Relating To The Present Moment

Nothing the thinking mind does or can do is any help in freeing us from anxiety. We can’t think or strategise our way out of anxiety. We can’t utilise any ‘tools’ to help us overcome it – the reason for this being that the attempt to overcome (or ‘solve’) anxiety is itself anxiety. Trying to solve (or fix) anxiety always ‘feeds right back into the loop’, therefore. It tightens the loop and makes it more painful.

 

Anxiety = ‘the runaway fixing activity of the mind’ and if we try to fix this runaway fixing activity then we just spin the wheel of the mind even faster! If we try to figure out what’s going on (= ‘analysing the problem’) then we just spin the wheel faster. Any activity of the thinking mind always spins the wheel faster. There’s a huge iron fly-wheel spinning around and around and any attempt to fix the problem which is this ‘spinning flywheel’ just puts more momentum into that wheel.

 

When we ask the thinking mind to help us, and ‘hand over the reins to it’ then this means putting even more momentum into the wheel. The wheel is the thinking mind when it has got too much energy in it – how can we ask the runaway fixing mind to ‘fix the problem’ when it itself is the problem? How can we use the thing that creates the problem to solve the problem?

 

We have a dependency upon the everyday rational mind that we just don’t want to examine. We have a lifelong habit of using the thinking mind to feel good about things, to give ourselves a sense of validation or security. Everyone has this habit, and the point here is that when we do this we’re using the thinking mind for a job that it was never meant to do. The thinking mind can’t do this job – it can’t be used to validate ourselves, to make us feel good about our  situation, to provide us with a sense of security or meaning.

 

The reason for this is that the thinking mind always operates outside of the present moment (either in the future in the past) and only the present moment is real. How can we get a sense of security or well-being or meaning out of something that isn’t real, out of something that is only a conjecture, therefore? The sense of security, or sense of well-being, can only ever be as real as the place that it is coming from and ‘psychological time’ (which is where thought is operating from) is not real. It’s only a ‘conjectural reality’, as we have just said. It’s a guess, it’s ‘a shot in the dark’.

 

We are hanging our sense of well-being on a cobweb if we use the thinking mind to get a sense of validation and orientation from. We’re looking in the wrong place. Even when it seems to work well and we feel okay or secure as a result of our thoughts about ourselves and the world, this is only really ‘a disaster waiting to happen’. There is always a crisis waiting in the wings and the reason for this is that the thinking mind is like a sword – it has two edges to it not just the one. Because it has two edges it can ‘flip around’ from one edge to the other at the drop of the hat. The same is true with the thinking mind. The thinking mind can make us feel ‘good about things for an unreal reason’ and it can also make us feel ‘bad about things for an unreal reason’. It can do this just as easily. If we hand over our power to it (so that it determines how we feel) then it can devalidate us just as readily as it can validate us.

 

Why would we want to hang our ‘well-being’ or ‘peace of mind’ on a cobweb? Why would we want to attach it to something is treacherous as thought? How ever did we get into this situation of ‘feeling good about ourselves as a result of what we think’, rather than in connection with what is actually real?

 

One reason is of course because it’s easy – there’s an immediate result. If I anticipate a positive outcome and allow myself to believe (on some unconscious level, of course) that it’s ‘in the bag’, then straightaway I feel good, then straightaway I obtain the euphoria that I’m looking for. This is basically cheating, but who cares? It works on the short-term anyway, and that’s all we care about. ‘Easy’ is a very big reason, therefore! ‘Easy’ accounts for a lot of what we do…

 

The alternative is not easy. If we don’t look for our sense of well-being in the future or in the past, then this only leaves the present moment and the present moment is a tricky place for us to get a grip on! There is no security in the present moment, in other words. Of course there’s no security in the present moment – the present moment is undecided, it’s uncertain. The present moment is ‘the unfolding of the new’ and we can’t say what it is that is going to unfold. We can’t anticipate it, in other words; we can only ‘hang in there’ and see what happens.

 

The ‘present moment’ is a tricky customer therefore – it doesn’t allow us any sense of security. We can’t take anything for granted. We can’t doze, we can’t fall asleep on the job. All we can do is stay with it; all we can do is stay open to the uncertainty of the moment that is unfolding and so ‘security’ (in the context of actual reality) simply isn’t the thing. There’s no such thing as the security we’re looking for.

 

This doesn’t mean that there is no possibility of experiencing well-being or peace of mind, however! There is a different type of well-being to be had out of relating to the uncertainty of the present moment and this is the well-being that we get from relating directly to a ‘non-conceptual reality’, which is actually the only type of reality there is. The well-being we get from relating to the non-conceptual reality is just another way of talking about ‘the well-being of being alive’, since relating to the unfolding uncertainty of the present moment is what ‘being alive’ really means. There is no other type of ‘being alive’!

 

When we derive our ‘sense of ourselves’ from our thoughts, from the thought-created world, then we’re not properly alive at all. We’re not awake. We’re in a dream. We are in a state of ‘psychological sleep’, as all the meditation teachers over the centuries have told us! We’re ‘lost in the world of our own unconscious assumptions’, we are living in ‘a mind-produced image of the world’, not the real thing. We are living in Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Realm of the Hyperreal’, which is ‘the menu not the meal’…

 

As Anthony de Mello puts it –

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.

The present moment is a flowing stream and so there is no possibility of security here! Thought – on the other hand – creates ‘fixed structures’ and so there actually is the possibility of security to be had here. There is the possibility of a ‘sense of security to be had here but this so-called ‘security’ cuts both ways, as we have just said – it is euphoria-producing to the exact same extent that it is dysphoria-producing. Euphoria doesn’t come from ‘relating to reality’ but from relating to our ‘rigid ideas about reality’, from relating to our ‘plans for reality’, and dysphoria (or ‘negative euphoria’) is simply the flip-side of this. Our thoughts about reality can make us feel good when we shouldn’t be feeling good, and they can also make us feel bad when there is no real need for us to feel bad, as every sufferer from anxiety knows!

 

What helps when we are anxious is not more thinking therefore. That’s the very last thing we need! Trying to ‘manage’ anxiety just makes it worse. What helps is not relating to the fixed structures that thought has created (i.e. our ideas about the past and the future), but relating directly and simply to the unfolding of the uncertainty of the present moment. We won’t obtain a false sense of security this way (the false sense of security that puts us to sleep, as Anthony de Mello says) but we will get back a sense of being alive, a sense of being awake. This teaching has been around for a very long time – it’s not some newfangled gimmick! As we read in the Dao De Jing (which was written over 2,500 years ago in ancient China) –

It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Old Brick Wall

How can self-observation help us, or free us, when we’re trapped in painful states of mind? This is definitely counterintuitive – when feeling bad in ourselves then the priority always seems to be correct what’s going on, to fix whatever it is that’s making us feel so bad. This is what the logical mind will always tell us. It’s pretty much what everyone else will always tell us as well!

 

The first thing we can say about this is that – as logically compelling as this argument might be (and it is very compelling indeed) – it just doesn’t work. The second thing that we can say here is that not only does it not work, trying to fix ourselves in the way that we have just describe actually makes things worse. Straightaway therefore, we can see that we have two very good reasons not to head off down this particular road! Trying to fix (or improve) painful states of mind is NOT the helpful thing to do…

 

It’s not quite as simple as this in practice, of course. The urge to fix is so strong that we never have a chance to get any perspective on it. The impulse to correct whatever what is going wrong drives us and drives us – the thinking mind tells us that this is the only chance we have of getting free from the pain. The thinking mind is like a megaphone in our year in this regard and it just keeps roaring on and on at us. We just can’t see any other option in other words. And even if we can’t fix our situation (which as we just said we can’t, at least not in the long run) then we analyse the problem instead of fixing. Actually there is no difference between ‘trying to fix’ and ‘analysing’ – they are of course both the same thing.

 

Understanding that we can’t deliberately free ourselves from painful states of mind isn’t a ‘logical’ kind of a thing, anyway. This is not an understanding that comes out of the logical/thinking mind. There is actually no point in trying to tell someone that this doesn’t work until they have learned this for themselves and how we learn it is through the lesson of actual experience, not through a classroom situation or attending a seminar or from reading a book or someone else telling us. We can only learn this lesson the slow way, which is on a level deeper than that of the thinking mind. We have to learn it in our bones, so to speak…

 

So when we have got an intuitive, gut-level understanding that ‘fixing’ (or ‘trying to fix’) ourselves just isn’t going to work (any more than ‘analysing our situation’ is going to work) then this is no longer going to be our ‘number one priority’. The intense compulsion to ‘try to fix’ is no longer going to be totally overwhelming us and blinding us to any other possibilities. We have at this stage become a little bit more ‘psychologically aware’; we are not banging our heads on a brick wall in the way that we used to be and so we can say that things have got better in this way.

 

Even so – even though we have seen through the compulsive fixing (or analysing) reaction to mental pain – it still isn’t necessarily going to be clear how ‘self observation’ could help us when everything else has failed. The question remains – ‘how can self-observation free us from the mental pain and suffering that we are in?’ As always, the first thought that occurs to us is that merely observing what is going on (i.e. observing our own pain) will simply exacerbate our suffering because we now giving it our full undivided attention. Our automatic assumption is therefore that we would be better off distracting ourselves in some way and not focussing on the pain.

 

When we are talking about our actual mental health however, then ‘automatic assumptions’ (which is simply another way of talking about ‘automatic reflexes’) invariably prove themselves to be entirely wrong, entirely counter-productive. Mental health (or ‘inner freedom’, if we want to call it that) isn’t something that can be achieved by ‘acting on our involuntary reflexes’ (which always come down to involuntarily trying to fix the problem). We have to learn not to buy into these compulsive mechanical impulses if we are to free ourselves from the suffering-producing habits of the thinking mind.

 

Observing our situation rather than trying to distract ourselves from it is therefore ‘going against the grain’ with regard to our habitual pattern of reacting and this is a good thing. We are on the right track if we are not going along with our habitual pattern of reacting, our habitual pattern of thinking. Contrary to popular belief, being gently aware of our situation (rather than involuntarily fighting against it) frees us from the pain that we are in rather than embroiling us in it even further. It is ‘struggling to free ourselves from the pain that we are in’ that embroils us further in it’!

 

Why being gently aware of our situation the situation that we are in frees us rather than trapping us more is because it is our attempts to either ‘fix’ or ‘flee’ the pain that traps us in it. As Carl Jung has said, ‘what we resist persists’. Acting on fear always solidifies the apparent reality of the situation that we are afraid of, just as acting on desire always solidifies (and makes more important) the object of our desire. Our attention gets narrowed down and narrowed down until we can’t see beyond the thing that we are reacting against (either positively or negatively). Acting on attachment (i.e. acting with regard to what we either like or dislike) inevitably reduces our perspective on the matter and the more our perspective on the matter gets reduced the more trapped we get, obviously enough!

 

There is a very deep principle here we never, ever see and this ‘principle’ has to do with what happens when we lose perspective on the way that we have just described. When we lose perspective two things happen (two things that are actually complimentary sides of the very same thing) – [1] is that the yet of false or illusionary picture of the world around us, and [2] is that we get a false or illusory picture of ourselves. This puts us in a very peculiar kind of predicament – that peculiar predicament of having to escape from something that isn’t real on the basis of ‘who we aren’t’.

 

Straightaway we can see that there is no ‘winning’ in this situation – we understand ‘winning’ to mean that the false or illusory picture of ourselves that we have of ourselves gets to successfully escape from the situation that we think this illusionary image of ourselves is in. Apart from the fact that this can never work since the illusory picture of who we are who we think we are is at root the very same thing as the illusory picture of what ever situation it is that we want to get away from (since these are two sides of the very same illusion, as we have just said) it wouldn’t help us any even if our ‘fantasy escaping’ were to be successful since the one who hopes and yearns to escape isn’t who we really are anyway!

 

Self-observation (rather than goal-orientated action) is what frees us from the trap we are in – it’s the only thing that can free us! Self-observation – with no goals, with no hidden agenda – gives us back the perspective that we have lost and it is this perspective, this ability to ‘see what’s really going on’, that frees us. Perspective frees us because it enables us to differentiate between the false and the true, the real and the unreal. The root of the trap that we’re talking about here is, as we’ve said, that we lose sight of the Big Picture and get caught up in ‘sticky’ delusions instead, delusions that we can’t unstick ourselves from. In fact the more we try to unstick ourselves the more stuck we get.

 

Awareness allows us to see who we are not, and this is the key to everything. The only thing that it can ever free us is awareness really, as we keep saying. What else could free us? In the absence of awareness what is ever going to do us any good? We are constantly caught up in all the struggles, all these dramas and all our energy goes into trying to resolve them. As we have said, the more we struggle to resolve the dramas the more we ‘solidify’ them around us. The more we try to resolve the dramas the more real they will seem to us and the more real they seem to us the more we will get caught up in them.

 

Awareness (or self-observation) has nothing to do with ‘resolving the dramas that we are perennially caught up in’. Awareness is just about noticing what’s going on – we see the game rather than playing it. Playing the game just traps in it, and there’s no benefit to be had from this. The game equals pain, the drama equals pain – there is the constant tantalising (but false) possibility of winning the game, resolving the drama, but that’s never going to happen. That’s just a lure which has the function of leading us deeper into the trap. The drama or game is really just a brick wall for us to go on banging our heads against but we can’t see that! As long as we have no perspective on the matter we’ll be banging our heads against this old brick wall forever! We’re wanting something we can never have (we’re thinking that there’s something good to be had there but there’s only pain) and what else is ‘neurotic’ suffering other than this?

 

Awareness (or self-observation) teaches us to see a subtler aspect of the world – a subtle aspect that straightaway becomes known to us just as soon as perspective comes back into the picture. Perspective changes everything! When we observe carefully enough we discover something totally unexpected – we discover that we aren’t who we thought we were. There is this kind of gross identity that we have, the kind of clunky, ‘block-like’ identity that is created for us by the thinking mind. And as G. I. Gurdjieff says, this identity (or ‘personality construct’) is really nothing more than a machineit’s a machine because all it can ever do is obey the mechanical rules that have been laid down for it to follow. There is no freedom at all to be found here therefore – what freedom can there be in following rules? We’re promised ‘something good’ if we obey all the rules correctly of course (just as true believers are promised an eternity in Paradise) but this is of course just a ruse. It’s just ‘a ruse’ because it would never work – the so-called ‘paradise’ that we are promised is just a mental construct, just as the gross, mind-created identity (or persona) which is supposed to enjoy it.

 

The subtler aspect of the world which we notice when we start paying attention is actually the same phenomenon as ‘the subtle aspect of who we are’ – it is the subtle aspect of reality that does not fit into the thinking mind’s boxes and which does not need to obey any of the rules of the game that thought has set up for us to play. Once we realise that we are not this ‘gross identity’ but are actually something much, much deeper than this then that awareness changes everything by 180°, so to speak. It’s not just some kind of ‘minor readjustment’ that goes on here, in other words! Immediately – just to give one example – we recover our sense of humour and stop being so terribly driven about things. We also recover our gentleness and kind-heartedness and our ability to feel compassion for everyone around us. We no longer feel that we have to fight against the universe and other people.

 

What we talking about here isn’t some ‘exalted’ state of being, either. Some Buddhist texts refer to this subtle nature simply as ‘ordinary mind’. It’s just ‘who we are’; it’s our inherent nature. It’s our inherent nature but we never – in the ordinary run of things – realise this. We never notice our true nature, even though it has all of these wonderful attributes or qualities that our conditioned (or mechanical) nature doesn’t. It’s not just as if ‘we’re not really interested enough to notice our true nature; it actually IS that we not interested enough! We’re too ‘busy’ for that. We not in the least bit interested in being aware of our true nature because we always too preoccupied with ‘the game’, because we’re always too caught up in the ‘mind-produced drama’.

 

 

 

 

The Spectre Of Anxiety

Anxiety occurs as a result of the thinking mind projecting limits on everything and the thinking mind always projects limits on everything!

 

This is what thinking is of course, thinking is that process whereby we impose limits or boundaries on the world – if we didn’t do this then there wouldn’t be anything to think about! This it’s only when we have partitioned something off within boundaries or limits that we can think about it; it’s only when we have defined something that we can think about it, in other words.

 

No imposed boundaries means no thinking therefore, and thinking is how we gain purchase on the world; it is how we orientate ourselves in such a way that we can make ‘rational decisions’ as to ‘what to do next’. When there are no ‘defined things’ – and therefore no defined outcomes or goals – then it has to be the case that we are not able to make any rational decisions at all. This brings us back to the first point that we made, which is that anxiety occurs purely as a result of the limits which the thinking mind projects on everything. Clearly, if the possibility of making logical decisions exists, then so too does the possibility of making the wrong decision! The polarity of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is inherent in the idea of a decision, after all – whoever heard of a decision without the possibility of right versus wrong?

 

What we’re really talking about here is control and control is all about right versus wrong. Control is ‘getting the right thing to happen rather than the wrong thing’! There’s a psychological component to this, of course – the psychological component in question being that it feels good when we are able to bring about the right outcome and not-good when we can’t. There’s a feeling of security and self validation when we get the right thing to happen, and the converse is of course also true when we can’t.

 

Moving one stage further into ‘the psychology of control’, we can say that what happens with all of us is that we get habituated to the feeling of ‘being in control’ (or ‘being inherently able to control’) and we derive an important sense of well-being from it. The sense of being in control’ is the same thing as what Albert Bandura has called ‘perceived self-efficacy’ and perceived self-efficacy is generally seen as a very healthy thing – it is seen as ‘a thing we all need to have’. To consider perceived self-efficacy (or the sense of ‘having the ability to be in control’) as a healthy – or indeed, essential – part of our psychological make-up is seriously deluded however! The reason we can say that it is a delusion to see PSE as being ‘mentally healthy’ is because PSE (or the sense of ‘having the ability to be in control’) is, at root, the very same thing as anxiety.

 

A sense of being control may not feel like anxiety, but that’s because it’s latent anxiety. It’s anxiety that hasn’t yet been manifested. Perceived self-efficacy is ‘anxiety waiting to happen’ and the reason we can say this is because – ultimately – it is no more than a comforting illusion! At times, we will indeed be able to get things to happen the way we want them to, but this does not mean that we will always be able to do so. It doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed to be able to do so – it doesn’t mean that we can ‘bank on the fact’, which is exactly what we do do, every day of our lives.

 

Perceived self-efficacy is, when it comes down to it, nothing more than ‘an expectation’, and – what’s more – it’s an unwarranted expectation and so going around basing our sense of well-being on an unwarranted expectation is not in any way a manifestation of mental health! This isn’t a sign of good mental health – no matter what anyone may tell us – but rather it’s ‘an accident waiting to happen’. It’s not mentally health we’re talking about here but ‘us setting ourselves up for a fall’!

 

When we use this illusionary (although comforting) sense of ‘being in control of what’s going on’ in order to build up some sort of a concept of ourselves, some sort of an idea or image of ourselves, then we doing ourselves no favours at all, therefore. What we are actually doing is that we paving the way for the creation of a concept of ourselves that is based on the suspicion or fear that we – in some fundamental way – aren’t able to can control effectively. This is – we might say – the ‘anxious’ self-image, and whilst the ‘confident’ side of the self- illusion is one that is acceptable to us, and highly approved by everyone, the other side of the illusion is one that is correspondingly unacceptable to us, just as it is unacceptable to society as a whole. We promote the one type of illusion, and try to ‘cure’ the other, therefore!

 

This attitude of ours is of course quite laughable. What kind of a thing is it where we – in all seriousness – value one aspect of an illusion whilst regarding the other, complimentary aspect of the same illusion as a regrettable error that needs to be fixed? The fact that we, as a culture, take this approach says an awful lot about us, and what it says is not in the least bit complimentary! Our problem is that we have somehow been railroaded into thinking that the only possible way that we have of deriving a feeling of ‘well-being’ about ourselves is through our assumed ability to control successfully, when this is not in the least bit true. Well-being does not come from the ability to control!

 

Suppose we weren’t able to build our sense of ourselves on our ‘perceived self-efficacy’, on a spurious or illusionary sense of ‘being in control’? What would happen then? How would that work? This turns out to be a very interesting question indeed and it leads us to consider the possibility of an entirely different way of being in the world. Instead of deriving our sense of identity from our assumed ability to control effectively, we could make the experiment of seeing what it feels like when we aren’t trying to be in control the whole time, which is the same thing as ‘making the experiment of seeing what it feels like when we are free from ‘the ever-present need to control’.

 

This isn’t necessarily as easy as it might first sound, of course. Once we get caught up in this business of deriving our sense of identity from our belief in our ability to control effectively (which is easy to do) then we find ourselves in the situation where we need to keep on controlling in order to retain this sense of identity. This is the classic ‘lobster pot’ scenario, therefore – it’s easy to get in, but very hard to get out again. It’s a classic ‘Hotel California’ scenario – we swan in with the greatest of ease and then the next thing is that we stuck there forever! This being the case, then, we had better hope that we like the furnishings in our room because if we don’t then that’s really going to be just too bad! If we don’t like the furnishings then unfortunately we’re just going to have to get used to them…

 

This really is an exquisitely subtle trap – once I have constructed my sense of identity, my ‘sense of who I am’, in relation to my perceived ability to control, then no matter what I do I’m not going to be able to extricate me myself from this sense of identity. I’m not going to be able to extricate myself since whatever I do, it is always going to be ‘just more controlling’. Or if we put this in terms of thinking (which comes at exactly the same thing) then we can see very clearly that if my sense of identity is derived from my thinking, then no matter what I do I’m never going to be able to escape this thought-created identity. I’m never going to be able to escape this thought-created identity because whatever I deliberately (or ‘purposefully’) do, I do on the basis of my thinking. I can’t escape my thinking with my thinking, in other words.

 

Not constructing ourselves on the basis of our presumed ability to control (or on the basis of thought, which comes to the same thing) requires a subtlety that we do not ordinarily possess. Thought and purposeful action are the same thing – the latter being ‘the extension into the world’ of the former – and as we become adults (and get embroiled in the adult world) we very quickly learn to put all our money on thinking, all our money on controlling. This is ‘the sickness we become infected with’, so to speak. We learn to construct ourselves on the basis of our presumed ability to control, and since our ‘presumed ability to control’ comes entirely out of our thinking, entirely out of our thoughts about the world and ourselves, all we are doing, as ‘rationally-minded adults’, is setting ourselves up for anxiety.

 

The way out of the pernicious trap that we have created for ourselves by our unwise reliance on ‘thought as the basis for our sense of well-being in the world’ is for us to start exploring the subtle aspects of ourselves, the subtle aspects of what it means to be in the world, and this comes down to voluntarily experiencing our vulnerability (which is of course the true state of affairs). The socially approved and validated illusion is that we are ‘effective controllers’ (which necessarily means that we are not vulnerable, since the whole point of being ‘effective controllers’ is that by succeeding at this we shall not be vulnerable), and it is, as we have said, precisely because this ‘invulnerable status’ of ours is an illusion that we have set ourselves up to be anxious. It is the out-and-out lie that we tell ourselves about ourselves ‘being in control’, and the fact that we have based our sense of identity on this lie, that creates the menacing spectre of anxiety, and so all that is needed is for us to cease to rely on this pernicious illusion!

 

Something curious happens when we do this, when we withdraw our belief in the illusion of this thing called ‘perceived self-efficacy’, and that is that we find that we aren’t defining ourselves at all. When we don’t base our sense of who we are on the belief that ‘we are in control’ (or on the belief that we need to have this ‘essential ability’ to control) then we aren’t actually constructing any sense of identity at all! We don’t aptly need a sense of having this ‘defined identity’ when we not being governed by the ever-present need to control; we don’t actually need to say ‘who we are’ in this rigid, humourless, rule-based way. The reason for this is very simple – just as soon as we stop projecting limits on the world (which – as we have said – is what thinking is) then at the same time we discover that we are no longer projecting limits (or boundaries) on who we are. When we stop imposing limits or boundaries on our actual nature then we are free – we ‘free from definitions’ on the one hand, and we’re ‘free from anxiety’ on the other hand, since it was only being defined in this way that was causing us to be anxious in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When We Accept Ourselves We Are Free

When we completely accept ourselves as we actually are (in a conscious way rather than an unconscious ‘taking-ourselves-for-granted’ type of a way) then we become free.

 

It’s not quite right to say this of course – we don’t become free, we discover that we were always free, as the mystics never tire of telling us. We learn of our freedom, which we were previously too obtuse (or too ‘crude’, too ‘crass’ in our perceptions) to see.

 

This is of course counter to conventional thinking, which states that we can only become free by engaging in ‘special types of activity’, special types of goal-orientated activity. Engaging in GO activity is of course very antithesis of ‘acceptance’ and so what this means is that our conventional approach to things is the antithesis of the ‘subtle’ approach that we are talking about here.

 

The ‘subtle approach’ is too subtle! It’s far too subtle for us to get. In the normal run of things, we couldn’t get it in a month of Sundays! We couldn’t get it in a year of Sundays – assuming that we had that long available to us. We are forever looking in the wrong direction; we are forever looking in the direction that thought tells us to look in, which is the direction of ‘improvement’ on the one hand and ‘disimprovement’ on the other. That’s all thought cares about after all; that’s all it can care about – either ‘getting close to the goal’ or ‘getting further away from the goal’. It cares positively one way, and negatively the other. It likes one and dislikes the other. It would be silly of us to expect otherwise since thought – by its very nature – can only ever concern itself with ‘abstract ideals’. We only need to reflect on this for a moment or two to see that this has to be true – how could thought ever possibly concern itself with something that is not an ‘abstract ideal’?

 

Appreciating things what they are in their essence is not the thinking mind’s job! The TM’s brief is to deal with the practicalities, the particularities, the technicalities of life. It’s not built to function as a philosopher – it’s not designed for ‘looking into the ultimate essence of things’. Where’s the practicality in that, anyway? The answer, as we all know, is that there is no practicality in this – there is no practicality in philosophy, no practicality in taking an interest in the ultimate nature of things. On the other hand, if we take no interest in the ultimate nature of things, if we devote ourselves entirely to the practicalities of life, and go helplessly along with the TM like some kind of camp follower, then before long life becomes unbearable. Life becomes intolerably arid when we make ourselves oblivious to the ultimate nature or essence of things.

 

This is – of course – the nature of the dilemma that we find ourselves in: either we take an interest in how things actually are in themselves (which we are averse to since we have absolutely no idea where this will take us and we don’t want to risk it) or we roundly ignore that side of things and concern ourselves wholly with the practical/technical side of life, which means that we will get stuck in the rational purposeful version of life, which is a version that suffers from the profound disadvantage of being completely arid, completely sterile. Our ‘resolution’ to this dilemma is to opt for the rational simulation of life and then use a kind of ‘trick’ in order to ameliorate the suffering that comes with this option. The trick in question is simply that we keep repeatedly utilising the rational-purposeful mechanism in order to distract ourselves from the present reality of our situation.

 

We don’t pay wholehearted attention to the present moment therefore, but rather we look ahead to some ‘improvement’ that is going to be made. This is our ‘gimmick’ in a nutshell. This is what ‘goals’ or ‘purposes’ are, needless to say – they are ‘improvements to our present situation’! When we think ahead about the improvement that is to come, then straightaway we feel better. Of course we feel better – why wouldn’t we? All we need to do in order to distract ourselves is therefore to think of some improvement that can be made and this in itself will usually make us feel better! The next thing to do is to work out some strategy to bring the improvement in question about, and then work away at implementing the strategy. The motivation to do this comes – of course – from the good feeling that is going to come our way when we successfully bring about the improvement. The euphoria we feel as a result of simply thinking about the improvement is merely a small loan or down-payment taken on the strength of the future improvement coming to pass, so how much better will the actual realisation of our goal causes to feel? The prospect of this satisfaction-to-come is more than enough to motivate us to engage enthusiastically in the strategy.

 

This isn’t to say that strategies of goals are always ‘gimmicks’ to help us avoid the aridity of the present moment, when that so-called- ‘present moment’ exists solely in the rational simulation of life, but rather that it is possible for us to use goals and strategies in this way, for us to use purposefulness in this way. The more legitimate the goal, the better it is for ‘exploiting’ as a way of living in the future rather than the present, when the present (or rather the ‘simulation of the present’) is not a place that we want to be in! So when we talk about ‘being interested in the ultimate essence or nature of things’, this is just another way of talking about ‘unconditionally accepting ourselves as we actually are’. First off, we could observe that this is going to be no benefit to us in purely practical terms since, as we have already said, taking an interest in things as they actually are in themselves doesn’t necessarily help us when it comes to engaging in whatever tasks it is that we are supposed to be focusing on. This is why when employees practice meditation at work this isn’t necessarily good for the corporation they work for since they are very likely to realize that the work in question is meaningless, if not actually detrimental to all concerned! But before we even get to ‘see ourselves as we actually are’ what we going to see is of course ‘ourselves as we are represented within the terms of the rational simulation’, which is another way of saying that the first thing we’ll see is our ‘idea’ or ‘image’ of ourselves, which may or may not be to our liking. Because the ‘mental idea of our self’ exists solely within the remit of the rational simulation (i.e. within the domain of the rational mind) it is always subject to judgement from that mind, be that judgement positive or be it negative. So although we hear a lot of talk about ‘accepting ourselves’ and ‘not judging ourselves’ this can only happen when we know are no longer operating from within the rational simulation (i.e. when we are observing things from outside the rational domain) and this is easier said than done!

 

When we are operating in the rational mode then there is absolutely no question of us ‘not judging ourselves’, there is absolutely no possibility of us ‘accepting ourselves’, and it is crucially important for us to understand this! All we can ever do (in this case) is ‘judge ourselves’, either positively or negatively, and then ‘react to ourselves’ accordingly! We are simply not free to ‘accept ourselves’ therefore and it would be absurd for us to try to force ourselves to do so! There is no freedom in ‘forcing’ after all, and if there is no freedom then there can be no ‘acceptance’. The freedom we do have however is the freedom to see that we have no freedom, the freedom to see the truth, which is that all we can do is ‘judge ourselves either positively and negatively and mechanically react accordingly’. This is the difference between ‘being conscious’ and ‘being unconscious’ in a nutshell – when we see that we have zero freedom to ‘not judge’ or ‘not react mechanically’ then we are conscious, and when we do not see this (which is most of the time if not all) then we are unconscious.

 

Spelling this out this allows us to see something very interesting – it allows us to see that we can actually ‘accept’ ourselves completely being completely non-accepting, that we can wholeheartedly accept the fact that we are completely judgemental and intolerant! ‘Acceptance’ as a subtler thing than we tend to think it is, as we have already said – it has nothing to do with ‘like and dislike’, ‘approval and disapproval’ and – as a result – it has nothing to do with any choices that we might make. This last point is something that we usually have the greatest difficulty in understanding; we persist in imagining that ‘acceptance’ is something that can come about by choice when nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Choosing’ runs on bias – there’s nothing else it could run on after all. There is nothing else it could run on because if we didn’t have some sort of bias there then how we know what to choose? Unless we have some kind of ‘like and dislike’ to draw upon to aid us in our decision then how could we possibly make a choice? Choice is a mechanical kind of thing after all – it’s something we do via the rational or thinking mind. We could of course object to this and say that we are making a decision on the basis of knowledge, not on the basis of subjective preference. We could say that we are choosing a particular option because it is the ‘right’ option to choose not because ‘we like it’. This argument doesn’t hold water however – how did we obtain our so-called knowledge other than by the exercise of bias, other than by the exercise of inherent prejudice? Whatever way of looking at the world we have, we must have ‘bought into it’ at some stage and the reason we ‘bought into it’ was because of our bias towards doing so, our predisposition to doing so. Ultimately, we always choose how we see the world, we can’t (in other words) claim the unquestionable right to see things a particular way!

 

When we say that we choose a particular option because ‘it is the right one, not because we like it’, then we are obviously ignoring the fact that we ‘like’ the right option more than the wrong one! The two concepts of ‘right’ and ‘the act of passing judgement’ can’t be separated and ‘the act of passing judgement’ – no matter what we may believe to the contrary – always comes out of ‘like and dislike’, always comes out of ‘bias’. If I say that something is right then this simply means that I have judged it to be so. Unconditional acceptance, therefore, has nothing to do with any choices that we might make, or any preferences that we might have on the matter. ‘Acceptance’ has absolutely nothing to do with bias and for this reason it has absolutely nothing to do with the thinking mind (since the thinking mind is nothing else than a collection of biases)

 

Just to repeat our key point here – acceptance is at far more profound thing than we always think it is! Acceptance comes out of consciousness, not the thinking mind, which is always superficial. When I see that I don’t have the freedom ‘not to judge’, or ‘not to react’ (to go back to our earlier point) then I am accepting that I have no freedom. This – as we have said – is not a choice. ‘Accepting’, in this more profound sense of the word means ‘seeing the truth of something’ and seeing the truth of something is never a choice. It is quite choiceless, as Krishnamurti says. If seeing were a choice then we would be in control of what it what is true or not, which would clearly be absurd! Seeing isn’t something that can ever happen on the basis of our biases, our preferences, our prejudices; if it did then it wouldn’t be seeing that we are talking about but rather ‘the automatic projection of our own conditioned viewpoints onto the world’. What we would be talking about, in other words, is the perfectly ubiquitous state of unconsciousness and so to use the word ‘seeing’ in this connection would be  completely inappropriate.

 

If we come back to our original statement now we will find that we are in a much better position to appreciate what is meant by it. When we accept ourselves as we actually are going then this means that we are not trying to change ourselves, not trying to control ourselves, and it is because we are not trying to change or control ourselves that we are free! In our normal (rational) mode of being we are always trying to control/change ourselves – we can never stop controlling (or trying to control). As we have said, everything that exists within the ‘rational domain (or, as we have also called it, the ‘rational simulation of life’) has to be controlled – the possibility of not being controlled doesn’t (and can’t) exist within this context. This is a ‘controlled’ (or ‘defined’) reality – unless something is a hundred percent defined it can’t exist in this realm; unless something is completely regulated then it can’t be accommodated within the ‘mind-created virtual reality’, and this is just another way of saying nothing can happen within the domain of the rational mind without it being judged, one way or another. The rational mind IS judging, after all!

 

We are inclined to say that we are ‘accepting ourselves’ when what we really mean is that we have judged ourselves in favourable way, but this (needless to say) doesn’t count because it is an unconscious sort of a thing, completely unlike the  conscious acceptance which we are talking about in this discussion. As we have just said, conscious acceptance has nothing to do with like or dislike, approval or disapproval, right or wrong. Crucially, seeing ourselves in an unbiased way is the same thing as ‘not identifying with the regulated or controlled mental image which is the self-concept’. When we are identified with the self-concept – this arbitrary construct of the mind – then there can never be any freedom for us. Freedom is not possible for the self-concept, as we can very clearly see when we aren’t 100% identified with it! When we are identified with the self-concept (when we look at the world exclusively ‘through its eyes’, so to speak) then this is the very last thing that we going to see. More than ‘the very last thing’, it’s actually the thing we shall never see.

 

Not seeing that freedom is an impossibility for us, we are going to put all of our efforts and ingenuity into ‘striving to be free’, which is what ‘trying to improve our situation’ really comes down to. The possibility of ‘improving our situation,’ is – as we have said – the outcome that the thinking mind keeps tempting us with. When we fall for this temptation (as we always do fall!) then this is the very same thing as what we have called ‘identifying with the self-concept’ and this utterly ubiquitous business of ‘identifying with the self-concept’ is – as we have just pointed out – the precise thing that absolutely guarantees we shall never be free…

 

 

Image: Street Art Phuket Town

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Impatience

The more ‘psychologically unconscious’ we are, the more impatient we are, generally speaking. This is the infallible ‘rule-of-thumb’! We are impatient – very obviously – because we think someone (or something) is standing in the way of ‘the good thing happening’. We are ‘psychologically unconscious,’ therefore, because we are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind. We are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind because we think that ‘the good thing’ is somewhere in the future, rather than now.

 

It is of course true that ‘now’ could be a very painful and unwelcome time but it still ‘the good thing’ – so speak – because it’s the only thing that’s real. It’s the only place anything can ever be, so it has to be ‘the good thing’! There’s nowhere else it could be.The future isn’t real, it’s only an idea and if we are ‘waiting for our idea to become real’ then we will be waiting forever. We’ll be waiting forever because ideas never do become real, no matter what we might think to the contrary. If we start off playing ‘the waiting game’ – i.e. waiting for ‘the good thing’ to happen in the future because we don’t think that it’s in the present – then we will be playing this game forever. We can’t pick and choose when it comes to being open to reality – if we are going to be open then we are going to have to be open to everything. When we play the waiting game then in effect we’re ‘waiting for life to happen’ and that’s an exercise in self-deception; we always have to ‘start now’ – there is no other time to start. “The present may not always be beautiful but it is always beautiful to be present.” says Robert Earl Burton.

 

‘Living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind’ is like jumping onto a moving walkway or travelator. We jump on because we want to get where we’re going quicker (obviously enough) and this is exactly what the thinking mind always tells us – it tells us that if we want to ‘get where we going’ (i.e. ‘achieve our goal’) then we better ‘jump on board’ the travelator. If we want to achieve our goal then we need its help, in other words! The invisible problem here however is that we’ve been suckered without knowing it – we’ve been suckered into ‘waiting for life to happen when the conditions are right’. This sort of ‘conditionality’ is a very big problem because (as we know) conditions are never right! They are never ‘right’ as far as the thinking mind is concerned, anyway…

 

The root of the problem (as we keep saying) is that we are living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind– the thinking mind is a very useful tool for very many things but when we let it ‘take over completely’ then it replaces life with its idea of it, its model of it, its theory of it. Instead of relating to the world as it actually is we relate to our concept of it, our mental representation of it. This might sound rather far-fetched and hard to swallow but it is – nevertheless – what almost always happens. It’s ‘a given’ that this will happen. We are in no position to notice the ‘replacement of the real by the image of the real’ because we are so very used to it. We have listened to thought’s story of ‘what reality is’ for so long that we no longer know that it is only a story. We eat the menu every day of our lives thinking that it is the meal.

 

We started off this discussion by saying that the more ‘psychologically unconscious’ we are, the more impatient we are. Unconsciousness manifests itself in terms of impatience, in other words. We can expand on this statement however and say that impatience comes in a number of ‘different forms’. It could come in a pleasurable form, for example – impatience could be (in a manner of speaking) when we ‘can’t wait’ for the good thing to happen but the anticipation (in this case) is enjoyable rather than frustrating. We definitely know that we’re going to get the good thing so although we are in a great hurry to skip ahead in time and get to where we’re going, this is still an enjoyable type of ‘not being able to wait’.

 

The ‘mirror image’ of enjoyable anticipation is fearful or anxious anticipation. Either we are anticipating a bad outcome and we are living in dread of it, or we are fearful that the good outcome that we want to happen isn’t going to happen, so we living in dread of that outcome. We have a ‘relationship’ with our own mental projection of what we think is going to happen and in this case this ‘relationship’ is causing us to experience dysphoria rather than euphoria. When we are ‘living entirely within the territory of the thinking mind’ then we are always going to be either facing into ‘the right outcome’ or facing into ‘the wrong outcome’. Only those two possibilities exist in the territory of the thinking mind and so this means that we are always going to be experiencing either ‘the unrelenting pressure to obtain the right outcome’, or the equally unrelenting pressure to avoid the wrong one. We’re ‘under pressure’ no matter what…

 

This ‘poverty of possibilities’ is the very thing that gives rise to ‘the fundamental impatience’ that we have been talking about; the pressure to obtain the right outcome and avoid the wrong one is a very impatient, very intolerant kind of thing – there’s no slack to be had here! What we are looking at here is a rule and rules are characterised by the fact that they have no space in them. No possibility is tolerated in other words other than the possibility of ‘achieving the specified outcome’. No other possibility is valued and that single-mindedness is what makes the rule into a rule. What’s more, if we place ourselves somewhere on the timeline that exists between ‘where I am now’ and the specified endpoint which is ‘where I want to be’ (or rather, ‘where the rule tells me that I have to be’) then we can very easily see that the rule doesn’t value ‘me as I am right now’, but will only value me when I get to be the way that the rule says I should be.

 

My only possible ‘validation’ therefore (when I am living within the territory of the thinking mind) occurs when I am successfully moving towards the specified endpoint. That’s the only way I can get to feel good about myself, in other words. The one thing I can never get to feel good about (when I’m listening to the thinking mind, that is!) is me being ‘where I am’ (or ‘how I am’) when that has nothing to do with the goal, when that has nothing to do with the ‘final outcome’. As we have already said, the rule doesn’t value anything apart from its own specified objective; it doesn’t allow any space for anything other than its own specified objective. Nothing else exists as far as the thinking mind is concerned – nothing else has any value (or any interest). Anything else is merely ‘an error that needs to be eliminated’ and that automatically includes us if we aren’t the way the thinking mind says we should be (or if we aren’t excused by the fact that we are progressing successfully in the direction that it wants us to go in).

 

Everything we’ve been talking about is of course deeply familiar within the context of everyday human life! We all know what it feels like to be intolerant and impatient within the context of our day-to-day lives and we all know what it feels like to be subjected to this type of ‘heartless or mechanical intolerance’ either from ourselves, or from other people. We all know what it’s like to be completely invalidated either by our own minds or by the minds of other people! When we come across intolerance and judgementalism then what we are encountering is this default state of being that we have called ‘psychological unconsciousness’ and psychological unconsciousness is – as we have said – the inevitable result of being entirely subsumed within the territory of the thinking mind.

 

When we have been subsumed entirely within the territory of the TM then as we have said we don’t know that we have. We don’t know that we have because we have nothing else to go on! Thought has replaced reality with its own version of it, its own picture or image of it, and we have no way of detecting the substitution because thought doesn’t provide us with a way, and what thought doesn’t provide us with we just don’t have! We have checked into the Hotel California and we can’t check out; we don’t even try to check out most of the time because we don’t know we’re in it. Or to put this another way, we don’t know that we are in the Hotel California because for us it is the whole world! We don’t see it for what it is at all…

 

We do have one way of knowing what’s happening to us however and that is by paying attention to our own impatience, our own hurry ‘to be somewhere else’. Our true nature isn’t impatient or intolerant or judgemental and so if we notice ourselves being this way (and don’t automatically make excuses for ourselves about it) then we have a very clear way of seeing that we are being ‘operated by the system of thought’ rather than the situation being the other way round. We can straightway see that ‘the tail is wagging the dog’, so to speak. What we have here is a very straightforward way of seeing when we being ‘untrue to ourselves’, in other words, and this type of ‘honesty with ourselves’ is how we ‘do something’ about our situation. That’s ‘our work’.

 

We could also say that the ‘work’ here is to ‘establish a relationship with the truth of what’s going on’, rather than ‘only ever relating to our own mental projections’). This isn’t a controlling thing – we don’t have to judge or blame ourselves for being false or inauthentic, and neither do we have to come up with some clever ‘plan’ or ‘method’ for fixing ourselves. When we do notice that we are judging or blaming ourselves (or trying to fix ourselves) then straightaway we know that we are being driven or controlled by the thinking mind (which should be a servant rather than our boss) and so this is a helpful thing. We’re being ‘tipped off’! Straightaway we see that the tail is wagging the dog and seeing this is how we start to redress the ‘balance of power’, so to speak. ‘The seeing is the doing’, as Krishnamurti says. When we do notice ourselves judging or blaming or trying to fix or correct  ourselves then this is actually a good thing not a bad thing, therefore – we are being tipped off as to our true situation and this is something we need to know about. Our own self-judging, self-blaming, and self-recrimination thus becomes ‘a blessing rather than a curse’, and seeing this softens our attitude to it….

 

 

 

 

Dropping Aggression

All we know is aggression but because we don’t see our aggression for what it actually is, we just we just see it as the normal way of being in the world. We don’t have any other modality of existence, we don’t know of any other modality…

 

‘Aggression’ means ‘trying to get things to be the way we want them to be’; on a deeper level, it means ‘imposing our own way of seeing things on the world without acknowledging that we are doing so’.

 

This sort of basic aggression is invisible, therefore – it forms the backdrop for everything, it’s the baseline for everything we do. It’s the baseline we work off. Any attempt to say to tell us that we are fundamentally aggressive, that we live in an aggression-based way world, will be met with honest incomprehension. Nobody will know what we talking about.

 

To not be aggressive is the ultimate ‘radical action’ therefore, even though it isn’t an action, strictly speaking. There’s nothing more radical, nothing more revolutionary, than ‘non-aggression’. Non-aggression changes everything, whilst aggression (even though the whole point of it is to make changes) changes nothing. Nonaggression freezer; aggression locks us into the very situation that we are fighting against.

 

This is illustrated by the Buddhist story of Prince Five-weapons, as related by Joseph Campbell. The Prince in the story adept in the use of five weapons, as the name of the story implies, but when he encounters the forest ogre known as ‘Sticky-hair’ he quickly discovers that none of them are any use to him. Everything sticks to this ogre (his name is Sticky-hair for a reason) including his two feet and his two fists, when he uses them as weapons. When both arms and legs are firmly stuck to the ogre’s hair, he uses his head as a last resort and then this get stuck too. He’s stuck to the ogre in five places!

 

Prince Five-weapons then has the insight that whatever he does to fight the ogre is always going to be turned against him, and the results of this insight is that he has a change of attitude that allowed him to practice non-aggression instead of aggression, and this transforms the situation in that his own aggression is no longer being turned against him. In modern psychotherapy parlance non-aggression is sometimes called ‘radical acceptance’ – we are no longer seeking to change the situation, either overtly or covertly, but instead we are wholeheartedly surrendering to it. We are assenting to it one hundred per cent, with no reservations; we are surrendering to it peacefully, with an open heart, not as a tactic, nor as an act of despair. This interpretation doesn’t entirely seem to tally with the last part of the story because in the story Prince Five-weapons tells the ogre Sticky-hair that the reason he isn’t afraid (which Sticky-hair is understandably worried about) is because he has an ultimate weapon in his belly – a thunderbolt which will tear the demon to pieces. This is no ordinary weapon however: in Tibetan Buddhism a thunderbolt means the Vajra (or Dorje) which is a battle club made of diamond. This diamond club sumbolizes ‘immutable wisdom’ or the power of enlightenment to see through illusion. According to Barbara O’Brien writing in thoughtco.com:

The term vajra is a Sanskrit word that is usually defined as “diamond” or “thunderbolt.” It also defines a kind of battle club that achieved its name through its reputation for hardness and invincibility. The vajra has special significance in Tibetan Buddhism, and the word is adopted as a label for the Vajrayana branch of Buddhism, one of the three major forms of Buddhism. The visual icon of the vajra club, along with the bell (ghanta), form a principal symbol of the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet.

 

A diamond is spotlessly pure and indestructible. The Sanskrit word means “unbreakable or impregnable, being durable and eternal”. As such, the word vajra sometimes signifies the lighting-bolt power of enlightenment and the absolute, indestructible reality of shunyata, “emptiness.”

In terms of the symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism we can say therefore that the thunderbolt weapon is not ‘aggressive’ in nature. It sounds odd to say that a tremendous weapon like this is not aggressive but the truth doesn’t threaten anything, and it doesn’t try to change anything. The only thing that is threatened by the Vajra weapon is illusion, and illusion isn’t there in the first place! The difficulty we have is in seeing how not wanting to change anything’ can result in the situation being totally transformed. In the case of demon Sticky-hair, we would be very much inclined to say that Prince was actually defeated, since he could not overcome his opponent by force of arms. What self-respecting ogre is going to be put off by us not fighting it, by us not opposing it with every means at our disposal? In the real world – surely – the ogre is going to walk all over us. The ogre is going to eat us for breakfast. Isn’t that the way that things work in this world? If we are aggressive enough then we will be triumphant whilst the weak and the timid and the inoffensive will have to put up with being eaten…

 

The ogre in the story is essentially ‘an inner demon’ however and to not be aggressive towards our own inner demons (but to unconditionally allow them to be what they are, and see them for what they are) is not cowardice (or ‘giving in’) but the ultimate act of courage. Who wants to come face to face with their inner demons after all? No one wishes to get intimately acquainted with their inner demons, and so what we do instead (by ‘default’, so to speak) is to deny their existence and thereby allow them to possess us. As Jung says, very few of us have the courage to own up to the darkness that is within us, and as a result this darkness is rejected (or ‘split off’) and becomes an autonomous agent that gets to walk the streets unchallenged, free to work evil in the world.

 

Non-aggression doesn’t just radically transform our relationship with the demon(s) that possess us (by making that relationship conscious rather than unconscious), it radically transforms our understanding of ourselves and the world. It radically transforms everything, in other words! The essence of aggression, as we have already said, is that it is ‘us imposing our own way of seeing things in the world without knowing that we are doing so’. Because we are imposing our own viewpoint on the world without knowing that we are doing so we are very effectively trapped it; we are trapped in a viewpoint that we do not know to be a viewpoint and this is what our ‘unconscious aggression’ does to us. It backfires on us in a big way, in the biggest possible way, and we never know it. We are the ‘prisoners of our own device’; we have checked in but we can’t check out…

 

Why are we so very quick to be always imposing a framework on the world, we might wonder? What is it that causes us to do to do this? Why do we always have to contextualize everything within an artificial context? The best way to answer this question is simply to say that it is due to our ‘insecurity’ – we are insecure and so we impose our own familiar way of seeing things on the world. We are insecure and so we project our ‘automatically assumed framework’ on the world, and so we only see things within the terms of this framework, this context. When we impose our old familiar way of looking at things on the world that makes us feel secure – it gives us a feeling of ‘being in control’, a sense that we are ‘playing a game that we know about’. When we project the same old predictable ‘framework of meaning’ onto the world then that makes us feel secure – nothing is ever going to radically surprise us because we are always going to be ‘explaining the new in terms of the old’.

 

We are protecting ourselves against the new (or the unknown), in other words – we are maintaining our own narrow way of understanding the world and this is aggression pure and simple. We’re not allowing things to be what they actually are, but instead we are covertly forcing them to be that way that we unconsciously want them to be. We’re doing this without admitting that we are doing this – we’re saying that ‘we aren’t doing anything’! We’re imposing our own brand of order, our own brand of ‘commonsense’ on the world. We do this by squeezing the whole universe through our narrow concepts, through our narrow ideas, through our narrow mental categories. If something doesn’t fit our unexamined expectations then we don’t give it the time of day. There is therefore an all-out war going on – there’s a war going on between the meaning we want, and everything that disagrees with this meaning, anything that undermines our preferred way of seeing things.

 

This is ‘fundamental aggression’ – this is the aggression we engaging in every single day of our lives without ever knowing that we are. This is the ‘invisible aggression’ that we are engaging in every second of every day of our lives, just about. This is the fundamental aggression that forms the very basis of our lives – it’s our baseline and so we never look at it. We never question it or remark on it. We don’t understand that there is any other way of being in the world – to us anything else simply means ‘defeat’ or ‘losing’.

 

And yet as we have been saying, all this visible aggression rebounds on us; it backfires on us with a vengeance. It’s not benefitting us at all really; quite the reverse is true – we’re ‘shooting ourselves in the foot; we’re ‘scoring an own-goal’.  We’re ‘self-harming’, so to speak – we’re self-sabotaging in a big way. We’re limiting ourselves cruelly and pointlessly without owning up to the fact that we are – we are putting ourselves into an airless sterile conceptual box and stubbornly pretending that the box is the whole world. We are suppressing our innate curiosity about what the world would be like if we left it alone and didn’t impose our own private meaning on it. We’re far too afraid, far too insecure to see what would happen if we did that. We can’t even allow ourselves to see that this is a possibility! That’s what aggression is therefore – it’s simply ‘fear in disguise’.

 

When we talk about ‘trying to get things to be the way we want them’ to be this is what we’re talking about – this is control in a nutshell. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong or unhealthy about control because clearly control has a vital part to play in life. We can’t just let ‘everything go to hell’! Control has a very specific domain of applicability however, which is to say, it’s good for some things but not for everything! When we have to control everything then – as we all know – this is profoundly unhealthy. We never apply this principle to the question of ‘how we perceive the world’ however; if we did then we’d see that ‘controlling the way that we see or understand the world without admitting to ourselves that we are doing so’ is the most ‘unhealthy’ thing there is? What could be unhealthier than ‘limiting ourselves for no other reason’? What could be unhealthier than ‘limiting ourselves because we’re afraid and don’t want to see that we’re afraid’? We can say that ‘non-aggression is the ultimately revolutionary act’ therefore because it marks the ending of this pointless limitation…

 

Image – Golden Vajra at Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

 

 

 

Getting Off The Conveyor Belt

How do we start to be mindful, how do we get started being mindful for the first time when the practice of mindfulness (whatever that might be) is not something with which we are culturally familiar? Even the intellectual understanding of what is called ‘mindfulness’ is rather elusive; never mind actually putting it into practice. The great difficulty is that we keep thinking of it as a task, as something to ‘do’. We always think of everything as a task, and this is because we are always operating out of our thinking mind; we’re always seeing everything as a problem, in other words! As soon as we start thinking in this way then we automatically tense up in preparation for the act of ‘achieving some outcome or other’. We might not know what the outcome or result is supposed to be, because we are not familiar with it, but we tense up anyway in expectation of having to do something.We can’t help thinking that we have to ‘do something’, and this puts us under pressure…

 

This ‘tensing up’ is a habitual sort of thing – we are always doing it, it is the main thing we have to do in life, or so it tends to seem. We have to tense up in preparation for doing something, in preparation for ‘making something happen’… Life appears to be a series of problems or challenges, one after another after another, sometimes with hardly any break between, or even perhaps no break between them. If this is so (if life is a never-ending series of problems with scarcely any break between them) then what this means is that life itself is interpreted as a problem – and this is not an unusual situation. In everyday language this situation – where life itself becomes the problem – is known as generalized anxiety.Because we see life as ‘a problem to be fixed’, we become vulnerable to deep-seated doubts about our ability to do whatever it is that we are supposed to do (even though we don’t really know what this is).

 

The more we identify with the thinking mind the more we see everything as a problem because this is the only way the thinking mind can relate to things! It’s a ‘problem-solving machine’ and so that’s what it does. The rational mind is a machine for fixing problems and if we identify with it then that’ll turn us into a machine too!  We will become more and more mechanical, more and more rigid in our thinking, more and more ‘brittle’ with regard to surprising or unwanted outcomes. More and more of us are suffering from anxiety disorders in recent times for the simple reason that our technologically-orientated culture compels us to ‘identify with the thinking mind’. Our rational-technological culture forces us into a position of automatic congruence with the mind-created image of ‘who we are’ and this ‘confusion of identity’ can only ever lead to anxiety, in the long run…

 

Saying that we tend to relate to life itself as a ‘task’, as something we have to ‘do’, is the same as saying that we habitually tense up (mentally, and sometimes also physically) when we are confronted with any challenge at all. We tense up because we have to change something from the way it is into some other way. We have to take personal responsibility for doing this. If I do have some sort of physical task, such as lifting up a heavy weight, then of course this makes sense. Similarly, if I have to work out something, solve some problem or other, tensing up mentally (which is to say, concentrating) makes perfect sense. But tensing up in the fact of life itself, as if life itself were a heavy weight to be lifted, or a problem to be solved, takes us into the realm of anxiety.

 

When we are anxious it is this chronic unrelieved ‘tensing up’ that causes us all the distress, all the suffering. We don’t see this however because we think that it is whatever problems or  issues we are faced with at the time that are the source or origin of our distress, and so we try to solve them as quickly as we can so that we can be free from it. This only makes matters worse however because trying to get rid of all issues the minute they arise exacerbates the underlying chronic unrelieved tension, and it is this chronic unrelieved tension that is the true author of our suffering. Try to solve innumerable tasks and issues just drives the tension up a notch. The logic behind the attempt to eradicate all problems is of course that when they are all gotten rid of we will at last be able to relax, but experience shows that this never ever happens. There are always more issues piling up for us to attend to – life is a never-ending conveyer belt of problems and issues and tasks and jobs and ‘general responsibilities’.

 

We never obtain that longed-for relief as a result of frantically solving problems, sorting out tasks and attending to issues or responsibilities because the real source of the pressure isn’t in these problems, tasks, issues and responsibilities but in my ‘attitude’, so to speak. My ‘attitude’ is one of high-alertness, of maximum vigilance and tension. But we can’t say that this attitude, this constant unremitting underlying state of inner tension is ‘the problem’ because saying this simply adds more fuel to the fire. If we treat the constant unremitting underlying tension as the problem that need to be fixed or solved or otherwise dealt with then this just makes us tense up even more, in readiness to deal with the problem. Trying to do something about this inner tension only causes me to tense up all the more, and so if I was ‘feeling the pinch’ before I will be feeling it twice as much, three times as much, a hundred times as much. The more I try to do something about the tension the tenser I get and the tenser I get the more I feel that I have to do something about the situation! I’m caught on the treadmill of runaway thinking and I don’t know how to get off…

 

The reason we find ourselves in this trap is because we don’t have any other possibility of relating to difficulties other than trying to fix or solve them (or if we can’t do this, wishing or hoping that we could fix of solve them). This ‘lack of any other possible modality of relating’ is after all what lies behind the anxiety in the first place. All we know is the modality of ‘trying to change the way things are’ (or – failing this – of wanting or wishing to change the way things are, and feeling that we ought to change them even if we can’t, even if it is a practical impossibility for us to change anything). This is the modality of doing.

 

The possibility that we are missing when we are anxious is the modality of being. The possibility that doesn’t seem to be available to us (that we are in effect blind to) in anxiety is the possibility of being the way that we are rather than changing (or rather constantly trying to change) the way that we are. There is a reason for us being blind to this possibility. After all, in anxiety all we are is ‘straining’ or ‘striving’ or ‘trying’. Everything that we are is caught up within this constant massive effort that we are making. Everything that we are is subsumed within this habitual or automatic constant attempt to change things, or fix things, or escape from things. This is the essence of the situation – being subsumed in this way in ‘doing mode’ so that straining and more straining is all that we know. We are reduced to this – if straining or tensing up inside doesn’t work then the only option that is left open to us is the option of straining and tensing even more.

 

This chronic inner straining or tension is very much like a muscular cramp or spasm – once the cramping ‘takes hold’ then there is nothing we can do to avert the process. We just have to wait for it to ease up in its own time, acutely painful though it may be. Obviously if I ‘tense up’ against the cramp in any way this only exacerbates the underlying situation. The same is true for the mental cramp of generalized anxiety – anything I do to try to make it go away only adds to it. Even telling myself not to be anxious makes me more anxious – after all, telling myself not to be anxious, trying to ‘talk away the anxiety’, is me tensing up against the anxiety. Since the anxiety is nothing more than chronic ‘tensing up’ anyway, how can this possibly help? Even wishing that I wasn’t anxious is a form of tensing up – it is a form of resistance, and any resistance to anxiety always exacerbates that anxiety.

 

So what we need to learn is how to refrain from tensing up. What we need to learn is how to not resist the fact of our anxiety – which is itself nothing more than a huge mass of chronic automatic resistance. Our automatic reaction is of course to try to deliberately refrain from tensing up, to deliberately – by act of will – try not to resist. Needless to say this doesn’t work because anything I do deliberately is resistance, anything I do on purpose, as an act of will, is ‘tensing up’. I can’t do ‘not doing’. I can’t deliberately get out of ‘doing mode’. I can’t ‘not do’ on purpose because ‘on purpose’ means straining and tensing and striving and trying and wanting and hoping. So what is the answer? How do I get back from ‘doing’ to ‘being’?

 

The first step is not to try to stop trying, to not resist our own resisting. Instead of trying not to try, of trying to stop trying not to try, and so on (which is of course a road that never comes to an end) I give myself permission to be whatever way it is that I am just for five minutes. This is a small beginning but it is also a realistic one because this is always a possibility – I give myself permission to be whatever way I actually am just for this short space of time. Any longer would be asking too much. Any longer (in the beginning, anyway) would translate into ‘pressure to perform’, pressure to be a certain way, and that would be counterproductive. We don’t want to turn meditation into yet another task…

 

After giving myself permission to be the way I am for five minutes I can then begin to be mindful of the way that I am (whatever way that is). So I sit there (or lie there), close my eyes if I can and gently start to notice what is going on for me. The chances are that I will notice myself being tense, that I will notice myself automatically straining to change myself, or to change my situation. This is like noticing that my muscles are locked into a spasm or cramp. Noticing this inner underlying chronic tension is synonymous with feeling the pain of that tension – just as noticing a physical cramp is synonymous with feeling the pain of that cramp. At this point I remind myself – if necessary – that I have given myself permission to be whatever way I am and ‘the way that I am’ is ‘being tense’. So just for the next five minutes I can allow that tension to be there, having given it permission to be there, and also having given permission of the pain of the tension to be there.

 

Allowing myself to be tense means gently noticing that I am tense – I bring my attention to the pain of the tension and give that pain permission to be there, just for a few minutes. This is like touching something very gently with my finger – I touch it but I don’t try to push or apply pressure. I am just acknowledging that whatever I am touching is there, just by ‘tipping off’ it very gently with the outstretched tip of my finger. In the same way when I notice my underlying inner tenseness I just bring my attention (which is to say, my awareness) to it very gently, acknowledging that it is there without trying to change it in any way. This is a very gentle and undemanding exercise, but it is also highly significant because it is the beginning of what we have forgotten how to do – it is the beginning of ‘being mindful’, the beginning of the practice mindfulness. We’re learning something very challenging; we’re learning how to stop always treating life as ‘a task’, or as ‘a problem that needs to be solved’. We’re learning how to get off the non-terminating conveyor belt of the thinking mind….