Friday, 3 May 2019

States & Methods will not suffice: How Purpose is missing from spiritual/ self-help writing

I have read a lot of books about 'consciousness', and of a broadly 'self-help' kind (I mean, non-fiction books that broadly intend to help the reader improve life) - and I have noticed that they tend to focus on:

1. States of mind
2. Methods and Techniques

So, they critique mainstream/ normal states of mind; describe the aimed-at/ desirable state of mind - and then they focus on the methods or techniques by which the reader might move from the mainstream to the desired state of mind.

Of course, 'States & Methods' is a greatly reductionist way of analysing a multitude of books; but it fits almost all of these books that do Not have an explicitly religious perspective, and especially those that (explicitly or simply by implication, by how they proceed) reject the religious viewpoint. States & Methods even fits those books that only specifically reject Christianity; because in our society the anything-but-Christianity type of spirituality is - in practice - indistinguishable from mainstream Leftist materialism.

My point is that most such books have no explicit reference to the purpose of life beyond being-in some desirable state of mind. The problem is that a 'state of mind' isn't the kind of thing that can actually be a purpose of life.

Because states of mind are temporary, cannot be held-onto, they will change, and will sooner or later be terminated - ultimately by by disease or death. Many have tried, all have failed to live well in the way implicitly required by the State & Methods structure.

The idea that we decide how we want to 'be', that we should aim at this state of being and hold-onto it... it's a bizarre and implausible way of looking at things! Yet it has become almost the only way of looking at things that Godless modern man can imagine!

As an alternative to States & methods, we could regard life as having a purpose; and regard both states of mind and methods/ techniques as means towards that purpose: means to an end.

So we are not ruled by specific methods or techniques, nor do we find ourselves trying to attain and hold some particular state of mind. Instead we aim to live in creative awareness or where we are going; and regard each day, each hour - each state of mind - as more or less valuable experiences and challenges on this path.

Knowing where we are aimed-at; we seek creative ways of dealing with the states of mind and other situations that life deals us. 

The main thing in life is Purpose; and everything else is relative to that.

And it seems that in modern life, we must have a conscious and explicit purpose that we have personally chosen - or else we will have no purpose at all...


Francis Berger said...

I feel the same regarding self-help books and spiritual philosophies focusing on states of mind rather than purpose. I find the notion of "mindfulness" particularly irritating.

I understand it originally stems from the Buddhist/Zen tradition and has beneficial aspects (working on the consciousness), but drifting around being mindful of the present without any clear concept of overall purpose does seem inadequate.

Francis Berger said...

I feel the same regarding self-help books and spiritual philosophies focusing on states of mind rather than purpose. I find the notion of "mindfulness" particularly irritating.

I understand it originally stems from the Buddhist/Zen tradition and has beneficial aspects (working on the consciousness), but drifting around being mindful of the present without any clear concept of overall purpose does seem inadequate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis. Agreed. In fact, mindfulness *without* a sense of purpose beyond death is often a recipe for nihilism and despair; which is presumably exactly-why mindfulness is being so widely advocated in the mass media and major bureaucracies...

Michael Dyer said...

Oddly enough I tried “mindfulness” meditation a while back and found it’s effects extremely unpleasant. Instead of relaxing and de stressing, it produced more stress and a weird sort of dulling quality to my mind. Turns out I wasn’t alone and many people have experienced the same. It produced a feeling I’m having difficulty describing, like drunkenness without elation. I am now deeply suspicious of it as a method and should have been suspicious of anything of this nature that is being pushed so hard.

It also turns out that just reading something engrossing produces relaxation and has significant destressing effects without dulling the mind. Turns out focusing the mind on an object outside yourself has actual medical benefits. Just six minutes of concentrated reading can start producing theses effects. I also find it telling that constant distraction and searching has become a dominant use of people’s time.

John J. Fitzgerald said...

`Purpose', like `civics' is something that is deemed unnecessary in a globalism-based society as such things are anointed by the State. You are to be `tested' into your `purpose'. The State is the `God' in this communistic ideology.

A quick way to measure the human need for certain attributes is to see how much they are kept out of human consciousness by the Globalists and their various tools of distribution: media,edukation, and now even certain churches, etc. The more they are hidden, the greater the need.

David said...

Nail on head with this one Bruce! And one of the major reasons I felt compelled to leave the professional CBT business despite my initial intellectual attraction to such things. My experience was overwhelmingly that whatever was helpful about the process of talking with people about their problems came from an honest and empathic approach focused on examining the personal meaning and value of their experiences that were uniquely idiosyncratic to them. All too often my observation of the process of psychotherapy, as happens in increasingly standardised and heavily bureaucratic ways, every day all over the western world; is mostly about the process of making people feel better about themselves in a specifically 'non-judgemental' way so that morality is irrelevant and left outside the room unless explicitly predicated on leftist , material and non-religious assumptions. It felt like a kind of analgesia for the mind to tell yourself whatever you want to believe to achieve a desired '(state) of mind.' Overlayed on top of this was (is) a rigid and implacable insistence on measuring everything and delivering constrainingly structured 'interventions' (methods) down to the level of each question to be asked, when to display empathy ("empathy dots" actually marked as cues in my CBT train ing manual) and how many points on standardised questionnaires a patient would need to move before becoming "below treatment threshold." It felt truely aweful to subject patients to this kind of stuff and to subject myself to it. The sense of claustrophobia was horrific. I think your term Ahrimanic evil for this kind of thing feels exactly right. I could feel him breathing down my neck every day and in the end I felt I had to leave for the sake of my conscience! I am sure a lot of good, valuable therapy sessions go on and I do respect individual therapists that I worked with but I am quite certain that what they bring of value to the encounters they have with patients, comes from the heart and good motivation, and not from CBT or self-help manuals.

The only therapy model that I really found came close to what is needed is the Logotherapy of Viktor Frankel and its focus on *meaning* and very spiritual approach. Perhaps unsurprisingly I found very few mental health professionals and certainly not the managerial Pharisees cared about this kind of approach despite its pptential merits. Because, if you cant measure it with a ain't real...and worse, from a totalitarian system perspective, you can't control it and automate it! Which is totally unacceptable!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - Glad to hear it confirmed by personal experience. I had a similar experience with Zen - the further I got, the more hopeless I felt.

@John - We do indeed need to develop this mind set - of noticing what is been carefully excluded. It can be a valuable way of understanding the hidden agenda.

@David - It sounds truly dreadful. A less coercive version of the perverted therapies of That Hideous Strength.

Adil said...

@ Bruce

Either we are Beings aiming for Heaven or machines to be fixed and "optimized" here and now. Self-help seems to assume the latter. Humans are empty, predetermined machinery that should be programed with the right "code" - through prescriptive "how to"-manuals.

If it's self-help, then it isn't Help.

@ David

Indeed therapy seems impossible under current conditions. It seems the system does everything to not have to deal with real persons. Yet therapy requires real persons seeing and hearing eachother. As for now, public therapists don't even see the patient before them. They see an object to be treated through an objective manual.
Spiritual help or healing is not provided. Even priests point to the 'manual'(bible) instead of dealing with the person. Secular society shuts the spirit out from both private and public life. It inverts morality - making us publicly 'anonymous' and privately exposed/monitored.

I think this is why psychology shut the door toward Carl Jung - it simply couldn't deal with him. The System simply cannot afford to deal with Persons.

Bruce Charlton said...

"machines to be fixed and "optimized" here and now" - well said.

Robert Brockman said...

I strongly recommend only engaging in meditation training under the direct supervision of a spiritual Master with an authentic lineage. Meditation can lead to many traps: wrong intention (seeking mental / physical power rather than spiritual enlightenment) is one, but there are many ways that one can become deluded by accident. True Masters know about these traps and can guide people away from them.

These days, of course, it is difficult to find a Master free of all manner of New Age or other "progressive" nonsense. The best I've found so far are the C'han / Zen monks of the Chung Tai monastery in Taiwan -- their mission is to teach meditation with the ultimate aim of spiritually enlightening all sentient beings. They now have Zen halls in both Europe and America. Importantly, these monks have made no compromises with progressive values involving sexuality and are highly aware of the spiritual dangers of the mass media, smartphones, etc.

In the Western tradition, I have identified one Greek Orthodox Christian Hieromonk, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, who seems to be similarly gifted -- this raises the possibility that there are other Orthodox Christian monks with unbroken lineage who can help with proper meditation training.

-- Robert Brockman

Bruce Charlton said...

@RB - But if Zen is indeed aiming at the wrong destination, then it irrelevant how adept is the Master.

John J. Fitzgerald said...

I gave up meditation and went back to the rosary of my childhood. Never imagined I would do that. The effects for me have been profound.

Michael Dyer said...

@David, I’m glad you mentioned Frankl. In some of his later works he gets shockingly bare knuckle in places that he doesn’t just believe in God, but also believes in judgement. By modern standards that is a Herculean accomplishment but we forget that it is the common wisdom of nearly all mankind since time immemorial. His definition of meaning is also way more hard edged than the “create your own meaning” idea. He explicitly states that you can’t. That’s why he says he doesn’t give people meaning, and they can’t give it to themselves, it is something outside of them.

I also found his suggestions to be simple and practical and have some of the advantages of stoicism, but without the, I believe, deadening drawbacks.

Michael Dyer said...

@David, addendum I also find it telling that the field of psychology aggressively attacked Frankl as an authoritarian. The concentration camp victim was basically called a Nazi, so I’m thinking he was threatening to the right people,

David said...

@Michael - Thanks for the reply, it is good to read your comments about Frankl. I suspect you are correct that the inclusion of the spiritual perspective is the intolerable aspect of both Frankl and Jungs work, that has led to the exclusion of their approaches to psychotherapy and instead
the trajectory in psychotherapy has seen a doubling-down on a soulless empirical Beckian CBT. On reflection, one can also see that Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, only became acceptable as the fathers of the Humanistic Psychology movement, once they renounced an overtly Christian perspective (interestingly observable in their life biographies), and the spiritual aspects of this school of psychology (I would say also the bits that resonate as most truthful and valuable) were watered down and secularised sufficiently to become mainstream for the zeitgeist of the 1960s. But of course, almost 60 years later things have become far worse and humanistic psychology is viewed by the mainstream as inadequately rigorous and unempirical, too hippy/fluffy, and has been replaced by totalitarian and surgically reductive CBT manuals.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to ask for your thoughts on Julian Jaynes book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I recently started to read it. I'm not sure he said this however... we can read the old testament as bicameral and the new testament as conscious. Thanks, Mark

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mark - I don't think it's of any value, really - one of those half-right books that might have helped at one time, but not any more.