Servants Of The Mechanical Mind

We humans are – for the most part – a highly ‘incurious’ folk. We’re not naturally like that but we’ve become like that. We just want to be left in peace so that we can go on doing whatever it is that we already are doing. We don’t want to be bothered, in other words. Whatever the thing is, we just want to be allowed to carry on with it and not to be interfered with. We don’t want to have anything else coming into the picture. We implicitly see whatever it is that we are doing as ‘good’ and anything that gets in the way of it as being ‘bad’ (and this is not because of any inherent special virtue in what we doing, but simply because it happens to be what we are doing).

 

This isn’t a moral judgement, even though it tends to sound like it. It’s just the way things are. For the most part we genuinely do believe that whatever it is we’re doing does have some special inherent value; we’re absolutely convinced that it does and it would take a hell of a lot to dent our conviction. This is therefore a matter that’s ‘out of our control’; it’s out of our control because we aren’t in control – we are being controlled by our beliefs, we are being controlled by a customary way of seeing and behaving in the world. If we have beliefs about the world or about ourselves (and who doesn’t?) then we going to be controlled by them – that’s just the way it works. To say this might in itself strike us as being odd since, more often than not, we see our beliefs as empowering us, strengthening us,providing us with a solid foundation to face life from and so on. Moreover, we see our beliefs as being our ‘choice’, which is of course very different kettle of fish from power ‘being controlled by them’! And yet we are being controlled by our beliefs and this could hardly be otherwise – any description of the world that we can’t (or won’t) question is always going to control us.

 

This brings us back to what we started off this discussion by saying – that it is our nature – by and large –to be a profoundly incurious folk. It is our beliefs, our habitual and well-worn ideas about reality, that cause us to be incurious (or ‘unquestioning’). To live with a belief about the world is to be unquestioning of that world; to have ideas about things is to be incurious about those things. Beliefs by their very nature are something that we automatically accept, just as ideas are, just as thoughts are. To go around being completely hemmed in by a fog beliefs, ideas, conceptions and thoughts is to be deadened by them therefore – we are deadened by them because we are never actually looking at anything, not really. We’re not looking at anything because of all of our thinking, because of the constant activity of the rational mind. Being a ‘thinker’ isn’t such a great thing after all!

 

We could of course ‘look’ at our thoughts (in a curious way) and this would be a very interesting thing to do. The thing is however that we don’t look at our thoughts – thoughts have this kind of a property in them that means that they automatically direct our attention to some ‘predetermined target’. We’re ‘told where to look’ in other words. We are deftly directed elsewhere, and the thought (whatever it might be) doesn’t want us to look at it. It’s like a signpost in this respect – a signpost doesn’t want us to look at it, it wants us to look at where it is pointing. We’re always thinking about ‘some-thing’, in other words, and what this ‘something’ is is inevitably a construct of thought! Actually, we can’t think about something that isn’t already a construct of thought!

 

Our thoughts don’t director us towards reality in other words, and this is the point that we find so hard to understand. The thought stands for some element in reality but it doesn’t direct us to reality – it CAN’T do that because reality isn’t a predetermined target, because reality is ‘uncertain’ or ‘fluid’. Thought works by ‘specifying’ and how can we specify something that is uncertain? How can we point at something flows, something that isn’t the same thing twice? What we are saying here is that ‘the thought’ and ‘what is being thought about’ aren’t two different things, much as we might imagine them to be. Looking at this the other way around we can say that ‘thought’ and ‘reality’ are two qualitatively different things and that the former doesn’t lead onto the latter. There is a discontinuity between the two that we would need to ‘actively jump over’. Being passively pushed or pulled along by thought isn’t going to do that.

 

What thought does therefore is that it ‘refers us to itself’, or – to express this another way – thought refers us to its signifier or referent for reality as if this signifier or referent for reality were the same thing as reality. This is what we might call ‘the Hyperreality Principle’ in honour of Jean Baudrillard – the invisible conflation of the map and the territory. The ‘reference’ and ‘what is being referenced’ are taken as being one and the same thing and this is why Anthony De Mello says ‘Thought as a screen, not a mirror; that is why you live in a thought envelope, untouched by reality’.

 

A thought stands for some element in reality but it doesn’t direct us to reality – it can never do that. It can’t do that because reality is not a predetermined target, reality is not because reality is ‘uncertain’ or ‘fluid’. It isn’t as fixed or static thing thought always specifies and so how can we specify something that is uncertain. We point to something that is uncertain. What we are saying here is that thought and what is being thought about aren’t two different things, much as we might imagine them to be that they are. Looking at this the other way round we can say that thought and reality are two qualitatively different things and – furthermore – that the former doesn’t lead onto the latter. There is a discontinuity between the two that we would need to actively jump over. Being passively pushed or pulled by thought isn’t going to do that and so when ‘thought is our master’ then we are never going to leave the Domain of Thought. We’re not ever going to be directed outside of the envelope and so we won’t know that there is ‘an outside’.

 

We can see that this is the case quite easily just by watching ourselves – thinking is continuous, not episodic, and when we think we slide from one thought to another without a break. We imagine that we are taking a break, we ‘think’ that we aren’t thinking all the time, but we are. In order not to be ‘caught up in thinking all the time’ (and ‘thinking about nothing else but our own thoughts’,as Alan Watts says) we would have to be consciously paying attention when we’re‘lost in thought’ and we just don’t remember to do this.That’s why we’re ‘lost’! We’re preoccupied with one thought after another and when this happens we don’t know that we thinking, we don’t see that we’re thinking, and so we’re not in reality at all. We’re somewhere else. We’re ‘untouched by reality’, just as Anthony De Mello says.

 

So the point of all this is that if we are ‘lost in thought’, as Eckhart Tolle says, or contained ‘within the envelope of thought’, as Anthony De Mello puts it then of course we are going to be incurious about the world about us. We don’t even know that there is a word outside of us, as strange as this may sound! We assume that we are ‘present in reality’ but the truth is that we are simply being ‘automatically referred on’ from one thought to another in what is actually a repeating loop. Usually the loop is big enough so that we don’t notice that it’s a loop; sometimes however – and a good example is when we’re lying in bed late at night unable to get to sleep because of worries that are bothering us –we can actually see the loops. Not that being aware of being trapped in a loop helps us any course – at least not in the short-term! Anxiety – as it happens – makes us even less curious about the world, or about life, than we normally would be. We become even more caught up in our thoughts (as every anxiety-sufferer knows) – the suffering caused by being trapped in our heads can easily be just as bad (or even worse, perhaps) than the pain that is being created by the anxiety. They can be experienced as two different types of pain.

 

It could of course be said that when we are anxious we are still interested in somethings – we are interested (albeit in a ‘negative’ or ‘fearful’ way) in what we are anxious about. We’re interested in finding solutions to whatever problems it is that are on our mind. We’re interested in learning how to be free from our anxiety (i.e. we are interested in the ‘solution’ to our anxiety). This isn’t curiosity however because we are only responding to the pressure that our thinking is putting us under – the pressure to ‘solve the problem’, whatever the problem might happen to be. Curiosity can never happen (on the other hand) as a result of pressure – curiosity happens freely, not as a result of pressure that’s been put on us. We can’t be compelled to be curious. Curiosity is an expression of our innate freedom, in other words.

 

This gives us a good way of explaining why we can never be ‘curious about the world or ‘curious about ourselves’ when we are contained within the envelope of thought – we don’t have any freedom to be curious, we are on far too tight a leash for that. Instead of having a genuine interest in things we are agenda-driven; when thought is our master then everything we do is agenda-driven, which is to say, we are motivated by the need to obtain something we think will be of value to us, or avoid something we believe to be bad news for us. This is the motivation of attraction/aversion, the ‘motivation that is imposed upon us from the outside’, the ‘motivation of the mechanical mind’. It isn’t too hard to understand how the motivation of the mechanical mind causes us to operate on the basis of greed or fear the whole time, what we don’t perhaps appreciate so quickly is ow ‘Extrinsic Motivation’ (which is the antithesis of curiosity) causes us to be as incredibly gullible as we are with regard to whatever picture of reality it is that we are being presented with. When we are ‘incurious’ then no matter what picture of reality we are presented with by the thinking mind/conceptualising mind, we are going to accept it at face value. Of course we are, that’s what ‘being incurious’ means – it means that we will go along with whatever the ‘accepted thing’ seems to be and that is exactly what we human beings are like, for the most part. To be unconscious is to be malleable. What we are concerned with is ‘looking for the advantage’ and ‘avoiding the disadvantage’ in the terms of the framework that we have been given. This has nothing to do with curiosity about the framework. Our attention is always ‘on the small stuff,’ in other words.

 

When we’re curious then we are looking at the ‘big picture’ but whoever looks at the ‘big picture’? This isn’t really ‘the done thing’ – we won’t fit into society by being interested in the big picture, after all. What’s more, if we were to catch a glimpse of the big picture – which has nothing to do with our personal hopes and fears, nothing to do with the all-consuming dramas of our everyday lives – then this would ‘upset the apple cart’. No one likes to be shaken up out of their comfortable sleep. No one likes to be disturbed from their habitual pattern of doing and seeing things and this is precisely what ‘being curious’ always does! As we’ve said, we just want to be allowed to carry on doing whatever it is that we’re already doing,and we don’t care what that is.We’re not interested in what that is, just as we’re not (really) interested in whatever it is we believe in (just so long as we have something to believe in). We’re not interested in seeing whatever it is we’re doing, we’re just interested in ‘carrying on doing it’ and ‘carrying on not being interested in it and if this doesn’t sound particularly inspirational, then that’s because it isn’t!

 

 

Art: street art in Kaunas, Lithuania

 

 

 

 

Trying To Improve An Illusion

There is very odd fact about our existence that we don’t generally observe and this fact is that we can never just be in the world, we have to be in the world whilst thinking about being in the world and this business of ‘being in the world whilst continually thinking about being in the world’ isn’t being in the world at all! It is something else entirely. Being in the world whilst thinking about being in the world is the same thing as ‘existing in a desire state’ and the pertinent point about this is that desire states aren’t real.

 

We can never just ‘be’ in the world for some reason; this is the one thing we just can’t do. We obviously believe (on some level) that this continual thinking–type activity is highly beneficial to us, if not actually essential. Why else would we put so much energy into it – we’re obviously looking for some advantageous outcome that is going to come about as a result of our investment! Clearly, it’s not enough for us just to be in the world – that seems to be of no value at all to us – we always have to looking for some mysterious ‘advantage’. This then provides us with a very neat summary of the human situation – a continual striving for improvement, a continual searching for advantage.

 

It is of course fairly normal for us to be spending our time looking for some kind of advantage. We’re conditioned that way; we’re brought up that way. It is widely considered to be a good thing to be busying ourselves doing this, that and the other and ‘busy’ means – in essence – ‘looking for an advantage’. What else would it mean? We’re not investing energy in activity for nothing – we’re looking for a result, we’re trying to improve things.

 

‘Trying to improve things’ has therefore become a sickness for us. It’s not a bad thing in itself – obviously – but when it runs away with us so that we don’t know how to stop ‘looking for the advantage’ in every situation then it isn’t a good thing at all. It has become a horror, it has become a pestilence. Trying to improve things all the time and not to be able to stop is like having an itch that we can’t help from scratching even when this continuous scratching makes things worse rather than better and this is clearly not a happy situation. To be perfectly blunt about it, what we’re talking about here is a type of self-harming – it’s an addiction to an activity that is bad for us.

 

From time to time things do need ‘improving’ and that is an undeniable fact. If we’re looking for food and we need to eat something in order not to starve then this is a situation that needs improving! If we come across someone who is in immediate danger and needs assistance this is also ‘a situation that needs improving’ – the ‘advantage’ in question here is to ensure the other person’s well-being and safety. We have practical needs in life and these needs need to be looked after, obviously. But to say (or rather, unconsciously assume) that reality itself is something that continually needs improving (or continually needs fixing) is nothing short of insanity. Obviously this can’t be true and to so to be continuously and strenuously acting as if it was true is a sickness.

 

To be continually looking for the advantage and not to be able to stop (and, indeed, not even to be able to recognise the fact that there might be something else in life other than continually ‘looking for the advantage’) is nothing short of insanity, but it’s also a type of insanity that each and every one of us is perpetually embroiled in, which makes it invisible to us. Because we don’t come across anyone who isn’t doing the same thing that we’re doing this means that we’re not going to be able to recognise this strange situation for what it is. To us, it’s just ‘normal’. We think being busy the whole time is good.

 

If being (or reality) were somehow ‘deficient in itself’ then this business of ‘perpetual unrelenting fixing’ might make some sort of sense but this premise is – of course – utterly false and utterly ridiculous. How could ‘being’ or ‘reality’ be deficient? The irony is – as we started off by saying – that our continual attempts to improve reality actually degrades it – it is why we can say that continual thinking (and thinking is always an attempt to fix one way or another) is a sickness. It’s a sickness because we are continually degrading our own reality.

 

This is – without any doubt at all – an idea that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to us and the thing about ideas that don’t make the slightest bit of sense to us is that we don’t tend to entertain them very long! Our favourite activity is – or so we are claiming in this discussion – trying to improve things (either trying to improve ourselves or trying to improve the world) and the reason we are as invested or preoccupied as we are in the ‘improvement business’ is of course because we imagine that we’re making things better rather than worse! To learn that were actually doing the opposite of what we think we are and that we are degrading our reality rather than enhancing it is a very difficult thing for us to take on therefore. Human nature being what it is, when we come across an idea that is going to result in a truly radical change to the way we see the things then we just don’t go there. Our whole motivation is to preserve the integrity and stability of the apple-cart, not to upset it. We seek equilibrium, not disequilibrium.

 

How can we make such a claim as this however? How can we back up the assertion that we are continually degrading our own reality with our attempts to make things better? The key lies in what we said earlier, which is that ‘trying to improve things’ is fine when it is done from time to time for strictly practical reasons, but that when we’re at it the whole time then something has gone very amiss. ‘Improving things’ has in this case become an end in itself; ‘striving to obtain our goals’ has become an end in itself, ‘purposeful activity’ has become an end in itself. We might of course try to argue that striving to be a better version of oneself isn’t the same thing as continually struggling to obtain external goals but of course it is we wouldn’t know what direction to struggle in unless we first had an idea of what ‘better’ means and what ‘worse’ means. When we talk about ‘striving to better ourselves’ what we really mean is ‘striving to better accord with our idea of ourselves’, and this isn’t the same thing at all.

 

When we try to improve things in accordance with our ideas, or in accordance with our thinking, what this really comes down to is ‘worshipping a false god’, since ‘the thought is not the thing’. My idea of the world is not the world and my idea of who I am is not who I am. This brings to mind the old Zen story of the finger pointing at the moon – if the finger pointing at the moon helps us to see the moon then that is helpful (that is after all the whole point of the exercise) but if we get fixated upon the pointing finger instead (as if the finger itself were the thing) then this is a very great error! In this case we are ‘worshipping the teapot rather than drinking the tea’, as Wei Wu Wei says, and the only point of the teapot is to facilitate us in drinking the tea. The teapot isn’t an end in itself.

 

This is one way of looking at why ‘always trying to improve things’ is a disease therefore – because it causes us to deviate from our own true nature in a ‘suffering-producing’ way. A slightly different way of looking at this is to say, as we did earlier, that ‘trying to improve things’ is the same thing as ‘looking for the advantage’ and an advantage is something that always exists in relation to a particular point of reference. The point of reference that we’re talking about here is of course the self and the thing about this is that the self is an abstraction that has been created by thought. All reference points are created by thought and anything that has been created by thought is ‘an abstraction’ (an ‘abstraction’ being something that doesn’t exist in its own right but which has been produced by drawing boundaries that don’t really exist). All ‘improvement’ comes down to expanding the Abstraction Realm that we are taken for granted and this ‘expanding of the Abstraction Realm’ isn’t actually a real thing at all. It might be our favourite activity, but that doesn’t mean that it’s real!

 

As we have been saying, some specific ‘acts of improvement’ are necessary or helpful – if we are cold and we need to find a way of warming ourselves up then this type of improvement is of course perfectly legitimate. This is a type of ‘improvement’ that exists in relation to the physical organism and whilst the physical organism itself may be said to be an abstraction just as thoughts are (all matter is after all an abstraction from what Heraclitus calls the Universal Flux or from what David Bohm calls the Holomovement) we also need to make the point that this just happens to be an abstraction that is legitimately important to us! Our thoughts and beliefs are a different matter however – they could be useful if viewed in a strictly provisional way but they are more likely to be the exact opposite of helpful. When we can’t stop trying to improve our situation (and this means ‘continually grasping’ or ‘continually thinking) then this is because we are trying to extend or promote the Abstraction Realm that has illegitimately become our master.

 

This is what we might call a ‘counterproductive activity’ therefore, an activity that has become ‘against life itself’ – life itself is not an abstraction, after all. What we are essentially trying to ‘improve’ with all our grasping-type activity is an illusion and what we don’t see is that an illusion can’t be improved, no matter how much effort we put into it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone We Meet We Give A Gift

Ram Dass says that we give everyone we meet a present, whether we want to or not, and that this present is ‘ourselves as we really are’, so to speak. Our ‘inner state’ is the gift we can’t help giving everyone we meet We may have a hugely prestigious status in society, we may have an impressive title or numerous letters after our name, but this doesn’t make even a grain of difference – we can still only ‘give what we’ve got,’ we can still only ever give the gift of our own inner state .

The other side of this is that we may have a very lowly status in society, we may have no standing at all, so that no one takes the slightest bit of interest in us or what we have to say, but our inner state might still be much more of a ‘gift’ than that of someone who society thinks to be important or knowledgeable. We place great emphasis on ‘experts’ for example, but no one can be an expert at cultivating a joyful or compassionate inner state! That’s not the way it works at all. We can train people to be experts in this or that technical field but we can’t train our inner state to be the way that we want it to be,or think it ought to be.

Experts are expert at doing certain technical tasks and this is of course something that we very much need – if my computer crashes and I can’t restart it I want someone with the technical expertise to come along and help me, not someone with no technical knowledge of computer systems. Similarly, if I develop a heart arrhythmia it’s a medical expert that I want to talk to not someone who might be a good friend but who knows nothing at all about medicine. When it comes to mental health however, there are no ‘experts’ and this is something that our society is very slow in recognising. Our ‘mental well-being’ isn’t something that is subject to ‘technical fixes’, the matter how skilled or knowledgeable the technician in question might be.

The reason for this is that our inner state can’t be changed by techniques or manipulation, as we have already said. This may sound like a rather strange assertion to make but we can explain it very easily by giving examples of other things that can’t be changed by design, by manipulation. There are lots of examples we could give here! One would be relationships – a good relationship may develop between two people but this can ‘t happen as a result of design or trickery on the part of one or both of the individuals concerned. If I meet you and am trying to manipulate things, or set things up, so that there will be a trusting relationship between us, then no genuine relationship is going to be possible. I might fool you for a while, but sooner or later you are going to see that I’m not authentic, that I am secretly manipulating things, and that is going to be the end of it. This brings us neatly to a second example (which is obviously closely related to the first) and that is authenticity. If I am not authentic in any given situation then there is no way in which I can manipulate things so that I am. This is because ‘manipulation’ and ‘being authentic’, are mutually exclusive modes of being. Paradoxically, the only way I can be authentic is by admitting that I’m not!The same principle applies to what is called ‘being oneself’ – as Alan Watt says somewhere; if I in any way try to be myself, then I am actually moving away from being myself. Any effort to be myself and I straightaway become false, phony, artificial.

The last example we will give encompasses both of the two previous ones and makes the point in the broadest possible way and it has to do with what is called the Dao in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Dao is ‘the natural way of things’, it is the natural way of things that happens all by itself and does not need to be controlled or regulated or set up in advance by some sort of cosmic programmer.This is a somewhat alien idea to us in the West as we can’t accept that anything can happen without being told to happen, or being caused to happen – this ‘rational prejudice’ of ours is exemplified by the idea of ‘God the controller’, without whose express will not even a single leaf may fall from a tree. In terms of the traditional Western paradigm, the whole universe is to be explained by the idea of God as ‘the Great Cause’ where is in Daoism such an idea would be too absurd even to be thought of. In Daoism it is stated that ‘to try to accord with the Dao is to deviate from it’ – in terms of ‘according with the state of universal harmony’ therefore, it is very much the case that trying to manipulate the situation (i.e. the purposeful mode of being in the world) is not ever going to result in us according with reality. ‘Control’ never leads to harmony…

In the case of ‘universal harmony’ or ‘all things being just the way that they naturally are’, it can quite easily be seen that what we might call personal will is very much ‘the fly in the ointment’. The ointment would be great, the ointment would be perfect, if it were not for that damn fly! If everything is ALREADY naturally partaking in the ineffable state of universal harmony then any effort I make to ‘be natural, or’ be in harmony’, is of course going to take us out of harmony and render us ‘strained’ and ‘out of sorts’. The attempt to be natural is artificial, in other words. And, what’s more, if I see this and try to go against my crude inclination to ‘make things natural even though they already are’ via the exercise of my personal will, then this too is me straining to correct matters and ‘make them be the way that I think they ought to be’. I’m ‘trying not to try’ in this case and that is every bit as strained and unnatural as ‘trying’ on its own is. It’s actually double-trying,‘trying on top of trying’, and so I’m actually caught up in a worse knot.

Some things absolutely can’t be done on purpose therefore and ‘being who we are’ or ‘being natural’ is one of them! Being happy can’t be done on purpose, being kind or compassionate can’t be done on purpose, being creative or spontaneous can’t be done on purpose, being still or at peace can’t be done on purpose. Being not sad when we are sad, being not angry when we are angry, and being not jealous when we are jealous, or being scared when we are scared, are also things that ‘can’t be done on purpose’. In short, changing our inner state is something that absolutely can’t be done on purpose, and this brings us back to where we started off in this argument. If we can’t by will or by design change our inner state (even though we might be able to cunningly disguise it) then this means that we are inevitably going to make everyone we meet a present of it, whether we want to or not.

This isn’t a ‘hopeless’ or ‘fatalistic’ viewpoint however. It’s simply ‘how things work’, and – if we reflected upon it – we would see that it is the only way things could ever work. What we are essentially saying here is that ‘the truth is the truth’ and – on a psychological level – what helps is for us to respect what is true as being true and not put all our energy into trying to change it. Since when has it been a good policy to fight against what is true, after all? What possible good could ever come out of such a pointless struggle? Who are we trying to fool?

This is not exactly an unfamiliar principle that we looking at here therefore – the principle is that it’s better to come clean and tell the truth rather than try to smudge or spin-doctor the issue. We all (or most of us) understand – to some degree or other – that it is a good thing to be honest rather than dishonest. The thing about this however is that we very much tend to apply this to our outer or external life and not to our ‘inner’ one. Inner honesty isn’t seen clearly for the profoundly liberating thing that it is. When Jesus said ‘the truth shall set you free’ he was referring to inner honesty above all – after all, if we are inwardly honest we then are not likely to go around trying to deceive others, whilst if we lack in inner honesty then we won’t be able to help playing false with everyone we meet. Our whole life is going to be ‘fake’, or ‘sham’, in this case.

Lots of different methods are prescribed for mental distress and suffering, many different approaches are adopted. The thing about methods and approaches is however there is always ‘an outcome in mind’ and if we have an outcome in mind then this has precisely nothing to do with ‘inner honesty’ or ‘coming clean’ about how we actually are. There is simply no outcome here; we’re not looking for an outcome – it’s not that type of thing at all. We are ‘dropping’ all hopes of any particular outcome, not ‘hanging onto them’ and that’s the whole point – the whole point is that we are dropping all hopes of changing things and facing the situation squarely instead. Doing this activates the principal of‘paradoxical change’ as it is called in Gestalt psychotherapy – when we stop trying to change our inner state then our inner state changes all by itself.

Not trying to change our inner state actually detoxifies is – by establishing a relationship with it the natural healing process is allowed to take place, and this means that when we meet people the gift we give them isn’t a poisoned one…






Recycling Time

The everyday self, according to Joseph Campbell, is ‘a fraction that thinks it is whole’. The everyday self thinks or assumes that it is whole but it is all the same persistently acquisitive, persistently restless, persistently fearful of unwanted outcomes and this shows that it isn’t whole. If it was whole then it wouldn’t be the way that it clearly is. If it were whole then it could ‘rest in itself’ and it can’t ever do that. The defining characteristic of the everyday self is that it can never ‘rest in itself’.

So what does it mean to be ‘whole’? For a start, we can say that being whole is a non-polar situation. Wholeness is not a polarity. It isn’t made up of two opposing things – it doesn’t have a plus at one end and a minus at the other. It doesn’t exist in a continuum with right at one end and wrong at the other so it can’t flip over between the two. The fact that wholeness is not a polarity means that there is no ‘self’ to be found in it, everyday or otherwise. There is no self to be found in wholeness because the self can only really exist in relation to polarity.

The ‘self’ equals striving for the positive and fleeing from the negative. This is what the self is always doing – it can’t ever not reach for the one nor flee from the other. It can’t ever ‘not strive’. It’s always ‘purposeful’ in this way and it is through being purposeful that the purposeful self gets to exist. The self exists through its purposes and whether it succeeds or fails makes no difference. One way the ‘winner self’ gets to be created, the other way the ‘loser self’…

The everyday self constructs itself in relation to the struggle to achieve its purpose. And another way of putting this is to say that the self creates itself (odd though this may sound) via its grasping. Because of its grasping, the everyday self exists. There are two (apparent) things that come about because grasping – [1] equals the ‘grasper’ and [2] equals ‘the thing that is being grasped for’. The self is by its very nature perpetual grasping, in other words. Or we could say that it is perpetual fleeing, if we were to look at it that way around instead. The everyday self is ‘attachment’ in other words; there is no such thing as a self that is not a slave to attachment! That isn’t a situation that can ever come true for the self, seductive though that possibility might seem.

There is a ‘comforting illusion’ that goes with this grasping – the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally secure what we are grasping for (or the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally escape from whatever it is we are fleeing from). So could be said that we are ‘fractional beings in search of wholeness’ and in a way this is true, but in another way it is not true. It is not true because we have no concept or perception of wholeness, and so we can’t seek it. All we can ‘seek’ are our own projections.

What we are really doing is ‘chasing our own projections’, which is – as Alan Watt says – like a puppy chasing its own tail. We can never ‘arrive’ – when a puppy is chasing its own tail there is no ‘arriving’! We can never arrive at our projected destination because projections aren’t real; my projections are just my own fantasies and so I’m not really getting anywhere. There is no distance between ‘me’ and ‘my projected destination’ and so there is no journey, no movement, no prospect of change. There is only ever ‘fantasy gain’ and ‘fantasy loss’ – our hopes of gaining the prize are as vain as our fears of losing it.

Instead of saying that the self is ‘perpetual grasping’ we could also say that it is ‘a recycling of the old’. When we grasp we are always grasping for ‘the old’ after all – there’s no such thing as a ‘grasping for the new’. How can we ‘grasp for the new’ when we don’t know what ‘the new’ is? If we did know what ‘the new’ was then it wouldn’t be new, but only something that we are already familiar with. Grasping means ‘chasing our projections’ and our projections – by definition – are never new.

‘The new’ is essentially ‘that which we have no way of anticipating’ and it is also therefore ‘that which we have no way of gaining the advantage over’. ‘Gaining the advantage’ means knowing something about the situation that is going to arise before it arises so that it doesn’t take us totally by surprise. For a game-player to be taken by surprise is not a good thing; as James Carse says, the last thing a game player wants is to be taken by surprise and the self is nothing if not a game player. Being a game player means that we are always ‘looking for the advantage’, obviously enough! Gaining the advantage is called ‘winning’ and not gaining the advantage is called  ‘losing’ and that’s all we need to know about games.

The thing about this is that there is neither winning nor losing in ‘the new’; both winning and losing (or advantage and disadvantage) equals ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That’s the whole point of games. The point is that neither winning or losing is ‘new’ – both equal ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That is the hidden agenda behind all games – to avoid newness. As we have said, the self can only exist in relation to the polarity of yes and no, winning and losing, advantage and disadvantage, and so this is just another way of saying that the self is just a game, odd though this may sound. It is by pretending to ourselves – as we do in games – that ‘the old’ actually exists (and that there is no such thing as ‘the radical new’) that we create the illusion of ourselves.

Just as Krishnamurti says that ‘thought is always old’ so too is the thought-created sense of identity ‘always old’ and the thing about this is that outside of the creations of thought, there is no ‘old’….








 

 

Disturbing The Peace

What disturbs our peace the whole time is the I-Concept. This isn’t our usual way of seeing things of course – we never think of the I-Concept as being the culprit. On the contrary, we always see things its way and the I-Concept – when it is functioning in its default way – never blames itself for anything. On the contrary, it takes itself for granted, and this automatically means that the fault will be found elsewhere. There is variant on this displacement business and that is when the I-Concept loses its ‘robustness’ and starts blaming itself instead – it starts ‘internalizing the blame’, in other words. This disturbs our peace of mind as well of course and so it’s still the I-Concept that causing the disturbance – either way, it is the very narrow idea that we have of who we are that is the root cause of the agitation.

 

No matter which way it is working, the I-Concept is incapable of seeing any point of view other than its own. This is its ‘fundamental limitation’, we might say. If it could see things another way, it would no longer be the I-Concept. If it could examine itself (which is of course not the same as blaming itself) it would no longer be the I-Concept. For this reason therefore, its slightest whim immediately becomes law. Self-righteous indignation, resentment, blame and anger automatically follows if this ‘law’ is not respected (which is to say, if things go against us).

 

Because we can’t question whatever it is that the self-construct wants then naturally the ‘fault’ always seems to lie elsewhere. The universe is refusing to play ball with us and that – from our POV – is quite unacceptable. If we could ‘switch perspectives’, even for just a moment, would see that this attitude of ours is quite preposterous, but the I-Concept can’t look at things any other way, and that’s the whole point. If I am not the way I think I ought to be then it is the same inflexibility that is coming into play here – if I am being self-blaming instead of ‘other blaming’ then it is this very same rigidity that lies behind my ‘toxic or violent attitude’.

 

The I-Concept represents an ‘unfree way of seeing the world’ therefore – the concrete self can never turn around and laugh at itself for being so ridiculous and this imbues it with a clown-like quality, as Wei Wu Wei says. It’s as if it is always suspecting itself to be the butt of every joke going, both real and imagined, and this makes it inherently touchy, inherently defensive. This makes it inherently aggressive because we’ve always got to be ready to throw the shit right back any time it lands on us. We’ve got to be very quick to ‘deflect the blame’. We’ve got be fast on the draw with some kind of snappy comeback! ‘I’m not the idiot, you’re the idiot’, I say…

 

This outwardly directed aggression is one way in which the peace gets to be disturbed therefore; put a bunch of I-Concepts together and they will squabble like hell because each one of them wants to blame all the others for anything and everything that goes wrong! Each one of them is determined to shift the blame, without actually focusing on the fact that this is what it is doing. Mutual understanding is an impossibility. Naturally mutual understanding is an impossibility since – when we are identified with the I-Concept – we can’t understand ourselves. We can’t understand ourselves and so how can we hope to understand someone else? Instead of ‘understanding ourselves’ what we do instead is to make up convenient stories and then believe them. We spin narratives, in other words, and then we orientate ourselves to these narratives as if they were constitute the fundamental baseline of ‘what reality is’.

 

With regard to those around us, we can’t (when we are in the identified state) have any genuine mutual understanding and so what we do instead is to agree to follow a particular shared narrative. This way we are all coming from a common basis, a common point of view, and so this feels like ‘togetherness’. It isn’t really togetherness (or ‘connectedness’) however because it’s on a false basis. I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not (without acknowledging that I’m doing this) and the same is true for you. How then can there be any connectedness? When we relate to others in the world on the basis of the mind-created narrative that is always going to be the case; it’s always going to be the case for the simple reason that narratives are never true. There is no narrative that can define (or explain) who or what we are, either historically or in the present moment. The I-concept and the ‘personal narrative’ are the same thing – without the mind-created narrative there could be no concrete sense of self. The self is the product of the narrative.

 

So we could say that what ‘disturbs our peace’ (and goes on and on disturbing our peace) is the narrative or story that we have of ourselves and this would also be true. Or we could say what fragments our peace is our thinking, the very nature of thought being that it fragments reality, as David Bohm says. We can therefore talk equivalently about the I-Concept, the personal narrative, and thought itself. We usually (almost always) take it that we are the I-Concept, that the personal narrative is my story, and that thought is my tool to do with as I please, but actually this is the reverse of what’s going on – I’m not the I-Concept, the personal narrative is not the true story of what’s going on, and I am the tool of thought rather than vice versa! The I-Concept is an extension of thought, a construct of thought, so just as long as I am identified with the I-Concept then I am ‘the tool of thought’ – it can’t be otherwise.

 

Identification means rigidity, as we have said, and rigidity means that there can never be any peace, or any true ‘ease’. Rigidity means ongoing agitation, ongoing strife. We are glued to a limited (and therefore brittle) viewpoint and we are condemned, on this account, to make our way through life on this dreadfully awkward basis. The only freedom we seem to have is the freedom to get things to be the way we want to be – if we can correctly exercise this freedom then – we imagine – we will feel blessed relief from the lack of ease that is driving us. The ‘lack of ease’ and the brittleness of our position are the same thing – if we weren’t so brittle then we wouldn’t be so agitated; the ‘brittleness’ (or lack of ease) is what drives our controlling, in other words.

 

We will never find relief from our uncomfortable or tormenting brittleness however – the ‘answer’ to our brittleness isn’t to learn to control more effectively, as we think, because when we do this with simply importing this brittleness (which is the self-construct) into every new situation. We are perpetuating the need to go on controlling. The ‘answer’ is much more simple than this – the problem is my brittle idea of myself, not the world’s obstinate refusal to play ball with this idea. Our freedom doesn’t lie in control therefore (control being the way the I-Concept has of extending itself), our freedom lies in not having to control. When I don’t have to control then I am free – when I realise that I don’t have to control then I am free from the I-Concept, free from the personal narrative, and free from thought all in the one go…

 

So far, it could be said, we doing little more than going around in circles by saying the same thing in various different ways. This understanding can’t be rushed however; it can’t be rushed because it goes so very much against the grain of our ordinary thinking. Once we have a clear understanding of what identification is then we have the possibility of working meaning meaningfully with it – we can’t see identification, but we can see its consequences. The brittleness itself is invisible to us – it’s invisible to us because we mistake it for our own will, our own volition. We don’t experience the brittleness as brittleness (i.e. I don’t feel the pain where it belongs) but rather we perceive it as ‘things not being right on the outside world’. We deflect the pain outwards, in other words so that our inherent rigidity or brittleness is transformed into ‘an external problem that needs to be fixed’.

 

The very first place for consciousness to come in is therefore exactly here, in the upsets and irritations we experience on an ongoing basis. Every single thing that comes along and niggles or annoys us can be seen in two mutually exclusive ways – either I identify with the reaction in question and perceive it as being the ‘my righteous or rightful response to something that isn’t right’ or I perceive the reactivity to be a function of the rigidity or inflexibility of the I-Concept. When I fall into the trap of identifying with the mechanical reaction then the I-Concept (as it actually is) becomes 100% invisible to me and when I don’t fall into this trap then it straightaway becomes visible for what it is, which is to say – it becomes visible as ‘a mere thing’, ‘a mere mechanism’.

 

This is a very fascinating thing therefore – the fascinating thing is that when we are living life on the basis of the I-Concept then we have turned ourselves into a thing! We are ‘a thing’ but we can’t see ourselves to be ‘a thing’; we are ‘a thing’ but we perceive everyone out everything else (even other human beings, sometimes) as been things, not us. We’ve got it the wrong way around in other words – we have thingified the world around us when actually it is us that is the thing the whole time! We’re projecting our ‘thingness’ on everything else and making ourselves blind to it in ourselves, and this allows us to become violent in the way that we are. Ultimately, this is what allows us to become psychopaths or narcissists! This is what the state of identification is all about – becoming some ‘rigid reactive thing’ and being doomed to be continuously validating our stubborn rigidity and reactivity so that we never have to actually look at it in ourselves. We inflict it on everyone else instead.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are living on the basis of the I-Concept then we are ‘clownish without knowing that we are’, as we said earlier. We are foolish, but we don’t know it. We are foolish, but all the same we are liable to go around thinking that we’re the ‘bees knees’; either that or we go around being down on ourselves and feeling that we are unworthy or weak or actually bad. Both of these perceptions – the euphoric and the dysphoric – are equally deluded however. Being great is a delusion just as being crappy is. The truth of the matter is that the I-Concept can never be either good or bad – it’s just ‘a mechanical thing’ and so what is helpful is for us to do it the respect of seeing it for what it is instead of oscillating up and down the whole time with regard to our conditioned self-regard. The ego wants to redeem itself (we might say) by being ‘good’ but it is never anything other than the mechanical ego, which is neither good nor bad but just a mechanism.

 

Seeing that the I-Concept is the I-Concept isn’t an inherently painful or disturbing thing unless we happen to be identified with it, which of course we are! The pain of seeing the truth about ourselves (or rather, the truth of who we think we are) means that we are always looking in the opposite direction from this truth, which is why we are always deflecting. The truth isn’t recognised as the truth but rather as an insult that we will either protest strongly against or internalise and ‘take to heart’, depending on our inclination. The very fact that there is pain there means that we can use it to draw attention to what is going on, however. In this case the painful sting that I am feeling – be it slight or more than slight – can act as a prompt to enable me to see where the pain is rather than allowing my attention to be deflected safely somewhere else.

 

When we are not paying attention – which is the usual way – then we automatically resent the pain that we’re feeling and so all our energy goes into reacting. We don’t particularly notice the reacting when we do this but what the reacting is against – we put all up all our attention on what the mind-created narrative says is happening and this reinforces that narrative, increasing its hold over us. The reacting is like a pointing finger and we so obediently look at where the finger is pointing. We find someone (or some situation) to blame for our pain. The I-Concept is thus validated and reinforced by the action of blaming or judging. Turning this around and blaming or judging the self-construct doesn’t help us however because this also solidifies the idea that we have of ourselves – we’re every bit as trapped if we blame ourselves as when we blame someone or something else. ‘Blaming’ means in essence that ‘you should be different to the way you are but you aren’t’ – this is utterly  ludicrous however because the I-Concept can never be anything other than what it is! How could it – it is simply a reflex or mechanism that can never be anything different from what it is. Why do we even want it to be ‘other then what it is’, seeing as how it isn’t who we are anyway?

Identifying With The Generic Identity

Self-observation is all about not getting sucked into our own (or other people’s) dramas. Dramas pull us in – that’s what they do. We lose ourselves in dramas – it’s like watching a film in the cinema and being so completely absorbed that you forget all about yourself. If my life was one long drama (let us just suppose) then we could lose ourselves in it the whole time, on a non-stop basis. We would in that case get so absorbed in it that we would completely forget ourselves! This is what Anthony de Mello is getting at when he says that we are all ‘asleep’.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we get so absorbed in our reactions to the drama that’s going on that we think we are our reactions! So suppose you say something to me and for some reason I feel hurt by your comment, then it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to identify with this reaction, and get totally sucked into the drama of it on this basis. ‘Identifying’ means that I feel that I am totally right to be aggrieved by the fact that you have said whatever it is that you’ve said, and that you are totally wrong to have said it. There is this right/wrong polarisation that takes place which then get elaborated and reinforced by the thinking process. ‘She should never have said that,’ I might think, or ‘how dare you make a comment like that!’

 

The more we get sucked in by this thinking process more indignant or affronted we feel, the more polarised we get, and this polarisation of ‘right way versus runway’ is what identification means. ‘Identification’ means that we feel intensely gratified and vindicated if things go our way, and equally intensely annoyed and stung if they don’t. In this state of being everything is about the drama, everything is about the reaction, and so as a result of everything being about the drama (or the reaction) there is no actual ‘self-observation’ going on in the sense that we have been talking about. ‘Being sucked into the drama’ is the very antithesis of self-observation as we have said.

 

The process of identification, then, is the process whereby we think that our reactions, which kick off automatically, are us. The intensity of the emotional reaction is my own intensity; it is coming right from the core of me, it is expressive of what I care about the most. My outrage is expressing my deepest most heartfelt feelings – it is coming out of the very centre of my being (or so it seems). More than this, it is an expression of me. In this way we could say that I’m ‘prizing’ my outrage, my anger, my indignation, or whatever the reaction is; it is precious to me just as I am precious to me.

 

And yet at the same time my emotional reactions have nothing to do with who I really am – they certainly don’t define who or how I am in the way that I feel that they do. What they do define is a generic version of us and so what we have here is the situation where I am very intensely identifying with this stance, this posture, this attitude, and we are saying – as strongly as we can – that this is me. I am saying ‘this is my position and I’m sticking to it whether you like it or not…’

 

There is a huge defiance, a huge obstinacy, a huge stubbornness about this and just as long as we have any strength at all left to us, we will defend this position of ours – we will defend it until our last gasp, we will defend it till the very end. This obstinacy of ours is perverse however because what we are defending is not us – what we are defending (or promoting) is ‘the generic version of us’, not the true and unique individuality of who we are. What we are defending is the acquired ‘personality’ not our intrinsic ‘essence’, to use Gurdjieff’s terms, so getting pulled into the drama causes us to think that ‘we are who we aren’t’ and – moreover – think it very strongly! We forget who we are (which is not defined in the crude, black-and-white way, and cannot therefore be ‘defended’) and identify with a ‘generic identity’ instead.

 

The reason we call it ‘the generic identity’ is because it’s the same for everybody – when we look at anyone who has completely lost their temper and has become consumed by rage we can see that everyone becomes ‘the same person’ at this point. All the nuances (the nuances which tell of our individuality) are lost and all that is left is ‘the ego of anger’, which is a generic self. As Jung says, when we allow ourselves to be ruled by ‘the passions’ then we straightaway become ‘Everyman’

The more you cling to that which the whole world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch.

This is without question the most ignominious fate that could ever befall us – Everyman is the graveyard of individuality, a horrific type of ‘living death’.

 

This isn’t just true for anger therefore – every jealous person is the same person (the same person which isn’t actually any true person), every greedy person is the same person, every confused person of the same person, every proud or arrogant person is the same person, every slothful or lazy person of is the same person. What we’re talking about here therefore are the ‘five poisons’ that are spoken of in Buddhism or the ‘seven deadly sins’ that are listed in Christianity. The reason there are seven cardinal sins and only five poisons (or Kleshas) because Christianity counts desire three times as lechery (luxuria); gluttony (gula) and avarice (and avaritia). The point is however (the point that we are never ever told) is that these are states in which we lose our true, compassionate nature and ‘become who we aren’t’. The consumer society in which we live is based upon the manipulation of our passions (greed, envy, insecurity, etc) and it operates by causing us to identify with the generic identity. The generic identity is predictable and easily controlled, after all! Who we really are (the individuality) isn’t.

 

‘Self-observation’ essentially involves bringing awareness to this process whereby we identify with the generic identity. We see it happening. What we are observing is the way in which we get caught up in the mind-created drama and ‘become who we aren’t’, in other words. The crucial point here is that when we have identified with the generic identity we can’t ‘observe’ anything! The generic identity can’t see anything truly; it can’t see anything truly because it sees everything from a false basis – it sees everything in a ‘generic’ way, it sees everything ‘from the basis of an unreal vantage point’. This is the great difficulty inherent in self-observation therefore – the ‘great difficulty’ is that inasmuch as we are continuously identifying with a generic identity, we are also becoming unconscious, and when we become unconscious we are also unconscious of the fact that we’re unconscious. We are convinced beyond any argument that we are conscious, as Gurdjieff says. We might think that we’re ‘observing’ ourselves but we’re not – we’re just getting lost in mind-created illusions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The External Commentator

By commentating on reality, we create the ego. What advantage is there then, we might ask, in creating this ego? What are we gaining by this exercise? The answer here of course is that there is no advantage, except for that self-same ego. ‘The ego gains itself’, which is a doubtful advantage, even at the best of times. It’s only the ego that cares about itself, after all.

 

What we gain, when we gain the separate viewpoint which is the ego, is the possibility of commentating on reality from the outside without really knowing what we are commentating about. What we are actually commenting on is ‘what reality looks like from the perspective of this hypothetical external viewpoint’, which doesn’t really exist). Certainly it doesn’t exist independently of this viewpoint. Any value that the comments in question might have exist strictly in relation to this hypothetical viewpoint, which itself doesn’t exist, as we have just said. The type of value that we talking about here is therefore very ‘provisional’ (which is to say, our comments are meaningful only insofar as the point of view that were taken for granted is a ‘necessary’ kind of thing, which it isn’t at all).

 

Why doesn’t the ‘external separate viewpoint’ exist? This really is the sticking point in the argument – the point beyond which we find it so hard to move. We find it impossibly hard to move beyond it because it feels so much as if there really is an external, separate viewpoint operating. That abstracted viewpoint is ‘me’ – it is the experience that I’m working with (or perhaps working through) every single day of my life. It’s my constant preoccupation! Being a separate self is such an intimate and consistent experience – it is pretty much the only experience which we will ever have and since it is pretty much ‘the only experience which we will ever have’ we find it practically impossible to challenge it. How can anyone come up and say that the ‘me’ isn’t real? It’s the key feature of my existence!

 

The ‘me’ isn’t real because it’s a purely arbitrary point of view – if something is an arbitrary point of view (i.e. if we could just as well look at things in a totally different way) then how on earth can we say that it is ‘real’? It is a misuse of the word. We can say that is ‘familiar’ or ‘persuasive’ (or that is the only thing we know) but we can’t it is real. That – as we have just said – is a blatant misuse of the word. If something’s true it’s true whether I want it to be or not; it’s not a function of my preference.

 

We know that the ‘me’ is only an arbitrary point of view because we can completely drop it in an instant (in meditation for example) and when we do this we discover that we aren’t at all separate from or external to the world. People have been discovering this for tens of thousands of years. As the Buddha says,

In the sky, there is no distinction between East and West, people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.

The very notion of a distinct self or ego is absurd. The question ‘why doesn’t the external separate viewpoint exist’ is ridiculous: how can anything be ‘separate from’ or ‘external to’ reality? If we are ‘outside reality’ (‘outside reality looking in’, as it were) then clearly we’re not real. We have created an unreal or abstract POV and all the comments we make on this basis of this unreal or abstract POV are equally unreal. It’s a closed circuit of illusion. My comments (i.e. my thoughts) are only ‘real with respect where I am coming from’, which is in itself an unreal place.

 

If we wanted to say that something genuinely is real (as opposed to the thinking mind, as opposed to the mind-created self) then we could say that consciousness is real. Consciousness is real because it’s not arbitrary, because it’s not an engineered or constructed thing. If no one set it up, arranged for it to be there, arranged for it to be the way that it is, then that’s got to make it real! It’s ‘real all by itself’, not ‘real just because that we say it is’. Before we say anything, do anything, think anything, we are conscious. Before we commentate we are conscious. That’s where everything comes from therefore. If we wanted to be unconscious, then we’d have to arrange that for ourselves. The ‘conditioned mode of existence’ is a special case – it needs to be set up, it needs to programmed, it needs to be engineered in some way.

 

We are likely to dispute to dispute this, of course. ‘If I do nothing’, I say, ‘then nothing happens – I just carry on just the same as I always do, I carry on being asleep. I carry on in my conditioned mode of existence. I carry on perceiving myself to be a separate ego observer’. ‘That’s a fact’, I say, ‘if I’m unconscious and I do nothing about it then I’m going stay unconscious. Isn’t this what we all do all the time anyway – ‘doing nothing’. This way of thinking would have us ‘straining to be conscious’, as if consciousness were the ‘special state’ or ‘special case’ that has to be brought about in some way.

 

The truth is however that we are ‘doing something’ the whole time – we just don’t notice ourselves doing it. What we’re doing is ‘commentating on reality’ – from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we fall asleep at night we are commentating on reality and ‘commentating on reality’ (as we started off this discussion by saying) is how we create the ego. If we took the trouble to notice our own mental activity we’d see this – we’d see that we’re expressing opinions about reality the whole time, we’d see that we’re making judgements about the way things are, and saying that they are ‘good or bad’. There’s nothing that can happen, that we’re aware of, without us making some sort of comment or judgement about it and the reason for this ceaseless activity is simply to maintain the illusion of a ‘separate viewpoint’ that is so important to us…

 

It’s not really important that we maintain the illusion of the separate viewpoint though, as we have said. That’s only ‘important’ to the illusion of the separate viewpoint – the illusion is hanging onto itself, for no good reason at all! The commentator is commentating in order that the perception that there is a commentator can carry on being there. A tautology is feeding upon itself – the whole thing is just a ‘closed circuit of illusion’, going around and around and around forever….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooked On The Promise

We are as completely absorbed as we are in the ongoing fiction of our thoughts because we are hooked on a promise, because we are waiting for the next much-anticipated treat to come away. This business is wholly absorbing, infinitely absorbing – we really don’t have any interest in anything else, anything that isn’t related to the treat that is supposedly coming our way. We are ‘strung out’ – either in a good way or a bad way – waiting to find out whether the promise is going to be delivered or not. If we are optimistic in this regard then we’re going to find ourselves in the Gardens of Euphoria and if it’s pessimistic we are then we’re going to be lolling around in the Dark Kingdom of Dysphoria instead. It’s one or the other.

 

The curious thing about this that it doesn’t matter how mediocre or insipid the treat that we’re waiting proves to be; even if it’s the most dismal offering ever we are still going to be absorbed by the prospect of receiving it, hypnotized by the prospect of receiving it. The point is that we have to be waiting for something because that’s the only mode of being we know – no matter how tawdry the offering might be it still serves an important function, therefore. No matter how insipid or paltry the treat is it still facilitates the Waiting Game.

 

This isn’t a particularly hard idea to understand of course – we need only think of television and the way in which when we are habituated to watching television we will end up watching any old rubbish, or the way in which when we get habituated to browsing the internet we will end up clicking on all sorts of ridiculously trivial bits of nonsense. This is a very familiar pattern – once the system gets a hold on us that it doesn’t matter what sort of banality is it serves up for us for dinner – will still be there no matter how much our intelligence is being insulted. We’ll still be there because we’ve got nowhere else to go.

 

So it is with our thoughts – we are enslaved to our thoughts because we don’t know what else to be doing other than thinking! We’ve been conditioned by thought and thought is all we know – thought doesn’t have to provide us with anything interesting or valuable because it’s already got the monopoly on us. Thought is providing something that is important to us however, it’s just that we can’t see or understand what this is. On the face of it – on the explicit level of the mechanism – thought of providing us with ‘click-bait’, it is providing us with ‘ongoing distraction from where we actually are’. Beneath the level of the explicit however there is a more insidious mechanism at work and that has to do with the way in which our sense of actual identity is being maintained.

 

This isn’t a straightforward thing to understand because the true nature of our ‘identity’ is opaque to us just as long as we believe ourselves to be that identity. When we no longer perceive ourselves to be that concrete identity then the thick fog clears and we can see what’s going on much more clearly. The actual mechanism is very simple however, even though it’s impossible to grasp from the POV of our ordinary thinking – when we waiting for the next treat to come along came very about then this state of expectation (or hope) implies the existence of ‘the hoper’, it implies the existence of ‘the one who expects’. The euphoria we experience seems to be about the glorious fulfilment of this hope but it isn’t at all – that’s merely the cover story, that’s merely a smokescreen. The euphoria really comes about because we have created the believable illusion of the concrete identity!

 

Likewise, when we are in the state of dysphoric expectation (because we’re anxious about the delivery arriving as or when it’s supposed to, or because we are fearfully expecting a disadvantageous event rather than an advantageous one then this is also the mechanism by which the concrete sense of identity is created. If something is going to go wrong then there must be someone who it is going to wrong go wrong for; if a ‘bad thing’ is going to happen then there must be someone who it is going to happen to! Both ways the fiction of the concrete sense of identity gets to be confirmed, therefore. Both ways we are inferring the existence of a concrete ‘me’, a concrete ‘me’ who is either going to be the happy recipient of the treat or the frustrated/unhappy non-recipient of the expected treat (or in the case of what we might call ‘the negative treat’, ‘the one to whom the bad thing is going to happen’).

 

It doesn’t in the least bit matter whether the concrete sense of self is constructed in the euphoric or non-euphoric way – whether the CSOS is having a good time or not is quite relevant! The crucial point is that there should be a ‘timeline’, an unbroken continuity of one sort or another. Where there is no continuum there cannot be any trace of the self, not even a whisper or a hint of it. This is because the CSOS absolutely cannot exist in the present moment. If there ever was ‘an absolute impossibility’ this is it! This can be readily verified through personal experience: in the present moment there is no continuity of thought, there is no past and no future. Contrariwise, when there is a continuity, where there is a past and future all joined up together in an unbroken timeline, then there can’t be a present moment. The present moment stands alone – it has no history and no existence in this projected scenario that we call ‘the future’. It is a discontinuity, which is to say it is ‘a break in the continuum of thought’, as well as being ‘a break in the continuum of the linear or serial self’.

 

When we are in the present moment we cannot say ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ because all definitions require us to bring ‘something else’ into the picture and in ‘the now’ there is nothing else. That’s the whole point. The present moment ‘stands alone’, as we have just said, it doesn’t exist in comparison or in relation to anything else. It’s not part of the system of thought. The concrete self on the other hand can only exist in comparison to ‘something else’ and this is why we can say that there can’t be ‘a sense of identity’ in the now, in actual reality. The difference between the continuum of thought and the discontinuity of the present moment is inconceivable therefore – there’s no way to ‘compare the one with the other’. The COT is a series of regular events that continue forever with nothing truly new ever happening; the discontinuity of the now – on the other hand – is incomprehensibly unique. We have absolutely no way of saying anything about it at all.

 

When thought isn’t providing us with something to look forward to (either in a euphoric or non-euphoric way) or something to look back at (again, either euphorically or non-euphorically) then we have no way of constructing the concrete sense of self. We haven’t got the wherewithal to do that. The continuity of thought is under threat therefore; the timeline of the identity is at risk of disintegrating entirely. As we have said, we need to be thinking something no the matter how banal and repetitive these thoughts might be. Even if our thoughts are calling us great suffering and anguish, we still need to be thinking them. We still need these thoughts in order to provide the framework with which to construct the believable perception of the concrete sense of self. We’re addicted to thought and we can’t do without it, in other words! And yet the truly weird thing about this is that the concrete sense of identity which thought is providing us with has nothing to with us at all. It’s only a ‘mind-created fiction’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prisoners of Thought

We are so very easily swayed by the mind. It is as if the thinking mind need do no more than merely look at us and we are swayed – we are swayed by the thinking mind just as seaweed is swayed by powerful ocean currents, just as the treetops are swayed by a strong wind. Who we believe ourselves to be and what we believe ourselves to be capable of is determined by this mind. The thinking mind tells us something and we believe it and there is no gap or interval between the two things. These two things have been collapsed into ‘just the one thing’ which is not a healthy state of affairs. It’s not a healthy state of affairs because there is no freedom for us in this situation. We’re ‘prisoners of the mind’.

 

What would be helpful therefore would be if we could open up a gap between these two things – this gap would mean the difference between being controlled by the thinking mind and not being controlled by it. It would mean the difference between ‘being free’ and ‘not being free’, as psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl says in this well-known quote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

To open up such a gap is not such a straightforward thing as it might on the face of it seem however. We can grasp the idea, but to put it into practice is another matter entirely.

 

If I have a thought which triggers me in some way and then I have the thought that ‘I ought to allow a gap’ then there is of course no gap. First there is the original thought, and then there is the thought which follows on from this which says ‘I should allow a gap’ – this is no good at all however because the thought ‘I should allow gap’ is not a gap. It’s just another thought, so nothing has changed. One thought follows immediately in the wake of another and so we are no closer to a gap than we ever were!

 

If I have a ‘triggering thought’ and I respond to this thought up by using a method or strategy to alter or prevent the reaction (which is the principle that CBT is based on) then this is no good either because methods and strategies are created by thought and this means that they are thought. Methods and strategies follow logic and thought is nothing but logic. Thought is logic through and through. Or, as we could also say, both methods and strategies have an ‘aim’ or a ‘goal’ and all aims/goals are created by thought. There is no such thing as ‘a goal that was not created by thought’, after all!

 

Opening up a gap between two thoughts (or between one thought and our reaction to that thought) isn’t as straightforward as all that, therefore. It’s not as straightforward ‘as we might think’! There are two ways to talk about this lack of straightforwardness. One is to say that logic can’t be used to create a gap because there are no gaps, no discontinuities in logic. That’s the whole point of logic – that it is an unbroken continuum, that one thing always follows on from the other. The other way of talking about ‘the lack of straightforwardness’ is to say that forcing or controlling can’t be used to create a gap because the whole point of forcing is to close gaps, not open them. When we force or control we are closing the gap between ‘what we want to happen’ and ‘what does happen’, between ‘our will’ and ‘the fruition of this will’, between what we have in mind (i.e. our ‘goal’) and the actualization of this goal.

 

So just to repeat what we have said so far, our freedom lies not in thinking but in the gap between our thoughts (or in the gap between ‘stimulus’ and ‘reaction’) and this gap cannot be forced or brought about by design. ‘The controlling part of us’ is no good at all here therefore and yet the controlling part of us – which is called ‘the thinking mind’ – is almost always the only part we know. In therapy we talk about developing resilience for learning patience but this is something the mind can never do – the mind can only ever struggle and scheme to bring about the fruition of its agenda, the realisation of its goals. If the mind’s goal is to be ‘patient’ then it struggles to bring this about – in an inpatient way!

 

We can’t understand any way of going about things other than this, other than ‘having a goal’ and then ‘struggling to make it happen’. That’s our god – we place willed action on a pedestal. Who we truly are in ourselves doesn’t depend on control and manipulation however – who we are in ourselves doesn’t need anything ‘from outside of itself’ so it doesn’t need to pin all its hopes on this thing that we call ‘successful controlling’. When we are in touch with our true nature we know on a very deep level that our well-being doesn’t require the attaining of any external advantage! To believe otherwise is to be a slave.

 

We can relate this to the Buddhist virtue of equanimity. Equanimity means ‘it’s OK happen things happen the way we want them to and it’s also OK if they don’t’. In the West we value controlling, and the knowledge-base and skills or methods that facilitate controlling. As we just said, we put willed or purposeful action on a pedestal. The reason we do this however is because – on an unconscious level – we link our well-being or happiness with ‘successful controlling’. This is our ‘core assumption’ in the West – we somehow imagine that ‘being’ comes from ‘successful doing’! Our whole way of life is based on this ‘never-examined but deeply held’ core belief. We go through agonies because of it.

 

This assumption is entirely false however – as we would see if we were to reflect on it for a moment. ‘Being’ and ‘doing’ are two completely different things – our being is completely independent of our doing. ‘Who we are’ has nothing to do with our ability to successfully control – that’s the Western myth, that’s why saying that someone is ‘a loser’ is such an insult, such a put down. There is in reality no such thing as ‘being a winner’ or ‘being a loser’ – there is only ‘being a human being’ and this is something that is beyond winning and losing. Being ‘who we truly are’ is beyond winning and losing. The awareness of this absolute independence of being from doing is ‘the gap’ that we are cultivating through the practice of mindfulness.