Thursday 4 July 2019

Why don't we let ourselves be happy? (There is a good reason - William Arkle)

We like to be loved and admired but we also like to love and admire other people.

When we love and admire other people, we are able to believe in the joy and merit of their nature. When we are loved and admired we are able to believe in the joy and merit of our Self.

When we receive and give love and admiration we are in either case gaining something wholly delightful and desirable. But we do not take the trouble to look more closely at this situation, for the situation seems to be an end in itself.

If it is examined, however, the sensation in question reveals that it is not so much the giving and receiving of love which matters but that the love and admiration helps to liberate an aspect of our nature which is joy and is happiness and is a sort of virtuous affectionate delight.

The trouble with life as we ordinarily experience it is that this part of our nature is always being suppressed and not liberated. Not only do other people continually restrict it but we find that we are restricting it ourselves.

The problem however is not as simple as it looks. The difficulty is not simply liberating our Selves but the fact that in trying to do this we liberate our not-Selves. When we liberate a not-Self we are not freeing outselves for an experience of great affection or delight but rather for an experience of misery, frustration and disappointment. The pain of this makes us think twice about any further attempts at liberation.

We are inclined to leave liberation alone for we are not sure if we are going to liberate a God or a Devil.

From the Preface to A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974)

These are the very first words by which Arkle addresses us in his magnum opus; and characteristically they are densely meaningful.

He notes that a world in which people express love and admiration for each other would be a much happier, more delight-full, world - and one in which we would all have greater self-belief and confidence. We all know this, and feel sorry that this situation of emotional benefit does not occur.

But there is more to it. We vaguely suppose that positive emotions such as love, admiration, joy, happiness, delight... are justified simply because they are pleasant to experience - and more pleasant than the alternatives.

That is, we look no deeper than psychology, and the set-up of the human body; which makes us enjoy some feelings and suffer-from others (such as pain, guilt, fear etc). We feel that feeling good is self-justifying, and therefore needs no further examination or justification.

Yet, it does not happen. We do not, as a matter of common observation, do those things that would make everybody feel happier. Partly this is because other people don't treat us with love and respect; but also because we don't treat ourselves that way.

We make our-selves feel bad - and this is a very rooted and resistant habit or practice. We might want to stop feeling bad about ourselves, but - when tried - actually proves to be almost impossible!

If feelings were the bottom-line this would be incomprehensible - and our strong resistance to stopping inflicting bad feelings upon our-selves (as well as others) would also be incomprehensible.

Arkle is saying that the feelings are not the bottom line. He says that the feelings are a means to the end of 'liberating', of bringing-forward, an aspect of our nature that is joy/ happiness/ virtuous affectionate delight.

In other words, Arkle is saying that - properly considered - the feelings ought-to-be transformative of our nature; and that this transformation (this development or 'evolution' of the person) is the real purpose of the feelings (if this is allowed to happen).  

There is, however, a problem - and it was a problem that became very evident in The West during the late 1960s while this book was being developed. The problem is that by 'relaxing our guard' ('letting it all hang out') and adopting a general attitude of liberating the feelings; the actual result was often, perhaps usually, malign rather than beneficial.

What came-out from this process was not so much 'peace and love'; but aggression, lust, greed, envy and the like. And instead of being happy and relaxed; the individuals became miserable, frustrated and (perpetually) disappointed. Instead of beats, hippies and drop-outs evolving towards godlike goodness and generosity; they devolved into sin and demonic selfishness - junkies, murderers and rapists, and Hell's Angels. 

Elsewhere in the book; Arkle explains this in terms of the deep, real or true Self - which has a divine origin; versus the surface-level not-selves - or 'personality' - that are inculcated by society, derive from selfishness, or are merely mechanical devices ('algorithms', or 'robots') for performing some repetitive function.

Trying to liberate the real Self by merely removing the filters and barriers to expression; the individual merely gives greater power and scope to the the conflicting group of false selves.

Instead of the individual becoming transformed towards the divine and more attuned to God's purposes; the individual merely grasps-after pleasurable emotions, finds these emotions fade with repetition; and then goes into a spiral of seeking novelties and increasing the dose of hedonic activity.

Instead of actively participating in creation, the individual hope passively to be Made Happy by strong (and ever-stronger) stimuli; when his psychology is fighting against this.

In sum, happiness cannot be an end, but only a means to an end.

If we seek no more than happy feelings here-and-now, then we will Not get even them - because that is to treat ourselves as merely animals. And at our animal (non-divine) level of merely psychology, we are set-up such that a state of permanent happiness is impossible, and indeed rapidly lethal.

Arkle is setting the scene for his book to tell us how to understand our own 'geography of consciousness', that is the structure of our minds and thinking; so that we can navigate towards what we most deeply want: which is to liberate and nourish specifically our real and divine self, in pursuit of becoming more divine.

And that state of being more divine is the true basis of everlasting joy and delight.


Philip Keefe said...

Dear Bruce,

I first visited your site some time ago when you commented on the lack of traditional formal poetry being written today.Since then I visit every so often and catch up on your postings. I have to say a lot of it is over my head but as, in my old age, I search for something spiritual to hold on to I find the topics that you cover very interesting.
So back to the poetry, I write and my 'voice' seems to be what you might call classical and formalist. I submit to you a sonnet with perhaps a little bearing on today's post. Don't think you have to put it on your site necessarily but I would love it if you would read it and send me a comment thank you Philip Keefe

Achievement surpasses happiness

So fleet of foot is happiness in life
If we compare it to that laggard – care,
With worry, sadly, is existence rife,
Thus peace of mind and true contentment rare.
Yet there are moments when our dark clouds part
And rays of warming sunlight briefly show
Though beams as these may thaw the coldest heart
The joy they bring proves just a passing glow.
But man is not a beast with simple needs,
Or satisfied with comfort, food and drink.
The human mind on each new challenge feeds
And rapture seldom helped his brain to think.
Euphoria ne’er Seven Wonders made,
And how their glories much less quickly fade.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Philip - My problem with poetry over the past forty years is not so much that it is not traditional, but that it is not poetry - but something else altogether.

I would say your sonnet IS poetry, or has poetry in it - and, except for the final couplet - which does't work, satisfying.

Philip Keefe said...

Dear Bruce,

I do appreciate your response so thank you. I agree that nearly all modern poetry is not poetry at all and unfortunately even classic poetry is mostly ignored these days. I try to write things with a nugget of truth or wisdom in them. It's an interesting challenge. Philip

Jared said...

Thank you for this post on Arkle's thought, Dr. Charlton.
My perception is that there are ideas introduced to human life that lead to what I would call salvation. I'm thinking not only of true religious ideas but of things that we experience every day like good health practices and when people are motivated to make a good product for their customers, which is part of economics.
How this relates to the post is that there are definitely things which take away from the experience of joy and happiness and enjoying the good characteristics of others and being appreciated for one's own characteristics. These things which take away have been termed by Christians as 'the world' and among LDS as 'the great and spacious building' (from Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 8).
When you are taking on a principle to guide your actions you are taking on an understanding of the world. This could be true knowledge or false knowledge. One of the things that Arkle's words in this post made me realize is that we yearn to express obedience to law, because obedience brings knowledge, and knowledge brings power, and with power we can be more free.
I don't think it is a fruitless endeavor to think about how our mind's potential can be unlocked, because there are things we can only achieve on our own through our own experience and agency.
That being said, we all hold back from seeking instruction in some areas because our agency is so important and we mistrust letting it be influenced by other's ideas, because we have all experienced the hurt of trying something that just leads to misery like Arkle said.
Christ said 'strait is the gate, and narrow is the way' that leadeth unto life, and when we see good ideas for what they are and follow them for the reason that we want to follow them, we are free. When we are too preoccupied with something else that isn't a good idea that we don't enjoy the benefits of a good idea, we are in bondage to what we are preoccupied with.
This is why I think that perhaps devils or evil spirits or whatever are in a phase of their existence where they have allowed one aspect, or certain false knowledge or preoccupations, to dominate, so like for example the man who was possessed with evil spirits and did crazy violent actions and then the Lord sent the spirits into a herd of swine and they all went crazy and ran into the sea and drowned. People who know a lot more than me have warned though that the devil is very old and so he knows a lot, so I'm definitely not advocating to underestimate those devils as beings who are determined to harm us. That being said, Joseph Smith said all beings having a body have power over those who do not.
To sum up, 'a man is saved only as fast as he gets knowledge' (paraphrased from the Doctrine and Covenants) and 'a man cannot be saved in ignorance'. God introduces truth into the world, and the truth shines, and light cleaveth unto light, and intelligence to intelligence. (from the D&C) But He gives here a little and there a little, and line upon line and precept on precept (from Isaiah). I'm not sure why He does this, but I have my guesses.
Joseph Smith said that the devil could not use compulsory means, and God would not. God wants us to take steps that we can take for ourselves. Which is why I think this blog is good, because it helps us think about the truth that God has revealed.
When Joseph Smith translated scripture, Oliver Cowdery wanted to as well (he was the scribe). But he began as thinking it would just come to him without any thought, and finally because of that he couldn't do it.
I think the same as Arkle on this post's subject, I think. I think we all will learn a lot more when we lay down our weapons of rebellion against God, whether they be inspired by evil spirits or are just our own weakness and imperfection.