The Wrong Horse

When we become aware of mental or emotional pain – of whatever kind – this pain is doing us a service in that it is making us aware of something that we would not otherwise be aware of. It is making us aware of something that, quite possibly, we will never become aware of – the untenable nature of the self-construct!


Suppose we never became aware of the self-construct (which is the same thing as becoming aware that it is untenable), what then? What happens next? Very clearly, if we never became aware of the self-construct, via the pain that it always brings about, then we would ‘carry on the same as always’ – we are bound to carry on not seeing the self-construct, and so we are also bound to carry on living life on this untenable basis. The status quo would go unchallenged and nothing interesting (or ‘real’) would ever happen to us. Nothing real / interesting would ever happen to us since the only time we can ever glimpse life or genuinely be a part of it is when we see beyond the self-construct and its ever-proliferating projections! Nothing else can be counted as ‘life’.


The ideal situation for the SC would be where it never does encounter any unpleasant mental pain or discomfort but this of course never happens!  As a consequence of things never really going the way it wants them to therefore, the SC has to spend a lot of time (or sometimes all the time) trying to evade pain and pain-producing situations, and ‘managing’ them when they do. Ideally, it would like to ‘solve’ them; then next best thing would be to ‘manage’ them. ‘Solving’ and ‘managing’ are its two favourite words! Managing the emotional / mental pain means putting a spin or interpretation such that it does not invalidate the SC.


The SC treats / responds to mental pain as an insult in other words, and this means that it has to excuse or defend itself in some way – it either has to say why the insult shouldn’t have come its way or it has to turn the insult back on someone else so that they get to be invalidated rather than it. Someone else always deserves to feel the pain rather than oneself, in other words! So to explain this in a more familiar idiom, this means that the SC will be spending most of its time (apart from the odd occasion when it gets its own way) either complaining about its situation or blaming / getting angry with other people…


There is another variation on this and that is where the SC does the opposite of justifying or excusing itself and responds to mental / emotional pain by blaming itself and perceiving itself as being defective or culpable in some way. The pain it is experiencing is its own fault and it cannot on this account forgive itself for this. This then means that the SC not has to bear the original pain but also the vicious lash of its own unforgiving self-recrimination. There is not only the original ‘insult’ but in addition to this (as if this original insult were not enough) the SC also insults itself for being insulted in the first place when it should have done something to prevent this. Instead of the pain being ‘acted out’ therefore, it is internalized.


All of this ‘pain-displacement activity’ is for the sake of preserving the integrity of the SC that has been insulted. Both responses work equally well in preserving the integrity of the SC because either way we aren’t ever going to ‘question the self’. No questioning or examining of the self is going on here – only ‘automatic pain-displacement’! There is however a third possibility which becomes visible at this point in the discussion and that is the possibility of allowing the validity of the SC to be called into question. Instead of either automatically justifying ourselves or recriminating viciously against ourselves we simply let the pain make us be aware of the SC being there, which is as we have already said the same thing as becoming aware of its essentially untenable nature.


Why is the SC’s position so untenable, we might ask? Is there no way that it might ‘strike the right attitude’ so that it can have its correct place in the world and establish a relationship with reality that is legitimate rather than being ‘untenable’? One way of explaining why this is something that can never happen no matter what is to point at the way in which the SC always does establish a relationship with reality – the way the SC operates is to validate all those aspects of its environment which agree with its way of looking at things and devalidate all the other aspects. It ‘selects its own evidence’ and steadfastly ignores anything that contradicts its central hypothesis (which is itself). Or as Emily Dickinson puts it in her poem of that name, ‘The Soul selects her own Society’.


The very same mechanism operates in all social groups (from the big one such society itself to the very small ones such as friendship groups) where we take care to associate with those who share our outlook (i.e. agree with us) and exclude those who don’t agree with us, those who don’t share our cherished views / beliefs. This is the only way that a group can work – the group wouldn’t hang together as a group otherwise. So the question we are asking is this: “Is there any viewpoint or belief that stands up alone and doesn’t need to be artificially supported or validated by some sort of ‘artificial context’ that we have created for the purpose?” Understanding this point clearly is the key to everything – there is no such thing as a viewpoint or belief that does not need to be supported by ‘selected attention to the evidence’.


Another way of expressing this is to say that there is no such thing as a definite statement about reality that accurately (or exhaustively) describes what it is supposed to be describing. When we put it like this the point that we are making becomes rather more obvious – if it were the case that there could be such a thing as a definite statement that completely describes reality then ‘the statement’ and ‘the reality’ would be one and the same thing and so there would no longer be any actually need for reality. The formal description itself would do perfectly well, which is Jean Baudrillard’s point when he talks about the all-consuming world of the hyperreal which is modern society. If it were the case that the description of (or theory about) the world and the world itself were the same thing (and everything is defined) then there would no space for anything to ever happen. There would be no space left for life since life is quintessentially ‘an unfolding of the new’.


The SC cannot exist in a truly open view of reality, in other words. It can only ever survive in a small world, a circumscribed world, a defined world. It can only exist in the world that is made up of its own narrow prejudices, which is a world of its own creation. This is why we say that the SC is an inherently untenable proposition – it is ‘tenable after a fashion’, it is ‘tenable just as long as we can maintain the narrow little world that is formed of our own unexamined prejudices’ (which is the closed world of our own unconsciously-made assumptions), but when we do this we put ourselves in a state of conflict with the wider reality, which is – needless to say – never the same as our unexamined assumptions / expectations about it! We have put ourselves in a never-ending conflict with reality that will not cease until we drop our frighteningly rigid requirement that ‘reality ought to be the same as our ideas of it’.


In summary therefore, the SC is a tenable proposition just so long as we maintain a ‘closed or shut-down version of reality’ for it to exist within, but this is no good because a ‘closed or shut-down version of reality’ is itself an untenable proposition! The problem hasn’t been solved at all therefore, merely extended. Maintaining a shut-down version of reality means ‘never learning anything new’, it means ‘fighting change to the best of our ability’, and we all know that this tactic never works! It never works any more than the resolute denial of a truth that we don’t like works – the more resolute we get in our denial the more the thing (eventually) explodes in our face! We’re trying as best we can to hang on to the ‘absurd and fragile make-believe pseudo-world which is the only world we know’; we’re trying to protect and perpetuate our half-baked ideas about reality, which actually have nothing to do with reality at all. We’re actually trying to maintain our own patented ‘shut-down version’ in the face of all the evidence that is contradicting it.


This endeavour – even if it may seem to be working for us on the short-term – is always going to prove untenable in the longer term and the way that this ‘untenability’ shows itself, as we were saying at the beginning at this conversation, is through the emotional / mental pain that we always see as having no helpful function at all. The ‘helpful function’ is that the pain we are experiencing brings us awareness of the way in which we are ‘putting all our money on the wrong horse’. The ‘wrong horse’ is the self-construct, which is the narrow and artificial perception that we have of ourselves, the narrow and artificial view of ourselves on whose behalf we are attempting to live our lives. All of our energy, all of our dedication, all of our resources is going in completely the wrong direction. This doesn’t mean ‘wrong’ in any big ‘moral’ sense, just ‘wrong’ in the sense that we are creating more and more suffering for ourselves, when this is the very thing that we are trying to avoid!


It is perfectly natural to resent and resist life’s sufferings when they come along, and then try to solve / fix / manage the mental or emotional pain that arises for us in these situations, and this is (almost) always going to happen. It is a rare thing to come across someone who can meet trouble with serenity. But even as we struggle against our pain, and react so as to try to control or contain it, there is always the possibility to see – with calm and clarity, and also a touch of humour – that the very pain which we struggle against is also the thing that is going to free us from the sterile prison of the self-concept, and that this painful process of ‘being freed from illusion’ is happening as a result of some sort of grace that is falling upon us, even though we don’t want it and are fighting tooth and nail to avoid it…






The Displaced Insecurity of the Self-Concept

Anxiety is of course nothing more than the insecurity of the self-concept projected outwards onto the world at large. It is ‘displaced insecurity’, in other words; if it wasn’t displaced then it wouldn’t be anxiety – it would on the contrary be an accurate (and thus valuable) perception of reality. Until we can see the insecurity where it belongs therefore we cannot avail of this valuable perception – we’re left chasing red herrings instead and even if we do catch them (which we won’t!) that isn’t going to do us any good…


Just as long as we can see that there is such a thing as the ‘self-concept’ then it is very straightforward to also see that anxiety is the displaced insecurity of this self-concept, and that we don’t on this account have to go looking for any other explanation for it (or indeed go looking for any fancy ‘cures’ or ‘solutions’ for it). Everything then falls into place and we realize that any effort we put into fixing the situation is actually feeding into the cause of the anxiety in the first place (as is always the way when we try to ‘fix insecurity’). But the difficulty is that we are fundamentally resistant to looking at our everyday ‘sense of self’ in this way – we are both culturally and personally fundamentally averse to questioning or examining this taken-for-granted sense of self.


In the Wikipedia entry on the Apollonian dictum ‘Know Thyself’ we read: “Socrates says, as he did in Phaedrus, that people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” The actual quote from Phaedrus reads:

But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.

When we try to know anything when we neither know ourselves nor have the slightest interest in knowing ourselves is necessarily to make ourselves ridiculous. When we try to understand anxiety without first seeing the nature of the self-concept this is to make ourselves doubly ridiculous since anxiety is – as we have said – the result of our lack of insight into ourselves in the first place. If we try to understand the anxiety that comes about because of our lack of insight into what is really going on with ourselves whilst maintaining this wilful ignorance of ourselves then matters can only get worse! All of our purposeful activity (including our misguided attempts to do something about our anxiety) stems from our ‘lack of awareness of the true nature of the self-concept’ and this is not an easy thing to do anything about since we don’t actually want to have this awareness! We’re always heading in completely the opposite direction to that of  ‘increased awareness of the insecurity of the self-concept’…


If we allow just for the sake of the argument there is such a thing as the ‘self-concept’ then it stands to reason that it would be insecure! Being a self-concept is a very precarious business – I am whatever I think I am (or whatever you think I am) and so how precarious, how insecure is this? When we look at life from the POV of the self-concept then all we see is a long list of things that could go wrong. It is of course equally true to say that when we look at life from the POV of the SC then all we see is a long list of things that could go right. That is equally true thing to say and it is also – when we look further into it – equally deluded. It is ‘deluded’ because what goes wrong for the SC (or right for it) doesn’t really have anything to do with us. It’s all hypothetical – we will feel good if the SC incurs an advantage in life but this good feeling relies totally upon the proposition that who we genuinely are is this SC, and that just isn’t true! Both good luck and bad luck (or ‘things going well’ and ‘things going badly’) are nothing more than spin.


The SC can put one of two different types of spin on the world – it can put the ‘optimistic’ sort of spin on things or it can apply the ‘pessimistic’ sort. It can be hopeful of the positive outcome, or fearful of the negative, both of which represent perfectly legitimate motivations. The SC can just as easily go one way or the other – it is equally ‘at home’ in going both ways, so to speak. We of course think that the answer to anxiety (or ‘preoccupation with the negative outcome’) is to find a way to switch the spin back around to the optimistic or hopeful sort; then – we naively imagine – everything will be OK again and we can carry on with our lives in a happier and healthier way.


This isn’t the case, however. It is very far from being the case! The optimistic (or positive) spin and the pessimistic (or negative) one are both equally unrealistic, and for this reason neither can lead to happiness. An unrealistic attitude to life can hardly be expected to lead to anything wholesome, after all! Unrealistic thinking is never a recipe for happiness, even if it is unrealistic thinking of the optimistic kind. The point that we are making here is that all spins are unrealistic – they wouldn’t be spins otherwise! The only view of things that isn’t unrealistic is the view that is not based on any type of spin, either negative or positive. The question is therefore – how do we see the world then? What does ‘no spin’ look like?


Well, if the optimistic view equals what we might call ‘positive certainty’ and the pessimistic view equals ‘negative certainty’ then having no spin (or no bias) equals uncertainty (or openness). ‘Positive certainty’ is when we strongly feel that we are going to obtain an outcome that is favourable to us and ‘negative certainty’ is when we equally strongly feel that we are going to incur an outcome that is unfavourable, and so zero certainty (or zero bias) must mean that we have no conception of any sort of outcome either advantageous or disadvantageous. Outcomes – of any kind – just don’t exist for us. They don’t come into the picture…


It goes further than this though. Not only is it the case that outcomes don’t come into the picture, it is also very much the case that the one for whom the outcome exists (the outcome which can either be advantageous or disadvantageous) doesn’t come into the picture either. Not only is it the case that there are no ‘goals’ (or no ‘feared outcomes’), it is also the case that there one to either ‘hope for the desired outcome’ nor ‘dread the feared one’. This is what radical uncertainty means – it means that there is no controller and nothing to control, no goal and no ‘seeker after the goal’. This is where we really come to the crunch, therefore – uncertainty is more disagreeable to us than negative certainty. Or as we could also say, ‘radical not-knowing’ is worse than ‘’knowing the worse’ (or ‘failure’).


If we can see this (our undisclosed preference a situation that is judged as ‘bad’ rather than a situation that is radically unknown) then we can see right into the very heart of anxiety. What is going on in anxiety is that there is a basic confusion occurring between two very different types of uncertainty, and the two types of ‘insecurity’ that are associated with these two types of uncertainty. The reason that this confusion exists is because we are strategically displacing our fear about the radical uncertainty regarding ‘how things are when we don’t put any spin on them’ onto the level of trivial uncertainty with regard to the question of whether the goal is attained or not – which is clearly not the same thing at all! Trivial uncertainty isn’t the same thing at all because it doesn’t really matter one way or the other; it doesn’t really matter one way or the other but we can’t help reacting as if it does!


So rather than feeling the insecurity where it is, we’re feeling it where it isn’t. We’re feeling it where it’s safe to feel it! In one way it could be said that nothing very much has been achieved by this displacement manoeuvre – we were insecure before and we’re still insecure now – the only thing that has changed is the arena. Being pointlessly worried about outcomes that don’t really matter very much is after all a distinctly unpleasant form of suffering in its own right! Who likes worrying? Who likes being in the throes of anxiety the whole time? In order to see the ‘gain’ that is being made here we have to understand why trivial uncertainty (or trivial risk) is so vastly more preferable to radical uncertainty (or radical risk). What is the difference between ‘uncertainty with regard to specific outcomes’ and ‘uncertainty in relation to the validity of the self-concept itself’?


Very clearly, the advantage in trivial uncertainty is that at no point in the proceedings are we risking the SC itself. Even if the outcome is a total and failure that doesn’t actually jeopardize the SC – we just become a ‘loser-self’ rather than a ‘winner-self’, in this case! The spin is switched over one way to the other. We may feel pretty bad about ourselves, but we still don’t doubt our existence as this ‘idea’ that we have about ourselves; a loser is after all just as much a real thing as a winner and what we’re playing for (even though the rules of the game mean that we can’t ever admit this to ourselves) is not ‘success with regard to designated outcomes’ but ‘success with regard to proving that the SC is an actual real entity in the first place’. That’s the type of ‘success’ that we’re really interested in…


The SC is however not a real thing and this is where its vulnerability lies – the vulnerability that gives rise to its chronic ontological insecurity. It’s easy to see that the SC is not actually real, if only we were prepared to look into it. No one who has ever gone to the trouble of paying attention to the self-concept and its antics (no one who has taken the trouble to observe the Apollonian Edit of ‘Know Thyself’) will ever try to say that the SC has any stability (or ‘substance’) of its own. One might as well try to claim that a shadow has stability or substance! The only existence it has is the existence we give it and this is itself a highly unstable situation! What could be more unstable than something which relies on our ongoing efforts in maintaining it if it is not immediately to vanish into thin air?


And it is not – as we have implied – just that we are committed, on a full-time basis, to maintaining the SC; we are committed, on a full-time basis, to maintaining it whilst not letting on to ourselves that we are doing so (which is another kettle of fish entirely). Maintaining the SC whilst at the same time not disclosing to ourselves that we are maintaining the SC is the only way that we can believe that the SC is who we genuinely are, after all. This is the only way that it going to work, when we don’t see our own hand, when we don’t see our own involvement. The same is true for all belief-structures of course – as James Carse says, to see that we have chosen to believe in a particular thing (a particular structure or statement about reality) is not to believe in it…


This whole business of creating our own basis for understanding and perceiving the world and then not disclosing to ourselves that we are responsible for this basis, and that it wouldn’t be there if we didn’t continue with our efforts to make it be there, is of course the most insecure situation that there ever could be. What could possibly be more insecure than this? Insecurity like this cannot be contained and so it spills out into our everyday life and when it does so we will talk in terms of anxiety. Anxiety is seen as a kind of pathology in its own right – we look at in exclusion of all other factors, trying to locate some discrete cause so that we can cure it with drugs or with rational therapy of some sort. We come out with all sorts of convoluted theories, and all sorts of elaborate methods based on these theories. But how does any of this help us with the real issue – which is our unacknowledged ontological insecurity?


Being identified with the self-concept places us, as we have just said, in the most insecure situation there ever could be. It is extra-insecure because we have illegitimately removed ourselves from the genuine insecurity, so as to obtain for ourselves a ‘false or phoney type of security’. This ‘false or phoney type of security’ is however a form of super-insecurity – it’s insecurity that we can’t see as such, and all this does is to give the fear that we’re hiding from extra power over us. All we’ve achieved with our cleverness is extra suffering. Being identified as we are to the SC is nothing more than a refined and extra-tortuous form of suffering. We’re all wedded to the self-concept – that is the ‘default situation’, so to speak. We’re all ‘wedded to the SC’ and no matter what efforts we may in morality or self-development there’s nothing we can do about that; we can’t will ourselves to ‘change our spots’ in some way so that we’re not so abysmally self-orientated. If we do make an effort in morality (so as to ‘improve’ ourselves) then this effort of will is only for the sake of the self that we’re trying to change. As Alan Watts says, the one who has been tasked with carrying out the change is the very one who needs changing.


Nothing ever happens when we try to change ourselves because whenever we try to change ourselves it is always in accordance with some idea that we have and we can never go beyond the self-concept by thinking! The suggestion that who we are in our essence has nothing to do with any idea or thought that we might have (or with any structure of any kind) is not one that we are in any hurry to take seriously. The thinking mind is running the show, after all, and the thinking mind is hardly going to acknowledge that there might be something out there that it can never know about, and which is infinitely more significant that all the things that it can know about. The thinking mind isn’t about to put itself into second place like this – even if we waited a billion years it would never do this. Thought is ‘top dog’ and if it has anything to do with it it’s going to stay that way! Just as long as thought (or the ‘rational mind’) is top dog there is going to be no questioning of the self-concept…


Because the rational mind is running the show we aren’t about to look at anxiety in a helpful way anytime soon. As far as mental health is concerned everything we do and say is purely for show – it’s purely theatrical, it’s not really intended to get to the heart of matters, it’s not really intended to free us from our neurosis. We will of course insist that it is – we will insist until we’re blue in the face that we’re sincere in our efforts to free ourselves from the suffering of neurosis. This is all mere bluster however – what else is the self-concept capable of other than bluster (or bluff) after all?


The thing about all of this – as we have been saying – is that the one thing we are most definitely NOT prepared to do is to investigate the self-concept. We will investigate (and form elaborate theories about) all sorts of things – you name it, we will investigate it, and produce super-dense bodies of opaque theory in relation to it – but we won’t look at ourselves (not in any non-rational way, that is). This brings us back to what Socrates said two thousand four hundred years ago about forming theories of the world without first investigating the assumptions – our only achievement when we do this is to make ourselves appear quite ridiculous. Just as long as we are identified with the self-concept (which is a state of ‘pseudo-being’ that relies upon our continued psychological unconsciousness) all our pretensions at wisdom are going to be ridiculous…










The Dark Pantomime

The intelligible universe is embedded in suchness, which is in its essence profoundly unintelligible. Suchness is not something that the analytic mind can ever hope to make sense of.  It is because we cannot make sense of suchness that we have no time for it – it is of no use to us, and because it’s of no use it is also of no interest to us. We hardly ever pay any attention to suchness; we are habitually inattentive to it and so it seems to us that the universe is in its actual core nature is intelligible to us, even though this is not the case. We feel that the universe – and the fact of its existence – ought to be something that can be (and one day will be) accounted for by some theory, some dry formula…


The intelligible universe is – we might say – made up of hard shiny tiles, or paving slabs, or perhaps concrete blocks making up a solid structure, whilst suchness is to be found in the cracks in-between them. Suchness is to be found in the interstitial spaces, therefore. If we were to look more deeply into this cracks, these interstitial spaces we would discover that they all link up and make up actual Reality, whilst the concrete blocks or paving slabs that we make so much of are nothing at all, when it comes right down to it. They only appear to make sense, as a kind of reflection of the mind that is making sense of them.


It is an odd thing therefore that what we consider to be the only important or meaningful aspect of the world isn’t actually an sort of aspect of anything at all but only is – in truth – nothing more than the echo of our own unexamined assumptions about what the world supposedly ‘is’. Suchness – the idea of which seems so insubstantial, ridiculous and fantastical (if indeed we ever get to hear about it in the first place) is the Whole of Everything, whilst the structural/logical aspect of the world that we place so much stock in (and which as we have said is the only aspect we recognize or acknowledge) is no more than a highly aggressive (and contagious) hallucination…


The thing about the intelligible aspect of the universe which allows it to play such an overwhelmingly dominant role in our subjective experience of life (which allows it to totally eclipse any awareness of the actual suchness of reality) is that as soon as we start engaging with it at all we automatically start to construct our idea of ourselves in relation to it. We cut a picture of ourselves out of the same cloth, so to speak – we make ourselves concrete and intelligible in just the same way that we have made everything else ‘concrete and intelligible’.


So – just to go over this last point again – it is by allowing the intelligible aspect of the universe to ‘take over’ in the way that it does (if given half a chance) that we pull of the trick of creating the concrete or defined self.  Or to put this another way, it is by choosing or selecting our own subjective experience of the world that we bring down on ourselves the very strong (overwhelmingly strong) sense of being this ‘me’, the sense of being this ‘everyday common-or-garden compartmentalized self’. I ‘get to be me’ by the very simple precedent of selecting my own reality, in other words!


It’s no wonder we’re all so keen on maintaining this key element of ‘choice’, therefore. It’s no wonder that we think that ‘staying in control’ the whole time is such a great thing! Whether we like to see it or not – and we don’t – we’re all hardened control freaks at heart and the reason that we’re all hardened control freaks (the reason we’re all so uptight) is because controlling things, and keeping everything within narrowly defined parameters, is how we get to maintain the concrete self-construct in the face of unrestricted openness.


By the same token we could also say that the reason we’re so averse to perceiving the suchness of the world, the suchness that everything is embedded in, is because that would fatally undermine our belief in that prosaic self-construct. Suchness is what we see when we relax and allow the world around us to open out a bit and show to us those mysterious aspects of reality that were not previously selected by us by the narrow mechanism of our habitual prejudices. Suchness is what we discover when we see beyond the suffocating cocoon of our own ‘self-reflection’ and perceive instead something of the non-subjective (or impersonal) nature of actual un-manipulated (or open-ended’) reality.


‘Impersonal’ tends to sound disagreeably cold to us; how we usually understand the word is in terms of someone who is uncaring, unfeeling, lacking in any human qualities. The quintessentially ‘impersonal’ nature of the world around us is not cold, uncaring or unfeeling however. Actually it is the narcissistically self-involved ‘self-concept’ with all its fear-driven controlling that is cold and unfeeling. Suchness is impersonal simply because it is not out own construct, our own psychological projection. ‘It’s got nothing to do with you, if you can grasp it…”, sings David Bowie in The Man Who Sold The World.


When we unconsciously select our own subjective reality by projecting our own private, personalized meaning on everything (the world around us and all the people in it) then the result of this operation is that there is no suchness left – the result is that we live in a suchness-free universe. And because there is no suchness in our environment this means that this environment is effectively dead – no suchness means ‘no real life’. Our own version of reality – which we aggressively impose on the world – isn’t reality, it’s just our own fearfully closed mind reflected back at us from all sides. We’ve ‘turned away from the truth’ and all we have left to relate to are second-hand shadows, just as Plato relates in his famous ‘Analogy of the Cave’.


When we’re in the cave looking away from reality instead of towards it then very clearly this isn’t a happy situation. It’s not a situation that has any possibilities in it. When we’re trapped in the bubble of self-reference (or ‘self-refection’, as Carlos Castaneda calls it) then we obtain this very reassuring and comforting ‘familiar feeling’ to everything, but the flip-side of this is a latent feeling of deadness, a latent feeling of ‘disconnectedness’ from life. We feel disconnected because we are. This quality of deadness / disconnectedness / hollowness is an inescapable part of the life of the self-construct. This quality of ‘deadness’ actually is the self-concept!


We hold onto the pain-producing self-concept harder than we hold onto anything; actually, we don’t hold onto anything else! We don’t hold onto anything else because nothing else provides us with the feeling of familiarity that we want so badly. We hold onto our sense of disconnection (or separation) from the world because that’s where our sense of security lies. When we talk about mental health or mental wellness we’re talking about the mental health or mental wellness of the self-concept, therefore. But any talk of ‘mental health’ when we’re talking on behalf of the self-concept is only a joke, only a farce, only a charade. It’s a kind of ‘double-speak’, when it comes to the dark pantomime which is conditioned existence. What we’re really wanting – when we’re living the lie of conditioned existence – is of course to ‘have our cake and eat it’. We want to stick with the defined image or concept that we have of ourselves but at the same time we want the pain of the disconnection / separation from reality that comes with it to be taken away! This is our fantasy – that we can have the security of looking out at the world from the self-concept but not the suffering that identifying with the self entails, the suffering that comes as ‘part of the package’.


This situation of only ever relating to our own subjective ‘customized / personalized’ version of reality – which is the ‘intelligible reality of normal everyday life’ – is actually a prison for consciousness. It’s a prison for consciousness precisely because everything is intelligible, precisely because everything is either ‘known’ or ‘knowable’. Every question we might ask – like a curious child – is met with a definite answer, which is very much like being hit on the head with a big hammer as a punishment for daring to be so curious! Curiosity is a sin, as far as everyday (or ‘conditioned’) life is concerned!


All of these definite, concrete answers to our questions about the world aren’t actually helpful or valuable to us – they’re just blocks or obstacles. They’re just a brick wall that has been placed between us and reality. The definite answers (i.e. the positively-defined mind-produced reality) is what we referred to at the beginning of this discussion as the ‘tiling’ or ‘paving’ that covers over reality. That tiling or paving (the ‘cognitive overlay’) is very useful for producing the sense of a separate self that we are so attached to (and that might be seen as a big ‘plus’) but at the same time as creating this concrete self it also brings about the unbearable suffering that comes with ‘life as this separate or disconnected self’ – and this suffering is what we are always trying (unsuccessfully!) to escape from. We might be forever trying to escape from the pain of conditioned existence (which comes from living exclusively in the mind-created reality) but that ‘desire to avoid suffering’, intense as it might be, does not mean that we are willing to stop ‘ignoring suchness’. Our intense antipathy to pain and suffering doesn’t mean for a moment that we are willing to look beyond the tediously-defined mind-produced world, and take an interest an interest in what the world might look like when we AREN’T looking at it from the ‘spurious vantage point’ of the unreal self!





The Exclusive Existence of the Conditioned Self

Whatever we plan for, hope for, anticipate, dread, whatever we imagine life to have in store for us, whatever we feel life to mean to us, or signify to us, we do on the basis of a conception of ourselves that is entirely wrong, entirely lacking in any truth at all. We do all of this planning, hoping, anticipating, dreading, imagining, etc, on the basis of us having some kind of ‘private’ existence, some kind of existence that is ours alone, an existence which no one else can share. “For the waking there is one common world, but when asleep each person turns away to a private one.” says, Heraclitus [Fragment 22]. This is an ‘exclusive’ type of a life therefore – it is a life that we lead in exclusion of everyone else. We live as if we alone truly have a life, as if ours alone is the only life that truly matters…


We will of course strenuously object to this suggestion – it sounds very much as if we are being accused of being narcissist or a psychopath, or something of that sort, and naturally this is not something that we would want to go along with. There is no kudos in being narcissistically self-absorbed and callously indifferent to the lives of all other human beings! Our objections are disingenuous however; we all know well enough that there is a core of truth in this ‘accusation’. It is very much inherent in the actual nature of the concrete self to only really value its own private or exclusive existence – that pretty much goes with the territory. That’s pretty much what everyday egoic existence is all about – that’s the nature of experience that comes with this mode of being in the world…


Intellectually, we know that other people exist and have lives that matter and so we are generally respectful of this to some degree or other (although not always, obviously) but this does not mean that we experience other peoples’ lives as being ‘just as real as ours’ – clearly we don’t. As we have said, the experience of ‘being this self’ is the same thing as ‘not being any other self’. This is necessarily an exclusive rather than an inclusive kind of a thing; there is no such thing as an inclusive self, a self that includes everything – there was then that wouldn’t be ‘a self’, it would be reality, which but its nature is unbounded, undivided, unfragmented. The mechanics of the self involves ‘not-self’, just as the mechanics of UP always involves DOWN.


All of this talk of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ and ‘psychopathy’ is therefore a bit of a red herring. The ego – by its very nature – is a purse narcissist, a pure psychopath. We just don’t to see this because we are committed to that modality of existence, and so we have to make the best of it. We have to put the best possible spin on it that we can, and part of this spin involves demonizing anyone who makes obvious to us all these less-attractive aspects of selfhood. The state of ‘being a self’ is the state of being an encapsulated and therefore fundamentally alienated narcissist and there is no point being squeamish about this. There are of course varying degrees to which consciousness gets trapped in the capsule of the self – we can be partially free from this grim prison in our everyday lives – but if we imagine (as we do) that the self could ever be ‘non-narcissistic’ or ‘non-psychopathic’ in its essential nature then we are simply fooling ourselves…


Once we have got this straight (and we’re not going to get anywhere until we do) then we have at the same time got another thing straight too – we are now able to appreciate the true absurdity of our position as conditioned egos, which comes about as we have said because of the way in which we have been unwittingly compelled to live our lives on a completely false basis. As we started off this discussion by saying, we are – whether we want to admit it or not – living (on some deep unacknowledged level) as if our life were the only one that is truly real, the only one that really counts. Each one of us is doing this (we’re all doing this in tandem) and that’s what conditioned existence is all about! Living life on this basis however guarantees that our so-called ‘life’ will not be real. Life lived within the closed remit of the rational-conceptual mind (which is the same thing as life lived as a compartmentalized self) is always unreal.


Consciousness is not exclusive, only the thinking mind is exclusive in its operation and the thinking mind is not who we are. How can the thinking mind be who we are when it is only a device that we are using, when it is only a way of arbitrarily organizing things? The thinking mind is a pattern of organization but who we are is not this arbitrary pattern but what it is that is being organized. We are the medium not the waves that are being propagated through that medium; we are consciousness itself, not the thoughts or ideas or memories that consciousness facilitates. Consciousness is always whole, never divided. Because it is always whole it has no ‘selves’ within it! It is quite ‘selfless’ in other words although using this term tends to confuse matters because it sounds like some sort of lofty moral stance that we are taking; it sounds like some kind of ‘moral attainment’. Selflessness most definitely isn’t a moral attainment however because the only one who could be ‘attaining’ anything is the one we are trying to get rid of! The only one who could be attaining anything is the self and the self can hardly be expected to attain the state of selflessness, very obviously!  This would be like a fish learning how to be ‘unfish’, as Wei Wu Wei says.


What this means is that the whole of what we call ‘morality’ and ‘moral behaviour’ is really just a preposterous façade. It’s a big joke that we’re just not getting. It’s the narcissist pretending to be non-narcissistic; it’s the psychopath pretending to care! This is hardly going to prove to be a very popular viewpoint on things but that’s purely because our allegiance lies squarely with the ‘comforting illusion’ rather than the inconvenient truth. This isn’t a cynical approach however – we’re not saying that people are at root psychopaths or narcissists but rather that when we operate on the basis of thought (which inevitably entails imagining ourselves to be this compartmentalized or isolated ‘self’) then we can’t really care about anything other than this ‘self that we mistakenly think we are’. It’s not that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate, just that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate at the same time as being the ‘compartmentalized’ or ‘mind-created self’!


The mind-created self possesses no virtues, much as it likes to imagine that it does. It has no virtues because it has no freedom – very clearly there can be no virtue without freedom. If I am being compelled to do whatever it is that I am doing without seeing that I am being compelled then nothing that I do has any ‘virtue’ because nothing that I do has anything to do with who I actually am! This is not too hard to see if we want to see it – if I am pretending to be somebody without letting on to myself that I am doing this, then how could anything that I am doing on this false basis ever be said to be truly virtuous (speaking in the Daoist sense here rather than the conventional Christian sense)? Nothing can come out of a false basis other than further falsehoods, nothing can come of a lie except more lies…


Virtue can only arise from who we really are, not from the mask that we are wearing without knowing that we are wearing it. The mask (or persona) cannot care and it cannot genuinely mean anything it says; sincerity is not a possibility for the persona (since it is nothing else but a pose or posture that we have arbitrarily struck) and if there is no sincerity then clearly no virtue can ever arise. We have created an arid situation, therefore. The mind-created self (which is a mere mechanism) can’t really feel, it can’t really care, it can’t ever be genuinely happy and it can never know true peace… P.D. Ouspensky says something to the effect that wherever anger, jealousy, pride, bitterness etc arise, this always points directly to the existence of what he calls ‘the false personality’; the false personality can experience only the lower emotions (‘the six poisons’ in Buddhism and Vedanta) – the higher emotions (for example, love, humour, compassion, awe, sympathetic joy) only being possible when we transcend this concrete self.


If there is one thing that we can be sure of it is this – the conditioned identity doesn’t want to know the truth about itself. It doesn’t want to know that it is unfree and that everything it thinks and does is simply the result of it slavishly obeying one mechanical impulse after another. To know this would be to have the bubble of apparent autonomy burst and without this bubble functioning correctly the self cannot continue believing in itself. In order to hide the unpalatable truth of our profound lack of autonomy from ourselves what we do is that we align ourselves completely with each mechanical impulse that comes along; we make the immediate fulfilment of the mechanical impulse the most important thing in the world to us and this is how we create the illusion of self! The self equals ‘the arbitrary imposition of extrinsic order upon the world’ and just as long as we refuse to question or examine just what exactly we are doing here the outrageous absurdity of our conditioned existence is kept safely invisible to us.


The absurdity derives from the fantasy image that we have of ourselves, as Gurdjieff. In this fantasy-version of reality we possess all the virtues (or ‘qualities’) that make life worthwhile, that make life actually liveable. We possess free volition and sincerity, we are able to feel love or compassion for other people, we have the possibility of being genuinely happy or peaceful, we have the possibility of connecting with the world around us, and with the people around us; we have the capacity of ‘behaving unselfishly’, and so on. All of this is fantasy however; as long as we are identified with the mind-created self none of this is even remotely true; it’s true for who we really are but not for who we think we are. Buying into this convenient fantasy package means therefore that we have made truth into our adversary; we can only serve one master after all – either we serve the truth or we serve the protective fantasy….


This is – as we need hardly point out – an utterly ridiculous situation to get caught up in. Either we live the incredibly constrained (if not to say entirely futile) life of the narcissistically encapsulated self-concept which is forever trying to prove that it is more than it actually is (and more than it ever could be) or we live a life in which we genuinely can be more than just the encapsulated bubble of the unreal private self. These are the two possibilities and – somehow – it is the first one that we have opted for, and steadfastly continue to opt for. It isn’t of course right to represent this as some sort of straightforward ‘choice that we make’ – if it was then it would be very hard (to say the least) so see why we would ever go for option number one, which is, as we have said, where we have to struggle continuously (in what is actually an entirely futile fashion) to achieve something for ourselves that we can never actually have. If this was what life was all about and there was nothing else for it but to create  – as best we can – a fantasy life for ourselves in which we can get somewhere worthwhile on the basis of ‘the encapsulated self’, then that would perhaps be a different matter. But this is not the case – we always do have the ‘option’ (so to speak) of moving towards reality (and all the ‘virtues’ or ‘qualities’ it contains) instead of moving away from it in the direction of ever-increasing futility, sterility and self-deception.


If this were a straightforward choice between ‘option 1’ and ‘option 2’ then it would be something of a ‘no-brainer’, as the popular parlance has it, but the whole point of conditioned (or unconscious) life is that we don’t see anything clearly, least of all the path that we have unwittingly opted to go down, which is ‘the path of suffering’.  A perfect example of our blindness is our approach to mental health, which always involves the attempt to repair and return to its proper functioning the everyday conditioned self, which is the self that it made up of nothing other than an arbitrary collection of limits which we have, out of unacknowledged fear, attached ourselves to. The life of this self – which can never honestly relate to anything or anyone, for fear of ‘bursting its own bubble’ – is always going to be prominently blighted with suffering and frustration, no matter how much we try to cover it up and live – as a pain-avoiding strategy – entirely superficially as ‘an image in image world’. This is of course the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, which states that conditioned life is suffering (or dukka); this does not means that life itself is bound to be filled with frustration and pain (which is how the ‘Truth of Suffering’ very much tends to be understood in the ego-orientated West) but simply that the life of the conditioned or partitioned self is always going to be fundamentally unsatisfactory. If we were to cease to identify ourselves so rigidly with our walls, our boundaries, our tight definitions of who or what we are, then life would become much more than it currently is – we would not be arbitrarily it and so of course it would become much more than it currently is!


Our whole approach in mental health is however – as we have just said – to repair the ego-self, this isolated (and therefore alienated) narrow notion of who we are. If our problem, as Wei Wu Wei says, is one of ‘mistaken identity‘, then all we’re doing is re-affirming the mistake! then All of our therapies, all of our methods, all of our technologies are about repairing the sense of ourselves as separate isolated (or ‘exclusive’) egos so that we can go back to the consensus world that we have created for ourselves, which is a world made up entirely of ‘ego-games’, a world made up of pointless games for the ego to play….


The bottom line is that our hidden agenda – as a collective, as a society – isn’t to heal people or support them on a journey towards their own wholeness, their own individuation. As Robert Anton Wilson says, this was never the aim of any society! Our aim or agenda as a society is always simply to perpetuate the system, to keep it going no matter what price this may require in terms of human suffering. Society has a vested interest in fixing us when we get too unhappy to be able to function in it anymore, but it has no interest at all in our actual mental health. This consumerism-based world of ours actually needs us to be narcissists in order for it to continue functioning, as many commentators (see for example Tim Kasser in this article in the Huffington Post) have said…


We may not be having that much fun (in any real sense) but we carry on with the insecurity-driven ego-games that we’re playing all the same and whilst this may not do us any good at all, it’s good for this thing called ‘the economy’! The point is then, that we’re not living life for ourselves (for ourselves as we really are, underneath the facade) but rather that we’re living life for the facade, and this facade isn’t actually a real thing…



Art: Auguste Toulmouche – Vanity.








Shrinking The Self

We build ourselves up with our thinking – we are constantly building ourselves up with our thinking, and this is not helpful thing! It doesn’t matter whether our thoughts are of the ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ variety as far as this is concerned; it doesn’t matter because we’re building ourselves up either way!  No matter whether our thoughts might be considered destructive or constructive, helpful or unhelpful, realistic or unrealistic, it’s a positive accumulation. All thought (no matter how we may see it) is an accumulation and that’s not doing us any good at all…


Now we might of course say that we want to build ourselves up in a positive way, we might say that this is a good and healthy thing. We probably will say this. We implicitly see a ‘positive accumulation’ as something that will give us a better life; we see having a solid well-defined positive self-image as being an indication of good mental-health. Having a positive (i.e. a confident and empowered) self-image is where we see our happiness lying. Happiness doesn’t come about as a result of an accumulation however, no matter what it might be that we are accumulating. Happiness isn’t synonymous with having a positive self-image; far from being synonymous it is fundamentally incompatible – the two cannot co-exist.


It is our simplistic preconception that happiness and fulfilment in life can come about as a result of an accumulation of the right sort of things and this is a preconception that – needless to say – has informed our modern way of living. This assumption it what underlies the whole of our Western consumer society – we are all trying to ‘consume our way to happiness’ as fast as we can! ‘Consume’ equals ‘accumulate’ – we add more and more stuff to the pile and the bigger the pile the better it is. Successful accumulation equals a happy life whilst failure to accumulate means an unhappy life – or at least, that’s what the adverts say!


Accumulation occurs on two levels. There is the ‘outer’ accumulation of ‘stuff’ and there is the ‘inner’ accumulation of memories, ideas, beliefs, techniques, theories, models, and so on. The two processes run along side-by-side and we can’t really separate the two – there’s the inner clutter and there’s the outer clutter and both of these stand in the way of our genuine happiness. We all know that clutter isn’t conducive to happiness but somehow we don’t see our thoughts about ourselves and the world as being mere ‘clutter’, which they totally are. Thoughts aren’t the ‘real thing’, after all, they are simply stuff we say about the real thing. They are just our comments. Our thoughts and beliefs are an opaque overlay that covers up reality so that – in the end – all we have left to relate to are our own mental constructs. Or as Alan Watts says, all we have to think about are our own thoughts, which is a process that doesn’t take us anywhere good…


There isn’t a ‘beneficial’ type of clutter, as opposed to a ‘harmful’ type. Clutter clogs up the space around us, eventually reducing our mobility (our freedom to move) to zero and then we’re stuck, frozen into a single cramped posture. Clutter chokes our creativity and – eventually – turns us into clutter too. This is easy to see with clutter that exists on the outside but not so easy with regard to our positively constructed idea of our self, our memories and habits, our history… We would be shocked, on the whole, to hear that our ‘accumulation of ourself’ (or the ‘personal narrative’) is nothing more than clutter, nothing more than dead wood and not who we essentially are at all. The accumulation of undigested mental impressions and constructs that surrounds us hems us in and chokes who we really are because who we really are is always new, always fresh – it isn’t a ‘yet another reworking of the old’, even though we are totally convinced that it is.  Our thoughts about ourselves become our mausoleum; or as John Berger says, ‘the past gradually grows around one, like a placenta for the dying’. There is no sort of an accumulation of thoughts or ideas about the world and ourselves that does not put a stranglehold on who we really are, and since happiness can only about as a result of us being ‘who we really are’ (and not as a result of us being mistaken or deluded in this regard) the accumulated or constructed self can never be happy.


But if the constructed self can never be happy then why do we have such an unhealthy obsession with it? Why don’t we just ditch it? Why don’t we give up it (as one gives up on a bad thing or a road that doesn’t take us anywhere) and stop putting all our energy into it? If obsessing over the mind-created self and its fortunes doesn’t make us happy then why pursue the matter in the way that we do? Unhappiness – we might say – is an indication that we have wandered away from ourselves, an indication that we have got lost along the way, and yet somehow we never go into this enough to see what it is that we have wandered away from. Instead of paying due attention to the loss of our natural happiness (or ‘inner freedom’) we implicitly treat this issue as somehow not being very important, and substituting other values in place of it, so as to try to ‘make do’ in some way. Instead of going down the road of philosophical enquiry, therefore, we opt for whatever cheap tricks we can come up with to mask the pain that we’re in.


Modern society is all about looking for substitutes for genuine happiness! We have – even though we will never admit this to ourselves – given up on happiness and have opted for other ‘commodities’ instead. We have made goals of being secure, being approved of, being in a desirable social / financial situation, having a position of power over others, having a belief structure that we don’t have to question and all these types of things. As John Berger says, we have opted for the good feeling that comes with being ‘envied by others’ even though this is a hollow attainment at best because even if we do play the game well enough to get other people to envy us we can’t help knowing – deep down – that we have nothing worth envying. Deep down – no matter what we say – we know very well that there’s nothing there, that it’s all a sham…


As a society, we have all agreed together (whether we know it or not)  to play this hollow game in which we strive as hard as we can to accumulate the theatrical analogues of happiness, the markers or indicators that we say show that we are happy, even though we are not. We have opted for the theatrical analogue of happiness which is the outward appearance of happiness, the outward appearance we agree not to look beyond. The best possible outcome of this game is therefore to have the perfect mask which we are not ever going to be able to look beneath, to see who is actually wearing it. Playing this game actually means that the more successful we are the more miserable we are! This is the paradox involved in chasing theatrical happiness – the better we do at the game the worse off we are. And if we fail at the game, if fail at the very serious task of creating an enviable mask that everyone, including ourselves, can believe in, then we aren’t going to be happy either because we’re going to believe (quite wrongly, as it happens) that we’ve missed out, that we’re not getting our slice of the pie that everyone else is enjoying. This is the great irony that we have made ourselves quite incapable of seeing…


The question is however, why would we do this? Why would we actively chase misery in the way that we do? Why would we pursue something that actually precludes us ever being genuinely happy? Why would anyone be so denying of themselves that they would want to do this? One answer is simply to say that we do it because we’re confused – we have confused the mental image that we have of ourselves with who we really are. We have confused the ‘positive self’ (the self that can be defined, and made understandable to ourselves and others) with the negative self, which is the self that is not an object of the rational mind with its cut and dried categories.


That’s one way of answering the question that we just posed. Another – parallel – way is to say that we aren’t ‘thinking for ourselves’ (so to speak); we’ve handed over responsibility for living our lives to the theatrical self, the mind-created self, the self which exists purely for the sake of appearances. As a result of this endeavour, we obtain, if we are lucky, the plausible appearance of happiness – a version of happiness that we can both buy ourselves and sell to others. When on the other hand we fail to obtain a version of happiness that convinces both ourselves and others, and not only this but start to gain insight into the fraudulent nature of the whole enterprise, then our peers will say that we are depressed. We will be prescribed medications to correct our abnormally negative way of seeing the world; we will be medically treated for the socially-constructed sickness of ‘seeing through the fraudulent nature of the theatrical self’…



From the point of view of the theatrical self (the self which is who we’re not, but cannot see that we’re not) happiness never really was a goal anyway. It was never our agenda to be genuinely happy. If happiness only exists for the true self (the self that doesn’t define itself) then what good is it to the theatrical self? Naturally enough therefore, the theatrical self has zero interest in real happiness – if the truth were known it would actually run a mile if it ever came across the genuine article. The theatrical self is mortally afraid of happiness because it knows that happiness is only there when it isn’t! Any time genuine freedom or happiness starts to appear on the horizon the everyday self will start sabotaging as fast as ever it can – it knows on which side its bread is buttered. The reason we never want to give up our neuroses is because these neuroses serve a very important function – they are what keep the theatre of ourselves going.


This then is the reason we gravitate towards misery in the way that we do. This is the reason we cling to our unhappiness as stubbornly as we do – it’s because we are letting the theatrical self run the show and it’s only interested in itself. It’s only interested in perpetuating itself, whatever the price; the agenda of the theatrical self is simply to ‘hang in there’…  If we’re feeling good because our self-image has been affirmed by events, or by other people, then this makes us think more because we’re trying to perpetuate the experience, and if we’re feeling bad (as a result of the self-image being disrespected by events or other people) then as everyone knows this makes us think more too – we’re thinking more because we’re trying or correct or ameliorate this insult to the self-image. We’re busy spin-doctoring the narrative. But whatever type of thinking it is that we’re engaged in it only ever adds to our misery; we accumulate more and more causes for suffering as we go along and we can’t help doing this. We accumulate suffering no matter which way we turn; we’re powerless – so it seems – to do anything other than accumulate suffering and the causes or suffering!


‘Shrinking the self’ (which is the only way to reduce or free ourselves from suffering) is the one thing that can never be done deliberately, on purpose. This isn’t the obstacle it sounds however because the shrinking of the self-concept is something that happens quite naturally just as soon as we develop an interest in seeing the truth. To see the truth is to see that we are not the self-concept and to see that we are not the self-concept is to stop putting so much of our energy and time into maintaining and promoting that construct. The self-image is very greedy for attention and resources; it is very high maintenance and so as soon as we start to see that its benefit is not our benefit then the dynamics of the situation are going to change all by themselves.  The truth is what frees us, not our perennial machinations; as the well-known verse reads in John 8:32 –

 ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.


As we stop putting so much of our energy into maintaining the theatrical self (or self-image) it starts to shrink – it stops taking up quite so much space and as it stops taking up so much space we become lighter, we become less driven and therefore more playful. This doesn’t mean that the self-construct disappears but rather that we are no longer restricted to just this one (humourless) perspective on things. We can look at the world in more than just the one way. What this means therefore is that we are living life on two levels at once: we’re living life on the basis of the self-image (just the same as we always do) and we’re also living more freely, not from any fixed or determinate basis. The insight that we’re not who or what the thinking mind says we are means that we have more mobility, more flexibility, more freedom. In this new, more essential way of living we are aware (to some extent, at least) that we are not this concrete self but the space around it. We’re aware – sometimes more so, sometimes less so – that we aren’t our thoughts but the elusive gap between them. We’re not the positive or defined self but rather we’re ‘the negative self’ – if we can say that there is such a thing! We’re something far more subtle and hard to get a handle on than that clumsy old ‘concrete self’….


This playful awareness arises just as soon as the self-concept gets small enough for us to see around it. This is the unexpected benefit that we receive as a result of letting the self be shrunk by our ‘willingness to see the truth’! This doesn’t mean that we see it as a good idea to have our sense of self shrunk and take steps to bring that about – it’s not that we’re trying to ‘attain some advantage’! If we were, then that ‘advantage’ would be for the self-concept, and so we would be going around in circles. When it comes to it, the self-concept is only ever interested in expanding itself, not shrinking itself. It can never shrink itself, even though it might pretend that this is what it is doing, or that this is what it is interested in doing. But when we find the courage (or curiosity) within us to let reality shrink the self-image, we discover that we have gained something, not lost it. We have gained space, with all that comes with it. ‘Less is more’, as they say!


This isn’t a matter of deliberately ‘humbling oneself’ or ‘denying oneself’ – that would only be another strategy, another mental manoeuvre designed to provide us with some sort of advantage in the game. It’s not some manoeuvre that we’re talking about here but simply not taking ourselves so seriously.  It’s not that we have a found a new and highly effective way to improve our situation, but rather that we no longer feel compelled at every turn to keep on ‘playing the game’…





Aggressive Therapy

When we’re psychologically unconscious then the only kind of interaction we’re capable of is the coercive kind. We can’t in other words help ourselves from automatically trying to get other people to see the world in the same way that we do. This is both profoundly unconscious and profoundly involuntary on our part. This is because we are assuming that our way of seeing things is ‘the only way there is’. This is what it means to be psychologically unconsciousit means that we are stuck in the one narrow way of seeing things without knowing that we are. We’re ‘blinkered without knowing that we’re blinkered’ – which is of course the only way there is of being blinkered!


When we’re psychologically unconscious then we are slaves to our unexamined assumptions. We’re slaves to them because we serve them in everything we do. Everything we do is on the basis of these invisible assumptions and because we aren’t interested in making them visible (i.e. because we aren’t interested in looking at them) they are determining everything about us. Being unconscious means that we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world and because we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world we are also trying to control other people in the very same way. So if I am trying to communicate with you what I call ‘communication’ is actually ‘me attempting to unconsciously railroad you into serving the very same unsupported assumptions that I am serving’. I’m being coercive without acknowledging that I’m being coercive, in other words. My aggression is veiled, I’m acting as if it doesn’t exist; I’m claiming that everything is fair and above board….


I’m not doing this consciously – nothing that I’m doing is conscious! I don’t have the slightest idea that – by trying to ‘communicate’ with you what I am actually doing is attempting to coerce you into accepted my unexamined beliefs, the beliefs that I don’t even know I have. If I don’t know that I have them then naturally I won’t know that I am trying to foist them upon you! This the whole point that we’re trying to make here – that when we’re in the state of ‘psychological unconsciousness’ (which is the state of being narrow without knowing that we are narrow) we don’t know what we’re doing. Unconsciousness is referred to in Luke 23:34 (King James Version) where we read: ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ We are always going to be violent when we proceed on the basis of a very narrow viewpoint that we cannot see to be narrow because we assuming it to be the only viewpoint that there could ever be. From this basis, there’s no other way that we could behave. When we’re ‘unconscious’ we’re always going to be coercive, we’re always going to aggressive. To be ‘narrow without knowing that we are narrow’ is to be violent to the Whole – being unconsciously narrow (or unconsciously limited) equals ‘being violent to the Whole’. It’s the same thing.


We can of course see this sort of thing (the violence of the part against the Whole) happening all around us. When I am very narrow and rigid in my outlook then I am by definition aggressive – I am aggressive to everyone who has a different view to me. I am always aggressive to the world in as a whole because I am constantly fighting against it, constantly trying to impose my will on it. I am like ‘Western Man’ in general! To be very dogmatic or concrete in a religious or political sense is also a perfect example of this type of self-justifying violence. Anyone who is dominated by a particular idea or belief is going to be inherently violent in nature – all thought is aggressive, as Krishnamurti says; all thoughts are aggressive because all thoughts are ‘narrow without knowing that they are narrow’. That’s how a thought gets to be a thought, that’s how any definite viewpoint gets to be definite – by being narrow, by not taking the wider picture into account. There can be no such thing as a black-and-white statement about reality (i.e. a thought) unless we are narrow without acknowledging that we are narrow, and so all definite / concrete views of the world are violent. Our definitions of ourselves are inherently aggressive as Krishnamurti says here –

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Understanding this has immense implications, needless to say. It changes everything. It is an extremely challenging thing to take on board and most probably we won’t want to! If we did take this understanding on board then we’d have to radically revise our view of ourselves – we’d have to stop defining ourselves and it is only through defining ourselves that we have the (false) security of knowing who we are! That’s where all our good feelings about ourselves come from – our definitions of who or what we are! It doesn’t feel very good to learn that we are the slaves of our unconscious assumptions (the slaves of our programming) and so we’ll probably not want to go back to thinking that we’re right to believe whatever we believe, right to have whatever viewpoint we happen to have, rather than entertaining the notion that we’re being controlled to believe whatever we believe, controlled to think whatever we’re thinking. It’s extraordinarily hard work to take such a profound reversal on board and no one likes hard work…


This is the reason we are all ‘psychologically unconscious’ – because it is just so much easier / less challenging to relate to our way of seeing the world as being ‘the only possible way’ rather than being aware that it is merely some kind of arbitrary (and ultimately perverse) restriction that we have embraced and based our life on without knowing that we have. Who is ever going to voluntarily take this on board? A good example of ‘an arbitrary and perverse restriction that we have embraced without knowing that we have’ would be prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation. If I am afflicted with a particular prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation (or anything else) then how much easier it is for me to say that my viewpoint on the matter is ‘right’ rather than accurately perceiving it as being an arbitrary bias that is being imposed upon me whether I like it or not (i.e. rather than perceiving that I am ‘a slave to my prejudices’)? We know from common experience that people very rarely opt to become aware of their prejudices – this is a very painful process and no one likes pain. We run away from pain whenever we can. In the same way therefore, we could ask the same question about our conditioning in general – i.e. how often is it that we start to question (or see beyond) our basic beliefs about life? We almost always assert these core beliefs all the more strongly whenever doubt or uncertainty arises rather than questioning them and this is where all our aggression (of whatever form) comes from.


Being unconscious isn’t a ‘moral’ issue, it’s simply the way things are. It is – we might say – the natural order of things. Birds build nests for themselves, squirrels climb trees, and we go around being psychologically unconscious. There is no moral imperative saying that we have to ‘become conscious’! But – having said this – there is an ethic issue that arises when we assume the role of mental-health therapists or counsellors whilst remaining every bit as unconscious as those people we are seeking to help. Helping people is an expression of our compassionate nature as human beings, helping people is great but if it turns out – as we have been saying – that we can’t help anyone unless we first ‘help ourselves’ by taking full responsibility for the unacknowledged narrowness of our own personal unconsciousness then things aren’t as simple as we are making it out to be. If we don’t acknowledge and work with our unconsciousness then all we’re going to be doing is imposing our unconsciousness on someone else under the guise of helping. Imposing our own unacknowledged limitations, our own unacknowledged unconsciousness on everyone we meet is exactly what every other unconscious person in the world is engaged in, which is violence. We’re putting a fancy spin on it though, we’re being violent and we’re calling it therapy!


We can of course help in practical ways like giving people directions on how to get somewhere if they ask or carrying someone’s shopping for them if they’re not able but if we try to help someone in a more global way as therapist or counsellor then all we’re doing, as we have said, is imposing our unexamined beliefs on a vulnerable client, which is clearly unethical. There’s no way we can’t be doing this if we are unconscious ourselves. It’s impossible for us not to be doing this. As Ram Dass says, all we can ever do for the people we meet is give them the gift of ourselves – it doesn’t matter what training we’ve had, or what qualifications / credentials we have because it’s our own inner state that counts here, not whatever costume we might happen to be wearing. It’s not the mask or the role or the technical expertise that’s ‘therapeutic’ – if we may use that word – it’s the unique (or unconditioned) individual that’s behind it. This isn’t obvious at all because in our technically-minded culture it’s not the unconditioned person that is valued but the conditioning that they are to be imprinted with! It’s not the individual that we relate to but the professional mask that is worn by the individual. We can measure and verify technical expertise or knowledge but there’s obviously no way that we can do this for the unique individual, and so this is no good for our system of doing things. It’s not possible to train people to be authentically themselves, there’s no way to instruct people on how to do this and so straightaway the system is running into trouble. The system isn’t just redundant as far as ‘creating individuals’ is concerned, it’s actually getting in the way…


We can also talk about this essential dilemma in terms of happiness – we can’t train people (or train ourselves) to be happy and yet our own happiness (which is the same thing as ‘inner freedom’ or ‘freedom from conditioning’) is the only thing that may be considered therapeutic, if we were to use that (somewhat suspect) word. This is a curious thing to consider, therefore – whoever spends much time thinking about whether their therapist is happy or not? But the same principle is true here – if I am genuinely happy then I will (unintentionally) transmit my happiness to everyone I meet, and if I am unhappy then I will pass on my unhappiness instead, in some cases involuntarily and in other cases perhaps voluntarily, under some kind of a shoddy pretext. I can’t help giving everyone I meet the gift of my inner state – if there is some degree of freedom within me then this might help others, in some non-volitional way, to become a bit more free in themselves also, and if I have a lack of freedom inside me then I will automatically pass that lack of freedom onto everyone I meet, as a kind of ‘poisoned gift’.


This key point is worth reiterating as many times as it takes because – as a culture – we just don’t get it. We don’t get it at all. We automatically assume that we can divorce what we do (our persona, our role, our job, etc) from our inner state. It’s as if our inner state doesn’t matter, or – more to the point – it’s as if there is no such thing as ‘our inner state’. The term ‘inner state’ or ‘inner life’ is not one that we use – everything is about the outer life, the theatrical life. No one ever talks about what our inner state might be on psychology or counselling courses, and yet at the same time our inner state is the only important thing about us – everything else is just so much window dressing!


The generic always does violence to the unique. The generic is violence. The generic is always violent – it is violent by its very nature. The generic is always violent to the unique (which is the only thing that is actually real) but the generic is all that we have available to us. Our institutions are all about ‘enforcing the generic’ and this is of course the only way that they could be! Our healthcare systems are all about enforcing the generic, enforcing normatively defined values. They are – of course – like big machines. They are big machines, and since when did mental health (either of the therapist or the patient) ever come out of a machine? The system naturally wants to regulate the therapist, the healthcare worker, because this is the only way it can be sure it is delivering its services ‘to the right standards’. But in doing this it is denying the mental health of both service users and service providers. It pressurizes those who deliver the services to rigorously adhere to the template that it provides, and yet by taking away freedom and responsibility from the therapists in this way it also renders them not just ineffective, but turns them into ‘passers on’ of restriction and restriction. We are part of a coercive machine, we become coercive just as the system we operate within (and are controlled by) is coercive, and the one thing that is never going to come out of this inauspicious set up is improved mental health!


As we were saying earlier, to define ourselves and what we do in any way is to be violent and this is of course equally true when we define ourselves (in our own heads) as being ‘therapists’ and what we do as ‘therapy’. When we do this we’re making ourselves blind to the bigger picture and this blindness is only ever going to rebound on us (or our clients) further down the line in a way that we were not expecting and will probably not even be able to recognize. This is what Ivan Illich calls specific counterproductivity and it happens every time we apply a linear solution to a non-linear (i.e. complex) ‘problem’. A mechanical / linear solution is always going to rebound on us when it is applied to a complex, multifaceted reality. The narrower we become in our definition of ourselves, and our understanding of what it is that we are doing (or supposed to be doing) the more counterproductivity we are going to engender. This counterproductivity (or ‘self-contradictoriness’) is the price we pay for handing over responsibility for ourselves to some sort of external authority, to the system that regulates/controls us and determines what we do and what we don’t do. The challenge therefore is simply to be courageous enough (in the face of all the mechanical forces that are ranged against us) to be ourselves. This is the ultimate risk, yet it is also the only thing that’s worth anything!


No one knows how to be themselves (no one knows what it involves or entails to do this) and no one can be trained (as we have said) to do this, and so what we’re talking about here is a profound mystery. It can’t be replicated or regulated or validated and we can’t do ‘research’ on it, and so it isn’t what anyone might call ‘scientific’. This sounds utterly unimpressive to our modern ears, therefore. And yet – no matter what we might think to the contrary – this ‘mystery’ (the unmanageable and completely ‘non-technical’ mystery of being one’s own unique self) is the only thing that is ever going to be of any genuine benefit to anyone. Being a technical ‘expert professional’, on the other hand, is the very opposite of being helpful. It’s a poisoned gift. It is simply ‘aggression disguised as helping’…











The Generic Life

Society is the Great machine for producing the generic life. It’s not that society doesn’t or couldn’t have any other more practically useful functions aside from this but just that these ‘useful functions’ are completely overshadowed by this unacknowledged negative aspect. In this, the social organization of which we are all a part acts as ‘negative parent’. Just as a negative or toxic parent will – when challenged – point to the nurturing functions which they do provide, such as food, shelter, clothing, protection from external harm and make the indignant claim to be benevolent rather than malign – so too will society reject any accusation that it has failed us, and more than just failing us that it is doing us harm. This argument is easily seen through – suppose that I am a parent who does all of these things (and who even perhaps provides emotional support too) but who nevertheless has an underlying agenda to sabotage the developing autonomy of those under my care. Suppose that I am fostering dependence rather than independence. In this case can it still be said that I am acting as a ‘good parent’? This is of course a purely rhetorical question – we all know that a parent who provides food, clothing and shelter but nothing else is abusive. The rudiments of parenting are there but not the ‘higher functions’, which is something an uncaring robot could perfectly well manage. Physical health – in a very narrow sense – may be being fostered but not emotional or mental health. The trauma that is caused by emotional neglect is tremendous and may take many decades to work through. If the child has been kept dependent and subservient and has thus been prevented from reaching the state of true adult autonomy, this is too is a complete failure of parenting – the children then in this case become nothing more than versions or copies of the dysfunctional parent.


So the point we are making is that society is an abusive (or ‘negative’) parent in exactly the same way, no matter what claims it may implicitly make to the contrary. The evidence is all around us! We don’t see this – it is true – but blindness is par for the course. That’s how things work – we don’t know anything different, we don’t have anything else to go on. Society – the common system of relations that we are all part of – is a negative parent, an abusive guardian. ‘Culture isn’t your friend’, as Terence McKenna says. The reason society isn’t our friend is because it doesn’t allow us to grow; it doesn’t do all the really important things that a parent quite naturally does if they really care about the well-being of their children. If you care about your children (rather than just caring about yourself) you will let them go, you will let them evolve beyond you. Society never does this – it would never occur to it to do this. As far as ‘growing as people’ or ‘developing as individuals’, this absolutely isn’t going to happen – we have to copy or mimic the template or else we’re misfits, we have to ‘fit in’ or else we’re ‘weird’. It can’t happen – there is no growth within the generic life. The generic life is the generic life and that is that; the only time growth is going to happen is when we go beyond the limits that have been set for us, not when we stay faithfully within them like a machine that always works the way it is supposed to work. Moving beyond the prescribed way that we have of understanding ourselves is growth but this happens to be the very thing that society doesn’t allow – that is illegal, that is prohibited by the whole weight of society. This is of course how systems get to be systems: by enforcing limits, by treating limits in a very serious way. When we look into it, we can see that systems actually are the limits that they enforce, that they take seriously.


Whenever we collectively agree – by whatever process – that this is the way we do things and that this is the way we think about things then we have created a system. We have created a set of limits which we are now taking seriously and this set of limits, this system then acts so as to mould and regulate us. This is what we call ‘society’ – it’s a working template that we set above ourselves. The point here is that this template then develops a ‘life of its own’ – it becomes more important than the human units that make it up and so it prioritizes its well-being and survival over that of the individual lives that make it up. Of course it is more important – the mould is always more important that what is being moulded. Naturally the template tells us what to do – it tells us what to do, we don’t tell it what to do. We can’t play fast and loose with society’s laws, society’s conventions. Even the least of these laws or conventions, if we go against it, will bring huge penalties down on our head. Anyone who has ever had the experience, in any way, of ‘not fitting in’, will know what a tremendous force ‘peer pressure’ is to come up against. This is why we always do conform to conventions in the way that we do – because we know how it works, because we know that there is this tremendous coercive force there and we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of it!


What happens when we ‘conform’, when we take seriously the limits that the system takes seriously (i.e. when we allow the system to mould and regulate us in accordance with these limits) is that we become generic. As we started off this discussion by saying, the societal life is the generic life. When we reflect on it, this is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying; it’s ridiculously obvious – it’s like saying that people who are sad are no happy or that people who are under five feet in height tend not to be tall. Yet we need to say it because we never actually think about it; we just don’t appreciate the implications of what we have just said here. The ‘implications’ couldn’t be bigger. The implications here simply couldn’t be overstated:

When we are living what we have called ‘the generic life’ – which is the default setting where everything is running smoothly ‘on automatic’ and nothing has happened to knock us off our pre-established trajectory – then we aren’t living as ourselves but simply as an idea of ourselves (i.e. as a generic idea of ourselves).

This is very easily said and it comes across perhaps as being rather glib, but when we come to grips with this idea and actually appreciate what it means to us then we can see that that it is an enormously disturbing revelation. It’s as if someone stole your life when you were still really young and then lived it instead of you, leaving you sidelined, leaving you marginalized, leaving you quite forgotten about. And not only this, it is also the case that the ‘thief’ who stole our life isn’t actually anybody but is only an idea, only a notion that has been passed on randomly from person to person like a cold, like a dose of the flu in winter.


This is what it means to ‘lead the generic life’ – it means to catch a cold! It means to catch cold and never get over it because you immune system has been suppressed. This then is not by any means a small thing; the enormity of what has happened to us can’t be overstated, as we have already argued’. When Jean Baudrillard speaks of ‘The Perfect Crime’ and ‘the murder of the real’ he is essentially speaking of this (although he is coming at it from a different angle). He is talking about the murder of who we really are, which is a job that has been started by our parents and then continued by everyone else we have ever met! Obviously, this is not done with any bad intent (or at least not usually) but it is done all the same. We don’t – as parents – have any choice in this: when we are ‘unconscious’ (i.e. unconscious of who we really are) we can’t help passing on the virus. That’s what we do when we’re unconscious – we act as passive vehicles for the generic impressions or imprints. Being unconscious means that we act as a passive medium or substrate which the ‘generic identity’ utilizes in order to propagate itself; our common understanding of ourselves is as this generic self (which is essentially nothing more than a cultural meme) and so naturally we’re going to see nothing wrong with this state of affairs – that’s why we are ‘passive’ in the process. Far from seeing anything wrong about it we’re going to see the situation in which the false or viral idea of self is maximally facilitated in propagating itself (at the expense of the true or ‘non-generic’ self) as being pre-eminently ‘healthy’ and desirable. We will adopt whatever strategies we can to bring this situation about, and maintain it. This is what we consider to be ‘the state of good mental health’, after all – ‘good mental health’ (to us!) means the continued unchallenged ascendancy of the generic self, the generic identity…


Nothing about the generic self is true – it doesn’t exist anymore than ‘an average value’ exists. Averages don’t really exist and yet they may all the same loom large in our minds as something to be aimed at or something to be avoided. We may live our whole life in the service of these ‘averages values’, in one way or another (we’re governed by social constructs, in other words). When we lead the generic life we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is’ and not only this, we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is on the basis of who or what someone else thinks we are (or ought to be)’! It’s no good pretending – as we generally do pretend – that this isn’t what the socially-conditioned life is like, that society (or our peers) are actually encouraging us to be our true authentic unique selves. It would be absurd to believe this. You would have to be asleep and dreaming (you’d have to be asleep and dreaming a socially-conditioned dream) to believe this!  When we say that we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of who we are or what life is’ it’s not really ‘someone else’ of course – we’re simply trying to approximate ourselves as best we can to an abstract idea that doesn’t belong to anyone. The generic ideas own us, we don’t own them! The generic idea owns us, but at the same time it doesn’t really exist; we’re putting ourselves through the wringer trying to approximate ourselves to an illusion – sometimes we fail and then we beat ourselves up (or are beaten up by our peers), or we succeed and we then go around feeling good about this, in a perfectly absurd fashion…


Life isn’t a matter of fitting into the pattern that we have been given; it isn’t a matter of ‘going along with the obvious answers that have been given to us without ever questioning them’. Life is a test, but it’s not that sort of test, it’s not a ‘test of obedience’ in the way that the fundamentalist Christians tell us it is. That’s just paternalistic bluster, that’s just ‘the Negative Father Image trying to frighten us, as always’! That’s just ‘The Old Tyrant‘! Life isn’t a test to see how good we are at going along with the prevailing bullshit – how could we possibly short-sighted enough to think this? We might like to think that it’s all about doing what we need to do in order to be good girls and good boys and get patted on the back or awarded medals but that of course is just a cop out so we don’t have to think for ourselves. That’s slavery, not life, even if it is slavery that we ourselves willingly walk into. Life’s not about embracing the generic life (and feeling either good or bad depending upon whether we are able to successfully do this), it’s about seeing through it.


This might sound like a rather simplistic or limited way of saying what life (which is obviously a pretty big thing) is or isn’t about but it hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways. It’s a pretty accurate way of putting things; after all, it’s only to the extent that we can see through (or beyond) ‘the generic life’ that we can live at all…