The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.
The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.
But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :
1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.
2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.
Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.
This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.
Divide and conquer - that is a key philosophy in military campaigns. And the same applies to the individual. An individual at war with themselves is easily dominated or controlled by others. If we want to become a free individual the way to do so is through individuation, allowing the divided parts of our nature to integrate into a unified whole.
We may feel that there is within us a battle between the desire to do things we feel are right and the desire to do things we feel are wrong. The battle of good and evil.
But what are good and evil?
Good is that which contributes to the health of the individual or the society or wider ecological system of which they are a part.
So what do we mean by evil? We could say that evil is anything which adversely effects the health of the individual or the system. But the term “evil” is a very strong one. Selfishness has a negative impact on the health of the system by interfering with the free flow of material, information or energy. But we wouldn’t consider minor acts of selfishness, like eating more than our share of a piece of cake, to be evil. Evil is a term we use to describe those acts which cause significant suffering or otherwise do major harm. The essence of evil is the imposition of the will. If we take something from somebody against their will - their life, their property, their dignity, their humanity - this is clearly evil. But also it is an act of evil to try to control another’s behaviour through fear or guilt or other forms of deliberate manipulation. The fact that such behaviour has a dire impact on the health of the individual and the social system can be demonstrated when we consider that the worst forms of socially-sanctioned cruelty we know of - the Holocaust, the witch burnings, the Spanish Inquisition, the stoning to death of women by the Taliban - have been the work of societies in which the repression and control of the individual through fear and/or guilt were the norm.
Of course there is such a thing as necessary evil. We have to impose our will on those who behave destructively towards others, etc. But it must be recognised that this does not solve the problem of evil. At best it contains it. But, more often than not, even this is an illusion and the act of using our will to contain evil sows the seeds of more evil behaviour. Only the healing of individuals and of society can actually decrease the incidence of evil.
But what we need to understand, if we are to understand ourselves, is our own impulses to engage in destructive or dominating behaviour towards others.
If we have such impulses they originate in a lack of acceptance of some aspect of ourselves. Hostility towards others or the need to control others is projected self-contempt.
It is commonly acknowledged that the hostility of some heterosexual men towards gay men is due to a lack of acceptance of their own denied homosexual impulses. The same applies to all forms of hostility. Those who wish to hunt animals for sport, or otherwise mistreat them, don't want to accept that they are animals themselves and thus physically vulnerable in the same ways. Those who wish to harm children feel threatened by their disowned inner child. Men who wish to harm women are threatened by their disowned feminine side.
Anyone who is fully accepting of themselves feels no hostility toward others. They may be troubled by the hostility of others and oppose it, but they will not experience feelings of hostility themselves. If a wild animal attacks us, we may be distressed and do what we can to protect ourselves, even to the extent of killing the animal, but, if we are sensible, we feel no hostility towards that animal, recognising that it is behaving according to its nature. Our feelings about the hostility of other humans would be the same if we did not have in ourselves something of what they express in their hostile behaviour. Those who scream for the death penalty after a vicious crime, if not loved ones of the victim, are those who know that they have within them the same kind of rage as the criminal and feel the need for a harsh penalty for such crimes in order to feel secure in their ability to control themselves.
From this we can see that evil behaviour originates in our neurosis (our divided state) and is not an expression of our primary nature.
We also need to look at the phenomenon of selfishness. Historically we’ve criticised ourselves for being selfish. Sin is the religious term for selfishness and religions sometimes teach that selfishness should be a source of shame.
By contrast, some modern thinkers view selfishness as the essential nature of living things. They feel that the imperative for the survival and propagation of the genes is the driving force behind the behaviour of all animals, including humans.
Both of these ways of looking at the human phenomenon of selfishness are mistakes.
We humans are different from other animals in that we have the ability to connect with each other and the world around us through the use of our intellect and imagination. This brings into our emotional life priorities and drives of which other animals know nothing. Our egos are unchained from the necessities of brute survival, and the emotional rewards that guide our behaviour come not just from making babies, but also from finding out why apples fall out of trees or painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Many individuals express the meaning of their lives in emotionally satisfying ways but choose not to propagate their genes. As entities capable of higher reasoning we have a choice. Other animals generally do not.
So if the source of human selfishness is not a genetic imperative, what is it?
Quite simply it is the symptom of a system which is sick and, as a result, in pain. This is perfectly natural. Try hitting your thumb with a hammer, and then try to turn your attention to something other than the pain. It is very difficult. When a living system such as the human organism is sick or in pain the natural thing is for it to turn its attention towards itself. I know from my own experience that when I was suffering from depression it was very hard for me to pay attention to anyone else’s situation or feelings. But when I am happy I forget myself much of the time and concentrate on the interesting phenomena of other people - their lives, their thoughts and their feelings.
It is important to emphasise that this healthy state of outward-directedness is not the same as selflessness. Selflessness if taken literally is a meaningless term. If we had no self we would not exist, since the term “self” is our expression for the totality of which we consist. But we use the term selfless as an opposite to selfish, i.e. to describe a state of mind in which the needs of others take precedence over our own needs. Such a state of mind can occur during an emergency when an individual will risk their life to save someone else. Or it can be a state of mind consciously cultivated through an effort to repress or transcend selfish impulses. But this is the problem with the concept when it comes to trying to understand the nature of the healthy psyche. We can understand the pathological nature of selfishness, but to assume that selflessness is the epitome of the psychological health of the individual carries the danger that we may feel that being healthy means repressing our personal needs or desires in favour of those of others. This would just be swapping one form of sickness for another.
Our selfishness is not wrong. It is appropriate when we are sick and suffering to concentrate on addressing our need for relief from this state. The only problem is that we don’t know how to best help ourselves. We are able to give comfort to ourselves through distraction and materialism, and this is what we should do in the absence of a cure. This is the equivalent of taking aspirin when we have a fever. It won’t cure the problem, but it will make us feel better in the mean time.
The aim here is to clarify the nature of the illness and identify practical approaches to treatment which address the root cause.
Any form of submission, including submission to any kind of ideal, is unhealthy. The healthy individual is one who does only what they wish to do. This is O.K. as the desire to do anything destructive is non-existent in the healthy individual.
The way to eliminate the desire to do anything destructive is through radical self-acceptance. And this is also the cure for selfishness. The pain of neurosis is that of the individual at war with his or her thoughts and feelings. The path to healing is to learn to accept our thoughts and feelings unconditionally.
We live in a society in which hostility and selfishness are the norm. We live in a profoundly neurotic society.
Now to say that our society is a neurotic one and that neurosis is the norm may seem ludicrous or even offensive. But there is a simple test you can use to discover whether or not you are neurotic.
Is your mind more like a playground or more like a prison? If it is more like a prison then you are neurotic.
But don’t worry. This book is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card and a passport back into the playground.
"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."