When we feel that the way we are is not OK then this shows that we have moved into the realm of the rational mind. The rational mind separates everything into OK and NOT OK, RIGHT and WRONG, ACCEPTABLE and UNACCEPTABLE, and so on. It is the rational mind’s job to separate everything into categories like this and it does its job very well. So when we are operating on the basis of the rational mind everything has a label (or an ‘evaluation’) slapped on it.
Once we have an evaluation (such as OK or NOT OK) then that is the end of the matter – this tells us everything we need to know about the situation which means we don’t need to go into it any further. That is how evaluations work – an evaluation is authoritative and therefore final, it is just like banging a door shut, or closing the lid on a box.
Just as long as we are carrying out a task for which the rational mind is suited this is just fine but precisely because the thinking mind works so well at doing what it is suited to do there is a huge tendency to jump to the conclusion that separating (or sorting) everything into categories of RIGHT and WRONG, OK and NOT OK is going to be the helpful thing to do under all circumstances.
This however is far from being the case. One area where the rational approach is of no help at all is the area of our own feelings, our own inner state of being. When our inner state is not painful we tend of course to pay no attention to it and concentrate instead upon whatever tasks are at hand, or upon whatever it is that is going on around us. When however our inner state is distressing or painful then we become aware of it and – because we are so used to using our thinking mind to solve problems and fix things for us – we try to use it to fix the ‘problem’ of our distress and pain.
The first thing the rational or thinking mind does is as we have said to evaluate the situation and so – naturally enough – it evaluates the pain we are experiencing as not being OK. The message it gives us is “This is not OK” (or “I am not OK.)” Having made this evaluation the mind then moves on to the next phase of the process, it moves on to the task of ‘coming up with some sort of a method or procedure for rectifying the situation so that things go back to being OK again’. This of course sounds very sensible and practical but it isn’t at all and we can explain why it isn’t quite easily.
The reason the evaluating and fixing approach of the rational mind is not helpful when dealing with our own inner state is very simple – the pain or distress or unhappiness we are experiencing isn’t merely some sort of a problem to be fixed, but rather it is the way that we actually are.
This tends to take a little while to sink in. Let us suppose for example that I am sad. This sadness is not something that is separate from me; it is not something outside of me, (i.e. something not really belonging to me that I can conveniently ‘get rid of’) – it is how I am. The sadness is my inner state. So the sadness is me and I can no more ‘get rid of it’ than I can get rid of myself!
That’s how I am – I am sad, and at this point in time there is no other me, there is no ‘me that is not sad’. Understanding it like this makes it very clear that there can be no question of ‘fixing’ the sadness because fixing the sadness means being someone who I am not. As any half-way decent psychotherapist would tell me, ‘fixing the sadness’ means running away from myself. The idea that I can ‘run away from my own sadness’ is pure fantasy – albeit the type of fantasy that I am understandably very keen to buy into.
Another example we could use to get the idea across is the example of anger. If I am angry then my inner state is – pretty obviously – one of anger. Again, I can’t run away from this anger because that would mean running away from myself. I might talk in terms of ‘having an anger problem’ but this is misleading – as Krishnamurti says, I don’t ‘have’ the anger, I am the anger.
The idea that I can be separate from my anger – and therefore that I can ‘do something about it’ – is total delusion. And yet because the inner state of anger is so painful the one thing that I want to do when I am angry is put all this pain on someone (or something) else. The anger is mine, it doesn’t belong anywhere else, and yet what I am constantly doing when I am angry is trying to make out that this painful inner state is someone else’s responsibility. In other words, what I am constantly trying to do is push the pain of my anger onto someone else; I am trying to say that the pain of the anger doesn’t belong with me, but with someone else. But the truth is of course that this anger not only ‘belongs’ to me, it is me. It is my inner state.
What this means is that I can never get rid of my anger by getting angry with someone else (no matter how much energy and determination I put into it), and neither can I get rid of my anger by treating it as a technical problem that I can somehow stand outside of and ‘fix’. If I could ‘stand outside of my anger’ then I wouldn’t be angry, and so I wouldn’t need to fix it! But if on the other hand I really am angry then no matter where I go the anger will go too and so any idea of ‘getting away from it’ is going to be – as we have said – a wish-fulfilment fantasy that I am buying into because the reality of my situation is simply too painful for me.
The final example we will look at is anxiety. If my inner state is one of anxiety then no matter what I do I will do it in an anxious way. (Or – alternatively – we could say that if I am anxious then whatever I think about I will think about in an anxious way.) This is of course why anxiety is such a trap. The way we tend to think of anxiety is as something that can be fixed – in fact there is a whole industry based on the fantasy-idea of ‘fixing anxiety’, and so-called experts are full of advice regarding what we can ‘do’ to free ourselves from anxiety. This would be fine if anxiety was (for example) due to some kind of bacterial or viral infection that we could treat but anxiety isn’t the result of an external agent, an external cause. Anxiety is a state of being just like sadness and anger. This being the case, anything I do from the basis of anxiety will be done in anxious way – if I do something to relax myself I will do this in an anxious way, and if I try to think of some way of solving the problem of anxiety I will be thinking about this problem in an anxious way.
If I could do something in a ‘non-anxious way’ then this would of course be helpful (and if I could think about my situation in a non-anxious way then this would be helpful too) but the point is that if I could do or think stuff in a non-anxious way then I wouldn’t be anxious and so I wouldn’t be needing to fix the anxiety in the first place. And – on the other hand – if I really am anxious then no matter what I do I will inevitably be doing it anxiously, so could this possibly be any help me? How can doing something anxiously help me to become free from anxiety?
Anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety will understand this principle intuitively, even if they are not able to articulate it. If I am anxious then any purposeful activity I engage in will be done anxiously, just as when I am angry anything I do will be done angrily. Whoever heard of a person who is anxious doing something in a calm way, or a person who is angry doing something in a non-angry way? Or even more obviously -whoever heard of someone who is sad doing something (or thinking of something) in a happy way?
When I am in a particular inner state everything then all my deliberate actions are going to be consistent with this inner state, and so there is no way that that ‘doing’ anything can ever free me from it. That would be like thinking that if I run away from my fear determinedly enough (and put enough energy and cleverness into it) I will be able to outrun it, and become free from the fear as a result of running from it very skilfully. Or it would be like a person who has the unfortunate habit of complaining all the time thinking that if they complained loudly enough and persistently enough they would eventually become free from the painful inner state that is associated with the habit of complaining.
Taking all this on board tends to make us feel pretty hopeless, since if there is one thing that comes out of this discussion it is the undeniable psychological fact that we cannot deliberately change (or ‘fix’) our inner state. So where do we go from here? What is the answer? Are we just supposed to ‘put up with it’? Are we just supposed to suffer forever?
This isn’t at all what we are saying however. All inner states – without exception – are temporary, and will pass once they have been ‘experienced’ thoroughly enough, so to speak. ‘Experiencing’ our own inner state is not something we are very used to doing though, and this is where the problem lies. It is only possible to directly experience (or ‘connect with’) our own inner state when we stop trying to relate to it via the procedures of the rational mind. We can only connect with our inner state when we stop trying to analyze and manipulate it.
This in itself a very strange idea for us since we relate to everything via the rational mind – we simply don’t know any other way of ‘relating’ to the world, any other way of doing things. The rational mind is like a pair of glasses that I have been wearing so long that I don’t even notice them being there any more – this being the case, the idea of taking them off just isn’t going to occur to me.
Relating to the world without the rational-evaluative mind isn’t really anything strange or complicated however – it just means having no ‘middle-man’ between us and whatever is going on. So for example if I am drinking a glass of orange juice I simply drink it and enjoy the flavour as I do so, quite naturally, without ‘passing comment’, or analyzing, or categorizing, or projecting ahead into the future, or thinking about how I could improve the experience, or doing any of these things that the rational mind loves to do.
The only thing that matters is the actual taste of the orange juice – not the non-stop commentary of the thinking mind. And the taste is simply what it is – there is no way that thinking about it can add anything to it. This is like the quote in Matthew 6:27, where Jesus asks “Which of you by taking thought can add a single cubit unto his stature?” Thinking (or evaluating) doesn’t really change anything at all, it is perfectly superfluous, and yet at the same time we never stop thinking and evaluating, thinking and evaluating, as if this is what is going to save us.
The key to ‘by-passing’ the superfluous activity of the rational mind is therefore to not take its comments, its evaluations, seriously. They will still be there, but that does not mean that weight has to be attached to them. This is like listening to someone who you know is talking nonsense – you don’t have to shut them up (although it might be nice to do so), you just don’t take what they are saying seriously. This takes a bit of practice because we keep getting caught out – after all, the one thing which we automatically take seriously is when the thinking mind tells us that the way we are is NOT OK, and so it this comment (or evaluation) that we really have to work with.
The usual chain of events starts with the rational mind evaluating our inner state as being NOT OK, and then directing our attention onto coping or fixing strategies, and once this habitual process has started up then we have no choice but to struggle against the way that we feel, or, failing this (if we have run out of energy to struggle) then to feel thoroughly rotten or hopeless or guilty about our situation.
In short, when we evaluate our situation as being NOT OK then a whole sequence of mechanical activity kicks into play – a sequence which far from helping us, actually makes us feel a hell of a lot worse. The reason for this is that we are operating from the basis of the rational mind, operating within the realm of the rational mind. We are permanently trapped in the claustrophobic bubble of analyzing and labelling and projecting. We are trapped in our own futile resistance.
It is understandable that we do this, since the rational mind is pretty much all we know, as we have said. But the rational mind is not everything – beyond the claustrophobic bubble of rationality is the wide-open space of unconditioned awareness, which is awareness without any associated intellectual (or analytical, or projective) activity. As soon as we learn to not take the comments of the thinking mind seriously – which can be done with patient practice – then we find that we have moved out of the realm of the rational mind (with its OK versus NOT OK, its RIGHT versus WRONG) into the unpressurized world of pure unconditioned awareness.
Unconditioned awareness is just awareness, with no thinking – which is to say, with no automatic attempt to say something about whatever it is we are being aware of. We let things be as they are, without either trying to add something or take something away. Another way of putting this is therefore to say that unconditioned awareness is simply inner stillness or peace. We cannot force ourselves to be still (or peaceful) because forcing is the very antithesis of stillness, but because stillness is a quality that is essentially inseparable from the actual nature of our awareness we can always learn to become aware of it. This stillness is like a muscle in that the more we ‘exercise’ it, the stronger it becomes. The more we learn to trust it the more influential it becomes in our lives – like a source of strength that was there the whole time, but which has somehow always been neglected or ignored, in favour of our usual frantic (and ultimately pointless) thinking.
Whilst in the realm of the rational mind everything is either OK or NOT OK, in the realm of unconditioned awareness, everything is OK. Even when we are NOT OK (which is to say, even when the rational mind tells us that we are NOT OK) we can see that this too is OK. We can see for ourselves that it is ‘OK to be not OK’ and it is through this observation, through this uncomplicated understanding (or awareness) that inner stillness comes about. After all, if it is OK to be NOT OK, then this means that NOT OK is actually OK after all…
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.