Confusion and Inner Conflict

I collected some blogposts I wrote about David Bohm and ordered them on different subjects. This page is about David Bohm on Confusion and Inner Conflict. Links to all posts can be found on the page David Bohm Blogposts.

How to Confront Inner Conflict Instead of Ignoring it

Sometimes David Bohm says so much with one sentence, that I feel the need to take it a bit apart.

It is a line in the first chapter of the book On Creativity.

He describes how the mind tries to avoid contradictions. It is often too confusing or painful to stay with a certain problem, so the mind looks for a way out.

Either it continues to dart from one thing to another, or it reacts with violent excitement that limits all attention to some triviality, or it becomes dead, dull, or anesthetized, or it projects fantasies that cover up all the contradictions, or it does something else that makes one momentarily unaware of the painful state of conflict in which the mind is.

In this one sentence, Bohm gives 4 examples of how we are inclined to deal with this inner conflict. So if we want to avoid conflict we might do one of the following.

1. Go from one thing to another.
We avoid problems. As soon as a problem arises, we go do (or think about) something else.

2. Limit all attention to some triviality.
We get excited about some minor thing. Or someone did us wrong, so we just keep repeating that and blow it to huge proportions.

3. Get dull or anesthetized.
We try not to feel. We use medication, drugs or alcohol to suppress our feelings and pain.

4. Cover up all contradictions.
We watch tv, read fairytales, go to parties and play cheerful music. We only surround ourselves with happy people.

Or search for something else that takes our mind away from that painful state of conflict. That way we will end up with this ‘self-sustaining confusion’. This confusion slowly takes over and eventually the whole mind degenerates.

A better solution

So avoidance is not the real solution. But if that is not the solution, what is? Well, if avoidance is not the answer, it must be confrontation.

And it is. But it is very subtle.

We need to give patient, sustained attention to the activity of confusion, rather than attempting to promote creativity directly. Giving simple attention – a finer, faster process than confusion – is itself the primary creative act.

According to Bohm, it is the only way to get out of the problems we are in as a human race. The only way to get out, is for the individual to go inside and confront their own contradictions.

To make room for creativity. Because we need that creativity to respond to the ever changing challenges around us.


Will Confusion Really be our Epitaph

Today I started reading the first chapter of the book On Creativity by David Bohm.

I already wrote some posts about what struck me most in the preface of the book. And this first chapter made it even more fascinating. Many times, while reading, I wanted to go and write a post about it.

But I also wanted to keep on reading, because it was just so very exciting. When I almost finished that chapter, an image came into my head. And music.

I had to think of an immensely overwhelming piece of music, Epitaph of King Crimson, which I saw as the essence of that chapter.

Confusion that is blocking our creative nature.


The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
And laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
And laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

I really think the whole text (written by Peter Sinfield) is brilliant. It is from 1969 or so, and it has this shocking visionary character.

But in this context, I especially was stunned by ‘confusion will be my epitaph’, while reading the book that said:

Falling into a state of self-sustaining confusion, in which it is no longer aware of its contradictory thoughts and the painfull conflicts that result from them. In doing this, it lacks clear perception in almost any area that may be at all subtle. Thus, it can no longer see what is creative and what is mechanical. Indeed, the mind than starts to suppress real originality and creation, because these seem to threaten the apparently creative, but actually mechanical, centre that appears to be at the heart of one’s very self. It is just this action that constitutes the process of ‘falling asleep’.

So we only have to realize how important it is to change this state of confusion, to give it attention and find our creative nature. Nothing more….


When the Mind is Trying to Escape the Awareness of Conflict

This post is about another block to creativity, a block that prevents us from expressing the creativity that is present in each of us.

Self-sustaining confusion of the mind. This not the usual confusion, the confusion we experience if we just don’t understand something from outside. Bohm, in On Creativity, says that this self-sustaining confusion is something different.

Self-sustaining confusion occurs when the mind is trying to escape the awareness of conflict. In which one’s deep intention is really to avoid perceiving the fact, rather than to sort it out and make it clear.

Wow, this is huge. And I think very true. That what can also be called ignorance. Or avoidance. The time before the demanding need to integrate the shadow. When we can get away with acting like everything is okay.

Bohm points out that this process creates an order on its own: a reflexive state of dullness in which the natural agility of the mind is replaced with torpor on the one hand, mechanical and meaningless fantasies on the other.

Very interesting picture here. And one that I think is very common. The picture I get is a huge gap between emotions and intellect. Between conscious and unconscious. Between body and mind. There is no interaction, no healthy feedback mechanism that provides the necessary information to keep the organism (in this case the human individual) healthy.

Unfortunately this has come to be considered a normal state of mind, and is therefore endemic in our culture.

I think indeed most of us will see this all around. The solution that Bohm gives here is also very interesting.

Consequently, we need to give patient, sustained attention to the activity of confusion, rather than attempting to promote creativity directly. Giving simple attention is itself the primary creative act.

Here again gets clear that Bohm sees creativity as a process. A process that is very unique and personal. An integration of inner conflict, of views that are very different and might even be opposed.

From such attention, originality and creativity begin to emerge, not as something that is the result of an effort to achieve a planned and formulated goal, but rather, as the by-product of a mind that is coming to a more nearly normal order of operation.

So there is nothing special about creativity. It is not just for artists. It is something that natural arises in a healthy human being. In every human being that is not paralysed by confusion.


Other groups of posts about David Bohm

David Bohm on Creativity

David Bohm on Confusion and Inner Conflict

David Bohm on Language and the Rheomode

David Bohm on Communication, Dialogue and Thought

David Bohm on Science and Information

David Bohm on Art and Aesthetics

David Bohm on the Individual and Meaning


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