There is something peculiar about our cultural attitude to unhappiness, in all its forms. It has frequently been pointed out that our language – when we refer to our own unhappiness – is aggressive, even militaristic in tone. We talk about conquering depression, overcoming low self-esteem, beating anxiety, and so on. Or we talk about controlling, and therefore managing, these states of mind. On the face of it – taking a very simplistic view – this type of language makes sense, it seems appropriate. It really seems to speak to us. This is the sort of stuff we want to hear. The point is however that this language doesn’t speak to the right part of us – it speaks to the fearful part of us. And the fearful side of us – of course – just loves to hear words like conquering, overcoming, beating, controlling, and so on.
This aggressive terminology gives us a clue about what it is that is peculiar about our cultural attitude to our own unhappiness: Even though we sound confident in our approach to it we aren’t, we are actually scared of it. Our confidence is of the ‘superficial’ variety, and as everyone knows superficial confidence is really only disguised fear – fear that tries to sound brave. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with being afraid of pain or afraid of suffering – that is perfectly natural. But when we have a situation where everyone bluffs that ‘we are confident, we are in control’ when the truth is the exact opposite of this, then this attitude, far from helping anyone, actually does a lot of harm. In psychological terminology this sort of thing is called a collusion, and collusions are – as a rule – bad news all around. After all, if you happen to be one of those people who is suffering from depression, phobias, anxiety, low self-esteem, and so on, then all that fighting talk, whilst it might sound great to the weaker, more fearful side of our nature, isn’t doing anything at all to help us when it comes right down to it. How can it, when – as our deeper intuitive side will always tell us – the only thing that can ever help us with our unhappy states of mind is not to try to fight against them or attempt to control them, but to stop being afraid of them?
If we are afraid of our own unhappiness then we will always have to reject it, and if we reject our own unhappiness then we are rejecting ourselves. And the irony is of course that it is our own rejecting of ourselves (in one way or another) that lies at the heart of our unhappiness in the first place. The fact that we are rejecting our own unhappiness, and the unhappiness of those around us, is evidenced by our clinical, efficient, white-coated, so-called ‘professional’ approach to it. This approach is all about creating ‘distance’ – we create distance on the one hand by building up a huge body of technical knowledge and information about these prevalent (indeed, pretty much ubiquitous) unhappy states of mind, and on the other restricting our interaction with the sufferers to a purely technical domain, which is to say, ‘the domain of doing something about it’. Again, from a superficial point of view this sounds absolutely the right thing to do – that is just what I, as a sufferer, want to hear. What we don’t see is that this sort of interaction, where you are ‘educating’ me about my condition and instructing me in methods whereby I can manage it, is just another way of rejecting or denying my unhappiness, albeit in an apparently ‘scientific’ manner. It might be said that this process of education does involve acknowledging the problem and becoming informed about it, but inasmuch as I am treating my unhappy state of mind as a purely technical matter I am necessarily disowning it, separating myself from it, rejecting it.
The type of interest that I have in my unhappiness is therefore strictly limited – I only want to know as much as I need to know in order to get rid of it! This is like a religious fundamentalist who wants to convert you, and only wants to know about what you think about things as a kind of pretext to establish communication, so that they can then proceed to tell you what they think – which, if they were to be perfectly honest, is all they are really interested in the first place! In the same way, we aren’t really interested in our depression, or our anxiety, or our low self-esteem – we just want to get the technical information on them, information that will then allow us to exercise control over them. Having ‘objective knowledge’ about my unhappiness is the same thing as ‘creating a safe distance’ and creating a safe distance from my unhappiness means rejecting it. What will help me is acceptance, not rejection, and there is nothing technical, nothing scientific, nothing ‘objective’ about acceptance. Acceptance simply means ‘not creating a safe distance’ – there is no technique to it. Techniques always create a distance – techniques are distance. Distance might actually seem like a useful sort of a thing but it isn’t at all because distance means that there is a ‘cut-off point’, it means that I have created a barrier between me and my own pain. If I succeed in creating such a barrier – which is a very easy thing to do, we do it all the time without even realizing that we are doing it – then I have at the same time succeeded in cutting myself off from my own feelings. I have succeeded in disowning myself and far from helping me this is infallibly going to compound my suffering a thousand-fold. If there is one simple lesson, therefore, to be learned on the subject of mental health it is this – if I create a distance between myself and my own unhappiness then this is going to intensify and prolong my unhappiness rather than help it.
Collectively, however, we are very a long way off from learning this lesson. In fact it could be said that we are heading in the opposite direction as fast as ever we can! As Ivan Illich said, forty years ago, we live in an ‘anaesthetic society,’ a society in which great value is placed in finding ways of blocking pain, and zero value on feeling or accepting it. We have great technical means at our disposal – medication (ranging from tranquilizers to sedatives, antidepressants to analgesics), sophisticated means of self-distraction (which has become pretty much a way of life), and clever, apparently ‘scientific’ ways of trying to rationalize our pain (which we dignify by the term ‘therapy’). We are a technical culture, a ‘doing’ culture, and whilst there is a place for doing, and technical efficiency, that place isn’t mental health. Despite what we might think, mental health is not about technical knowledge, efficient strategies, and scientifically-proven procedures (i.e. so-called ‘evidence-based practice’) but about being brave enough not to reject and disown our own unhappy states of mind. And – needless to say – there is no formula, no equation, no strategy for braveness – no one else can tell me how to find my own willingness to be genuinely interested (i.e. open to) my own unhappiness. To put it succinctly, there are lots of ways of being closed, but only one way of being open – and this way has nothing at all to do with rational strategies or techniques. We are culturally predisposed to look for a sophisticated answer to our problems and if the answers we have don’t work we respond by ‘upping the ante’ and getting even more sophisticated – the idea that this is completely the wrong road to go down just doesn’t occur to us.
We can show how our attitude to unhappy states doesn’t work – and in fact makes things worse – by giving the example of anxiety. One way to define anxiety is to say that it is the state of mind where we find problems absolutely threatening. Because of this attitude we are very tuned into the possibility of problems arising and we spend a lot of time trying to anticipate problems before they arise, as a way of being ‘one step ahead.’ This is not a helpful way of thinking however because all it does is highlight all the various problems that might possibly arise – in short, the more we try to anticipate problems the more potential problems we start to become aware of, and the worse we feel as a consequence! As well as trying to anticipate problems before they arise, we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to fix these problems, to find ways around them. If I can work out a way to fix my problem then this is another way to stay ‘one step ahead’ in the game because then the problem is no longer a problem. This attitude of wanting to fix problems is of course not a sign that we are ‘interested’ in them – it is in fact a sign that we are extremely uninterested. Another way of talking about this type of extreme ‘lack of interest’ is to call it an aversion – if am averse to something then basically I want to get as far away from it as possible, I want to turn my back on it. So when I try to fix a problem I am really just trying to get it to go away as quickly as possible. And if that doesn’t work then I will try running away from the problem. Avoiding and fixing are thus the two sides of the same coin – the coin of aversion.
Anxiety might therefore be said to come down to ‘an aversion to problems’. This might sound like a peculiar sort of a definition – after all, who isn’t averse to problems? Don’t we all want to either avoid or fix problems? Isn’t that the correct response to problems? Of course in one way this is true – in general it is perfectly true to say that no one likes problems. But on the other hand it is also not true because when we are feeling well in ourselves we actually like problems, inasmuch as we like a challenge. This is a basic measure of mental health – the more I want to be left in my comfort zone, and live without challenges, the less ‘healthy’ this is. In other words, the more averse I am to challenges the more this shows that I am not really myself, that I am not feeling ‘OK in myself’, since if I was feeling OK in myself then I would actually enjoy challenges, and I would get very fed up and bored to be stuck in my comfort zone the whole time. After all, if I spend all my time holed up in my comfort zone this means that I am avoiding life not living it – and full-scale avoidance of life can hardly be called ‘healthy’ by any stretch of the imagination!
If my reaction to problems is aversion then this creates the problem of anxiety, and so naturally I experience aversion towards my own anxiety. If I didn’t experience aversion to my own anxiety then I wouldn’t be anxious! Having aversion towards my own anxiety means that I am forever trying to either fix it or avoid it – whatever seems to have the best chance of succeeding. But trying to either fix my anxiety or avoid it never succeeds – if it did succeed than that would mean that anxiety is being used to cure anxiety, it would mean that I can solve my anxiety just by being anxious about it, which is plainly ridiculous. Trying to fix (or avoid) my anxiety simply makes my anxiety worse, it exacerbates it, it feeds back into it. In fact, trying to fix or avoid anxiety is anxiety!
To most of us, however, the suggestion that we should try to fix (or manage) our anxiety sounds perfectly sensible – we can’t see anything wrong with this idea at all. It sounds very good to us, in fact. But as we have just been saying, the only reason that I want to fix my anxiety is because I am averse to it, because I am afraid of it – I really don’t want to know anything about it at all, I just want to be as far away from it as possible. My anxiety however is not something that is separate from me, it is not some sort of abstract entity like a virus or a germ that I can isolate and exterminate. My anxiety is ‘how I am’ – it cannot be separated from me. It is my state of mind, it is a particular form of mental pain that I happen to be suffering from. Therefore, when I reject it I am rejecting myself and this obviously isn’t going to get me anywhere. This discussion highlights the snag (or glitch) that we run into when we try to fix anxiety – the glitch is that when we try to fix anxiety our attitude of wanting to fix it (i.e. our aversion) actually is the anxiety that we want to fix. So how can this ever going to work?
This same old glitch comes up again and again, not just in anxiety. Another good example is provided by sulking. Let us suppose that for whatever reason I am in a terrible sulk – obviously I don’t like being in a sulk because it feels so thoroughly rotten and, equally obviously, I would like to get out of it. This is however – as we all know very well – not such an easy thing to do. We all know very well it is extremely hard to snap out of a sulk, but we may not have thought too much about why this should be so. One way to explain the problem is to say that when I am in a sulk the sulky frame of mind has become my basis, so that everything I do is predicated upon this sulky way of looking at the world. In a way, we can say that I have temporarily lost my ‘true self’, and am stuck instead with my ‘sulky self’, which is a sort of caricature (or ‘crudely distorted version’) of who I really am.
Let us say that I try to get out of my sulk by doing something or other. Suppose I take it into my head to do the dishes. In this case, I find that I am doing the dishes sulkily, and so I cannot escape the sulk this way after all. Suppose that instead of doing the dishes I decide to make myself a cup of tea. Again, I make the tea sulkily and having made it I proceed in a sulky way to drink it in exactly the same fashion! If I go for a walk I go for a sulky walk, if I watch the news on TV I watch it sulkily, if I talk to my friend I talk to her sulkily, and so on and so forth. There is no escape for me no matter what I do because whatever I do, I do it sulkily. The crux of the matter is that if I try to escape my sulk, then I try to escape it in a sulky fashion, and so by me trying to escape the sulk, I actually perpetuate it. This is of course exactly what we were talking about with when we were discussing anxiety – when I am in an anxious state of mind I cannot escape this state because I am anxiously trying to escape it, and similarly when I am in a sulky state of mind I cannot escape because I am sulkily trying to escape it. In both cases, there is no way out.
This glitch is also very familiar to us in the case of anger – suppose I have lashed out at my partner in some way because I am in an angry mood and I say something extremely unfair and hurtful. Realizing that I have over-stepped the mark, I make a big effort and try to apologize. The only problem is that I am still basically in an angry mood even though I am doing my best to control it, and so my apology is an angry apology, which is no good at all because it doesn’t sound at all genuine! It doesn’t sound genuine because it isn’t genuine – I am still trying to push the blame on how I am feeling onto someone else, I am still essentially refusing to take any responsibility for anything myself. It starts to become clear at this stage that the particular glitch or snag that we are talking about here is a pretty universal for all sorts of unhappy states of mind – it operates across the board in fact for all of what the Tibetans call ‘the afflictive emotions’. The reason these emotions are called afflictive is because they afflict us, and the reason they afflict us is because when they land on us we simply can’t escape them. These states of mind are traps – incredibly easy to enter but impossible to just walk out of.
All of these afflictive states of mind trap us in the very same way, no matter how dramatically different they each might appear to be on the face of it. They trap us because the ‘taken-for-granted’ (and therefore invisible) basis that we are using to try to remedy the situation is the actual problem itself, and so no matter how hard we try we just aren’t going to get anywhere. Thus, in the case of craving (which is one of the states spoken of in Tibetan Buddhism) when we find ourselves suffering because of the craving that is afflicting us, we crave to be free from the curse of the craving, and as a result we get nowhere – we go round in very tight circles. Or we might say that when we are trapped in the hungry, hollow state of wanting, and have become fed up of it there (in the world of ‘wanting’) we inevitably find ourselves ‘wanting to be free from wanting’. If I am driving myself around the bend by thinking too much, then what happens is of course that I try to think of a way of stopping my thinking. And if I am analyzing all the time, and it has become clear to me that the constant analyzing of everything is a sort of a sickness, then I try to analyze why I am analyzing so much…
In general, the thing that I am doing to free myself from the problem is the very thing that causes the problem in the first place, only we can’t see this. David Bohm calls this ‘thing’ the system of thought and he points out that the system of thought is efficient at solving non-systematic faults (faults that are not in the system itself) but – obviously – no good at all at solving faults that are systematic. In neurotic conditions, the fault is not ‘elsewhere,’ it is not ‘somewhere else’; the fault – so to speak – is in fact the system of thought itself, which is the very instrument which we are using to try to fix the fault. As in all the other specific examples that we have looked at, the basis for my doing is itself the cause of the problem and so I am caught no matter which way I turn.
The only cure for this glitched state of affairs, this neurotic entanglement, is to clearly understand that ‘purposeful doing’, no matter how subtle or sophisticated that ‘doing’ might be, no matter how glossily it might be wrapped up and packaged and presented to us, no matter how technically impressive it might seem to be, is entirely the wrong road to go down.
This is easy to state in so many words but when it comes to applying this key insight in practical, everyday life, things are not so easy or so straightforward at all. The enticements to purposeful action, the enticements to ‘trying to remedy the situation for oneself through technical means’ are so subtle, so magnetically persuasive and above all – so very habitual – that we find ourselves drawn into them time and time again. And once we do start going down this road we quickly lose any insight that we might have had, and become ruled instead by the brute forces of fear and desire – fear of what we think is going to happen to us if we don’t escape, and desire for a place of safety, and place where we will be safe from what we fear. The logic of escaping, fighting, or struggling becomes all-powerful, it becomes ‘absolute’ and we very quickly lose that delicate awareness that we had, the awareness of the jinx (or self-contradiction) that is inherent in all purposeful action. And if the ‘enticements’ within ourselves were not bad enough, we also have a rake of enticements (if not to say outright pressure) from the outside to contend with as well – our friends and relations and anyone else who might have influence in our lives – including healthcare professionals – almost inevitably respond to our unhappiness by telling us how to manage it, or by putting pressure on us to manage it, by generally not giving us any space at all to be the way that we actually are.
Obviously everyone just wants to help, but the ‘help’ in question is almost always made of inane suggestions, aggressive advice, and a deluge of supposedly useful (i.e. ‘educational’) information about our problem. In other words the help we get is all ‘doing-type’ help, gung-ho militaristic-style help, rational/analytical help, and so on. The one type of help we don’t get – or very rarely get – is someone giving us the space to be the way we are, rather than being endlessly pressurized to ‘do something about’ our unhappiness, to manage it better, etc. But as we have said, unhappiness is not something that needs to be ‘managed’! The very idea that it should be managed is lacking in basic sanity, it is indicative of the general unhealthiness of our collective way of thinking, the ‘enforced superficiality’ of our culture. As a culture, we value happiness – or at least we claim to – but we do so by shunning unhappiness as an earlier age would have shunned Satan and all his works. Having this sort of superficial attitude towards life doesn’t really pay any dividends however, it just creates an atmosphere of denial. Because we fear unhappiness we reject it, and because we reject it we perpetuate it, and this is the irony we live under. With the power of our technical expertise we have created a ‘safe distance’ between ourselves and our pain, but at the same time as creating a distance between ourselves and our pain we have created a distance between ourselves and our joy, our creativity, and our peace of mind. ‘Safe distance’ is the same thing as separation, and separation and separation from our suffering actually makes for worse suffering.
If I describe contemporary culture in this way it tends to sound as if I am failing to take any responsibility myself, it sounds as if I am displacing in an immature way all the blame onto some convenient scapegoat (the government, society, one’s parents, and so on) and this is of course a very real possibility if I am not careful. But on the other hand remaining blissfully ignorant in the naïve state of mind which maintains its own cocoon of security by ‘taking everything at face value’, by refusing to look deeply into anything I am told, etc, is an equally disastrous pitfall. On the one hand if I simply resort to blaming society then I am projecting my own negativity out onto the world and this will keep me very effectively locked up in a state of profound unconsciousness – a thoroughly ignominious state of being in which I am guaranteed to stay chronically immature and chronically self-deluded until the day I die. But if on the other hand I persist in unreflectively accepting all the messages that are given to me by my friends, my family, society in general – if I persist in looking upon all ‘external authorities’ as being infallible – then this too is a state of profound and pernicious unconsciousness, and this too will perpetuate my unhappiness.
My only true ‘responsibility’ is to stay true to myself, which means not allowing myself to be deluded like a fool by the ‘mass culture’ of society, but also not allowing myself to be deluded, again like a fool, by myself. The danger in seeing the truth, rather than passively going along with the prevailing comforting delusion, is twofold. If I see the truth about the social structure we live in, and see that it is based on denial and ‘enforced superficiality’ then this can easily make me cynical, superior and judgmental. And if I see the truth about myself, this can make me despairing and self-critical, if not to say self-hating. Both of these are dead-ends, both are equally unhelpful. The ‘error’ in first case is thinking that society ought to be different, and in the second case that I ought to be different. But why should society be ‘enlightened’ if I myself am not? After all, society is made up of untold millions like me, and all the other people who make society up are – in all probability – every bit as self-deluding as I am. And the expectation that I should be ‘psychologically aware’, in possession of impeccable courage, honesty and integrity, etc, is equally ridiculous. How on earth can I expect myself to be free from all the fears and weaknesses that everyone else is afflicted with – do I just expect to roll out of bed in the morning, and somehow be free from all the taints of unconsciousness? The answer is of course that I do expect this – ridiculous as this expectation might be – and so I am sorely disappointed every time I discover that this is very far indeed from being the case, and I can’t help recriminating violently against myself for ‘not being perfect,’ for possessing whatever faults and weaknesses that I do possess.
Speaking in terms of ‘faults’ or ‘weaknesses’ is actually missing the point – if I take an interest in myself and want to see myself as I actually am, then whatever I see as a result of this attitude is a bonus. Whatever I see, that is the way it is: after all, if I have an interest in invertebrates and I look under a rock, then I am not going to get disappointed if my expectations of what I am going to find are radically different from what I actually do find. I am interested in knowing what sort of creature lives there, not interested in confirming my unexamined assumptions regarding what I think lives down there. If I only want to confirm my own assumptions then I might as well not bother looking under the stone in the first place, since if this is the case (if I am looking with an agenda) then I am not really interested in reality at all. If I am genuinely interested in reality then whatever I see is of interest to me.
Talking in terms of faults (i.e. ‘failures in integrity’) carries the unexamined assumption that we ought to be perfect, but nobody is. Or we could look at this the other way around in terms of happiness and say that we all think that we ought to be happy, and that it is a very bad thing if we are not, which takes us back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this discussion. Our own unhappiness is the ‘fault,’ the ‘failure’, the ‘weakness’ that we don’t want to see. We assume that everything is ‘as it should be’ and we don’t want to look too closely in case we discover that it isn’t. But when unhappiness is denied it does of course have a way of multiplying underground, until one day it bursts out and we can no longer avoid seeing the fact. This is – understandably enough – seen by all concerned as an utter disaster, a wholly negative and regrettable sort of thing. Pressure is then put on us – both by ourselves and by others – to do something about this unhappiness, to beat it, to conquer it, to show it who is boss. But as we have said (in so many words) when we struggle against our pain, our suffering, we never gain the valuable gift that it brings us. Instead, we are kept trapped in the very illusion that created all that suffering in the first place. The valuable but unwanted gift that unhappiness bestows upon us comes when we allow that unhappiness; when I allow myself to see my own unhappiness something very strange and very remarkable happens – a dramatic shift of perception occurs and I discover to my surprise that the person who was both suffering, and at the same time deeply afraid to see that he or she was suffering, is not actually who I am at all.
Krishnamurti makes this same point by saying that when we give the problem that is bothering us total attention, then the self which is paying attention ceases to exist. This tends to make no sense to us at all because we take that ‘self’ so very much for granted – talking about the self ‘ceasing to exist’ is just plain baffling. What we are talking about is nothing if not straightforward however, once we are able to see it: just as an actor steps into role, and takes upon himself or herself the requirements of that role, so too could our everyday sense of identity be said to be a role that we voluntarily step into. The only difference is that we are so very used to operating on the basis of our everyday identity or ‘sense of self’ that we think that it is who we actually are. James Carse refers to this habitual illusion as ‘self-veiling’ – we voluntarily take up the role, but then immediately veil from ourselves the freedom that we inherently have to either step into it, or step out of it. This comes down to taking the role seriously rather than playfully – actually there is freedom in it, but when we veil this freedom from ourselves then the whole thing becomes very serious. It could be said that when we are aware that the everyday sense of self is not ‘who we are’ then we are conscious, and when we are not aware of this then we are unconscious. So being psychologically unconscious doesn’t mean we are literally ‘asleep,’ it just means that we are only aware of life from the very limited (in fact ‘closed’) viewpoint of what the Buddhists call ‘the conditioned self.’ We only know life from this vantage point – and life as seen from this closed ‘vantage’ point is nothing at all like life when it is seen in an open (or unconditioned) way. Life when seen by the conditioned mind always confirms our underlying assumptions – it has to, it is given no choice in the matter – but life when seen in an ‘open’ way always surprises us.
The conditioned self can be related to what we were calling ‘the system of thought,’ which is a closed perspective, a static way of understanding ourselves and the world that is based on a number of fixed rules or criteria. The system of thought is better known as ‘the rational mind’ and the rational mind is really just a tool or instrument that we utilize in order to look at the world in a particular (i.e. ‘conditioned’) way. The only thing is that when we utilize this tool we forget that we are utilizing it – we assume that the world we see through its mediation is ‘the world as it actually is in itself’, rather than ‘the world as it appears when viewed through the conditioned mind’. In other words – we freely choose to look at the world (and thus interact with the world) in a particular narrow way, and then we immediately proceed to forget that we made the choice, that this way is just ‘one of many different possible ways’. We take it to be ‘the one and only way’ and so we lose the freedom of perception that we originally had. This is like wearing glasses that make the world look a particular way, and then forgetting that we have the glasses on – because we have actually forgotten that we have the glasses on, it never occurs to us to take them off!
The ‘everyday self,’ the habitual conditioned sense of identity that we take so very much for granted, is therefore the ‘basis for our doing’ that we have been talking about all along in this discussion. Because it is ‘the basis,’ because we ‘take it for granted’, it is of course thoroughly invisible to us, and so we are never going to realize that it is the root cause of all our problems. If I am in pain, then I naturally think that it is the pain that is the problem and I do my level best to either escape the pain or fix it. But no matter how I run I won’t escape the true cause of the pain, which is the self that is trying to fix or escape the pain. Likewise, if I am depressed I see the depression as the problem and I try to overcome that problem, I try to be one-up on it, I try to be ‘victorious’ over it. But when I put all my efforts into being victorious over my depression then that means that I am in the process holding onto myself – the self which is the root cause of the depression – very tightly indeed, and so my attempts to free myself from the depression are totally self-contradictory. The more I try to free myself the more trapped I become because the basis for my efforts is the actual cause of the problem in the first place!
As long as I am determined to hold onto my habitual sense of myself by ‘managing my unhappiness’ then I am never going to go anywhere, I am just going to go around in self-deluding circles as usual. Sometimes I will think that I am getting somewhere, but then sooner or later my hopes will be crushed and I will find that I have returned to ‘square one’ yet again. ‘Square one’ is my starting-off position, and it is also my final position because the conditioned self can never go beyond itself (any more than wanting can take us beyond wanting, desire can ever take us beyond desire, or thinking can take us beyond thinking). This is obviously the case since if everything I do is done on the basis of the assumed or taken-for-granted role of ‘who I think I am’ then clearly I am never ever going to go beyond this role and this assumption.
Wherever I go, and whatever I do, it is always going to be on this basis, and so my possibilities are restricted to what is possible ‘on this basis’. I may dream of sitting in an armchair or I may dream of climbing a mountain, I may dream of walking the streets without a penny in my pockets or I may dream of living in a palace, I may dream of being chased by a killer or I may dream of kissing a beautiful stranger – it is all limited because it is all just a dream. Even if I dream of waking up that is still just a dream!
Until I start getting genuinely curious about what is going on -which means being ‘unattached,’ i.e. willing to let go of my habitual assumptions about reality – then there is absolutely no way that I am ever going to get anywhere for real (as opposed to ‘getting somewhere in a dream’). The truth of the matter is however that inasmuch as we are living in thrall to our attachments (to our ‘unexamined assumptions’) we are actually profoundly unwilling to change in any meaningful way. We are actually deeply afraid to find out that we are not who we think we are. This is of course why we prefer to endlessly ‘manage’ our unhappiness rather than get right to the root of it and free ourselves once and for all from our chronic ‘addiction to misery’.
In order to be truly free from the ongoing neurotic misery all we need to do is take a step backward, out of our conditioned identity, out of our socially-constructed ‘self-image,’ out of ‘our habitual idea of ourselves’. Then we can get somewhere. But society isn’t set up us to allow us to step out of our theatrical roles, out of our conditioned identities. That simply isn’t the point of it. The point of society is maintain the status quo, and it does this by prohibiting any different ways of thinking, any different ways of looking at life. It only allows one way – its way. Society is a game and the first rule of the game is that we aren’t allowed to know that it is a game. That is the only way a game can work, after all – when we take it seriously. But when we take the game (and our conditioned identities within this game) seriously we automatically cut ourselves off from who we really are, from our own truth, and as a result we become pointlessly restricted, limited, hemmed in, trapped, caught up in nonsense, and so on, and all of this spells suffering.
But as we have said, all that is needed to break the malign spell of unconsciousness is for us to leave to one side our habitual obsessions, our sterile preoccupations – our ‘games’, to put it simply. All that is needed for us to break the spell is for us open our minds and hearts and take a genuine interest in ourselves and the world. As soon as we do this an absolutely huge shift takes place – the most tremendously radical shift possible – the shift from the restrictive repetitive delusion of conditioned existence into reality.
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.