Digging Deeper

The way we deal with problems is like the way we deal with weeds.

Cut the weed above ground level and it will grow again. Get it by the roots and it will trouble you no longer!

Like the roots of a particularly tricky weed, the ultimate causes of our problems are often deeply buried.

Some of us may like weeds, but for those of us who don't, when we look at a weed we see a problem. But most of the time we aren't seeing the whole problem.

Unless we get on our hands and knees and do a bit of digging then we will only ever see part of the picture. The bit that's right there in our face, spoiling our lovely neat garden!

But its those roots that we really need to be looking for. Because it is only by tackling them that we will be properly rid of our problem.

Now, let us take an everyday example and see how it fits into our weed analogy:

We develop a pain in our leg. How do we deal with it? A common approach would be to start with the closest problem or symptom and work from there.

1. We take pain killers to numb the pain.

This is like cutting the weed just above soil level. Its gone! For now ...

2. We do therapeutic exercises to treat the leg and stop the pain.

This is like pulling out the weed but leaving its roots behind. Again, our problem seems to be sorted ...

3. We examine what it was that caused the leg to become dysfunctional in the first place and make a change in our lifestyle in order to stop the problem from re-occurring (for example; perhaps the pain came from how we were sitting. So then we learn how to sit in a more healthy way, or we cut down on the amount of sitting that we do).

Finally we've done what we should have done all along! Our weed is gone for good, and no trace remains.

These root problems cause most of the smaller surface level problems, those that we all encounter on a regular basis. The weed grows above soil where we can see it because it has roots sustaining it out of sight beneath the ground. And yet we will often overlook the real problems simply because we cannot see them. We are so concerned with the fact that this horrible looking weed is ruining our garden, that we don't spend the time to dig a little deeper. If we have something that is in our face, demanding our attention, then we are likely to attend to this rather than something that is more distant, or unseen.

That's if we are lazy gardeners. If we are good gardeners then we always spend the time. Because time spent is actually time saved in the long run.

As a society we are lazy gardeners, constantly attacking problems at surface level.

This is because we want immediate results. We want to see something for our money. We don't want to have to get on our knees and get our hands dirty.

We can see this approach everywhere.

Football managers are hired and fired in quick succession. Alex Ferguson said recently that, had he been a manager today, he would have been fired before he had the chance to show what he was truly capable of. Few are given the chance that Ferguson had, to settle in to a club. To be able to make mistakes and to grow and learn. Ferguson was given the chance to mature into the great manager that he is today.

We see it also in politics. Politicians know that their time in the limelight is limited. And so few will be inclined to dig deep and offer effective - deep - solutions to the problems that face us. It may be that any lasting solution could take decades to produce any fruit worthy of notice. People whose careers rely on the superficial ebb and flow of public opinion cannot afford to wait this long. They need immediate results, because their jobs depend on it.

Bust the drug lords and they will be replaced. Bust the politicians and they will be replaced. Bust the bankers and they will be replaced. The weed will grow back unless you get to its roots.

We must dig deeper!

When we tackle a problem at a deeper level may not yield quick results. Pain killers will take away the pain immediately. But learning a new way to sit may cause us more pain to begin with.

Look around you. It won't take you long to see this approach in action. Bad gardeners everywhere.

Ask yourself: do I really want to get better? Do I really want to see these problems solved? Do I really want a solution?

If the answer is yes, then we must be prepared to get our hands dirty, sweat a little, and dig deeper.

Now it is clear that such a method of diagnosis and treatment differs fundamentally in principle from orthodox medical methods, whereby definite local symptoms are traced back to specific disorders which are diagnosed as the cause of the trouble and then treated specifically.

[...] by this method specific symptoms may be and often are eliminated, but since

(1) specific symptoms are never found apart from wrong functioning,

(2) the wrong functioning associated with such symptoms is always, in my experience, associated with wrong use of the mechanisms of the organism,

(3) by such methods nothing will have been done to improve this wrong use,

conditions will be left within the organism which, if allowed to develop unchecked, will tend to lower the standard of functioning generally, and it will then be only a matter of time before the trouble - either the original disorder, or, as frequently happens, some more serious trouble - will manifest itself.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.94


No method of 'cure' can be accepted as effective or scientific, if, in the process of removing certain selected symptoms, other symptoms have been left untouched and if new, unwished-for symptoms have appeared.

[...] If a defect is recognised in the use of a part, and an attempt is made to correct this defect by changing the use of the part without bringing about at the same time a corresponding change in the use of the other parts, the habitual working balance in the use of the whole will be disturbed.

[...] if the change in the use of a part is made in the face of impending factors in the use of other parts (as happens in any specific method of treatment employed to correct a defect in a part), the working balance between the use of that part and the use of all the other parts will be so thrown out of gear that the use of other parts will be adversely affected in their turn, and new defects in the use of these parts developed.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.76-8

[...] in cases where disease has been previously diagnosed in any of the organs or systems, I have found that the faulty functioning which this implies is always associated with an unsatisfactory manner of use throughout the organism.

This goes to show that an unsatisfactory manner of use, by interfering with general functioning, constitutes a predisposing cause of disorder and disease, and that anyone who makes a diagnosis and prescribes treatment, without finding out how much of the trouble present has arisen from this interference and how much from other causes, is leaving untouched a predisposing cause of disorder and disease.

For this reason I make the following claim:

[...] No diagnosis of a case can be said to be complete, unless the medical adviser gives consideration to the influence exerted upon the patient, not only by the immediate cause of the trouble (say, a germ invader), but also by the interference with functioning which is always associated with habitual wrong use of the mechanisms and helps lower the patient's resistance to the point where the germ invader gets its opportunity.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.87-8

Learning of the die-off of the estuary, I myself felt the impulse to find the culprit, to find someone to hate and something to blame.

I wish solving our problems were that easy! If we could identify one thing as THE cause, the solution would be so much more accessible. 

But what is comfortable is not always true. What if the cause is a thousand interrelated things that implicate all of us and how we live? What if it is something so all-encompassing and so intertwined with life as we know it, that when we glimpse its enormity we know not what to do?

That moment of humble, powerless unknowing where the sadness of an ongoing loss washes through us and we cannot escape into facile solutioneering, is a powerful and necessary moment.

It has the power to reach into us deeply enough to wipe away frozen ways of seeing and ingrained patterns of response. It gives us fresh eyes, and it loosens the tentacles of fear that hold us in normality. The ready solution is like a narcotic, diverting attention from the pain without healing the wound.

[Charles Eisenstein]
'Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy'

I have come to realize that this model, which is based on the strategy of finding the "cause" and then developing the best "solution" to eradicate it, never asks an essential question: "what might the unwanted teen pregnancy epidemic be telling us about our society, ourselves, the community in which the teens live, about the teens themselves?" Without asking this question I sense that we can never really come to terms with the dilemma of unwanted teen pregnancy.

Until we hear what it is trying to say, it will keep saying it in this or other ways, despite all our prevention efforts.

Unknowingly the model serves to hide, and even deny, the essence of the dilemma. Most tragically, the structures and actions of these programs proposed by this model inhibit us from becoming aware of and fully experiencing the reality of who and what we are as a society.

What we do not realize is that our strategy of attempting to 'eradicate' the problem without listening into what it is telling us cuts us off from experiencing soul.

[Matthew Green]
As quoted in 'On Returning to the Soul of the World: Archetypal Psychology and Cultural/Ecological Work', p. 11

NOVA: Returning to your costumed career, why did you quit?

VEIDT: There were a number of reasons, but I suppose basically it boiled down to my increasing uncertainty about the role of the costumed hero in the seventies. What does fighting crime mean, exactly? Does it mean upholding the law when a woman shoplifts to feed her children, or does it mean struggling to uncover the ones who, quite legally, have brought about her poverty?

Yes, I’ve busted drug rings and been accused of being an establishment pawn for doing so… that happened a lot in the sixties. I’ve also uncovered plots by breakaway extremist factions within the Pentagon, for example the plot to release some unpleasantly specific diseases upon the population of Africa, the exposure of which led to the New Frontiersman denouncing me as a “Puppet of Peking” on the strength of my youthful travels through the East.

I guess I’ve just reached a point where I’ve started to wonder whether all the grandstanding and fighting individual evils does much good for the world as a whole. 

Those evils are just symptoms of an overall sickness of the human spirit, and I don’t believe you can cure a disease by suppressing its symptoms. That whole Contac-400 approach to our society’s problems, I despair of it. It doesn’t work.

[Alan Moore]
Watchmen, Chap. XI

Currently we attempt to treat the numerous social, economic, and political symptoms of liberalism’s liberty, but not the deeper sources of those symptoms, the underlying pathology of liberalism’s philosophic commitments.

While most commentators regard our current crises - whether understood morally or economically - as a technical problem to be solved with better policy, our most thoughtful citizens must consider whether these crises are the foreshocks of a more systemic quake ahead.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.42

A very clever chap once said that if an ancestor of long ago would visit us today, what would he become astonished at: the skill of our dentists or the rottenness of our teeth?

This is a very neat way of putting it; it shows we cannot reject, we have to be grateful for the skill of our dentists, because of the rottenness of our teeth. This is a mutual escalation: our teeth are still more rotten, and we are still more grateful for the dentists.

A nonviolent approach to it would put the best of human intelligence into resolving the question Why are our teeth so rotten?

[E.F. Schumacher]
Good Work, p. 54

Related posts:-
Everything is Connected 
Escaping Uncertainty
Negative Capability
Small Mind/Large Mind
The Game Goes On: Lessons From The Wire
Structural Integrity
Hitting Bottom 
Part of a System  
Search the Depths
Addiction: the Short and Long of it
A Healthy Environment
Still Waters
Laziness (and other fictions)
Fuck It

Artist / Citizen

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' 

What does this time demand of us?

We are constantly reminded that we have many rights. We have the right to enjoy our lives, to embrace our individuality, and explore our potential. 'You only have one life, so live it'.

But the microcosm of our own little world exists within a wider context, a shared territory upon which we all stand, and a fluctuation underfoot could easily see our little worlds come crumbling down.

At one point the larger picture may have demanded that we question everything; that we push boundaries and shatter paradigms. This was the project of postmodernism, and perhaps it served a purpose in the wider scheme of things. 

Postmodernism demanded that the citizen become an artist, and do what artists do - play with assumptions, poke, prod and push. The beautiful landscape wasn't good enough anymore. Maybe it represented complacency, a stifling status quo, and so it needed to be undermined. Nothing was as it seemed. Solid became liquid. Things melted into other things. Male became female, and vice-versa.

And now it is the right of every individual to poke and prod and push their own boundaries, or at least go through the motions.

But where once the citizen was impelled to become the artist, now, perhaps, the tables have turned. There are too many artists. And not enough citizens. We are lost within our postmodern playground. We don't know which way is up anymore. What these times demand of us is that liquid become solid - that the artist become the citizen. We must find the courage to draw boundaries, and to say with conviction: this is true, and this is false.


When you build up tension in your body it is important to release it in a conscious way. If it isn't released then it will find its way out regardless, and generally when you aren't looking.

It is like a pressurised boiler.

The tension builds and builds, the sides start to bulge and eventually nuts and bolts start flying off and jets of steam start hissing out!

Instead of letting steam off in a controlled way, you've ignored it until its found its own way out.

This principle applies as much to human beings as it does to boilers.

We can see it in action on the roads. When a car driver gets stuck behind a cyclist and has to slow down to a crawl, he may begin to build up tension. The more he has to trail behind the cyclist - who is going a snails pace compared to what he is used to - the more his boiler begins to fill up. And when he finally gets past he may be just about ready to blow.

He may let this pressure off by cursing the driver or putting his foot to the floor and speeding away, leaving the cyclist in his dust. But there is a chance that some of this tension could stay with him.

And then it begins to find its way out in all sorts of unfortunate ways.

Maybe the next cyclist he comes to he isn't so courteous with. Maybe his pent up anger and frustration makes him a bit reckless. Perhaps he gets a bit too close to this next cyclist. Maybe he even clips him accidently with his wing mirror.

Or he may not come across another cyclist. Phew! He speeds up and makes it home in record time! But he finds the kids even more irritable than normal tonight. He is short with his wife.


Tension always finds its way out.

The question is whether you are going to be in control of its release, or whether you're going to let it do its own thing.

And if you're a cyclist then its worth bearing this principle in mind too.

You may have stuck to your guns and exercised your right to be on the road, annoying who knows how many motorists in the meantime. And you may have even got away with it unscathed.

But the next cyclist may just well be paying the price for your actions.

Be considerate. If there is someone behind you and they are aching to get past - and you can tell when they are - then don't be afraid to pull over and let them be on their way.

The communal gains from this considerate act are far greater than any personal losses.

(And this comes from a cyclist by the way!)

Related posts:-
Pressure Valve