Self-defence

The mother of one of our patients poured out blame upon her husband for refusing for fifteen years to hand over control of the family finances to her. The father of the patient said, "I admit that it was a great mistake of me not to let you handle it, I admit that. I have corrected that. My reasons for thinking it was a mistake are entirely different from yours, but I admit that it was a very serious error on my part."

Mother: Now, you're just being facetious.

Father: No, I am not being facetious.

Mother: Well, anyway I don't care because when you come right down to it the debts were incurred, still there is no reason why a person would not be told of them. I think the woman should be told.

Father: It may be the same reason why when Joe (their psychotic son) comes home from school and he has trouble he doesn't tell you.

Mother: Well, that's a good dodge.

The pattern of such a sequence is simply the successive disqualification of each of the father's contributions to the relationship. He is continuously being told that the messages are not valid. They are received as if they were in some way different from that which he thought he intended.

But, per contra, from her viewpoint, it seems that he is endlessly misinterpreting her, and this is one of the most peculiar characteristics of the dynamic system which surrounds - or is schizophrenia.

The bind becomes mutual. A stage is reached in the relationship in which neither person can afford to receive or emit metacommunicative messages without distortion.

There is, however, usually, an asymmetry in such relationships. This mutual doublebinding is a type of struggle and commonly one or the other has the upper hand. [In cases of families with a psychotic offspring] the asymmetry takes the curious form that the identified patient sacrifices himself to maintain the sacred illusion that what the parent says makes sense.

To be close to that parent, he must sacrifice his right to indicate that he sees any metacommunicative incongruities, even when his perception of these incongruities is correct.

The patient is an accomplice in the parent's unconscious hypocrisy. The result may be very great unhappiness and very gross, but always systematic, distortions of communication [...] these distortions are always precisely those which would seem appropriate when the victims are faced with a trap to avoid which would be to destroy the very nature of the self.

If somebody attacks the habits and immanent states which characterize me at the given moment of dealing with that somebody - that is, if they attack the very habits and immanent states which have been called into being as part of my relationship to them at that moment - they are negating me. If I care deeply about that person, the negation of me will be still more painful.

From theory we may predict that every participant member of such an institution must be defensive of his or her own immanent states of action and enduring adaptive habits; protective, that is, of the self.

I believe that this is the essence of the matter, that the schizophrenic family is an organization with great ongoing stability whose dynamics and inner workings are such that each member is continually undergoing the experience of negation of self.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.236-7, 242-3

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In a society at any one time, if there is x quantity of individuals who show their lack of sense of society by developing an antisocial tendency, there is z quantity of individuals reacting to inner insecurity by the alternate tendency - identification with authority. This is unhealthy, immature, because it is not an identification with authority that arises out of self-discovery.

It is a sense of frame without sense of picture, a sense of form without retention of spontaneity. This is a prosociety tendency that is anti-individual. People who develop in this way can be called 'hidden antisocials'.

Hidden antisocials are not 'whole persons' any more than are manifest antisocials, since each needs to find and to control the conflicting force in the external world outside the self. By contrast, the healthy person, who is capable of becoming depressed, is able to find the whole conflict within the self as well as being able to see the whole conflict outside the self, in external (shared) reality.

When healthy persons come together, they each contribute a whole world, because each brings a whole person.

Hidden antisocials provide material for a type of leadership which is sociologically immature [...] Once in such positions, these immature leaders immediately gather to themselves the obvious antisocials, who welcome them (the immature anti-individual leaders) as their natural masters. (False resolution of splitting.)

The election of a person implies that the electors believe in themselves as persons, and therefore believe in the person they nominate or vote for. The person elected has the opportunity to act as a person. As a whole (healthy) person he has the total conflict within, which enables him to get a view, albeit a personal one, of total external situation.

The election of a party or a group tendency is relatively less mature. It does not require of the electors a trust in a human being. For immature persons, nevertheless, it is the only logical procedure, precisely because an immature person cannot conceive of, or believe in, a truly mature individual.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From ('The Meaning of the Word 'Democracy''), p.243-4, 249

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A Mature Society?

In maturity environment is something to which the individual contributes and for which the individual man or woman takes responsibility.

In a community in which there is a sufficiently high proportion of mature individuals there is a state of affairs which provides the basis for what is called democracy.

[...] a democratic society is 'mature', that is to say, that it has a quality that is allied to the quality of individual maturity which characterizes its healthy members.

Of a true democracy (as the term is used today) one can say: In this society at this time there is sufficient maturity in the emotional development of a sufficient proportion of the individuals that comprise it for there to exist an innate tendency towards the creation and re-creation and maintenance of the democratic machinery.

By 'innate' I intend to convey the following: the natural tendencies in human nature (hereditary) bud and flower into the democratic way of life (social maturity), but this only happens through the healthy emotional development of individuals;

In bodily development the growth factor is more clear; in the development of the psyche, by contrast, there is a possibility of failure at every point, and indeed there can be no such thing as growth without distortion due to some degree of failure of environmental adaptation [...] only a proportion of individuals in a social group will have had the luck to develop to maturity, and therefore it is only through them that the innate (inherited) tendency of the group towards social maturity can be implemented.

If the proportion of mature individuals is below a certain number, democracy is not something which can become a political fact since affairs will be swayed by the immature, that is to say, by those who by identification with the community lose their own individuality or by those who never achieve more than the attitude of the individual dependent upon society.

Maturity means, among other things, a capacity for tolerating ideas, [a capacity] which at its best is part of social maturity. A mature social system (while making certain demands in regard to action) allows freedom of ideas and the free expression of them.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From ('The Meaning of the Word 'Democracy''), p.242-3
Human Nature, p.29, 59-60, 152

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Emptiness

Suffering, whether physical or mental, is the result of negative deeds, words and thoughts - taking life, stealing, deceit, calumny, and so on.

Negative thoughts arise from cherishing and wanting to protect oneself, attitudes that flow naturally from the notion of a lasting and unique 'I'. The belief in a self as an independent entity is just one particular aspect of the reification of phenomena.

Recognizing that the self we're attached to isn't a truly existing entity, and dissolving our attachment to the substantiality of phenomena, it's possible to interrupt the vicious circle of suffering.

Such analysis leads to a knowledge which, for all that it's inner knowledge, has no less immense repercussions on our relationship with the outer world and the influence we have on it.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.113

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When I flowed out from God, all things declared, "God is!" Now this cannot make me blessed, for thereby I acknowledge myself a creature. But in the breakthrough I stand empty in the will of God, and empty also of God's will, and of all his works, even of God himself - then I am more than all creatures, then I am neither God nor creature: I am what I was, and that I shall remain, now and ever more!

Then I receive a thrust which carries me above angels. By this thrust I become so rich that God cannot suffice me, despite all that he is as God and all his godly works; for in this breakthrough I receive what God and I have in common.

I am what I was, I neither increase not diminish, for I am the unmoved mover that moves all things. Here God can find no more place in man, for man by his emptiness has won back that which he was eternally and ever shall remain.

[Meister Eckhart]
Meister Eckhart, p.221
Found in 'Psychology and the East' by Carl Gustav Jung, p.158-9

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True Love

Love is the necessary complement to compassion. Compassion can't live, or even less develop, without love, which is defined as the wish that all beings might find both happiness and the causes of happiness. Love, here, means total, unconditional love for all beings without any distinction or partiality.

Love between men and women, and love for family and friends, is often possessive, exclusive, limited, and mixed with selfish feelings. There's an expectation of getting back at least as much as one gives.

Such love might seem quite deep, but it easily vanishes if it doesn't live up to expectations. What's more, the sort of love we feel for those close to us is often accompanied by a feeling of distance, or even hostility toward 'strangers', those who could pose a threat to ourselves and to those we love.

True love and true compassion can be extended to our adversaries, while love and compassion mixed with attachment can't include anyone we see as an enemy.

[...] true love can't be polarized, restricted to one or two specific beings, or contaminated with partiality. What's more, it should be completely disinterested and not expect anything in return.

One of the principal topics for meditation is to begin by thinking of someone you love deeply, and letting that feeling of love and generosity fill your heart and mind. Then you break out of the cage that restricts that love to a particular person and extend it to all those for whom your feelings are neutral or indifferent. Finally, you include in your love all those you consider as enemies. That's true love.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.193-4

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Positive Space

Love means creating for another the kind of space in which he can flourish, at the same time as he does this for you.

It is to find one's happiness in being the reason for the happiness of another. It is not that you both find your fulfilment in the same goal, like hitting the open road clasped together on a motorcycle, but [...] that you each find your fulfilment in the other's.

There is already a politics implicit in this notion [...] The liberal model of society wants individuals to flourish in their own space, without mutual interference. The political space in question is thus a neutral one: it is really there to wedge people apart, so that one person's self-realization should not thwart another's.

Nobody here - to put the point in a different theoretical idiom - seems to receive themselves back as a subject from the Other, as opposed to attending with due sensitivity to what the other has to say.

This is an admirable ideal, nurtured by what is in many ways a deeply honourable political tradition. The 'negative' freedoms it cherishes have a vital place in any just society. But the space involved in love is rather more positive. It is created by the act of relationship itself, rather than being given from the outset like a spare seat in a waiting room.

To be granted this kind of freedom is to be able to be at one's best without undue fear. It is thus the vital precondition of human flourishing. You are free to realize your nature, but not in the falsely naturalistic sense of simply expressing an impulse because it happens to be yours. That would not rule out torture and murder.

Rather, you realize your nature in a way which allows the other to do so too. And that means that you realize your nature at its best - since if the other's self-sulfilment is the medium through which you flourish yourself, you are not at liberty to be violent, dominative or self-seeking.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.169-70

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Taking the Rough with the Smooth

We must have the courage to live relatively, provisionally, without foundations. Or rather, we must have the candour to confess that this is how we live anyway, allowing our beliefs to catch up with our practices.

Fundamentalism is a textual affair. It is an attempt to render our discourse valid by backing it with the gold standard of the Word of words, seeing God as the final guarantor of meaning.

Literalness of interpretation is of its essence. It means adhering strictly to the script. It is a fear of the unscripted, improvised or indeterminate, as well as a horror of excess and ambiguity.

Fundamentalists do not see that the phrase 'sacred text' is self-contradictory - that no text can be sacred because every piece of writing is profaned by a plurality of meanings. Writing just means meaning which can be handled by anyone, anywhere.

Yet if there is no clarity, if no meaning is free from metaphor and ambiguity, how are we to construct a solid enough basis for our lives in a world too swift and slippery for us to find a foothold?

This is not an anxiety to be scoffed at. There is nothing quaint or red-neck about searching for some terra firma in a world in which men and women are asked to reinvent themselves overnight, in which pensions are abruptly wiped out by corporate greed and deceit, or in which whole ways of life are tossed casually on the scrapheap.

Fundamentalism is a diseased version of this desire. It is a neurotic hunt for solid foundations to our existence, an inability to accept that human life is a matter not of treading on thin air, but of roughness.

The fundamentalist is adrift on the rough ground of social life, nostalgic for the pure ice of absolute certainty where you can think but not walk. He is really a more pathological version of the conservative - for the conservative, too, suspects that if there are not watertight rules and exact limits then there can only be chaos.

The problem for the conservative or fundamentalist is that as soon as you have said 'law' or 'rule', a certain chaos is not kept at bay but actually evoked. Applying a rule is a creative, open-ended affair, more like figuring out the instructions for building the Taj Mahal out of Lego then obeying a traffic signal.

As for law, nothing illustrates its slipperiness more than Portia's legalistic sophistry in The Merchant of Venice [...] Portia gets the doomed Antonio off by pointing out to the court that Shylock's bond for securing a pound of his flesh makes no mention of taking any of his blood along with it.

No actual court, however, would admit such a fatuous argument. No piece of writing can spell out all of its conceivable implications. You might as well claim that Shylock's bond makes no reference to the use of a knife either, or to whether Shylock's hair should be tied back in a rather fetching pony-tail at the moment of incision.

Portia's reading of the bond is false because too faithful: it is a fundamentalist reading, sticking pedantically to the letter of the text and thus flagrantly falsifying its meaning.

To be exact interpretation must be creative. It must draw upon tacit understandings of how life and language work, practical know-how which can never be precisely formulated, which is just what Portia refuses to do. If we want to be as clear as possible, a certain roughness is unavoidable.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.198, 202-6

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Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.

[Bertrand Russell]
History of Western Philosophy ('Introduction'), p.2

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We do not, any of us, achieve rigor. In writing, sometimes, we can take time to check the looseness of thought; but in speaking, hardly ever [...]

I know that I personally, when speaking in conversation and even in lecturing, depart from the epistemology outlined in the previous chapter; and indeed the chapter itself was hard to write without continual lapses into other ways of thinking and may still contain such lapses.

I know that I would not like to be held scientifically responsible for many loose spoken sentences that I have uttered in conversation with scientific colleagues. But I also know that if another person had the task of studying my ways of thought, he would do well to study my loosely spoken words rather than my writing.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry'), p.230

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To a much greater extent than men, women can be said to form their abstractions from personal experience. Interestingly enough, the same can be said of the Ladakhis and many traditional and non-Western cultures.

To understand the complexities of the natural world, theory must be grounded in experience. Experiential learning is based in messy reality, with all its paradox and untidiness, its ever-changing pattern, its refusal to conform to our expectations. As such, it inevitably leads to humility.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.190

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Rights and Responsibilities

M. - The Dalai Lama [has] tried to introduce into the constitution not only the notion of individuals' rights but also the idea of individuals' responsibility toward society and the state's responsibility toward other states in the world.

J.F. - Yes, it's true that one aspect of what we could call the crisis of modern democracies is that in our own state of law the citizens feel that they have more and more rights and less and less responsibilities toward the community [...] people are a lot less interested in the question of citizens' responsibilities than in that of their rights. They're nevertheless two side of the very same thing.

M. - The East is more inclined than the West to think that society's harmony shouldn't be compromised by people using the notion of human rights to justify doing anything they like, at any time, however they want, as long as it's 'allowed'.

For indeed, such an attitude is really a form of anarchy. It leads to an imbalance between right and duties, between liberty for oneself and responsibilities toward others.

The individual is supreme in Western societies. The individual can do practically anything, as long as it's within the framework of the law.

The individual's responsibility is to consciously preserve the harmony of society. That's something that can only be done if individuals respect the law, not as an obligation, but in the light of an ethical sense, both spiritual and temporal.

The point is not to restrain individuals' freedom but to instill in them a sense of responsibility.

[...] the public's fascinated by violence and sex, and commercially it works very well. The producers only see money to be made, while the legislators are paralyzed by the fear of even touching people's freedom of expression.

The result is complete ignorance about responsibility and an inability to translate such a notion into either law or convention.

If human rights are considered on their own, without human responsibilities being taken into account, there's never going to be a solution to the problem.

In the end, a sense of responsibility has to come from the maturity of individuals, not from restrictive laws. And for individuals to attain such maturity, spiritual principles that make inner change possible have to be alive and well in society, instead of being cruelly missing.

[Matthieu Ricard]
and [Jean-Francois Revel]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.282, 284, 286-7

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We must offer to a young man objects on which the expansive force of his heart can act, which expand and extend it to other beings, and which cause him everywhere to find himself again outside himself.

On the other hand, he must carefully avoid those objects which might restrain and repress his heart and stretch the mainspring of the human I or ego, etc.

[Jean-Jacques Rousseau]
Émile, p.115-20

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In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'

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Buddhism and Psychoanalysis

While Buddhism aims at freeing ourselves form the stagnation of thoughts like a bird taking off from the fumes of the city toward the pure mountain air, psychoanalysis, or so it seems, brings about an exacerbation of thoughts and dreams - thoughts that are completely centered on ourselves, in fact.

Patients try to reorganize their small world, and to control it as best they can. But they stay bogged down in it.

To put it in a nutshell, the problem with psychoanalysis is that it doesn't identify the basic causes of ignorance and inner enslavement.

Conflict with one's father or mother, and other traumatic experiences, aren't primary causes, they're circumstantial ones. The primary cause is attachment to the ego, which gives rise to attraction and repulsion, infatuation with and the desire to protect oneself.

Where Buddhism's approach and that of psychoanalysis diverge is the means used to attain liberation. Psychoanalysis is correct, and works within the framework of its own system, but that system is limited by the very goals it sets itself.

Take the problem of libido, for example. If you try to repress all the energy of desire, it's bound to come out via some roundabout route and be expressed in an abnormal way. So psychoanalysis tries to redirect it toward its proper object and give it back its normal expression.

But according to Buddhist contemplative science, you neither try to repress desire nor give it free reign in its ordinary state - you try to be completely liberated from it.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.299-300

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The Tyranny of Novelty

M. - If you're always looking for novelty, you're often depriving yourself of the most essential truths.

The antidote to suffering and to belief in a self consists of going to the very source of your thoughts and recognizing the ultimate nature of the mind. How could such a truth ever grow old? What novelty could 'outmode' a teaching that lays bare the very workings of the mind?

Very often, fascination with things that are new and different is a reflection of inner impoverishment. Unable to find happiness within ourselves, we desperately look for it outside, in objects, in experiences, in ever stranger ways of thinking and acting. In short, we get further away from happiness by looking for it where it simply isn't to be found.

The risk with that is that we may completely lose any trace of it. At the most ordinary level, the longing for novelty arises from an attraction to superfluity, which erodes the mind and disturbs its serenity. We multiply our needs instead of learning not to have any.

It seems to me that the notion of novelty, the desire to keep on inventing things through a fear of copying the past, is an exaggeration of the importance given to the 'personality', to the individuality that's supposed to express itself in an original way at any price.

And from the perspective of someone trying to do just the opposite - to dissolve any attachment to the all-powerful self - such a race for originality seems at best superficial.

For instance, the idea that the artist should always be trying to give free rein to his imagination is clearly foreign to traditional sacred art, which exists to provide material for meditation and reflection.

Artists put all their heart and talent into what they do, but their personality vanishes completely behind their work. For that reason, Tibetan painting is essentially anonymous.

J.F. - [...] Do you think [that] Buddhism might provide a refuge for people who are fed up with the whole tyranny of novelty?

M. - [...] If you try to see where that thirst for novelty comes from, it seems to arise from neglect of the inner life.

We stop going back to the source of things, and the idea occurs to us that by trying all sorts of new things we might be able to compensate for that feeling of lacking something.

[Matthieu Ricard]
and [Jean-Francois Revel]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.313

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Having, to hide from Being

Material development without spiritual development can only lead to the general feeling of discontent that we see today. In a society based on the education and development of wisdom rather than of information, the whole orientation is very different.

Although it's an oversimplification, you could say that one is centered on being, the other on having. The fascination for always having more and the horizontal dispersion of knowledge are both things that take us away from inner transformation. Since the world can only be changed by changing ourselves, always having more of everything doesn't matter very much.

Dissatisfaction arises from the habit of seeing what's superfluous as being necessary. This isn't just a question of wealth, but also of comfort, of pleasure, and of 'useless knowledge'.

The only thing one should never be satisfied with is one's wisdom, and the only efforts that one should never see as sufficient are the efforts one makes toward spiritual progress and achieving others' good.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.316

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Freud claimed to be a scientist, and was certainly not a philosopher in the technical sense [...] Nevertheless, he resembled some philosophers in being a system-builder.

Very early in its history, psycho-analysis left the narrow confines of the consulting room and made incursions into anthropology, sociology, religion, literature, art, and the occult. It became, if not a philosophical system, at least a Weltanschauung; and this extraordinary expansion of a method of treating neurotics into a new way of regarding human nature had its origin in the psychological needs of its founder.

Freud repudiated religion as an illusion, yet needed some systematic approach to making coherent sense out of the world.

Excessive generalization is a temptation for all original thinkers, who are usually in love with their own ideas and who therefore over-value them. [It can spring from a] desire or need which is very characteristic of thinkers with obsessional personalities. Because their psychology is based on the need to order and control, they tend to look for, and be attracted by, comprehensive systems of thought which promise near-complete explanations of human existence, and which therefore hold out the hope that the individual can master both his own nature and external reality by means of his new understanding.

[Anthony Storr]
Freud, p.8-9