and regulating emotions, what we’re going on about here is minimizing risk. That’s what we are being so fervent about. That’s what we’re frothing at the mouth about. Everything is about risk-avoidance – risk avoidance is our god! All of this talk is inherently brittle, inherently insecure, inherently fear-driven. Our language is the language of control and the thing about control is that it always arises from the need to defend (or promote) a fixed position. Defending the fixed position (defending the status quo) is what ‘coping’ is all about. That’s what ‘strategies’ are about, that’s what ‘management’ is about, that’s what ‘regulation’ is about. All these words that we like so much, all of these words that sound so good to us – they are all just ‘fear in disguise’…
Without a fixed position to defend notions of maximizing control (or avoiding risk) do not arise. It seems abundantly clear to the rational viewpoint that who (or what) we are is a fixed position (of some sort of another) but this is purely a function of how rationality works. Logic or rationality can only proceed from a fixed position, from a standpoint that is ‘absolutely taken-for-granted’. That’s its nature. That doesn’t mean that we are this fixed position, this taken-for-granted standpoint however – that’s the rational mind’s taken-for-granted standpoint. That’s the convention the thinking mind has to adopt in order to function as the thinking mind! We’re not a mental construct. ‘Who we are’ isn’t a fixed position at all – it is utterly ridiculous to imagine that this is the case. Fixed positions don’t exist in reality – they only exist as arbitrary constructs (or conventions) of the thinking mind!
If we want to have some sort of understanding of what this thing we rather absurdly call ‘mental health’ looks like all we need to do is look at a small child. Does a small child have coping strategies? Does a small child acquire valuable skills in ‘managing its mental health’? Does a small child manage its stress or regulate its emotions? As soon as we look at things like this we can see that any such talk is deeply abhorrent – this is adult stuff (i.e. it is unhealthy stuff) we’re talking about here. Adult stuff is all about control and risk avoidance because as adults we have unwittingly identified ourselves with the unreal constructs of the thinking mind.
We have been swallowed up in the toxic phoney world of the hyperreal. That’s what ‘becoming an adult means’ – it means being eaten alive by the rational mind! As a result of being identified with the abstract constructs of the thinking mind we are locked into a struggle that we cannot win; we are locked into the ‘neurotic struggle’, which is ultimately the struggle to ‘make the unreal real’. We’ve invested in something that is only ever going to depreciate! Our unwise investment brings us unending suffering, it brings us alienated frustration on an industrial scale and in response to this suffering (in response to this alienated frustration) we invent a whole load of spurious ‘therapeutic’ talk, a whole load of spurious mind-based ‘therapy’, which is all about maximizing control, which is all about avoiding risk.
And what is this ‘risk’ that we’re so afraid of? The answer is simple. It’s the risk of letting go of who we’re not! It’s the risk of discovering that we are not what the rational mind says we are!
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.