The Artificial Versus The Natural

Nick Williams
11 min readMar 2, 2024
Image credit — bbc.co.uk

If we are to have any insight at all into what mental health really is then we have to learn to see everything backwards. Only this isn’t quite true because it’s not that we have to ‘learn’ to see things in a new way but — rather — that we have to unlearn the ways that we already have. We have to let go of what we think we already know. We’re already ‘seeing things backwards’ so we just need to go back to how things naturally are. We never need to learn ‘the natural way of things’ since the natural way of things is in us already! We only ever need to learn the unnatural, the contrived, the artificial. Mental health cannot be ‘piped in from the outside’ in other words — it cannot be ‘outsourced’.

We experience tremendous resistance to this business of ‘trusting the natural and letting go of the false security of the artificial’. What we are calling ‘the artificial world’ is all we know, after all — we have been adapted to it for our whole lives and so as far as we’re concerned it doesn’t seem artificial. To us, it is ‘as natural as mother’s milk’, it’s ‘the way things ought to be’. It’s ‘the system we have given our allegiance to’. Because of the huge resistance we feel towards letting go of everything we know (which we can’t help seeing as ‘the worst idea ever’) we are forced to construe this business that we’re calling ‘mental health’ in purely artificial terms and — following on from this — we are obliged to propose all sorts of convoluted means of obtaining it. We are given techniques to practise, management strategies to ‘regulate our emotions’, to manage our anger, our anxiety, our pain and distress, and so on. Everything is a goal, everything is ‘a defined point on the graph’, everything is ‘territory that has already been mapped out’.

We are given artificial means by which to move in the direction of ‘optimizing our mental health’ and — if we were being totally honest with ourselves — then we would spot this. The force of peer pressure being what it is however, even if what we are being told doesn’t sound quite right to us we will assume that everyone else is right and that we are wrong. This is particularly likely if we’re feeling unsure of ourselves, which is usually the case when we find ourselves in the situation of having to meet up with a therapist, counsellor, psychotherapist, or psychologist! The whole weighting of the situation is that ‘the experts are always right’ — this is taken for granted by all concerned. We adapt to the system — the system doesn’t adapt to us. This thing we call ‘mental wellness’ is normatively assessed and what this means is that if we’re out of line with everyone else (if we’re ‘not on the same page’) then by definition it’s us that are wrong. We haven’t a leg to stand on, normatively speaking — we never have a leg to stand on when what it means to be ‘in good psychological shape’ is assessed normatively. Everything is seen backwards when mental health is defined normatively.

What we are pleased to call ‘mental health care’ is profoundly disempowering in this sense therefore (despite the fact that ‘empowering people’ is one of those stock phrases that we never get tired of putting out there). This is treacherous ground however and we should be very cautious when we use this term, just as we should always be careful when using that innocent and harmless little word ‘helping’. When we help (or try to help) people it is invariably within the terms that we understand it. We might be acting in perfectly good faith (we probably are acting in perfectly good faith), but that doesn’t make any difference — our so-called ‘helping’ is in almost all cases still a form of aggression. We could say the same thing with regard to this business of ‘empowering people within a therapy set up’ — if I am trying to push anything at all across the table to you, then this is therapeutic aggression. We’re imposing ‘our stuff’ on someone else and that is unconscious (or ‘machine-like’) behaviour. One person can help another, but not ‘deliberately’, not ‘on purpose’, not because we have that intention, not because we have that particular agenda. When it happens, it happens ‘by accident’…

Empowerment (or helping) always assumes a context. As a general rule of thumb, we can say that the keener we are to empower somebody the more we assume the context, and the more we assume the context the more aggressive we inevitably become! An extreme example of this might be the religious zealot, who is doing good in their own terms (i.e., what they are doing makes abundant sense to them, what they’re doing is ‘correct behaviour’) but who are, all the same, some of the most violent people you will ever meet. They are in a league of their own. The fervour we — as religious zealots — experience with regard to converting everyone to our viewpoint is pure aggression. Anyone who is convinced that ‘they know what they’re doing’ is aggressive and most of us are convinced in this regard — we can’t help it. We are ‘automatically aggressive’ because we have assumed the context within which our actions (or our thoughts) are to make sense. We are automatically aggressive in everyday life simply because we have ‘assumed the context within which our behaviour / thinking make sense’; we’re aggressive in everything we do in this case and the cause of our aggression is our ignorance — when we’re unconscious then everything always comes down to ‘protecting our ignorance’, which is to say, ‘everything always comes down to making sure that our ignorance never gets seen for what it is, not by us and not by anyone else either for that matter.

We might hear it said that in order to become a counsellor or therapist (or whatever) it is necessary for us to be sensitive and compassionate and empathic and so on, but what we don’t take into account is that we can’t be sensitive, compassionate or empathic when we’re in the business of assuming a context for ourselves, when we’re in the business of ‘taking a whole bunch of stuff for granted’. What our ‘helping’ comes down to in this case is unreflectively (or unconsciously) imposing our taken-for-granted viewpoint on everyone we meet — which includes the people we are trying to help, naturally enough. This is the antithesis of sensitivity therefore — we’re simply ‘acting as machines’ in this case and it is fundamentally impossible for a machine to be a machine and yet at the same time be sensitive. Machines don’t do sensitivity — that’s not their bag at all.

It is of course helpful (if not essential) to be adapted to society and so there’s got to be a place for it, but there’s no way we can call it ‘therapy’ — that’s taking it too far. If therapy is to be about anything then it has to be about uncovering who we are underneath all the social conditioning (not reinforcing that conditioning). In a very limited kind of a way we can talk about ‘empowering people’ with whatever tricks or strategies it is that we’re teaching them, but what we’re empowering them to do here is ‘function better within an artificial situation’. There’s absolutely no way in which we can empower someone (or ourselves) within an assumed context — that is a contradiction in terms. There are no strategies that can help us here; as we have just said, strategies are artificial, methods are artificial, plans are artificial… Everything that comes out of thought is artificial (which is to say, unless we make it exist then it won’t exist).

Everything we do ‘on purpose’ (everything we do deliberately) is an artificiality; being ‘an adult’ is an artificial (or contrived) kind of a thing — it is an unnatural stance and as adults we get to be thoroughly artificial (or ‘non-spontaneous’) on pretty much a full-time basis. This is the cause of our pain however, not the remedy for it — we can’t contrive our own well-being. The assumption that we make in rational-purposeful therapy is that we can ‘tweak a few details here and a few details there’ and that this — if done correctly — will return us to the much-desired state of functionality. It’s not some sort of trivial readjustment we need however but — rather — a radical letting go of our entire rational approach to life. ‘Tinkering about’ is just not going to do it! Even if we were to acknowledge the need to go deeper and came up with some kind of therapy designed to do just that (i.e., help us to let go) it still isn’t going to help. Far from being helpful, this kind of ‘well intentioned messing around’ is guaranteed to confuse us all the more. Absolutely anything we deliberately ‘do’ is going to add to our confusion and we were confused enough to start off with.

The problem here is that we can’t make ‘letting go’ part of a system — anymore than we can acceptance. We can’t magically ‘accept’ something just because acceptance is a thing highlighted in our therapeutic protocol, just because it has now been authorized by ‘the powers that be’, and the reason for this is that ‘letting go’ or (or ‘acceptance’) has nothing to do with our thoughts, nothing to do with the rational-purposeful mind and all of its ponderous deliberations. ‘Letting go’ can’t be made into a goal — or rather it can be made into a goal but when we do then we find that we’ve jinxed everything. We’ve jinxed everything because setting a goal is an example of ‘holding on’ (or ‘controlling’) — systems are all about control and there’s absolutely no way that this thing we call ‘letting go’ can come about as a result of control, as a result of us ‘holding on to some idea about what we think ought to be happening’. We can’t talk ourselves (or think ourselves) into letting go and if we try to do this then that has the exact opposite effect to the one we want. We’ve asked for cheese but we’re getting chalk. No one can tell us how to let go and we can’t tell ourselves either — this isn’t something that can happen as a result of intention, as a result of focusing our will and giving ourselves clear instructions with regard to ‘steps that need to be taken’. If I have the thought that ‘I need to let go’ then this thought is itself the antithesis of the actual thing itself. ‘Letting go’ isn’t a thought…

We love methods — our idea of an ideal world — so it seems — would be one in which there is ‘a methodical solution for every problem’. That would be the ultimate win, as far as we’re concerned. Our idea of mental health (although we don’t go so far as to actually state this in so many words) is that it is that situation in which we are in possession of a method (or rather a number of methods) that can remedy whatever form of chronic mental suffering it is that we are experiencing. This is what modern day psychological therapy has degenerated into — a motley collection of ‘off the shelf’ strategies — a ‘strategy for every occasion’, so to speak. Mental health becomes in this way a matter of ‘complying with the external authority’ rather than being, as Ivan Illich says, a matter of the individual’s own unique (or ‘creative’) response to the situation that they find themselves in. Individuality no longer has any place here — we are instructed as to what our response to our difficulties should be, we are coached by clinicians in how we should put the prescribed generic ‘fixing response’ into action. This is ‘heteronomy at its finest’ therefore and there’s no health in heteronomy…

It’s only the non-compliant individual that can be mentally healthy - our non-compliance, our failure to conform, our ‘lack of adaptation’, is what constitutes our intrinsic health, our inalienable ‘aliveness’! What’s healthy is to disregard all rules and conventions and not rely on ‘tricks’ to feel that we’re OK; what’s healthy is to naturally be who (or what) we already are, which has nothing to do with any rules, nothing to do with whatever anyone else might say. ‘Being who or what we really are’ is — as Krishnamurti points out — a revolutionary act, it’s an act of non-conformity. This isn’t to say that we need to rebel against the pattern that has been laid down for us by our fellow human beings — that would simply be reverse adaptation (or reverse conformity) and it won’t help us at all. To deliberately go against a rule is still to obey that rule — what frees us from either conformity or reverse conformity is simply to have no interest in the rules either one way or the other. We’re breaking into new territory here and there are no rules for that…

There are only ever two reasons for adapting to the system: one is to ‘get the reward’ and the other is to ‘avoid the punishment’, both of which equal Extrinsic Motivation. EM is the motivation that comes out of thought. Obeying Extrinsic Motivation is what creates the Generic (or Extrinsic) Self — just as long as we are under the power of ‘fear versus desire’ (or ‘yes versus no’) we can’t ever be autonomous, we can’t ever be free. On the contrary, we then become what Jung calls Everyman. The individual (who is unique rather than generic) doesn’t operate on the carrot-and-stick basis of ‘looking for the prize’ or ‘running away from the threat’ and — thus — the individual cannot be manipulated. A simpler way of putting this would be to say that we are free rather than being controlled by ‘what has happened before’, rather than being utterly dependent on the External Authority of thought in everything we do.

We can bring all of this together by talking about ‘the Artificial versus the Natural’ — we can define the Artificial World as ‘that world which is based on rules (or precedence)’, whilst the Natural World, we may say, is the world that doesn’t run on rules, the world that doesn’t follow precedence. The Natural World isn’t regulated or controlled and so it just ‘does whatever it does’. Nature does what it does and who we are — in our essence — is exactly the same — we’re a ‘mystery to ourselves’ and we can’t be controlled. As we read in John 3:8 –

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

This is a great liberation — this is ‘a great liberation’ because we are thereby freed from the absurd pressure to be always trying to make things better (or — contrariwise — we are freed from the equally absurd pressure of continuously having to run away from problems). When the onus is on me to know what to do, to know what the right thing is and then do it) this is ‘a nightmare of misplaced responsibility’. I’m suffering from a very basic misunderstanding here — I think that if I am to be free then this must come about as to result of my own efforts, as a result of my own cleverness, when the truth is that nothing I do is ever going to help me. Nothing artificial or contrived is ever going to help me. What does help is both the simplest and the most difficult of all things — what helps us is to come into accord with our true nature, which is pure spontaneity. We don’t need to know what ‘the right thing’ is (or ‘how we should be doing it’, or any rubbish such as that) — all that’s needed is for us to see that ‘everything does itself’, and that manoeuvres, methods, manipulation, jockeying for advantage, planning, calculating, analysing, etc are all just an extension of our suffering, a perpetuation of it…

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