Our modern approach to what we so glibly call ‘mental health’ is the biggest farce going! Never in the course of human history has there been a more nonsensical and ill-advised endeavour, and there have been a good few of them up to this point. We have never – as any student of history can see – been shy to put all our energy into ingeniously self-defeating projects. What we in this technologically advanced era completely fail to see is that improved mental health always occurs in a negative (or backwards) direction rather than in a positive (or forwards) one. It’s a ‘taking away’, not an ‘adding to’! What this essentially means is that when we become more mentally healthy this always occurs against our own will. It doesn’t happen because of our efforts, it happens despite them. Our ‘efforts’ are invariably pure foolishness. This was well known to the ancients, who we like to imagine as being a lot less smart than we are. “He who learns must suffer” says Aeschylus:
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
We moderns however are only interested in the type of ‘learning’ that doesn’t cost us dearly, the type of learning that flatters our illusions rather than falsifying them. There are only ever two directions that we can travel in, psychologically speaking – either we let go of our precious assumptions about life (which is very painful) and go beyond them, or we build on them, and ‘progress’ on this imaginary basis. Regarding these two directions, these two possibilities, we can make the following simple point:
Any action that is deliberate, intentional, or purposeful is always going to be ‘building on our assumptions’ rather than going beyond them.
If we reflect on it for a moment we will see that this is pretty much self-evident – purposeful or goal-orientated action is always going to be movement in a positive direction because our purposes or goals are necessarily going to be constructed in terms of our unexamined assumptions about life.
This is a remarkably simple point to make but it is also one that we consistently fail to appreciate. If we did understand this very straightforward principle then we would never imagine that we could better ourselves (or ‘cure ourselves’) on purpose. If we did appreciate this very simple point then it wouldn’t be the case – as it clearly is – that we are forever coming out with positive psychological therapies, i.e. therapies that set out to deliberately or purposefully cause helpful change in the person being therapized.
Positive therapies are therapies that implicitly claim to put us ‘in control’ – they claim to be able to put us in control of the process by giving us steps or stages to the ultimate goal of improved mental health (or freedom from extremes of mental suffering) that we can deliberately progress though by applying skills and strategies that we have been taught by the therapist. The thinking mind delights in such schemes of course – the only drawback in an otherwise rosy picture is that they don’t actually work. The thinking mind – which we are completely identified with – adores the notion of being the initiator of the plan, the instigator of the plan, the executor and – at the final stage – the beneficiary of the plan, but to apply this idea to therapy is utterly ridiculous. How could we ever be dumb enough to imagine that this would work?
There’s only one way that we can ‘separate ourselves from our assumptions about life’ and that is involuntarily, and it’s not just involuntarily either but against our own will. We grow as people (or move away from neurosis) against our own will in other words – we first have to struggle against an enemy and that enemy is ourselves. This is usually understood – of course – in terms of struggling against laziness, fear of change, attachment to old patterns of behaviour and thinking, and so on, but where all of this really comes from is our allegiance to a sense of self that is actually founded upon our assumptions, just as a our purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour is. It’s all the one thing and since the purposeful (or positive) self is founded upon these assumptions about life that we have made but never shown any interest in examining very clearly it can never be expected to willingly let go of them!
The positive self really and truly can’t let go of the assumptions that it has had to make in order to be itself; it can’t look at them either because looking at assumptions comes to the same thing as letting them go. Ignorance of the so-called truths that one is assuming is the only way to go when you are the positive self. This self is therefore never going to be in a position to be honestly committed to change or personal growth – the only type of development it is interested in is the consolidation of the blind mechanical structure which is itself. On a fundamental level, this is the only value that it can see. It’s sense of ‘what is of value and what is not’ is based on those assumptions that it has had to have made in order for it to exist at all – as is sense of anything and everything. The positive or purposeful self is in other words constitutionally unable to function in any way that is not conditioned by these assumptions.
Left to itself, the positive self cannot do anything other than head unerringly for disaster. It is like a ship with no rudder being driven by storm force winds and a strong current onto a reef – no matter what those on the ship may like to believe, disaster is inevitable. Disaster is inherent in the very nature of the assumptions that we have made and are refusing to ever look at; it doesn’t matter what these assumptions are either – the point is that our assumed basis is a ‘closed viewpoint in an open universe’ and so this is just never going to work out. Our so-called ‘progress’ is based on us ignoring the actual nature of reality and so what sort of ‘progress’ do with imagine this is going to be? What we have done here is to have handed ourselves over to a bunch of mechanical forces; we have entrusted our fate to the force of entropy and this is only ever going to work out one way. We’re ‘going to hell in a hand cart’, whether we like to see it or not. And obviously we don’t.
Positive therapies are just another way of talking about the via erratum, or ‘the road of error’. Any attempt we make to get ourselves out of the hole we’re in by our own efforts, by the agency of our own devices, is the ‘road of error’. We’re using the very thing to solve the problem that created the problem in the first place. We’re trying to use control in service of mental health when ‘control’ and ‘mental health’ don’t belong together in the same sentence. Regulation, control, management, models, theories, and methods are all antithetical to mental health, loathe as we are to see it; they have to do with one thing and one thing only – that ‘one thing’ being the survival of the mind-created self as if this were the only value that truly matters. Our understanding of ‘mental health’ is the mental health of an illusion; our understanding of ‘psychological well-being’ is the psychological well-being of a fantasy.
The ‘nonsensical endeavour’ that we started out talking about is the endeavour of trying to save ourselves from the ill effects of living life on the basis of our closed viewpoint on reality by utilizing this very same closed viewpoint. Or to express this point another way, we’re trying to save ourselves from the dire effects of living life on the basis of the rational mind by using that same rational mind. This after all is the only way we know – the rational way. When you listen to trained mental health-care professionals talking about psychological therapy you will hear a bunch of people being very, very rational – what you hear is a whole heap of rational-intellectual stuff. And yet all of this is completely useless – it’s worse than useless because it traps us even more in the bullshit of the deluded rational mind. Most of us, when we talk, come out with the regular type old type of bullshit. A highly trained psychologist, on the other hand, will come out with some very fancy, very impressive-sounding bullshit. It all comes down to the same thing in the end however! It seems wrong to suggest that the output of the rational mind is necessarily ‘bullshit’ but because the thinking mind is a closed viewpoint all its definite pronouncements are of course quite meaningless when seen in any wider way; statements that arise from the closed context of the thinking mind only make sense from the point of view of that same closed context.
The only thing that can help us is negative therapy, not the positive, controlling variety, because positive therapy is simply an extension of our engrained delusions. The only thing that can help us is being in a situation where we can’t control things for ourselves in the way that we usually do, a situation where we can’t maintain the mind-created self in the manner to which it is accustomed. This situation – which is where we are no longer able to ‘regulate our own existential parameters’, so to speak – is however the very situation that we try to avoid at all costs. Curiously enough, it is this situation where we are suffering because we can no longer do the sorts of things that we normally do to make ourselves feel OK, that we see as being those that we need help from. This is precisely what we are trying to escape from; this is the type of pain that we want therapy to fix our broken comfort zones, to make them habitable and safe for us again…
What we are calling ‘negative therapy’ isn’t some sort of specially engineered situation that we have to go in search of (or pay money for), therefore – it’s actually life itself. As life happens it will do this to us – it will overwhelm our comfort zones, it will cause them to fail us and leave us hanging on a very precarious soon-to-crumble limb. It will ruin our comfort zones for us so that the sort of strategies and manoeuvres that we use to protect our illusions simply don’t work anymore. Life makes things go wrong, in other words. No fancy training or terminology is needed for negative therapy because we’re not looking to do any advanced form of controlling – we’re not being sophisticated, we’re not trying to ‘wangle’ things, we’re not trying to obtain any ‘therapeutic goals’. The very idea of a ‘therapeutic goal’ is of course quite ridiculous – who are we to say that is the helpful thing for us? All goals are the product of the thinking mind; all goals are constructs.
Or as we could also say, rational processes can only ever lead us into equilibrium states. If we want to know what this thing called ‘mental health’ really is, then the only possible answer is that it is ‘being true to ourselves’, and rationality never allows us to be true to ourselves. Quite the reverse is the case – thought always causes us to be false to ourselves! Mental health is we might say the ultimate disequilibrium state – it is the state of being free or independent from all rules whatsoever. It is the state of being uncontaminated by thought and thought’s creations. Rational processes can never lead us out of an equilibrium state and into reality because they always ‘act in accordance with the assumed rule’. Without assumed rules, there is no rationality! There is therefore no way that we can reason ourselves back into the real world and out of our comfort zones, out of the mind-created fantasy – that can only happen ‘against our own will’, as we have been saying. ‘Reality’ is the ‘awful grace of God’ (spoken of by Aeschylus in the passage given above) which we fear so very much. Reality is what we don’t like, no matter what we might say to the contrary.
Moving out of the dead and deadening equilibrium states of our own thoughts, our own ideas, out own beliefs, can never be a science or technology; this is an art not a logical process. This is we might say the highest art of all. Moving out of the Equilibrium World is the ultimate creative challenge; it is the ultimate expression of individuality (or ‘uniqueness’) against all the forces that are ranged against it, which basically comes down to thought (or cleverness), our so-called ‘helper’…
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.