Doing and Being

We live in a world in which being has been replaced by doing. Isn’t doing great, we are constantly saying to ourselves, isn’t all this doing quite marvellous? How splendidly inspiring it is – we must do more of it. We must work harder at it; we must get better and better at it. We must do more doing…

 

We have become so busy with our constant doing that we can’t see that it is not great at all really. We are so intoxicated with doing that we can’t see that it’s not really worth anything, just as money or status in society isn’t really worth anything. It’s hollow, devoid of substance, devoid of value and integrity. Its a sham. We’re so busy with our doing that we can no longer remember how good being was. We’ve been cheated by our own greed.

 

Doing is a strange sickness, a sickness that makes us hungry and hollow; it makes us hungry and hollow at the same time as tantalizing us and titillating us with promises of what we are to receive as a result of it. These crazy-making promises are what drive us to keep on trying to improve our doing, make it more effective, make it more efficient. The tantalizing images are what drive us to be forever investing more and more of ourselves in the never-ending doing…

 

And yet the more invested in doing we become the more inwardly impoverished we get as a result. Doing doesn’t take us towards being; it takes us further and further away from it! Doing always takes us away from being; doing always impoverishes us. Doing equals ‘straining after phantoms’ or ‘chasing after mirages’, so how can it not impoverish us? The more fixated on hollow images we are the more we turn our backs on being, and yet being is all there is.

 

Being is all there is, but we are constantly straining and striving in the opposite direction! And yet there isn’t an ‘opposite direction’ – how could there be an ‘opposite direction’ to being? How could there be anything other than the True, or the Real? And yet somehow we want something else, something better. We want improvement. We are constantly looking for something that doesn’t exist and the more we invest in looking for it the hungrier we are getting. Our appetite can’t be satisfied by being anymore; being is no good to us anymore because we have turned away from it. Being can’t nourish our souls anymore because we don’t believe in souls; we don’t believe in souls any more than we believe in being.

 

So what we’re hungry for when we’re caught up in doing is something that doesn’t exist in the real world. We don’t actually know what it is, if we were to be honest about it. We lazily imagine that we do know; we very flippantly assume that we know but if we were to carefully examine what it is that we are yearning for, what we think it would be if we got it, then we would discover that we are not actually able to say. It’s as if we are getting excited about some half-baked idea, some sort of a notion that wouldn’t make sense in the light of day. We’re consumed with an insatiable hunger for some kind of hollow fantasy.

 

The fantasy is given life by our unacknowledged inner impoverishment. Strangely, therefore, the illusions we are getting so excited about when we are caught up in our feverish doing are ‘fuelled’ by our lack of being. Lack of being fuels doing and doing causes us to lose being, and this is the vicious circle we are caught up in. The hungrier we are the more we impoverish ourselves by investing ourselves in doing; the more impoverished we become the hungrier we are and the hungrier we are the more we are driven to invest ourselves further in yet more doing…

 

All the talk is of plans and procedures, strategies and skills, tools and methods, as if by the pure stubborn weight of our ‘will to control’ we can tear down being from the heavens and compel it to be at our disposal. We imagine that we can browbeat life into ‘coming up with the goods’ with our plans and procedure, our pestilential bureacracies. It is as if we simply cannot conceive – cannot allow ourselves to conceive – that it’s just not possible for us to get our own way. We are flatly convinced that it is right and proper and perfectly in line with the principles of the universe that we should be able to get what we want out of life. Our commitment to self-deception is immense in this regard, but that doesn’t make our chances of getting what we want any the greater. Being doesn’t come out of doing, no matter how hard we push it! Being can’t be squeezed out of doing, no matter what fancy talk or fancy theories we come out with. No theory – no matter how fancy it is, no matter how impressive it sounds – can EVER convert doing into being!

 

As is very clear indeed to anyone who cares to take a look around them, we live in a world in which doing has replaced being. We live in a world that is fueled by fantasy.There’s no being anywhere – there’s only talk of how great everything is going to be when we have completed all our plans, when we have successfully carried out all our strategies. We’re busy chasing that preposterous hallucination called ‘winning’ or ‘success’ – ‘winning’ is the hallucinatory analogue of being that we believe in when we live in a world that is ruled by doing and thinking (which is a form of doing). It’s a meaningless half-baked notion that we take very seriously indeed. Its our god.

 

The hunger to win (or succeed) is the sickness that we are all afflicted with. It is a sickness because it can never be satisfied; it is a sickness because it only ever leads to pain, pain, and more pain. It is a sickness because it makes us turn our backs on the only thing that can ever bring us true peace and happiness, which is actual being…

 

 

Art: Igor Morsky

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

The default situation is one in which consciousness is held prisoner by the thinking mind on a full time basis. We don’t ‘think’ that this is the default situation but it is. There are – we might say – two elements here: on the one hand there is the thinking mind (which is made up of repeating patterns) and on the other hand there is consciousness, its captive.

 

Consciousness is the fair maiden and the thinking mind the fearsome dragon! This dragon – as dragons usually are – is more than a match for any ordinary opponent. Only a hero has a chance against such a powerful adversary, and heroes are few and far between these days. They are somewhat thin on the ground – this, it is fair to say, is not an age for heroes. Consciousness, it appears, is not about to be freed from its grim prison any time soon…

 

In this age, in this modern ‘enlightened’ era, we have no understanding of consciousness as being in any way different or separate from the lumbering thinking mind. The suggestion that consciousness has its own life outside of thought and the realm created by thought does not tend to resonate particular strongly with us. It does not tend to resonate at all. Without the over-arching framework of thought (so we ‘think’!) what could consciousness possibly get up to? How could it be any use – what ends could it serve?

 

As we have just indicated, this is what we think, and the thinking mind never sees its own limitations. It never sees that there could be any life outside of it and its tiresome machinations. As far as thought is concerned everything has to be directed towards an end; if something isn’t serving some end or other then what use is it, what’s the point of it? This is the way rationality looks at things. Because we live in a world that is governed by thought, has been constructed by thought, nothing is given any value unless it serves some end. Thus, to say that something is ‘pointless’ or ‘useless’ is to roundly denigrate it; when we say this there is real viciousness, real unpleasantness in it – the thinking mind has no time for anything ‘useless’. But when we consider the bigger picture – which is something that the thinking mind cannot ever do, since it can only ever concern itself with a single slice of the pie, not the pie itself – we see that all this talk of things ‘having a purpose’ or ‘serving some end’ is quite ridiculous. When we gain a bit of perspective all of this talk becomes utterly nonsensical.

 

When we consider the whole pie (i.e. life as a whole) rather than just the slice then we see that the notion of purpose (or ‘having a purpose’) is pure foolishness. It is not simply foolish, it is deranged. ‘Uses’ or ‘purposes’ exist only in relation to the narrow view of things; they only come into being when we are looking at the relationship between the elements that we see as existing when we look at a partial  (or fractional) view of life. I can say that I am doing X because of Y, that Y is the reason for X and this works fine just as long as we are looking at the fractional view of the world (which is to say, when we are unconsciously excluding anything that does not fit into or have any bearing on this narrow viewpoint). Causality (or ‘purposefulness’) only has any meaning when we take the part to be the whole, in other words; it only has any validity when we are not relating to life / the world as a Whole, which is of course what it is.

 

Living life on the basis of ‘purposes’ or ‘uses’ is like robbing Peter to pay Paul – it only seems to work on the small scale of things. In reality – as we all know perfectly well – it doesn’t work at all!  In exactly the same way we can generate the illusion of ‘progress’ by taking a very narrow view of what’s going on , but this again is pure trickery – we’re only chasing ourselves around in circles. All we’re ever doing is keeping ourselves perpetually busy, perpetually ‘on the hop’. The thinking mind is always working towards some end or other; the thing about this however is that – in reality – there are no ends!

 

What happens when we reach one of these supposed ‘ends’? Clearly when we get to the end we stop; we stop because we have to stop, we stop because there’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. So we just sit there in our imaginary ‘end-point’, satisfied that we have now ‘got there’, satisfied that we have now ‘arrived’. We dig in, we set up camp; we get entrenched and start erecting heavy-duty fortifications (just in case something or someone wants to dislodge us). We’ve attained the prize and we’re not about to let someone take it away from us! So we make a meal of not moving on, of staying stuck in our so-called ‘end’ that isn’t an end at all but only something that the thinking mind has made up. We make a virtue of being stuck, aggressively ignoring or pushing away all the other possibilities that life has to offer and this is the way that consciousness gets to be held prisoner so effectively by the thinking mind.

 

This ‘imprisoning mechanism’ functions (we could say) on two levels. The first and primary level is the one that we have just been talking about: because of the way we see the arbitrary mind-created position as ‘who we are’ and then spend all of our time defending and promoting it, trying to make everything in our environment serve it, we never see that we don’t have to be doing this. We have – because of what the thinking mind is telling us – made a virtue of our stuckness, our unfreeness, which means that we are now totally and implacably resistant to hearing a word said against it. We have become stubborn, we have become obstinate and the more pressure we’re under the more stubborn and obstinate we become! This is one way which in which we are imprisoned – by being brainwashed by the thinking mind (which loves concrete categories and fixed viewpoints) into implacably resisting change, or by ‘celebrating a fixed and reality-resistant self’ (which is of course the same thing).

 

The secondary way in which consciousness is imprisoned by thought follows on from the first. The thing is that when we are identified with a fixed and reality-resistant self (i.e. when we reach the ‘terminal destination’ of who and what thought says we are) then we find of course that we suffer greatly from our stuckness. Stuckness is suffering, ‘stuck’ is another word for suffering. We have become sterile, we have become barren of possibilities – all we can do is to keep on going through the same old manoeuvres, the same old stale and tortuously familiar routines. The compulsory repetition of the old, the familiar is torture, even if we are at the same time perversely fond of it, so at this point, rather than being about ‘exploring the new’, life becomes all about entertaining ourselves so as to distract ourselves from being aware of our terminal stuckness.

 

Our modality of entertaining ourselves follows exactly the same pattern we started off with when we identified with the fixed or final viewpoint that is the conditioned self – we pick out an arbitrary position as being ‘an end in itself’ and then work as hard as we can towards attaining or realizing this end. Once we have an ‘end’ in mind then everything else becomes subsidiary to it; nothing exists for us or has any relevance unless it has some sort of relation to the goal we are trying to attain. We develop ‘tunnel vision’, in other words, and this tunnel vision over-simplifies reality for us so that everything becomes about either succeeding in our task or not succeeding. This is a profoundly unreflective state of mind- we are in no way interested in asking questions about why it is so great if we attain the goal, or so bad if we don’t. All our attention goes into the ‘how’ of the situation not the ‘why’. Then when we have attained the goal we move on to the next, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

 

This terminal unreflectiveness is precisely what ‘consciousness’s prison’. This is what makes up the jail that we are perpetually languishing in – the compulsion that we do not see as a compulsion, but our own free will. The compulsion that we are talking about here is the compulsion to obey the rules of the game that has been set up for us to play, without ever questioning them. The game that we are playing is our prison, in other words. We think we’re playing the game but we’re not – the game is compulsory, which is to say, the tables have been turned without us realizing it and the game is playing us!

 

The thinking mind is the game creator. If we were to know the thinking mind for what it is, we would know it as the creator of games! It doesn’t let us know it as such however – it veils its true nature from us better than anything is ever veiled. We never see the mind’s productions as games! To suggest to someone that their thoughts are merely games, and that the mind-created picture they have of themselves and the world is also a game is to invite incredulity, if not outright hostility. Our thoughts are serious; our idea or beliefs about ourselves and the world are deadly serious – wars are fought over these arbitrary mental constructs. Actually, all the wars that have ever been fought are ultimately over ideas that we refuse to see as just ‘ideas’, thoughts that we take as seriously as can be. All aggression, all violence, all cruelty comes from taking the productions of the thinking mind seriously, and never ever looking beyond them to their mechanical creator, the rule-based mind.

 

When we do see beyond the humourless productions of the thinking mind then this is consciousness escaping from its prison of seriously, its prison of ‘a game that it cannot see to be only a game’. A game, as we have said earlier, is where we have a tunnel vision of reality. What attracts us to the tunnel vision of reality is the very thing that strangles and suffocates us – it’s closure. We are attracted to having everything decided for us, everything determined for us, because it is safe, because there’s nothing there that is ever going to take us by surprise, because we never going to learn that what we previously took to be true isn’t actually true at all. That really isn’t the type of surprise we want to have! What we’re forever chasing after are definites, outcomes that makes sense within the accepted framework, outcomes that reflect the values of the accepted framework, outcomes that are the concrete manifestation of the accepted framework. We don’t like to have the uncertainty of not knowing whether we should chase after these outcomes or whether we should not – we like to have all of these details ‘decided for us’ by the game. [We don’t like freedom, in other words.]Then all we have to do is put all our efforts and attention into achieving the designated goals, the designated outcomes.  All we have to do is ‘successfully obey the rules’…

 

So playing the game ensures that we will never have to be reflective, and this means that everything is going to be ‘safe’. ‘Safety’ comes out of never being reflective, which is the same thing as never being conscious. We could also say therefore that the thinking mind keeps consciousness in prison by constantly finding tasks for it to do. We are kept constantly busy; we are constantly tied up with petty tasks. Hence Socrates says, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” It doesn’t matter what game we are playing, or what the goals are – that’s not the point. The point isn’t the real point. The real point is to keep us busy, to keep us tied up. That is the point behind all games. The ‘horror’ is pointless never-ending self-validating busy-ness therefore and this is exactly what our culture or ‘civilization’ provides us with on a full-time basis. That’s what our culture is all about – empty distractions, empty entertainment, futile tasks, all dressed up and made somehow glamorous. We are in thrall to Norton Juster’s The Terrible Trivium.

 

The prison is unremitting concrete purposefulness. Purposefulness is the prison because when we’re caught up in it (i.e. when we’re taking our purposes seriously) – then we’re just not there. We’re absent.There is no consciousness in concrete unremitting purposefulness and yet consciousness is who we are.

 

What happens if we stop being busy? We notice the world around us with all its wonders. What happens if we don’t stop, if we stay locked up in our sterile games? Then we notice neither the world around us nor ourselves….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Cling To You Lose

mirage.jpg.scaled500

‘What you cling to you lose’, the Buddha is reported as saying (or ‘what you don’t let go of you lose‘, which comes to the same thing). “Aah,” we might reply in all our Western sophistication, “but if we’re not holding on to it then we don’t have it anyway and so what’s the difference?” What’s the difference between losing because we’re holding on to it and losing it because we never tried to win it in the first place?

 

Another thing the Buddha might have said however is that when we cling we create a false self. When we hold on we create the illusion of who we think we are but actually aren’t. Once this is taken into account then it changes everything – not only do we lose whatever it is we are so determinedly clinging to (and experience therefore the anguish of loss that goes with this), we’re suffering in vain because it wasn’t us who wanted it in the first place but ‘the mistaken notion of who we thought we are’. We’re suffering in vain because we’re not really the clinger who loses – we just think we are.

 

When we cling we create, by this act, ‘the clinger’, but this clinger is not at all who we are. The clinger is the false idea of who we are; the clinger is the false self, the ‘self who we are not’. To this false self, to this clinger, to this ‘attached one’, the thing that is being clung to is of course very important indeed. The strength of the clinging is a measure of this importance and the strength (or rather, the pure desperation) of this clinging goes off the scale. The urgency (or rather desperation) of our clinging has no end, no limits…

 

The ironic point about all this however is that ‘the thing that is being clung to’ is desperately important only to the clinger and the clinger (as we have been saying) isn’t who we are. The thing we are clinging to is desperately important to the false self, to the ‘mistaken idea of who we are’, but not at all important to who we really are. How can we be so sure of this? Simply because what the false self, the ‘clinger’, the ‘attached one’, is clinging to is actually itself.

 

The attached one, the clinger, only really cares about one thing and that is itself. What else would it be attached to? It is not attached to anything other than itself, and never could be. We can understand this very clearly just as soon as we see that clinging is how we create the self. That’s the whole point of clinging, that’s the ‘secret agenda’ behind this whole tiresome business of attachment. We naively imagine that when we grasp we are wanting to obtain something to benefit the self, something to enhance or augment or accessorize the self but this isn’t true. The bottom line is that what we’re doing when we cling (or strive) is to create the one who clings, to create the one who strives…

 

It could be said perhaps that from a psychological point of view what we’re  trying to obtain by our clinging and striving (to / for whatever it is that we’re clinging / striving to/for) is an increase in our sense of ontological security. This is true, but what constitutes ontological security for the false self is the belief that it actually exists when it doesn’t! ‘Striving for ontological security’ is the very same thing as ‘striving to exist’, therefore.

 

This is a tremendously frustrating sort of a business, obviously. When we play the game which we don’t know to be a game (the game that we exist as this concrete self when we don’t) there is only one thing that really matters to us and that thing is obtaining a type of security that just isn’t possible for us. Obtaining the sense of security that we are so painfully missing (necessarily missing, since the false or attached self doesn’t actually exist) is more important to us than anything else. It is desperately important to us in fact and at yet the same time as being desperately important it is at the same time flatly impossible. This isn’t just ‘a tremendously frustrating situation’, it’s the most frustrating situation there ever could be! It’s also the situation we find ourselves in every day.

 

In one way this strategy might be said to be working for us. It works for us in the sense that we get to believe very firmly indeed that we are this concrete self, for good or for bad, for better or for worse. We REALLY DO get to believe that we are the wanter, the striver, the clinger! The other side of the coin is however that we have to base our life on believing that we can obtain something that we can’t actually obtain, and at the same time avoid something that we can’t really avoid. We’re always ‘straining in a futile way’, therefore, and this straining is suffering.

 

The straining is futile because there is never a satisfactory outcome, because we can never ever get the result that we want to get (although it on occasion might for a while seem to us that we have). In another sense – as we have just said – the painful straining isn’t futile because we have created a self. As Alan Watts says in one of his talks, this painful knot of futile straining is the self! By striving to achieve the goal we create the striver, the wanter, the hoper. By planning and scheming we create the planner, the schemer. Is the planner or schemer ever happy? Plainly not, but who cares? Ultimately, it’s not being happy we care about but possessing – however temporarily – a misleading sense of ontological security. It’s believing that we are this ‘concrete self’ that matters, not anything else.

 

The wanter and the striver, the schemer and the planner, cannot ever be happy, obviously. If we’re wanting then by definition we’re not happy. By definition we are suffering. We haven’t got what we think we need, so how can we be happy? We have something else instead of happiness though – we have a workable substitute and the substitute is the excitement we experience when we (falsely) believe that we really are going obtain what we are so determinedly looking for. This ‘enjoyable excitement’ is a fool’s paradise, however – it’s all just a mirage that’s about to vanish into thin air the moment I close my hand on the prize. And the greater my excitement was beforehand, the greater the let-down is going to be afterwards when the mirage slips through my fingers (as it always does, as it always has done, as it always will do).

 

Once the prize has slipped (yet again) from my fingers then there is nothing for it but to go chasing after the next ‘object of desire’; I have to start playing the game again so that I can receive the next dose of enjoyable excitement. I have no choice apart from ‘playing the game all over again’ because this is the only way I know of getting to feel good again. I need this feeling of pleasurable anticipation – I am addicted to it, I am a slave to it. All I know is the euphoria of hope and the anguished let-down of loss and I crave the former just as much as a hate and the fear the latter. This attraction to euphoria and aversion to dysphoria is what traps me in the ultimately unfulfilling cycle of conditioned existence therefore. This is what traps me in the game of samsara.

 

Not only have I made myself into a slave of the enjoyable excitement (which is ‘the rapture of self-creation’) therefore, I have at the same time set up another master over me – that master being the negative excitement (or dysphoria) which is dread and anxiety. What I am in dread of is also only an empty mirage, but it is very real to me because that is the game I am playing. Because I want so much to believe in the concrete self, I have to be a slave to the fear that comes with it. The ‘addictive excitement’ of which we speak is nothing other than the excitement of creating the self but any pleasurable excitement which I manage to gain in the game is always going to be counterbalanced or cancelled out later on by unpleasant variety! This ‘pleasurable excitement’ is what Daisaku Ikeda calls the state of rapture. Because I crave euphoria so much, I have to make myself subject to the dreadful scourge of dysphoria. In order to have what like I also have to have what I don’t like. If I am to believe in the ‘positive’ euphoria-producing projections then I also have to believe in the ‘negative’ (dysphoria-producing) ones.

 

So in this game not only am I compelled to be forever chasing after attractive illusions, I am also compelled to be forever fleeing the frightening ones. This game – the game that I am playing – is the game of the self, and this is how I CREATE the self – by planning and scheming, by hoping and striving, by constantly chasing after attractive illusions and running away from repellent ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monkey-Trap

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What creates a sense of identity is being trapped – as soon as we cease to be trapped, we lose our identity! As Jean Baudrillard says, “It’s always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.”

 

This is a crucial insight – it is the crucial insight – without it we aren’t getting anywhere. Or rather, without it we are going to be continually thinking that we are getting somewhere when we aren’t, and aren’t ever going to be. Without this insight we are going to be continually thinking that we actually genuinely honestly do want to ‘get somewhere’ when the unpalatable truth is that – deep down – we don’t!

 

What we’re looking at here is nothing other than the ‘jinx’ behind everyday unconscious life, therefore – the jinx that we are permanently oblivious to, permanently ignorant of. Even psychologists – who we might expect to know all about this particular double-bind – know nothing of its existence, of its invisible centrality to human life. Any mention of it is conspicuously absence from the training manuals that health services require their therapists to follow. Therapy – or rather so-called ‘therapy’ – proceeds in the absence of any awareness of this fundamental jinx.

 

Our everyday existence is fundamentally self-contradictory and we know nothing of this. We remain sublimely ignorant of the glitch that we are talking about here – we couldn’t be more ignorant of it. We are maximally ignorant of it. We take it for granted that everything is all very straightforward so when we do run into a brick wall as far as this endeavour of  ‘changing ourselves’ goes all we can do is blame ourselves for not trying hard enough; all we can do is castigate ourselves for being weak or unaccountably ineffectual. Those around us are very much inclined to hold us accountable for our lack of progress too, although they may not say it in so many words…

 

The mental health industry is rife with this type of implicit blaming! There is no way for things to be otherwise if we hold (as we do hold) that it is possible for us to change ourselves from unhappy, self-sabotaging states of mind to happy and peaceful ones just by some straightforward application of effort via some kind established method or protocol. We are simply incapable of doubting our hallowed methods or protocols – rule-based procedures are God as far as we are concerned and we will not hear a word said against them! This being the case, how can we not blame – either implicitly or explicitly – those who are subjected to the therapeutic rationale and yet fail to change their thinking or behaviour?  We have no choice in our blaming because of our belief in the unquestionable efficacy of our mechanical methods.

 

The essential problem that we aren’t addressing with all our models and methodologies is that any genuine attempt to change is always going to involve the sacrifice of our identity, which is the one thing we never want to do. There is an unacknowledged paradox at the heart of all rational therapy – the paradox being that the self is fundamentally incapable of wanting to change itself. The self can never relinquish the self. The conditioned self only has one form of behaviour and that is behaviour that is geared towards securing its own advantage. The self always acts to maintain its own essential integrity, in other words. This is its ‘essential mechanism’.

 

The fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is the motivation to preserve and extend the self, the identity, and this motivation – for reasons that we have already given – is fundamentally incompatible with a genuine wish for freedom. We don’t really want freedom, as Erich Fromm has pointed out. Freedom is actually our greatest fear! We say that we value freedom above all else but we don’t really mean it. If the sense of identity which we are trying to optimize via rational thought and behaviour is created by being trapped, being limited without knowing that we are limited, and if the only way to escape the pain that comes with being trapped or unknowingly limited is by relinquishing these self-imposed limits, then this straightaway becomes a cure that we do not want. We no longer have any appetite for the cure, if this is what it entails…

 

This then is the dilemma that we find ourselves in. We can’t bear the misery that comes with being trapped but at the same time we are fundamentally dependent upon that trap for our sense of identity, which is the most important thing in the world for us. We really are caught here therefore – there’s no way we are ever going to sacrifice our precious sense of identity, our sense of ‘being this defined self’ and so there is no real possibility of us ever escaping the yoke of suffering that conditioned existence places upon us.

 

We don’t really want to change anything important, anything major, and yet at the same time we can’t simply ‘stay as we are’. We can’t stay where we are either because seeing that there is actually no way that we will ever be free from this pain, this unmitigated misery, would be fundamentally unbearable to us. We just couldn’t carry on the way we are if we had this insight – that’s how crushing it is. The awareness of the truth of our situation would totally banjax the mechanism of the conditioned self. We solve this dilemma in the only way we can therefore – by not facing up to the fact that we don’t actually want to change.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we solve the dilemma by being fundamentally insincere. It’s not that we ‘choose’ to be insincere – we don’t have any choice in the matter. Our nature as conditioned beings is such that we always want to be moving away from pain; this drive to avoid pain is ‘built into us’, so to speak. As we have already said, the fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is to maintain our sense of identity, our sense of being this defined self, and mental pain is pain to us precisely because it threatens this sense of self. Just as physical pain is as inimical to us as it is because it threatens our physical organism in some way, mental pain is as profoundly unwelcome to us as it is because it threats the integrity of our self-concept. Another way to put this is to say that our fundamental motivation is fear – fear is the self-concept’s relationship with unconditioned reality!

 

So we say one thing and do another. We might – as part of our strategy – go through the motions of doing whatever it is that we (supposedly) need to do in order to change but we don’t really mean it. It’s all an act that I am putting on – not so much to fool others as it is to fool myself. I need to believe that I am taking steps to better my situation, to make things more tolerable for myself. This is as we have said my basic tropism – I have to be moving away from pain (or rather, I have to believe that I am moving away from pain). Because as a conditioned being I am driven by fear in everything I do, I have no choice in doing anything other than running!

 

It’s all running as far as the conditioned self is concerned. Even if I run towards pain (or take on difficult stuff) it’s only because I believe that I can in this way ultimately reduce my pain. Even my moving towards pain is running, therefore! Even when I take part in therapy this is running. All purposeful behaviour is running because all purposeful behaviour is ultimately driven by the need to avoid pain (or fear). All my goals are pain-avoidance – my goals are attractive to me in the way that they are because they represent an escape from fear. My goals ARE my fear, therefore.

 

Being a slave to fear means that I have to run. But even though I am ostensibly running away from pain, at the same time, on a core level, I have absolutely no intention of ever relinquishing the pain-producing trap that I am in. All I can do therefore is to carry on living the theatre in which I am working to better my situation, and this means making sure that I remain unconscious of my true motivation. I have to split myself in two, so to speak – I have to exist on the theatrical level where I believe the cover story of what is going on, and I also have to operate on the level where I have to stick around to make sure that there is never any chance of anything ever changing…

 

This situation sounds utterly hopeless but of course it isn’t. What we are looking at here is the classic ‘monkey trap’ – the monkey is trapped because of his greed, he is trapped because of the way in which has greed will not let him relinquish the precious fistful of peanuts that he has just acquired. Because he cannot let go of the peanuts he cannot withdraw his hand from the narrow neck of the bottle in which he found the nuts; because of his stubborn refusal to let go of the prize the monkey cannot bring himself to free himself! Escaping from the trap is the easiest, most straightforward thing in the world – all we have to do is forfeit the peanuts. All we have to do is value freedom more than we value the claustrophobic illusion of the self-image!

 

 

 

 

 

The Paradox of Being in the Present Moment

authenticity paradox

I can’t make myself be in the present moment. I can’t push or coax or cajole myself to be ‘in the now’ – that’s just not the way it happens. I can’t achieve this by following any method or developing a skill in using any particular technique. The reason for this is simple – there’s no me in the present moment!

 

The sense of there being a ‘me’ is a sense of separation, or a sense of ‘separateness’, and there’s no separation / separateness in the present moment. There is a complete lack of separateness and there is also a complete lack of a separate self who is there and who can therefore see this marvellous lack of separateness! There is no me there to experience the marvellous lack of a me, no commentating self there to comment on the wonderful lack of a commentating self…

 

Understanding this rather tends to take the wind out of our sails. If being in the stillness of the present moment is so great then who is it great for? Who benefits? The whole thing sounds rather perplexing – I can’t in any way cause myself to be ‘in the now’ and that’s because there isn’t a me in the now and never could be. So what the ‘me’ – who is the wanter, the desirer, the planner and striver – is trying to do is get rid of itself and this isn’t really what it set out to do here!

 

From the point of view of the self which seeks to instigate all this, the whole business of ‘being in the now’ – which sounds so marvellous and so straightforward – is fraught with paradox. It’s not quite so straightforward after all. The purposeful self is all about skills, all about methods, all about techniques; it loves accumulating ‘know how’, recipes or algorithms for how to do things. And yet there is no skill, no technique, no strategy for reaching the state of non-separateness! There is no algorithm for it; no matter how smart you might happen to be there is still absolutely no way for you to ‘hack into’ the present moment…

 

The big question –and the question that we tend to skip over very quickly – is “Do we really want to surrender our ‘separate sense of ourselves’ (and there is no sense of self that isn’t a ‘separate sense’, that does not involve separation)? If I say that I do want it, that I do want to surrender this sense of being separate then straightaway we have this old paradox again because the sense of separateness which is the self can’t want to lose its separateness. It is functionally incapable of wanting this. How can it want what it can’t conceive of, what it can’t ever hope to understand? The self can only ever desire its understanding or idea of what ‘unity’ means and that is a very different sort of thing altogether.

 

Being a ‘separate sense of self’ (or seriously imagining ourselves to be ‘selves’, if that isn’t too clumsy a sentence-construction) is always to incur irreducible pain. There’s no way for us to see things from the point of view of the self without creating pain that we can’t ever shake off, suffering that we can’t ever off-load. This pain – which in the usual run of things is not experienced for what it is – gets projected onto the outside world where it appears in the form of ‘attractive possibilities’. Or in the form of ‘goals’, as we might also say. We then experience desire towards these attractive / alluring possibilities which on an inaccessible level of our consciousness we equate to ‘an end of the pain of our separation’. All purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour (unless its carried out perfectly consciously) is an attempt to find our way back to the source that we are cut off from without knowing that we are cut off. It could be said therefore that all of our trying, all of our striving is at root the attempt to complete ourselves since deep-down we can’t help feeling that we are painfully incomplete…

 

We don’t really want to complete ourselves however because ‘completing ourselves’ means losing the only sense of ourselves that we have, which is our separate sense of ourselves. Completing ourselves means losing ourselves therefore and this was never really on the agenda. Nothing is actually being lost however because the thing that we think we’re losing is the sense of us existing separately and we never existed separately in the first place. We never had this! We’re losing the sense that we had that there was some kind of ontological security there, some way of effectively ‘checking up on ourselves’ so as to make sure of ourselves, but this imagined ‘ontological security’ doesn’t actually exist anyway. It’s a trick we play on ourselves!

 

But even though in reality there is ‘nothing to lose and no one to lose it’ the paradox remains. The paradox is that if I say that I want to be ‘one with everything’ (i.e. no longer separate) I don’t really. I like the idea of it (i.e. I like what that idea means to me) but because that ‘me’ doesn’t exist in the first place this idea that I have of unity is a red herring through and through.  What this idea of ‘being one with everything’ means to me is of course all about me and has nothing to do with ‘unity’ itself (which as we keep saying has no me in it).

 

Another way of approaching this paradox is to say that wanting always involves the wanter. There can be no such thing as wanting without the wanter. What this means therefore is that the whole idea of ‘wanting to end separation’ is inescapably jinxed. We never really want to end separation; we never really want to end the sense of there being a separate self. We just think we do. It’s a lie that we do because the very wanting itself creates the sense of separation!

 

Wanting to be in the present moment is thus a perfect paradox. Wanting to be ‘in the now’ excludes us from the now. “I want to end the sense of separation between me and everything else” is a statement that perfectly contradicts itself! The self only exists because it is not in the present moment. The alienated, isolated egoic self wanting to be reunited with everything, reunited with the ground of its being, is perpetuating its alienation, perpetuating its isolation. This is the game the separate self plays without acknowledging that it is playing any game. Wanting is my way of surreptitiously perpetuating myself – ‘wanting’ is the game.

 

It’s not that there’s this awkward paradox that stands in the way of us being in the present moment. That’s not what we are saying. What’s getting in the way of us being in the present moment is the game that we are playing without admitting that we are. We could talk about this in terms of insincerity – we’re being insincere in everything we do but at the same time we’re functionally incapable (as conditioned selves) of knowing that we’re being insincere. The egoic sense of self – no matter what it says to the contrary – is functionally incapable of sincerely wishing to sacrifice its (spurious) sense of being separate….

 

This is like wanting to be free from the misery that comes from clinging to a fixed position but at the same time being fundamentally unwilling ever to let go of this fixed position. It’s not just like ‘wanting to be free from the misery that comes from clinging to a fixed position but at the same time being fundamentally unwilling to let go of that position’ – it actually IS that! That’s exactly what it is – that is our essential predicament in a nutshell… This is a double-bind and the only way out of it is to entertain / distract ourselves with a whole load of tediously insincere stuff about how we really do want to be free, happy, at peace, willing to see our comforting illusions for what they are, etc. Our situation is absolutely that of someone who is unhappy with their situation but at the same time very deeply unwilling to ever do anything about it. Our only option therefore is to keep on complaining about things. That’s the only relief we can get – that’s the only way out of the double-bind that we’re in!

 

This is exactly our situation when we are trapped in the idea of ourselves which is the ‘separate sense of self’. All we can do is fantasize about ‘doing something about it’ – a fantasy life is our only option because deep down we know very well that we’re never actually going to ‘do something about it’. If there’s one thing that’s for sure it’s that we’re never actually going to put our money where our mouth is! That was never on the agenda; that was never a possibility. We know deep down that we don’t have the slightest intention of ‘doing anything about it’ but at the same time we’ll never admit this to ourselves. All we can ever do is complain about our situation not being right and make out to ourselves that it’s always the fault of someone else that we’re not free, not happy, not peaceful, etc.

 

This then is the dilemma of the insincere self which is functionally incapable of knowing itself to be insincere. No matter what we do on this basis (on the basis of our unacknowledged insincerity), no matter how hard we try, no matter what promises we make to ourselves, we’re never going to be able o get past this central paradox, this central flaw. Nothing we can do is ever going to get us out of this mess because the one thing that we could do is also the one thing that we never ARE going to do!

 

Everything I do as ‘my idea of myself’ is based on an unexamined self-contradiction so of course that’s never going to get me anywhere! This is like saying that nothing I do on the basis of a lie is ever going to get me anywhere. Anything I do is only ever going to add to the lies, add to the insincerity. And yet the whole time the way out of the mess is delightfully simple – all I need to do is see the paradox. All I need to do is be honest with myself about that the fact that I don’t really want to do what I say I want to do. This honesty will set me free. It will free me from the game that I am playing without knowing that I am playing – the painfully-frustrating game of being this ‘separate self’….

 

 

 

 

Seeing The Truth

maat-arte-papyrys-s

We don’t have to ‘accept ourselves’ in order to find peace – we just have to see ourselves the way we are. That turns out to be a lot less problematical! ‘Accepting ourselves’ is actually very problematical (impossibly problematical, in fact) since as Alan Watts says the desire to accept ourselves arises from our non-acceptance of our own non-accepting selves! That’s an irresolvable paradox but we don’t like to see paradoxes. We prefer to think that they don’t exist – paradoxes upset our nice, over-simplified scheme of things! And yet if we don’t confront the inescapable paradoxes that the rational-purposeful mind is founded on, how are we ever going to escape the morass of self-deception that we generally exist within? We like to think that we can accept ourselves – that we can ‘do’ this as a kind of perfectly regular and straightforward ‘volitional act’, just as we can put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. We like to think we can do this, but we can’t! What we can do however – although again not on a ‘regular straightforward volitional or intentional basis’ – is see ourselves. Seeing isn’t an intentional act on our part – it’s something that happens all by itself just as long as we don’t block it.

 

 

This of course presents a difficulty since inasmuch as we suspect or fear that we might see something that we don’t like we are going to be inclined to block the spontaneous process of awareness, of becoming aware. We are inclined (more than inclined) to block without even knowing that we are, and for the reason ‘seeing’ ourselves as we actually we are isn’t by any means as straightforward as it may sound. We have reframed the well-known formula of ‘accepting oneself’ because of the implication that this is something that can actually be ‘done’, in the same way that we might be able to tie our shoelaces or comb our hair. Actually, to tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘accept themselves’ is a meaningless instruction – it’s meaningless because it’s self-contradictory! So instead of talking about ‘accepting oneself’ we’re saying that what actually helps is to simply see ourselves just as we are in this moment. We might not like ourselves for being the way that we are, but then again if we see that we don’t like ourselves being the way that we are then this too is simply ‘the way that we are’ and so all we have to do is see this. This is a helpful approach precisely because it shows that there is no question whatsoever of us having to change ourselves, or of having any obligation or responsibility to change ourselves. We just see ourselves as we actually are, and this is NOT a self-contradictory instruction!

 

 

So the ‘original formula’ is that if you accept yourself then you will find peace, but – as we usually understand it – this ‘instruction’ it doesn’t lead to peace at all. On the contrary, if we try to follow the instruction, we end up caught in endless conflict and self-contradiction. We’re ‘up against ourselves’ the whole time if we try to accept ourselves. We’re fighting an enemy and the enemy is ourselves, and all this in the name of ‘acceptance’! Our ‘reframed’ version of the formula is therefore “If you see yourself as you really are then you will find peace’” If we’re ‘allowing ourselves to see the truth’ then clearly we are no longer struggling against the truth, and ‘not struggling against what is true’ is of course the same thing as peace!

 

 

Just to summarize one more time, what we’re saying here is that peace lies in ‘seeing the truth of our situation’ and not in some problematic (hypothetical) act of ‘accepting ourselves’. If I am deliberately trying to accept myself then this means that I believe that it is possible for me to be some other way than thee way that I actually am, by wanting to be a different way, by willing myself to be ‘other than I am’. Because I believe this, I try to accept myself in order to become ‘accepting’, which I understand – quite rightly – to be a more peaceful state than the state of non-accepting. If I didn’t believe that it was possible for me to change myself to become ‘accepting of myself’ when I am not then I wouldn’t try. Why would I try to do something that I know to be impossible? I might of course try half-heartedly (out of habit, so to speak); I might ‘go through the motions’, but I won’t ‘wholeheartedly’ try to change myself. I won’t be as invested in it as I might otherwise be because I can clearly see that it’s an insane (or self-contradictory) instruction.  Being 100% invested in the attempt to change ourselves is never a healthy thing therefore, no matter what people might say. Being ‘100% invested in trying to change ourselves’ comes out of an unexamined commitment in not seeing the truth!

 

 

All purposeful activity is ‘aggressive’ in this way, therefore. Purposeful activity comes out of having an agenda and having an agenda comes out of an unwillingness to let go of our ideas of ‘how things should be’. If we are unwilling in this way to let go of our assumptions of how things should be there is only ever one reason for this and that reason is fear. Unwillingness to let go is always due to fear; unwillingness to let go actually IS fear! This gives us a nice simple way of understanding our own behaviour – it is simple without being simplistic; it is simple without oversimplifying, as most models do. The point is that we only have these two ways of being in the world – one is aggressive and is based on fear, and the other is honestly and this is based on fearlessness. Being fearless in the way we are talking about it doesn’t mean acting bravely on the outside in terms of what we either do or don’t do (although of course it could do) – it means being able to see (to some degree) what we are doing and why. Being ‘psychologically fearless’ is all about being honest with ourselves about the way we are, therefore, and as we have just said this is not at all the same thing as wanting to change the way we are! It’s not just ‘not the same thing’ as wanting to change ourselves, it is the complete antithesis of this…

 

 

When we are straining and striving to change ourselves this is never coming out of fearlessness; it is always fear (or rather the aggression that comes out of fear). Being fearless doesn’t mean that we stop trying to change the way we are either – it just means that we are able to bring consciousness to our situation and see what we are doing. Seeing that our activity is aggressive is not itself aggressive, whilst fighting against our aggression – so as to try to stop it or modify it – is. This is almost always a very confusing thing for us to understand since struggling is second nature for us, and we always tend to see struggling (or controlling) as ‘the right thing to do’. Sometimes controlling is the right thing to do – if I am losing control of the car that I’m driving then bringing it back under control is of course extremely important. As regards how we feel, and what is going on in our heads, struggling or straining or striving or controlling is all only ‘fear by any other name’ and it is patently ridiculous to imagine otherwise! If we are ‘fighting against the truth’ then this necessarily means that we are running away from the truth (what else could we be doing), and running away from the truth equals fear.

 

 

Because struggling to control (or ‘regulate’) how we are in ourselves is only ever ‘fear in disguise’ this means that no benefit can ever come from it, no matter how good we are at struggling / striving / controlling! Regulating oneself always means unwittingly creating suffering. How can obeying fear ever possibly produce a ‘beneficial result’? How can good come out of running away from fear? Obeying fear can’t – from a psychological point of view – ever lead to a beneficial because if we’re doing this then we’re ‘stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future’ and we wouldn’t normally see this type of thing as being ‘beneficial’! Clearly there is a kind of an incentive – actually an extraordinarily compelling one – to doing this otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it and that incentive has to do with the way in which we feel good when we (temporarily) succeed at hiding from fear. Of course we feel good – hiding from what frightens us tastes sweeter than sweet! It’s sweeter than honey… So there is this immediate very welcome relief of thinking that we have got somewhere, or ‘accomplished something’ (i.e. succeeded in hiding from the fear, although we do not of course admit this to ourselves) and this relief sets us up – so to speak – from the disappointment, disillusionment and dismay that comes when we realize that we haven’t actually got anywhere, that we have in fact only been successful at fooling ourselves that everything is sorted (that everything is OK) when the truth is that it very much isn’t…

 

 

If our sense of well-being comes from believing that we have accomplished something real when we haven’t (that we haven’t just been deceiving ourselves because we’re too scared to confront the truth) then truth is going to be a very unwelcome visitor at the door. If the pleasure or sense of relief that we are experiencing is the result of fear-driven self-deception, then clearly this type of ‘good feeling’ is nothing more than a preliminary stage to profound suffering and so what this means – even though we don’t ever look at it like this – all of our efforts to obtain the short-term relief (that we don’t perceive as ‘short-term relief’) are actually efforts that are directed towards obtaining pain and suffering. Every time we chase a goal that has something to do with us feeling more in control, more secure or well set-up in the world, we are in pursuit of our own suffering. The ‘urge to control’ (when it comes to our own inner states of being, at least) is itself nothing more than a perverse tropism towards pain, a reaching out for pain, an inexorable ‘seeking out’ of pain…

 

 

This is just another way of saying therefore that when we run away from our fear we are stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future. We don’t allow ourselves to see that we are stacking up pain and suffering for ourselves in the future because we are focussed so intently on the short term goal of gaining relief – gaining that short-term relief is all we care about.  This is actually the way our minds work generally; all of our strategizing in life is short-term strategizing. We’re always working to secure comfort for ourselves in the immediate future at the cost of great hardship later on – this is our modus operandi. When it comes down to it, all strategizing is short-term strategizing. There’s no such thing as ‘a genuine long-term strategy’. This might seem like a strange thing to say but the point is that all of our understanding is incomplete since it is based only on our present, very limited way of looking at things, and so whenever we act on the basis of this limited viewpoint (this closed viewpoint) we are simply pushing trouble ahead of us, stacking in up for ourselves in the future. It is inevitable that we are storing trouble for ourselves in the future when we act out of the rational mind because this mind always acts as if it does not represent a fragmentary viewpoint on reality, when it always is. We crave the security of thinking that our viewpoint is not fragmentary, is complete (because we fear what we do not and cannot know) and the result of clutching onto this false mind-created sense of security in the way that we always do is as we have said the creating of suffering.

 

 

A more ‘essential’ way of putting all this is to say that this suffering-producing limited-or-closed viewpoint that we are holding onto so desperately (for the sake of the false sense of security it gives us) is nothing other than the everyday self. How tightly do we hold onto the everyday self? How tight is our grip? Obviously this is a rhetorical question since ‘holding on’ is what we mainly do! Our grip is pretty much absolute. That’s our stock-in-trade’ – all of our controlling is holding on, all of our goals and rational purposes are holding on, all of our theories are beliefs are holding on. All of our ‘certainties’ are holding on. And what this ‘holding on’ is doing for us is protecting us from the Big Unknown that we don’t want to let ourselves know about. And why are we so dead set on ‘protecting’ ourselves from this ‘Big unknown’? We have of course already looked at this question – ‘fear’ and ‘a false sense of ontological security’ (i.e. a sense of security where there is none) always go together. More than ‘go together’, ‘fear’ and a ‘false sense of security’ are one and the same thing. There is no separating them! We cling to a false sense of security because we are afraid and clinging to a false sense of security creates fear…

 

 

Everything we do out of the limited (or closed) everyday sense of self we do for the covert sake of proving that this sense of self is actually real, is actually genuine, that it isn’t just something that ‘comes about’ as a result of our fear-driven holding on. All attempts to control or regulate ourselves are necessarily going to be based on our limited (or closed) idea of who we are, and for this reason all theorizing, all planning, all controlling and regulating and strategizing, are always going to be for the sake of ‘propping up the illusion that we are so attached to’. This controlling / regulating / strategizing is all a manifestation of the ‘mode of being’ in which we are fighting against reality, therefore. In this mode of being we have no interest in seeing the truth; when we are in this mode of being (which is the mode of being / mode of existence most of us are in most of the time) we are very interested in not seeing the truth! Our allegiance is to the comforting illusion, even if it does so happen that this ‘comforting illusion’ is also a suffering-generating illusion…

 

 

To come back to our original point then – the everyday self cannot accept itself because its whole ethos is based on ‘not seeing the truth’ or ‘not seeing the Big Picture’. The idea of it ‘accepting itself’ is utterly ludicrous, utterly ridiculous… If it were to accept itself it would have to accept itself as it actually is, and this would involve seeing the truth! If on the other hand we did find it within ourselves to ‘allow ourselves to see ourselves as we actually are’, then this would mean that we are now seeing that in our ordinary, everyday life we are constantly being driven by the need to hide from our own fear. This would mean seeing that what we call our own ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is nothing more than fear in disguise. But if we are able to see that our everyday motivation is ‘fear in disguise’ then THIS would mean that we are no longer afraid!

 

 

 

 

We Are ‘Relief-Seeking Mechanisms’

cyborg1

The best way to get a handle on the idea of ‘psychological work’ is to understand what it is not, and what it is not is our normal everyday mode of mental functioning! This ‘everyday mental modality’ – which is generally the only mode we have – can be neatly explained by saying that it is all about obtaining relief. This is not a particularly flattering way to understand ourselves but it is nevertheless a very accurate one. Despite any illusions we might have to the contrary, it doesn’t take very much at all to understand ‘what makes us tick’. Basically, the fundamental underlying motivation for our purposeful (as opposed to spontaneous) behaviour is the non-negotiable need to find relief from difficulty or discomfort.

 

It is this very simple motive that lies behind all of our purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour, and behind all our rational thinking. If I am busy performing actions, then what lies behind my busy-ness is the need to find relief and if I am busy thinking then what lies this busy-ness is also the need to find relief (in the case of thinking I am trying to find relief by analysing or problem-solving).

 

We don’t like to know this about ourselves and it is this resistance to seeing the less-than-glamorous truth that is the first obstacle to genuine self-understanding. We like to think that we are more complex, more diverse than simple pain-avoidance machines, mechanisms which are driven by nothing more interesting or heroic or inspirational than the need ‘not to challenge ourselves anymore than we can possibly avoid’.

 

This motivation is sometimes called the motivation of attachment and attachment covers both attraction (positive desire) and aversion (negative desire). In essence both attraction and aversion come down to ‘the need to seek relief from discomfort’ – when I am experiencing attraction it is difficult to be in the place where I haven’t yet obtained what I want to obtain and therefore the way that I look for relief from this demand is to try as hard as I can to succeed at obtaining whatever it is that I am experiencing attraction towards. I am automatically running away from the challenge of ‘doing the hard thing’ which is ‘not achieving the desired outcome’. When I experience aversion the same thing is true – some difficulty or discomfort is impinging upon me and the only way I can find relief is to somehow escape that difficulty. The hard thing in attraction is ‘not chasing’  or ‘not grasping’ and the hard thing in aversion is ‘not running away’, ‘not avoiding’.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, what this means is that we are – for 99% of the time – no more than mere ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’. We don’t do anything for any higher purpose than self-interest although in order to protect our image of ourselves we dignify this self-serving activity by coming up with all sorts of validations for what we’re doing. We find some sort of reason for doing it, for going along with it. We say that we want to be doing whatever it is that we’re doing. We say that what we’re doing is ‘the right thing’, or ‘the good thing’.

 

As ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ free will is a complete and utter illusion – our only freedom is the freedom to find the relief that we are so humourlessly seeking! When we express things like this it does not sound like a particularly convincing (or very enjoyable) form of freedom but when we’re actually stuck in the position of needing the relief (or rather feeling that we need the freedom) the freedom to obtain relief (whether it genuinely is freedom or not, or genuinely is enjoyable or not) is the only thing we’re actually interested in. As a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’, I really am not interested in anything else. Not only am I not interested in anything else, I’m not actually capable of understanding anything else. Can a machine be expected to understand anything or have appreciation of anything that in no way relates to its functional repertory?

 

This of course is fine and we can all grasp the above point perfectly well – the thing we can’t grasp however is why it should be the case that our psychology(when seen stripped of all the superfluous notions with which we like to cloak ourselves) should be that of a mere ‘relief-seeking mechanism. This, we can’t grasp at all! We don’t actually want to grasp it, in fact it could be said that our whole way of seeing things is orientated in such a way that we never do run the risk of seeing anything of the sort. We see things backwards – we see our constant looking for relief as something positive, we see it as the most wonderful expression of our own true volition, when the less-than-wonderful truth of the matter is that we’re simply looking for relief, in whatever way we can…

 

This of course sounds too ridiculous to us to even consider (we won’t consider it) and yet at the same time once we ‘get it’ it all becomes laughably obvious. We would wonder how on earth we didn’t see it before. We would wonder how we could have missed it, how we could have been so blind. The ‘trick’ is that everything has been turned upside down – everything we want to achieve we really only want to achieve as a release, and yet we see it as our own free will. We see the ‘achievement’ as an actual positive value in itself and this ‘reversed perception’ is what conditioned existence is all about – we fondly imagine that we are doing this, that or the other because we want to whereas the truth of the matter is that we have been conditioned to want to and this isn’t the same thing at all. Wanting something because you have been conditioned to want it is not just ‘not the same thing’ as genuine volition – it’s the complete antithesis of it.

 

All of the things we want, all of our ‘goals’ are simply ‘whatever we need to do in order to find (temporary) release from whatever pressure is acting upon us. We want the release from pressure that achieving the designated goal will bring rather than wanting the goal itself, but rather than seeing this we see it the other way around. We’re chasing ‘escapes from the pain we’re in’ not the things themselves; we’re pursuing ‘what the goal represents to us’ rather than the goals themselves. When we ‘do the thing’ (or ‘achieve the goal’) we feel good and so if we take a superficial view of this (as we do) it can very easily seem to us that it’s the fulfilment of our purpose that we want when actually it’s the good feeling that we get as a result of fulfilling it that we’re after. And of course it’s not just that ‘it could very easily seem’ that it’s the fulfilment of our goal/purpose that all the excitement’s about, it does seem that way to us. Our psychological makeup is such that that all our attention is directed onto what is going on ‘on the outside’ so that we don’t notice the mechanical processes that are going ‘in the background’. We don’t notice the pressure that’s acting on us, we just notice the relief that comes when there is a (temporary) cessation of this pressure and this manifests as ‘satisfaction’ or ‘pleasure’. Genuine volition is never to seek pleasure or satisfaction! How could it be? This ought to be obvious to us (how could it not be?) and yet it isn’t at all obvious. We know it isn’t obvious by virtue of the fact that no one ever sees it!

 

We don’t see that moving towards pleasure or satisfaction is a ‘down-hill’ (or ‘equilibrium-seeking’) movement – it is a purely mechanical process just like a tightly-wound steel spring unwinding and driving a system of cogs and wheels, just like a marble running down a wooden chute. This ‘purely mechanical process’ is not volition! Volition isn’t when we go along with the mechanical process; it isn’t when we work towards obtaining relief / pleasure / satisfaction. True volition is on the contrary when we don’t do this! Genuine volition is not (and never could be) about achieving goals. That’s just going along with the system of thought’ and the system of thought is mechanical through and through – there’s nothing ‘non-mechanical’ about it at all. What’s not mechanical about logic, after all? Yet to say that ‘true volition is not about achieving (or trying to achieve) goals is profoundly baffling to us. To say that this statement ‘goes against the grain of our everyday understanding’ is an understatement of epic proportions. We can’t figure this out at all. We might try to figure it out – if pressed – but we will still end up getting it wrong. If we say that trying to obtain pleasure or satisfaction is not genuine volition and that finding our genuine volition is the only thing that will free us from our wretched mechanical predicament then we will of course try to go against our mechanical impulses. We will try to oppose them but then this too is ‘mechanical’. Going against the mechanical impulses is still mechanical because all we have done is to swap one goal for another; we’ve switched goals but we’re still ‘looking for relief’ no matter what our goal might be. After all, all goals are ‘looking for relief’! We’re trying to get the system of thought to validate us, to validate what we’re doing. We’re trying to accord with some sort of logic. All we’ve really done is to switch a minus for a plus but NO equals the system of thought just as much as YES does!

 

So when we fight against mechanical impulses all we’re really doing is reversing the goal from a positive to a negative. Whatever the rational-logical mind presents us with as ‘a good idea’ is (of course) only ever going to be ‘just another goal’. Anything thought presents us with is a goal (or an anti-goal, which is the same thing. anything thought presents us with is always going to ‘definite’ and ‘definite’ – of any type or description whatsoever – always equals the system of thought. So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind can only ever provide us with ‘escapes’ from some kind of difficulty or challenge, and yet these escapes’ aren’t real. They aren’t real because thought itself isn’t real – thought is a system of abstractions. Thought presents us with escapes from discomfort / pain / fear, all of which have to do with our relationship (or rather lack of relationship!) with radical uncertainty, which is the unconditioned or uncreated reality; it presents us with ‘opt outs’ from reality which it calls ‘solutions’ or ‘answers’ or ‘goals’ – words which sound inspiringly positive to us! But no matter how positively we view these words, they are only ever ways of talking about ‘obeying the compulsion to escape’. It’s only fear-driven ‘relief-seeking’ we’re on about and there’s nothing particularly inspirational about this – we’re not heroes, no matter what we’d like to think! All we’re doing is ‘glorifying our running away’; all we’re doing is seeing ‘obeying compulsions’ as freely doing what we really and truly want to do.

 

So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind is no help to us at all with regard to psychological work. It always points us in the wrong direction. The rational mind is as we have said essentially a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’ and to the extent that we are identified with the rational mind so are we. This is why we are ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ – because we’re identified with the everyday thinking mind. As soon as we have this insight everything that we have so far been talking about immediately becomes clear. Everything can then be seen in the most beautifully simple and straightforward way – we can see that psychological work is when we are NOT acting on the basis of thought!

 

This proposition is at the same time both wonderfully simple and formidably challenging – all we have to ‘do’ in order not to be evading reality (even though it is of course not a ‘doing’) is to be in the world independently, standing on our own two feet (as it were), as we actually are in ourselves, without any artifice, without any cunning. What could be simpler than this? Any child could do this! And yet this proves to be the hardest thing of all; as simple as it is, to just be ourselves without any artifice turns out to the greatest challenge we will ever meet in our lives. We don’t know how to come out of the constricting shell of the thinking mind even if we wanted to do so, even if we realized that we were trapped in this ‘shell’ (which we don’t). We do everything on the basis of thought, oPyschn the basis of the thinking mind. We live our lives pretty much entirely on this basis and because we do live our lives this way – minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year after year – we don’t even know that there is ‘a basis’. We couldn’t be further from knowing that there is a mechanical basis to our living, to our being in the world. We don’t think we’re playing any sort of a game, we think that we’re ‘doing it straight’! We think that there’s no trickery going on, that there’s no manipulation – that this is just ‘the way things are’.

 

We’re tricky creatures. We’re ‘trick-loving creatures’ and thought is our trick! We have become inseparable from our trick – we are playing it all the time without knowing that we are playing it. To be separated from the trick that we are playing (without knowing we are playing it) would be the ultimately terrifying scenario for us. All of our fear and terrors come down to ontological terror in the end – lack of ontological security is the one thing that we never want to face. Anything rather than that! When our own trickiness catches up with us – as it always does – and constricts the very life out of us, we do our level best to come up with new, improved forms of trickery and we call this ‘therapy’!  We do our level best to come up with new, super-sophisticated tricks to solve the problems that our original reliance on trickery has caused. It’s trickery on top of trickery, trickery trying to solve trickery. We think that cleverness is the answer. The one thing that we just can’t seem to see – to paraphrase Rumi is that when we give up tricks and cleverness, then that will be our cleverest trick!