The first rule of Doubt Club is you do talk about Doubt Club. The second rule of Doubt Club is you do talk about Doubt Club.
We humans are a circuit. If any part of that circuit weakens, we get sick. Primary input is our direct experience of life and other people. Secondary input is art: painting, poetry, music, cinema, cooking, gardening, architecture, TV, plays, singing, whatever. Sense-making sits in the middle between input and output and adds meaning. After we’ve ingested and digested we produce outputs: both primary and secondary, which in turn become other people’s inputs. We’re all part of a living system: a dynamic network of purpose and actuality; some of it bad, some of it good.
Primary input is our experience of the world and other people. Our perceptions of others are shaped by our expectations and our expectations are shaped by the meaning we take from experience. There is a whole science out there that explains far better than I ever could how we filter information down, how we distort it and how we generalise. There is so much sensory information thrown at us that we need mental short-cuts to cope. The problem is that the process that keeps us from cerebral melt down can lead us to pre-judge. We can lose the kindness in another’s words if our prejudice filters out the signals, if our expectations distort an offer of help into a criticism, if our generalisations are so fixed that they are unbreakable. We are asked not to judge lest we too are judged. We forget that our primary output becomes someone else’s primary input, and that they filter, distort and generalise about us.
Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, describes how the wise teacher leads us to the threshold of our own minds and not to his or her own. For Secondary input to be considered great art it needs both structure and space so that we can connect with it on our own terms. Every time we observe, read, touch, hear high-quality creative output we find some new insight, something that challenges us to be, become and do. Art is pain, it unfreezes, it challenges, it inspires us to rebuild ourselves. As spectators, we consume art. As protagonists, we engage with it, rejoice with it, recreate with it.
The middle part of the human engine is the meaning machine. E3 is effectiveness (the right things), efficiency (the right things right), evolution (the dynamic). E3 is the source of all our joys and all our woes. If we fire the engine up, then we risk being taken away from all we know. If we let the engine fall into disrepair we grow to resent where we are. No engagement means we suffer and when we inflict suffering on ourselves we are more likely to inflict it on others. We are freaks of nature, monkeys with minds more powerful than any computer, a Model T Ford fitted with a jet engine.
Anxiety stems from our awareness of choice, creativity and negation, being and non-being, joy and misery; awareness of our actions; and awareness that everything is going to change. Anxiety is the spinning of the engine with no traction. Anxiety is the reason we drown the pain with alcohol, why we numb ourselves with narcotics, why we smoke cigarettes and more than likely why we enjoy thrill-rides in amusement parks. One day you and I are going to die – and who knows what awaits us on the other side. Maybe nothing. God could be a convincing lie perpetrated by the powerful as a form of social control – religion as the opium of the masses. Billions of people could be wasting their time worshipping a figment of their collective imaginations.
In his book Talking of Love on the Edge of a Precipice, Boris Cyrulnik describes how writing, psychotherapy and cultural involvement produce a ‘coherent narrative.’ Viktor Frankl, writing in Man’s Search for Meaning, states that mental health is based on the tension between what one has achieved and what one still ought to accomplish. Meaning matters, and we should not be afraid to challenge ourselves and each other. Frankl offers three levels of mental health: meaning, accomplishment and becoming. Kurt Lewin is another Jewish psychologist hero of mine. Lewin was German, he fought for his country in World War One. Then, like Paul Tillich, he fled Nazi persecution during the 1930’s and emigrated to America. Lewin described three ways the re-educative process changes an individual: cognitive structure, valances and values, and motoric action.
If we don’t engage with the tension inherent in the human engine we risk falling ill. There is a pattern, a connectivity deep at work inside of you and me: act and we change our values: change our values, and we change our sense of meaning: change our meaning, and we change our behaviour – and so on. We are always in motion, and the interplay of purpose, change and doing is fundamental to our mental health.
I’m not a scientist, a therapist or a mental health practitioner – I’m a nobody who can barely string a sentence together. But I have got to engage my own engine. I know that without a creative output I should be ill: hence the reason I’m inflicting my ramblings on you, dear reader,
For I am convinced that E3 is the equation of life. I can’t prove to you that we all leave a footprint in the dusty, muddy path of time and I don’t much want to, as it’s your call on what you believe and what you don’t. I just know that the only way I can stay true to the Will to Love and avoid being eaten alive by my own Will to Power is to will to a meaning bigger than me. Meaning matters, and this binary logic implies that the zeros are as important as the ones.
I like numbers. Some people speak and write using thinking language (guilty as charged, your honour), others paint a picture of the world using visual words, others tell us our ideas are sound and our message is coming through loud and clear, whilst other people talk in feelings and tell us how touched they are by our kindness or how hurt they are by our thoughtlessness. We’re all wired a little differently, and our language patterns are a clue to how our brains see the world. A good writer, a great communicator mixes all this up… so I still have plenty to learn.
I see patterns in numbers, in books, in music, in life. I see existence is a weave. We all play a part in making the pattern and in repairing the damage done. No matter how old we are, no matter our crimes, our blessings, our losses, our successes, we are all invited to re-join the process of creation. I’m convinced that everyone knows what it is that they really want to do with their lives. I’m convinced that everyone knows what it is they have to offer. We choose to ignore the still small voice and accept self-imposed slavery. With each small stitch, a new, vibrant part of the weave is started. If we refuse, if we don’t take part, the reason is us.
Believe, do, change. Lead, manage, evolve. X =Y. DNA. The plate tectonics of Yin and Yang. The equation is everywhere. In the Bhagavadgita Krishna tells Sanjaya; ‘And live in action! Labour! Make thine acts thy piety.’ Saint James writes in his letters; ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’ The Dhammapada tells us ‘fletchers bend the arrow; carpenters bend a log of wood; good people fashion themselves.’
The Y axis is purpose, meaning, leadership, who else? why? the super-ordinate, the noun. The Z axis is the individual’s sense of themselves and their unique role in the world, values and beliefs, sacred self, soul, spirit, dynamic, how? Change, the adjective. The X axis is action, doing, actuality, skills and competencies, what? when? behaviour, managerial, motoric action, the verb.
Michel de Montaigne’s essay On Idleness describes his own collapse into depression and how this experience inspired him to start writing – Varium semper dant otia mentis. Idleness produces fickle changes of mind, the devil finds work for idle hands, anxiety as the misfiring of the human engine.
The minde that hath no fixed bound, will easily loose it selfe: For, as we say, To be everie where, is to be no where.
The question is what purpose we choose, because it is so easy to fall into the trap of making ourselves our own meaning – my will be done on earth, heaven can go fuck itself. France’s M n’ M tells us that the mind that has no fixed bound will easily lose itself. America’s Eminem tells us we have got to lose our self in the moment…. coz this opportunity comes once in a lifetime. It’s this balance: structure over a lifetime, being free in the moment, that defines our life. Eliot calls it ‘the intersection of time and the timeless.’
Intellectually I ‘know’ this shit. I write it down and post it for you to read. I quote the great writers at you like I’m some-kind-o’ paragon of virtue myself. But I spend my time everywhere and nowhere. Does that make me a pragmatist, a realist, Tyler Durden, or just a total fucking hypocrite?
Here in Doubt Club we kick the shit out of each other’s ideas, concepts, beliefs until all that remains are the structures that are tough enough to endure.
Who wants to join me in the ring?