Ram Dass says that we give everyone we meet a present, whether we want to or not, and that this present is ‘ourselves as we really are’, so to speak. Our ‘inner state’ is the gift we can’t help giving everyone we meet We may have a hugely prestigious status in society, we may have an impressive title or numerous letters after our name, but this doesn’t make even a grain of difference — we can still only ‘give what we’ve got,’ we can still only ever give the gift of our own inner state .
The other side of this is that we may have a very lowly status in society, we may have no standing at all, so that no one takes the slightest bit of interest in us or what we have to say, but our inner state might still be much more of a ‘gift’ than that of someone who society thinks to be important or knowledgeable. We place great emphasis on ‘experts’ for example, but no one can be an expert at cultivating a joyful or compassionate inner state! That’s not the way it works at all. We can train people to be experts in this or that technical field but we can’t train our inner state to be the way that we want it to be,or think it ought to be.
Experts are expert at doing certain technical tasks and this is of course something that we very much need — if my computer crashes and I can’t restart it I want someone with the technical expertise to come along and help me, not someone with no technical knowledge of computer systems. Similarly, if I develop a heart arrhythmia it’s a medical expert that I want to talk to not someone who might be a good friend but who knows nothing at all about medicine. When it comes to mental health however, there are no ‘experts’ and this is something that our society is very slow in recognising. Our ‘mental well-being’ isn’t something that is subject to ‘technical fixes’, the matter how skilled or knowledgeable the technician in question might be.
The reason for this is that our inner state can’t be changed by techniques or manipulation, as we have already said. This may sound like a rather strange assertion to make but we can explain it very easily by giving examples of other things that can’t be changed by design, by manipulation. There are lots of examples we could give here! One would be relationships — a good relationship may develop between two people but this can ‘t happen as a result of design or trickery on the part of one or both of the individuals concerned. If I meet you and am trying to manipulate things, or set things up, so that there will be a trusting relationship between us, then no genuine relationship is going to be possible. I might fool you for a while, but sooner or later you are going to see that I’m not authentic, that I am secretly manipulating things, and that is going to be the end of it. This brings us neatly to a second example (which is obviously closely related to the first) and that is authenticity. If I am not authentic in any given situation then there is no way in which I can manipulate things so that I am. This is because ‘manipulation’ and ‘being authentic’, are mutually exclusive modes of being. Paradoxically, the only way I can be authentic is by admitting that I’m not!The same principle applies to what is called ‘being oneself’ — as Alan Watt says somewhere; if I in any way try to be myself, then I am actually moving away from being myself. Any effort to be myself and I straightaway become false, phony, artificial.
The last example we will give encompasses both of the two previous ones and makes the point in the broadest possible way and it has to do with what is called the Dao in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Dao is ‘the natural way of things’, it is the natural way of things that happens all by itself and does not need to be controlled or regulated or set up in advance by some sort of cosmic programmer.This is a somewhat alien idea to us in the West as we can’t accept that anything can happen without being told to happen, or being caused to happen — this ‘rational prejudice’ of ours is exemplified by the idea of ‘God the controller’, without whose express will not even a single leaf may fall from a tree. In terms of the traditional Western paradigm, the whole universe is to be explained by the idea of God as ‘the Great Cause’ where is in Daoism such an idea would be too absurd even to be thought of. In Daoism it is stated that ‘to try to accord with the Dao is to deviate from it’ — in terms of ‘according with the state of universal harmony’ therefore, it is very much the case that trying to manipulate the situation (i.e. the purposeful mode of being in the world) is not ever going to result in us according with reality. ‘Control’ never leads to harmony…
In the case of ‘universal harmony’ or ‘all things being just the way that they naturally are’, it can quite easily be seen that what we might call personal will is very much ‘the fly in the ointment’. The ointment would be great, the ointment would be perfect, if it were not for that damn fly! If everything is ALREADY naturally partaking in the ineffable state of universal harmony then any effort I make to ‘be natural, or’ be in harmony’, is of course going to take us out of harmony and render us ‘strained’ and ‘out of sorts’. The attempt to be natural is artificial, in other words. And, what’s more, if I see this and try to go against my crude inclination to ‘make things natural even though they already are’ via the exercise of my personal will, then this too is me straining to correct matters and ‘make them be the way that I think they ought to be’. I’m ‘trying not to try’ in this case and that is every bit as strained and unnatural as ‘trying’ on its own is. It’s actually double-trying,‘trying on top of trying’, and so I’m actually caught up in a worse knot.
Some things absolutely can’t be done on purpose therefore and ‘being who we are’ or ‘being natural’ is one of them! Being happy can’t be done on purpose, being kind or compassionate can’t be done on purpose, being creative or spontaneous can’t be done on purpose, being still or at peace can’t be done on purpose. Being not sad when we are sad, being not angry when we are angry, and being not jealous when we are jealous, or being scared when we are scared, are also things that ‘can’t be done on purpose’. In short, changing our inner state is something that absolutely can’t be done on purpose, and this brings us back to where we started off in this argument. If we can’t by will or by design change our inner state (even though we might be able to cunningly disguise it) then this means that we are inevitably going to make everyone we meet a present of it, whether we want to or not.
This isn’t a ‘hopeless’ or ‘fatalistic’ viewpoint however. It’s simply ‘how things work’, and — if we reflected upon it — we would see that it is the only way things could ever work. What we are essentially saying here is that ‘the truth is the truth’ and — on a psychological level — what helps is for us to respect what is true as being true and not put all our energy into trying to change it. Since when has it been a good policy to fight against what is true, after all? What possible good could ever come out of such a pointless struggle? Who are we trying to fool?
This is not exactly an unfamiliar principle that we looking at here therefore — the principle is that it’s better to come clean and tell the truth rather than try to smudge or spin-doctor the issue. We all (or most of us) understand — to some degree or other — that it is a good thing to be honest rather than dishonest. The thing about this however is that we very much tend to apply this to our outer or external life and not to our ‘inner’ one. Inner honesty isn’t seen clearly for the profoundly liberating thing that it is. When Jesus said ‘the truth shall set you free’ he was referring to inner honesty above all — after all, if we are inwardly honest we then are not likely to go around trying to deceive others, whilst if we lack in inner honesty then we won’t be able to help playing false with everyone we meet. Our whole life is going to be ‘fake’, or ‘sham’, in this case.
Lots of different methods are prescribed for mental distress and suffering, many different approaches are adopted. The thing about methods and approaches is however there is always ‘an outcome in mind’ and if we have an outcome in mind then this has precisely nothing to do with ‘inner honesty’ or ‘coming clean’ about how we actually are. There is simply no outcome here; we’re not looking for an outcome — it’s not that type of thing at all. We are ‘dropping’ all hopes of any particular outcome, not ‘hanging onto them’ and that’s the whole point — the whole point is that we are dropping all hopes of changing things and facing the situation squarely instead. Doing this activates the principal of‘paradoxical change’ as it is called in Gestalt psychotherapy — when we stop trying to change our inner state then our inner state changes all by itself.
Not trying to change our inner state actually detoxifies is — by establishing a relationship with it the natural healing process is allowed to take place, and this means that when we meet people the gift we give them isn’t a poisoned one…