There are two totally different ways of ‘feeling good’. Although the idea is quite a straightforward one, it is not a way of looking at things that we tend to be familiar with, and in fact it isn’t a dichotomy that we find mentioned either in psychological literature, or in textbooks on psychopharmacology in relation to the effect of psychoactive drugs. The two different ways of feeling good can be set as follows:
Type- 1 = Euphoria; Type- 2 = Ecstasy
The differences between Type-1 and Type-2 feeling good is that the first involves a view of things that is familiar (i.e. relevant to our normal way of looking at the world), whilst the second involves a view that is profoundly unfamiliar – not only is it utterly irrelevant in terms of the framework of understanding that we are familiar with, it is also irrelevant to any meaning-framework that we might bring to bear. Another way to explain ‘irrelevance’ would be say that what is perceived does not have a logical correspondence to any set of rules that may be used to explain the unprocessed data of perceptual experience; the reality is not reflective of the rules, in other words.
What we are basically saying is that ‘familiarity’ is a function of self-referentiality: the processed information, when makes its claim upon my conscious attention, agrees with the set of rules that I have (unconsciously) been using to process it. This is circular logic, a sublimely fatuous argument. I arbitrary select a standard, and stick to it grimly ever after, and when you challenge me why I always do things this way I conveniently forget, by some quirk of unconsciousness, the fact that it started off as an arbitrary act of choice on my part, and start speaking in terms of sacred, time-honoured precedence – an unquestionable, unchallengeable authority has sneakily entered the picture. Beforehand, all ways were equally special, which is to say that none were special, afterwards, by virtue of the choice made, this one particular pattern becomes special, exalted above the rest. This ‘specialness’ I now use as evidence of divine authority. There are two things we can say about this sneaky circle of logic:
 The reality it shows has the feel of something that is deeply familiar, i.e. completely obvious or self-evident. Everything is above-board and on show for everyone to see. There is a ‘closure’ about this reality – there is simply no space given to whatever mental manoeuvring would be needed to ask questions about its validity, that possibility is foreclosed on us. Everything has to be accounted for within this framework, there isn’t the perspective that would be needed to see beyond it.
 The choice behind the reality, which is to say, my own role in constructing it, is very effectively concealed from me. The rules that I am using to process information have become totally invisible to me; I automatically take it that the assumptions which I have had to make in order to get a definite handle on reality, are not assumptions at all, but absolute truth. Assuming means ‘making oneself unconscious and it corresponds to what James Carse calls ‘self-veiling’.
TYPE-1 FEELING GOOD
What we have said so far does not seem to have any immediate bearing upon the question of ‘feeling good’. How on earth do we bring euphoria, or ecstasy, into it? We can start by outlining what we mean by the terms. Type-1 Feeling Good is a sort of ‘basking’ – a sort of ‘wallowing in reassurance’. Another way to think of this is in terms of flattery, or ‘humouring’. A flatterer spots my biases and plays up to them, favouring them; he or she slyly agrees with me whilst pretending all the time that they are speaking from an unrehearsed, objective, or independent viewpoint. This makes me feel good, but the basis of this ‘feeling good’ is false – the person is telling me what I want to hear and therefore it is not an independent verification of my beliefs. My primary bias is our notion of who I am, my identity. Associated with this are a host of secondary biases – my thoughts, my beliefs, my values, my opinions, everything that goes to make up my ‘map’ of the world. I use my map to orientate myself and make sense of stuff, and to support the most important bias – which is myself-concept. In the end, my ideas about the world and my ideas about my self come down to the same thing – it is all the same set-up. I experience what we have called ‘Type-1 feeling good’ when the universe agrees with or validates this structure: “I am right!” I say, and I feel secure and highly pleased with myself. Similarly, when things ‘go right’ for me (when goals are achieved) I am likely to experience euphoria. In addition, certain psychoactive drugs are well known for their ability to produce euphoria by making us feel good about our selves – they ‘massage our egos,’ so to speak.
Alcohol, valium, cocaine, amphetamine, and heroin all do this. The chemist who first synthesized heroin coined the name because after taking it he felt like a hero – he felt all the satisfaction that a person feels after succeeding against all the odds (goal attainment) without actually having had to do a thing, other than take the drug.
Essentially, euphoria is to do with particulars, with getting ‘the details’ right – there is a loving attention to definite and specific facts, either to an ideal way of doing things, or to some sort of ideal form. When I am euphoric I find my mind repeatedly going over the same old ground, I am repeatedly taking satisfaction in the ‘rightness’ of what I am thinking. Euphoria is a celebration of form, a delight in the definite – it equals ‘luxuriating in the known’. One way of doing things is lovingly cherished and protected. This corresponds to ‘game-paying’ and the security of knowing all the rules, and therefore we can say that Type-1 feeling good is associated with playing a game. Certainty (or predictability) is the hidden pay-off of game playing – on the face of it games are to do with risk (i.e. the uncertainty of knowing whether we will win or lose), but underlying this apparent uncertainty is the ‘super-reinforced security’ of never having to question the framework of meaning within which winning and losing take place; after all, winning and losing both confirm the validity of the game. Thus, the ‘rightness’ of goal-attainment is secondary to the ‘rightness’ of having a framework within which that goal makes sense.
Euphoria is essentially an obsessive cast of mind because it is very interested in a specific set of details (which is to say, a particular game), and not at all interested in anything that has nothing to do with the game. Euphoria is about feeling good within a narrow little world; it is about being safe, and being protected from any sort of challenge. For this reason euphoria will make me a tiresome person to be with: I am not at all open to anyone else, I am not really interested in learning anything new because ‘I have already got it’. Not only that, but I keep on coming out with the same tedious stuff, implicitly assuming that everyone else shares my passion for it. The hall-mark of ‘revelling in the definite details’ is not only manifested by those using euphoriant drugs, but is also found in people who are in a state of non-drug related manic elation, which is where, for some reason, ‘Type-1 feeling good’ reaches a non-adaptive extreme, and is therefore classified as a mental illness.
EUPHORIA CONDITIONS US
The message that Type-1 feeling good is giving us is this:
Keep doing whatever it is that you are doing, – that’s good; don’t look anywhere else – this is where it’s at. This is the good stuff. Don’t leave this spot. Don’t look elsewhere. Don’t change your game – OPTIMIZE it, PERFECT it, INVEST in it…..
This has the effect of conditioning (or programming) us – Type-1 feeling good is therefore associated with PATTERN-MAKING. If something feels comfortable, reassuring and rewarding then we stick with it, we don’t look beyond it. Basically, we close our horizons, we stay in our ‘comfort zone’. We ‘shut down’ – we lose interest in anything outside of ourselves.
Euphoria doesn’t last though – it always evaporates. The buzz wears off, the honeymoon ends, and when this happens we start to see the price that we have paid. This is like waking up one morning and realizing that the person you are married to is an unattractive tyrant; what is more, the relationship is not something you can just walk away from – you aren’t free to do that anymore. The flip-side of euphoria is entrapment: we are now wedded to a particular pattern or structure, and this translates as confinement, dependency, lack of choice, stagnation and depression. Just as euphoria is based upon closed horizons and the endless reiteration of the known (going round in circles) so too is depression. The difference is, though, that in depression we are not reaping satisfaction, but horror.
TYPE-2 FEELING GOOD
This type of enjoyment – which we shall refer to as ‘ecstasy’ – is harder to get a handle on because it happens as a result of ‘letting go’ of a particular framework, rather than consolidating it. It has nothing to do with setting boundaries and focussing upon specifics; it has nothing to do with ‘seizing’ stuff, with making the unknown into the known. This is the reason that most of us have much less experience of Type-2 feeling good, we tend to look for our pleasure within a known framework – we do what we always done, in other words. This is the whole point: you can’t ‘purposefully obtain ecstasy’, it doesn’t occur as a result of successfully goal-orientated behaviour. Usually, for most of us, because we are conditioned to grasp for pleasure and avoid suffering, the only way that we can encounter the ecstasy of letting go is on the other side of a pain barrier, which is one of the few times when we get to be in a place where we didn’t want to be. This pain might be physical discomfort, or mental anguish, or fear, or it might simply be pure boredom and stagnation. It is negativity of one sort or another, negativity which we would have avoided if it were at all possible! This is why the alchemists spoke of finding their ‘raw material’ in the dung pile where no one else thought to look.
THE CYCLE OF ‘FEELING GOOD’ AND ‘FEELING BAD’
Negativity is fuelled by our attempts to resist or avoid it; the desire to escape negativity, or destroy it, is actually the root of negativity. This is perplexing to say the least, although usually it is not at all perplexing because we are simply unconscious of the conundrum! Krishnamurti speaks of ‘resistance’: because we don’t see that negativity is caused by resistance, we resist negativity. Resisting doesn’t just mean pushing stuff away, it is also our response to stuff we like; basically resistance means being biased – we love one possibility and hate the other, we are attracted to one side of the coin but repelled by the other. Because we automatically resist, we never leave the cycle of pleasure and pain, or the cycle of euphoria and depression; we stay on the merry-go-round, and when we feel good we forget about the times we felt bad, and when we feel bad we wish we could be back in the feeling-good part of the cycle, and the fact that we’re not only makes us feel worse!
In our heads we separate pleasure and pain, we don’t acknowledge the way in which they are linked. We do this socially too – the media endlessly projects images of rapture and euphoria, which is to say, people looking perfect and ‘ideal’ and having marvellous lives; what it doesn’t show is the counter-balancing images of despair, dullness and depression. This is the classic pattern of denial: we live for our moments of rapture, and ignore the rest of it; the dull and depressing part of my life is written off as trash, because I know (or assume) that the ‘really good stuff’ isn’t in it, and the ‘special’ moments are celebrated because I know (or assume) that this is where the ‘good stuff’ is. This is resistance, and resistance is why we get stuck in our patterns. It is also why we so rarely get to experience the type of happiness that has nothing to do with resistance, the type we can’t strip-mine, the type we can’t exploit.
To escape the cycle we have to stay in the ‘feeling bad’ part of the depression/euphoria cycle without resisting it in any way, we have to cultivate an ‘even mind’. This is remarkably difficult because it goes against the grain – we tend to get confused and tangled up because we are so used to doing things purposefully. The trouble is that doing stuff on purpose is resistance because there is an outcome that we desire, and an outcome which we object to. Another way to explain this is to say that resistance equals ‘a game’, and in a game there is always ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. As long as I think in terms of winning versus losing I am trapped in my game, I’m trapped in the sterile cycle of ‘up’ and ‘down’.
WHEN THINGS DON’T FEEL RIGHT…
The first manifestation of ecstasy is a feeling of things not ‘being right; essentially, what is happening is that we are edging out of our comfort zone. Things are not under control any more; the universe is not flattering me, it is refusing to acknowledge my game, it is not allowing me the security of feeling orientated. My ‘idea of myself’ is unsupported and therefore it ends up ringing totally false in my ears. This is a bit like what happens if I hear someone repeating my name to me over and over again – the sound of my name takes on a mocking, persecutory quality after a while, it undermines me. Flattery turns into jeering. There are many ways for this ‘not rightness’ to initially manifest itself: it can be physical pain, shame or guilt, embarrassment, fear, or even boredom, as we have said. These are feelings we know well enough, at least we think we know them – in reality we have never hung around long enough to really find out….
The process that we are describing here is perfectly straightforward, what is happening is that all of my familiar structures and routines are being falsified; what seemed self-evidently normal and correct now seems suspect, my known world is found to be hollow and unfulfilling. There is nowhere for me to rest in comforting unconsciousness, instead of this I am thrown back on myself. Nothing fits, nothing is right, I keep trying out approaches and they all fall flat; the routines which I previously used, quite automatically, to protect myself against anxiety, no longer work and so I am in trouble. The level of discomfort rises – I really don’t like what is happening to me here, and there is nothing I can do to ease it. I am profoundly uncomfortable and ill-at-ease, and the root of this distress is the growing awareness of the awful truth that there is no ‘escape,’ no safe direction to head in. It is not just that things are going wrong, where the really serious discomfort comes in is in the ‘not-rightness’ of losing my orientation altogether.
THE TRICKSTER PRINCIPLE
So far the description of this ‘dislodging’ process doesn’t sound great. Who would want that? It is in fact because of the very unpalatable nature of the process we are describing that very few people get to find out what lies on the other side of the experience. Type-1 feeling-good is basically a seductive trap, and Type-2 feeling-good is the complete opposite: it is profoundly unattractive when first approached, but liberating if we stick with it. As Heraclitus noted, it is a fundamental property of the universe to be ‘trickster-like,’ to pretend to be what it isn’t, and if we don’t see through the surface of its trickery we are doomed to spend out lives chasing pleasure and reaping pain. Another way to put this would be to say that the universe only reveals its true nature to those who don’t jump to conclusions, i.e., to those who don’t take everything at face-value. When we become aware of the operation of this ‘trickster principle’ we start to see that the discomfort of existential insecurity is actually the gateway to ecstasy, ecstasy being the feeling of utter release that comes when I give up trying to exert control.
Control is a double-sided game: on the one hand we are trying to obtain success within the terms of reference which we have started out with; on the other hand, we are secretly maintaining our ‘context of meaning’ without letting on to ourselves that this is what we are actually doing. The attempt to maintain one’s verifiable reality by holding onto an arbitrary framework of reference, and refusing to see that it is arbitrary, is a tortuous and costly business; we pay a heavy price in terms of wasted energy, lack of freedom, and repressed fear, and when the whole self-defeating endeavour is dropped the resulting sense of wonder and delight is inexpressible. It is like the story of the man who kept banging his head on the wall – when asked why he did this he replied “Because it feels so good when I stop….!”
Fear disappears because, contrary to expectations, nothing terrible happens. The ever-present frustration of being confined and tied-up vanishes because there is no more self-limitation. There is, similarly, an experience of tremendous, uncontained energy because the struggle which Alan Watts called the ‘war within the soul’ is over with, and energy no longer fights against itself. There is delight and wonder at the marvellous benediction of ‘inner-meaning’ that has revealed itself, without having to be created, or maintained, or justified, or verified in any way. This is an un-manufactured situation, in contrast to the previous situation which was a hollow, anxiety-ridden simulation. Ecstasy, then, is characterized by lack of fear, lack of the necessity for self-deceit, lack of limitation, lack of containment of energy, and lack of inauthenticity of meaning. It is not the ‘feeling good’ of flattery, but the ‘feeling good’ of truth, which is tremendously challenging at first, but which proves its worth in the end.
LETTING GO OF THE LITTLE PICTURE
It is also possible to differentiate between euphoria and ecstasy by saying that the former is the pleasure that that originates in focusing on the ‘Little Picture’ (the details), whilst the latter is the joy that comes when one gets the ‘Big Picture’ (the whole). Ecstasy is not derived from the validation of the specific; on the contrary, it results from the abandonment of the specific. The ‘message’ that ecstasy gives us (if we could put it like that) is one of affirmation rather than confirmation, but the thing of it is, is that the universe cannot affirm my true self without ruthlessly falsifying my false self, the ‘distraction’ which I am hanging onto in grim desperation. Since we are attached to being who we are not, there is suffering involved, and because of this suffering what usually happens is that we totally distract ourselves in the attempt to hang on to what is being threatened, and for this reason there is no time for an understanding of what is going on to arise; there is only fear. When we do ‘stay with the experience’, then there is learning, and the process of falsification / affirmation is allowed to take place. The process may be outlined as follows:
I decide to make the experiment of not running away, of letting things get out of control. As I hang about in this uncomfortable space the degree of discomfort increases, and at the same time this happens the ‘tendency to react’ that I feel intensifies, because this is a conditioned response to pain. When the urge to react is not acted upon, I am plunged into a new type of discomfort – the subtle discomfort of not being in control. If I had reacted in some way I might still be in discomfort, but I would have distracted myself from the knowledge of what is going on here; because I am not distracting myself, I am now starting to understand the way in which the process is working.
The message is that every move I make is the wrong move, every way I think is the wrong way, and as a result of this global falsification my idea of myself starts to take on a phoney sort of an air.
I have a repertory of tricks up my sleeve, unconscious ways of making myself feel better about things, and I notice myself trying them out. None of them work, none of them help solidify my experience of myself. All of my habitual responses are inappropriate, and in fact they only serve to bring home the point that up to now I have been living in a cocoon of false reassurance, a cocoon that has now been unwound. The effect of this realization is to bring me face to face with the fact that there is no escaping reality. There in an ‘unavoidability’ factor involved – reality is actually unavoidable, ‘real’ and ‘unavoidable’ go together; there is nowhere to hide in consciousness. There is an awareness clearly present in that split second: on the one hand there is the possibility of unlimited fear if I do not ‘let go’ of my mind (if I do not relinquish my attachment to the ‘little picture’), and on the other hand there is the possibility of unlimited bliss if I do…
As we have said, this insight can be either thrilling, or terrifying, or a mixture of both. It is usually terrifying in the first instance: because I have spent so much time avoiding (so that it is second nature to me), this has reinforced the notion that what I have been avoiding must be awful to an unimaginable degree. Because the fact of my avoidance has itself been avoided, out of anxiety, this puts the final seal of rejection on unconditional awareness. The more I have invested in euphoria, the more the prospect of ecstasy will terrify.
ECSTASY AS LIMITLESS AFFIRMATION
It is at this point, if you stay with the process, that something totally unexpected happens. When you really and truly understand that any angle you try is the wrong angle, that every approach you take is inappropriate, that actually there is no right way to conceptualize reality, then along with this flash of insight comes the abdication of the interpreting, manipulating rational mind. Rationality is, at this point, redundant. For the first time, instead of trying to do something with the overwhelmingly momentous experience, you just let it happen. Up to now by far the greatest part of everything that you have ever thought or done has been defensive, part of the Great Denial. The ‘fear of finding out’ which had been the secret driving force has now gone, and all the energy that was tied up in it is released. All the anxiety that you have ever felt up to this point can be traced to the ultimately futile effort of the limited perspective to assert itself over limitlessness, the effort of the finite self to keep from finding out that it is infinite, the effort of the game-player to veil from his/her self the nature of the game…
For the game-player to be able to play there must be rules – there has to be the polarity of YES and NO. This is what gives form to the game; we need rules so there can be a game in the first place. Universal affirmation, in effect, says YES to everything without exception. It doesn’t discriminate, all possibilities are allowed, everything is included. This ‘rule’ of all-inclusivity is not at all the same sort of rule that we would be familiar with in games because it doesn’t exclude or prohibit any thing: there is no YES versus NO. Instead, because everything is affirmed, there is no contrast, no boundary, and therefore there is no more individual existence. Because every-‘thing’ is possible, no-‘thing’ is possible. Thus, limitless affirmation reveals itself to be a kind of Super- ‘NO’. This super negation negates the ordinary NO just as thoroughly as it negates the ordinary YES, both are equally falsified, both are shown up as being unreal.
It is at this stage that we usually recoil in horror at the infinite depths of nihilism which we imagine ourselves to have glimpsed. We like the confirmation afforded us YES/NO, we certainly don’t want anything to do with the likes of universal affirmation (or super negation). That sort of thing just isn’t what we want at all….! What we are reacting to, however, isn’t the negating of reality itself, but ‘the negating of the game’, which is to say, our idea of reality. From the point of view of our conceptualizations, the super-negation really is a nasty, nihilistic piece of work – there can be no doubt at all about this, the SUPER NO really does spell the end of the rational mind. As far as reality itself goes, though, to talk about nihilism is quite laughable, since reality is not a positive (thought-created) phenomenon. The only way that we can grasp reality (from the position of rationality) is to see it as SUPER NO. That’s what it looks like to the mind. Reality itself (as opposed to our thoughts about reality) is not threatened by SUPER NO because it is the SUPER NO.
Emptiness, as the Buddhists say, cannot be injured by emptiness. The degree to which we object to the super negation, and call it nihilism, is the degree to which we identify with rationality; our automatic objection demonstrates our failure to understand the difference between map and territory, menu and meal, model and reality. It is the ‘default’ process of automatically identifying with rationality which is truly nihilism, since identification does not ever allow us to glimpse what is real. As James Carse says, instead of allowing the silence of nature to speak for itself, we impose obedience on nature by speaking on its behalf. Being ‘unconscious,’ (being in the state of passive identification) means that we take our projections to be reality – we project a meaning on the world, and then say that this meaning is independent of us.
We can summarize the above by saying that euphoria always requires a context, whilst ecstasy is always ‘context-less’. We may also say that euphoria equals PATTERN-MAKING, whilst ecstasy equals – in the first instance, at least – PATTERN-BREAKING. In terms of ‘consciousness versus unconsciousness,’ we can say that euphoria occurs in conjunction with falling into unconsciousness, which is the state we seek in avoidance. Ecstasy, on the other hand, is synonymous with the process of coming into consciousness, which is a reversal of avoidance, i.e. acceptance. In terms of love, we can say that euphoria is linked with conditional (biased, or self-orientated) love, whilst ecstasy is associated with unconditional (unbiased, or self-less) love.
– handing over autonomy (giving up freedom)
– identifying with projections
– creating familiarity
– falling into unconsciousness (craving oblivion)
– de-conditioning (de-automatization)
– re-instating autonomy (accepting freedom)
– withdrawing projections
– ending familiarity
– coming into consciousness
Knowledge of euphoria and its flip-side, depression, is common to us all. Knowledge of ecstasy is much rarer – we tend to stick to our comfort zone, even when it has turned into a prison. Negativity can serve as the gateway to the freedom of ecstasy, but usually when we feel bad we intensify our efforts to find comfort, i.e. unconsciousness, or ‘oblivion’. If and when things get ‘too bad’, we can always (or almost always) refuse the experience, and will ourselves into oblivion. This is no solution really, since it was unconsciousness that was the problem in the first place! As Jung says, unconsciousness is the ‘original sin’ – the primary source of all psychic distress. Unconsciousness equals suffering. Waking up is achieved, according to G. I. Gurdjieff, through conscious suffering, i.e. when suffering is confronted with courage rather than being passed on. When we ‘pass suffering on’, it is either acted out and transmitted to those around us, or repressed in us, and stored up for the future.