Thinking is Suffering


Thinking is suffering, as Eckhart Tolle says somewhere. Thinking is all about problems and the search for possible solutions to these problems. This is all thinking is – over and over again. The unspoken assumption is that the thinking is ‘a means to an end’ – that once we find the solution then everything will be fine and there won’t be the need for any more wearisome thinking. The assumption is that once the solution is found then all will be well. We will then find peace. We’ll have arrived.


This however never happens. We all know very well that this never happens – if it did happens then we would all be going around in a Zen-like state of calm the whole time and we aren’t! Each ‘solution’ only ever leads on to another problem; each answer only gives rise to a clutch of new questions. All is never well – if it was then there wouldn’t be all this thinking going on and there always is all this thinking going on. The thinking is there because all is not well, because there is some sort of a problem somewhere, and so clearly we are never without problems. Things are never OK…


There is always thinking because there is always a problem, because there is always an issue that needs to be resolved. This state of affairs doesn’t necessarily seem like suffering to us however. It doesn’t seem like suffering because we generally feel that we are getting somewhere – we experience the thinking as taking us towards some kind of resolution. As Alan Watts says in one of his lectures, we’re always ‘almost there’; the resolution or prize is always there just around the corner and because of this (erroneous) perception we don’t experience the process of thinking as being largely (if not entirely) futile.


This isn’t to say that rational thought is always futile. There are of course instances where the thinking process is genuinely useful! There are in other words times when there are legitimate problems out there and where we are legitimately trying to solve them. During the day this only happens from time to time however – as we would easily see if we started observing ourselves and our thoughts, we think all the time and only a few of these thoughts are there because there is actually a practical need for them! Legitimate problem-solving happens only from time to time – it’s not the main business of the day. The main business of the day – which is where most of our attention or energy is going – is a project that we are not actually allowed to be aware of, an ongoing project which is consuming the lion’s share of the resources (so to speak) and yet which at the same time we are not allowed to see ourselves being engaged in.


Being engaged in a full-time project that we not being allowed to acknowledge ourselves to be engaged in it is a strange enough idea by itself but it gets stranger – we’re engaged on a full-time basis on a project that we’re not allowed to know about and which is actually completely impossible to complete. This therefore is definitely as recipe for suffering. This is the best recipe for suffering there ever could be! But WHAT – we might want to know – is this undercover project that we’re not allowed to know about, and WHY is it so impossible to complete? The project that we’re talking about here is (we might say) the project of maintaining our arbitrary way of looking at the world, our arbitrary way of ‘being in the world’, and the reason this task / project is impossible to complete is because nothing that is arbitrary can be kept going forever. Nothing that is arbitrary can be made permanent. Because the task that we are engaged in is impossible it isn’t really a ‘task’ at all – it’s simply a jinx. It’s a jinx that we can’t see to be a jinx. It’s a jinx that is disguised as a legitimate task…


And even if the so-called ‘task’ of perpetuating our particular way of seeing the world, our particular way of ‘being in the world’ were possible (which it clearly isn’t) it would still be a completely pointless thing to do. Why on earth would we want to perpetuate an arbitrary way of looking at the world, an arbitrary way of being in the world? Why on earth would we want to perpetuate or make permanent a particular limited pattern of thinking and behaving in the world when it is no more valid than any other way? Why would we want to spend all our time stuck in a particular groove when there are so many other grooves to explore? What we’re actually doing here is, in this not-allowing-of-any-other-possibilities, is artificially keeping things the same when they don’t really need to be kept the same. We’re repressing change; we’re repressing the natural way of things. We’re actually blocking the life-process itself and this has got to be a ‘suspect operation’!


It’s a ‘suspect operation’ because on the one hand it is impossible to do and on the other hand it causes an immense amount of pain and frustration because we don’t know that it is an impossible thing to do (because we don’t know that it is a ‘jinxed task’). We’re going against the natural order of things for no good reason at all – we’re going against our own true nature. This isn’t a ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ matter we’re talking about here. It’s purely practical – it’s about not being absurd or ridiculous. Why after all would we go against our own true nature? Why would we act contrary to what our heart actually wants? The reason is of course that we’re not in touch with our true nature; we’re estranged from ourselves, we’re estranged from our own wisdom and intuition. We have been ‘cut-off’ from the source of wisdom and intuition that lies deep inside ourselves. As we have said, we don’t even know what we are doing! We don’t know that we are engaged on a full-time basis in the particular ‘suspect project’ that we are engaged in. We don’t know that the project is suspect and we don’t even know that there is a project! We’re committed to ‘the jinxed task’ without knowing that we are…


To go back to what we started off by saying, thinking is suffering and the reason thinking is suffering is because we are trying – with our thinking – to do something impossible without acknowledging that this is the case. Of course thinking can achieve real things (genuinely helpful outcomes) in the world and if the only time we were thinking was on this strictly practical ‘thinking only when we need to think’ basis then all would be well. Thinking would not necessarily be suffering in this case. It might be demanding and arduous but there would be a real result. But just as soon as we take the trouble to observe ourselves and our thinking we can’t help seeing that most of the thinking which is going on is not of a practical / helpful nature. By far the largest part of our thinking is simply a type of ‘restless grasping’. What we’re grasping for – whether we realize it or not – is a type of security that just doesn’t exist in the real world. We’re looking for a sense of security in relation to the arbitrary construct, the arbitrary way of looking at things, the arbitrary modality of being, that we have somehow (without actually meaning to) identified ourselves with.


One way of putting this is to say that we are looking for the validation of our particular arbitrary viewpoint or position. ‘Validation’ in this context means proving to ourselves that our arbitrary viewpoint or position is not arbitrary at all, and this very clearly is not going to be possible. We’re trying to prove that something which isn’t true actually is true. We don’t of course see that this is what we are doing – we are driven by a need that we don’t examine, a need that we never question, a ‘need’ that we just automatically go along with. If we were to be slightly more aware of what is going on we would see that we are being driven by a type of deep-rooted insecurity – we’re trying to make an uncomfortable feeling go away. This attempt to run away from an uncomfortable background feeling of insecurity is what is driving our thinking – it is the only thing that is driving our thinking. We neither know what this feeling is nor do we care to know – we just want to make it go away and that is that!


It is also the case that we may have (temporarily!) succeeded in feeling secure in the way that we want to. Security-seeking isn’t our number One motivation in this case; it has been put to one side for the time being. It has been forgotten about. But the thing about this is that just as soon as we solve the pain of the insecurity we incur a different type of pain which then needs to be fixed just as the first type of pain did. The one itch replaces the other. ‘Security’ contains a type of pain all of its own – the pain of suffocating boredom, the pain of sterility, the pain of ennui or meaninglessness, and the way we try to fix this pain is by looking for diversion, looking for distraction, and so this is another thing that will drive our thinking (if we are not being driven by the need to escape from our own insecurity). Both the need to find security (which equals ‘validating our particular limited pattern of being’) and the need to escape from the tedium or meaninglessness of this security once we have found it, (i.e. the need to distract or divert ourselves) come from the same root, therefore. The need to be continually distracting (or entertaining) ourselves seems harmless or normal enough to us but it comes down to ‘covering up the problem’; this type of thinking it is therefore facilitating a problem we don’t know about, it is perpetuating that invisible problem.


When we look into the matter we discover that almost all of our thinking is about compensating (or trying to compensate) for the irresolvable insecurity that comes with being identified with an arbitrarily limited way of looking at the world, an arbitrarily limited way of being in the world, whilst trying to make out that it is not arbitrarily limited. In very simple terms, we’re ‘shoring up the self-image’ (or ‘trying to shore up the self image’) – this basic (conditioned) need gives rise to a range of different types of thinking but they all come down to the same thing. They all come down to ‘trying to make something be what it isn’t’, trying to pretend something isn’t there when it is there, trying to make something better when ultimately we can’t make it better. It’s like scratching an itch to relieve the unbearable irritation it is causing us – the scratching may provide relief from this intolerable itch, but only at the price of making it worse later on.


We might be trying to solve some kind of thinking – the kind of problem that triggers our repressed feelings of existential unease or insecurity – or we might be trying to pleasantly divert or distract ourselves. We might be experiencing our insecurity via an urge to prove ourselves or compete successfully with other people in a similar mind-frame to ourselves; we might be struggling to be accepted or approved of within a specific social context and as a result be thinking either that we’re doing well or not doing well, thinking that we’re either on the way up or on the way down. We might be in some sort of a desire state and thinking about how great it would be to get our hands on the longed-for goal, or we might be thinking about what strategy would be best for helping us succeed in our aim. We might be in an angry frame of mind and thinking about how thoroughly rotten someone is and how they richly deserve for something bad to happen to them (or we might be thinking about all the ways in which we could play an active part in making sure that something bad happens to them). We might be in an envious state of mind and be thinking about how someone has got something that we would very much like to have, or we could be paranoid and be thinking about external forces are working against us. Whatever way we’re thinking it always comes down to the same thing however – we’re trying to get hold of something that it’s just not possible to get hold of, we’re trying to get hold of something that just doesn’t exist.


This brings us to one last way of looking at why thought is suffering, why to think is to suffer. We’re looking for ‘the good thing’ but the thing is that we are looking for the good thing because of the way we think that it will validate us. If it didn’t validate us then that wouldn’t be any good at all! It’s not really the external value we care about, that we’re interested in, but the way in which that external value will say something about us, do something for us.


We’re looking to validate ourselves, as we have just said. But the thing about this is that it just isn’t ever going to happen – we can’t ever be validated in the way that we want to be. We’re grasping for the impossible. The conditioned self (which is the problem-solving self, the analytical self, the thinking or rational self) can’t ever be validated because ultimately it just doesn’t exist. Ultimately therefore, our thinking is driven by the unreal conditioned self’s hunger to be real (in the sense of being ‘permanent’ or ‘non-arbitrary’), and this is the root cause of our suffering…









Going Beyond Methods


What is happening in meditation is that we are going beyond the method, going beyond the procedural side of things. So – we might quite reasonably ask – what does it mean to be going beyond the method, beyond the procedural side of things? How does this work? What does it involve? To ‘go beyond the method’ is also to ‘go beyond the map’ however and so we’re not actually going to get any answers to these questions! It is very natural for us to wonder what it involves to go beyond the method, to go beyond the map, but we can’t really expect any satisfactory answers. Or rather, we can expect an answer alright -no problem about that – but the point here is that we’re just not going to get one!


We can’t really expect an answer when we ask “What’s beyond the map?” because if we were to receive an answer then this answer would itself constitute a map! Going beyond the map or beyond the method is to go beyond any possibility of saying anything. We are no longer in the ‘consensus reality’ that for most of us constitutes the only reality we know. We’re no longer in the consensus reality because no one can tell us either what this so-called ‘beyond’ is or how to get there, and if no one can tell us what it is or how to get there then we’re very much on our own. We’re ‘thrown back on our own resources’…


Whilst it is very much true that there’s nothing wrong with being on our own in this way, being thrown back on our own resources in this way, it is also true that we are very much not used to it! This is a challenge and the thing about a challenge is that we need some kind of a ‘muscle’ to respond to it. If we don’t have the muscle – or rather if we don’t know that we have it – then we start to panic. The challenge is there but we have no way of dealing with it, no way of responding to it – it is as if the only way of responding we have is to ‘cave in’ to it. It may be true that we do have the muscle there somewhere but that’s no good to us because we neither know where it is nor how to use it…


So the first thing is to actually know that we have the muscle there and the second thing is to exercise it, to get it to a little bit of work so that it might gradually start to grow stronger. This sounds like a method in itself – we could call it a ‘Two-Step’ method and try to market it – but if we thought it was a method we would be wrong. It isn’t a method for the simple reason that no one can tell us how to find the muscle and even if we did find it no one could tell us how to go about using it. We keep coming back to this – people can tell us a certain amount but we always come to this ‘jumping off’ point where we have to do it ourselves. We always reach that point at which we have to leave behind the comfortable camaraderie of the consensus reality (the ‘group mind’, so to speak, and all it’s advice) and go it alone.


This is a lot like ‘bringing a horse to water’ – we can bring the horse to water without any major problems (which is the ‘procedural bit’) but then the horse has to drink for itself, without any external direction, and this is quite another matter. There’s no ‘procedure’, no ‘method’ for making the horse drink, in other words. So the bit of the practice where we sign up for the meditation class, where we get ourselves to the meditation room and sit ourselves down on the stool or cushion, is a procedure. The bit of the practice where we follow the basic instructions of following the breath, of bringing the attention back to the breath each time we get distracted is a procedure. But none of this is meditation – this is only the preliminary. This is only the ‘jumping-off point’. We have brought the horse to the water but now it has to drink…


So, within the terms of this metaphor, what does it mean when we talking about ‘the horse drinking’? What does this actually involve? These are the questions that we want to have clarified. It automatically happens that we want to ask for ‘descriptions and prescriptions’ regarding the process of what is happening in meditation but there are none forthcoming for what we’re talking about here. There are as we have said no descriptions of what happens when we leave the jumping-off point, nor prescriptions for how we should go about doing this. ‘The horse drinking’ means that we are moving beyond methods, moving beyond procedures, moving beyond planning and purposefulness and no one can tell us how to do this. Naturally enough, no one can tell us how to go beyond following instructions! We can’t even tell ourselves this. We can’t plan for how to go beyond planning; we can’t set the goal of moving beyond goals…


The procedure of ‘coming gently back to the breath every time we get distracted’ is of course very easy to describe, and also very easy to make a prescription of. It is also relatively easy to follow, under most circumstances. This however is not meditation! The reason following the instructions for ‘following the breath and coming back again every time we notice that we have been distracted’ is not meditation is because precisely because we are following the instructions for how to do it, precisely because we are following a procedure. A ‘procedure’ is something that we can direct ourselves to do – in this case I am directing myself to pay attention to the breath as it leaves and comes into the body, and then come back again to paying attention when I notice that I have been distracted, when I notice that I have been side-tracked into thoughts and led astray. This is all well and good and it is the procedural basis for meditation without being meditation itself.  It isn’t meditation because there’s still a controller; it isn’t meditation because meditation isn’t where we direct ourselves (or tell ourselves) to do this, that or the other. Meditation isn’t ‘a following of the rules’ or ‘a following of the method’ – it is as we have been saying a going beyond the rules, a going beyond the method. Meditation – as Krishnamurti says – is

a movement in and of the unknown…


In the state of meditation there is no controller and no controlled, which is in complete contrast to our normal ‘directed’ mode of consciousness. There is no one there issuing instructions or directives as to what should be happening next, what the attention should be attending to next, and so on. If this were the case then the attention (or the ‘awareness’) would be the slave of the rational mind, the slave of the rational mind’s purposes or game-plan, and the state of having one’s awareness enslaved in this way isn’t meditation!


That enslaved state is just the ‘mechanical modality of being’ – the machine-mode of existence on which basis we live most of our life. In meditation there is no one directing the attention, no one telling it where to go or what to do next, no one telling it how it should be. That doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, however!” Our inbuilt prejudice is to image that unless there is a controller issuing instructions then nothing will ever happen. Without the red-faced sergeant barking out orders on the parade ground there is only going to be unruly chaos. Nothing productive, nothing worthwhile is ever going to happen. This is very much what the rational mind believes – that nothing worthwhile will happen without its say-so, without its explicit instructions or guidance. This is why the thinking mind’s essential nature is that of a tyrant, or a boss who doesn’t trust anyone enough to delegate responsibility. The thinking mind has serious trust issues, in other words!


The ‘back-to-front’ thing about this however is that who we actually are is the spark of awareness, not the dead mechanical system that is guiding it, controlling it. We’re the consciousness, not the Sat Nav! The system of thought is saying that the consciousness which is who we really are can’t be trusted, can’t be allowed to ‘run free’ and do its own thing. That would be a disaster, it tells us. The mechanical system which is who we aren’t can’t trust the spark of awareness which is who we are! This is like a slave-owner who says that his slaves would never amount to anything without him telling them what to do, without him motivating them (coercing them!) every step of the way. This – very clearly – is no more than a self-serving lie! The slaves may not do what the slave-owner wants them to do anymore, but that is a different matter entire. The slave-owner’s goals only matter to him, after all – they don’t have any wider significance. The point is not really that the slaves won’t do anything if they are freed from coercion, but that they will no longer do what the slave-driver wants them to do!


The spontaneous self is far more, unimaginably more, infinitely more than who (or what) we are when we are being controlled every inch of the way by the rational mind, when we are no more than the slaves of its dead mechanical purposes. To be the slaves of a whole bunch of mechanical purposes is to be no more than those purposes, and the purposes are nothing at all unless they serve something higher than themselves. When these ‘mechanical purposes’ consume us there is very little of our true spontaneous nature left in evidence – we become stereotypical stressed-out humourless emotionally-repressed adults. Who – we might ask – is more truly who we are – the humourless emotionally-repressed adult or the free spirit we started off as being, all those years ago? Clearly the spontaneous self or free spirit is so much more us than the person we are when we are controlled by the thinking, but somehow we end up getting used to being controlled or regulated by our own thoughts, our own ideas and beliefs. It becomes very normal for us. Anything else becomes frightening, anything else becomes very threatening…


The snag here is of course that we have identified with the rational mind. The prisoner has identified with the jailer, which is the Stockholm Syndrome taken to the nth degree. We don’t have any life any more – we have given the life that we had to the conditioned self, and the conditioned self is not of itself alive (being no more than a glorified reflex). The mechanical shell which is the ‘reflex-self’ is who we think we are, and so what it ‘wants’ becomes what we want. When we can see things like this (i.e. in terms of consciousness identifying itself with the rational mind or conditioned self) then this clarifies our situation hugely. We started off perceiving ourselves to be the ‘controller’ who directs the attention back to the breath every time we get distracted by thought. We perceive ourselves to be ‘doing’ the meditation, in other words – if someone were to ask me what I was doing then I would answer, “I am meditating”. This situation however – as we have been saying – is not meditation. It has nothing to do with meditation! As Wei Wu Wei says,

As long as there is a ‘you’ doing or not-doing,
thinking or not-thinking,
‘meditating’ or ‘not-meditating’
you are no closer to home
than the day you were born.


All methods cause us to identify with the controller. As Wei Wu Wei also says –

All methods require a doer. The only ‘doer’ is the I-Concept.


All methods belong to the I-Concept and wherever the I-Concept is there can be no peace…


Wherever there is a method there is the I-concept, therefore. Generally speaking, we think that methods are great – we can’t have enough of them! It’s methods, methods, methods as far as our modern rational culture is concerned. We have methods coming out of our ears. We eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea. Our love affair with methods is our love affair with the I-concept, however. Our love affair with methods is our love affair with the controller; our thinking here is ‘what’s good for the I-concept is good for us’! Actually, our modern way of life is all about the controller, all about the I-concept. The world we have adapted ourselves to is purely for the benefit of the I-concept, not for our benefit. This world has been designed by the I-concept, commissioned by the I-concept, instigated by the I-concept. It is managed and policed by the I-concept. It is the I-concept’s standards we have to live up to!


As long as we are identifying with the I-concept, the controller, everything in this world seems fine, everything makes sense. But by the same token just as soon as we stop identifying with the mind-created phantom which is the conditioned self the way of life that we are so proud of is revealed as being little more than a concentration camp for the spirit. Consciousness – which is who we are – is being persecuted on all sides. Everything serves the unreal self-image and we insist on identifying with this imposter. Consciousness herself has been kept in captivity and used for the benefit of the abstract self-image so long that this seems like the normal way for things to be. We know no other way. Our suffering is as a result very great – whether we know this to be the case or not – and the one thing we don’t need is yet more methods to help ‘manage’ this suffering.


Symbolically speaking, we may point to the story of St George and the dragon. Consciousness – we may say – is the fair maiden held captive by the fearsome fire-breathing dragon and the dragon in question is none other than the thinking / controlling mind. When it comes to the heroic task of freeing the maiden therefore this is not to be done according to a method. Methods are the dragon – St George is not an extension of the rational ego!






The System of Belief


There is a hope that we all carry around with us, a hope that we never quite give up on, and that is the hope that – one day – we will actually ‘get things to work out the way we want them to’. Admittedly, this doesn’t seem to want to happen for us, but nevertheless we remain convinced that it will happen one day! Or that could happen. And even if I have grown cynical, and have now believe that ‘things will never work out’, I hold on all the more to the belief that the universe ought to play ball with me, that it is sheer perversity that it doesn’t. As a result of this, I get stuck in ‘angry mode’ or ‘frustrated mode’ or ‘complaining mode’, or ‘feeling sorry for myself mode,’ or some other variation on this theme.



What is basically happening in all these cases is that I am taking it completely for granted that the universe ought to conform to my beliefs about it. In other words, I have certain unexamined (or unconscious) assumptions about ‘the way things should be’ and every time life fails to happen the way I think it should happen (every time it refuses to play ball with me) then I go into some well-rehearsed variant of ‘non-acceptance’. Now it is a well-known fact that the universe doesn’t really care if I accept it or not – it just carries on as usual, regardless of my hurt feelings. As a result I end up spending an awful lot of my time getting upset and unhappy on behalf of these ill thought-out beliefs and assumptions. More often than not, I have a terrible time because of them.



I tend to see the fault for all this in the wrong place. Either I see the fault in other people or in life in general for letting me down (for being so rude as to not fit in with my expectations), or I see the fault in myself, for not being able win out over difficult circumstances. In the first case I project the blame outwards and I get angry because life doesn’t play ball with me, and in the second case I project the blame inwards and despise myself for being a loser because I am not able to force life to play ball with me. Either way it all comes down to blame – either I blame the world or I blame myself.



Both of these two reactions are equally absurd. The idea that the universe ought to fit in with my expectations of it is completely without foundation, and the idea that it ought to be possible for me to force the universe to do what I want it to do is also completely without foundation. Both of these two assumptions are laughably absurd, and yet I end up giving myself (and maybe other people as well) pure hell on their behalf. What is needed to cure this ridiculous situation is insight into the impossible nature of what I am trying so hard to achieve. Insight into reality is the infallible cure – in the absence of insight I will keep on struggling forever, oblivious to the absurdity of my efforts.




Another possibility that we have not so far looked at is the possibility that I will simply worry about things not going the way I think they ought to. I may sometimes get angry or frustrated, and I may develop low self-esteem, but primarily I am caught up in the particular type of mental agony that we know as anxiety. Anxiety is no different from any other variant of ‘blind non-acceptance’ – it is every bit as useless and every bit as absurd, and we spend an awful lot of time caught up in it, just as with all the other types of non-acceptance.



What is happening in anxiety is that I have certain unexamined beliefs concerning what I think is a ‘good’ outcome and what I think is a ‘bad’ outcome, and I end up going through hell on behalf of these beliefs. However, if you actually tell me that my beliefs are not worth feeling bad over then I tend to get rather insulted. Either that or I start to think that you are simply talking nonsense. This reaction of ‘feeling insulted’ or of being ‘automatically dismissive’ deserves our attention because it shows us something that we don’t usually realize – it shows us that we are for some reason identified with our beliefs, our assumptions. If I am identified with my beliefs then this simply means that they are important to me for some reason that I do not allow myself to know about – it means that I will protect them no matter what, for ‘no good reason’. I will go through torment on their behalf, and I certainly won’t want to question them and ask myself just how valid they really are, in any objective sense.




This uncritical attachment to our beliefs is no small matter – on the contrary, it lies right at the root of all our sorrows, and so it is seriously worth focussing on. The question is – What do we get out of our beliefs? Why are they so important to us? There are a number of ways in which we could try to answer this question. One way is to say that our beliefs are what hold our world together, and we instinctively know that if we start questioning our beliefs, then the whole thing is likely to unravel. We automatically assume (without ever thinking it through) that this would be an awful catastrophe – a disaster of the worst possible kind.



Normally, we naively think that we believe things because they are true, but if we stopped to consider the matter then we would of course start to smell a rat. After all – the whole thing about having a belief is that I want for it to be true and if I want so badly for it to be true, then how can I be sure that there is not some sort of self-deception going on? How can I trust myself, given the fact that – when it comes right down to it – I am not exactly an impartial judge in this matter?




Actually, the only way that I can ever be able to see the truth is when I do not come to the scene ‘already prejudiced’. I can only see the truth when I don’t care what that truth is – when I am impartial. The ‘believing’ frame of mind however is partial; it is partial because I secretly want to believe whatever it is that I do believe. The whole business of ‘believing stuff’ relies entirely on the fact that I am not willing to question myself – if I have a belief then this automatically means that I am not open to the possibility that the belief may not be true. In other words, a belief is a closed frame of mind. Needless to say, when I am possessed by some sort of belief or conviction about something I don’t go around thinking to myself “I have a closed mind.” If I acknowledged that I am only able to be convinced about something because I am in a closed frame of mind, then this would immediately throw a very large amount of doubt on the value or trustworthiness of the particular belief or conviction.




A belief only gets to have credibility because of the fact that we assume that we do not in fact have a closed mind. This is like a judge who comes to a trial having already made up his mind that the defendant is as guilty as hell, but who pretends both to himself and everyone else that he is willing to be open-minded about things. To be a judge, he has to appear to others to be fair-minded and impartial even if he has already made up his mind. He also has to appear fair-minded to himself – otherwise he is not going to feel very good about himself. In exactly the same way when I have a belief I have to entertain the comforting illusion that the belief is not just some arbitrary or prejudicial conviction, but a fair and even-minded assessment of the truth. I have to do this in order to benefit from the nice cozy reassuring and secure feeling that the belief gives me.



In conclusion, we can say that the reason that my beliefs and assumptions are so important to me that I would rather go through hell than examine or question them, is because they provide me with a very special sort of security that I seriously do not want to give up. This is the crucial point – the fixed pattern of my thinking is important to me in an unacknowledged way. It is important to me not because it is objectively useful, or objectively correct, but because it fulfils my unacknowledged need for psychological security.




We can also explain the feeling of security that I get in terms of personal validation – I get to feel good about myself, I get to be convinced that I am right, that I don’t have to question myself. This business goes a lot deeper than it might sound because the ‘freedom not to question myself’ really comes down to the ‘freedom to believe whatever the hell I want to believe’, and this in turn comes down to the ‘freedom to escape reality’.



Why would we want to escape reality? One answer is to say that the universal reason for wanting to escape reality is FEAR, which therefore means that our very serious desire for the security of our beliefs is the same thing as our very serious desire to escape our fear – whatever that fear might be about. The desire to hold on is the same thing as the ‘fear of letting go’, and what we hold on to is our belief system. Basically, our beliefs are our comfort blankets – they are what we rely on to make us feel safe.



This means that our system of belief and the purposeful activity that arises out of it, both have their root in fear. Beliefs are ‘the known’, and purposeful activity (which includes rational or directed thought) is the validation of the known. Our ‘purposes’ – which is to say our goals – become all-important to us and this has the automatic effect of reinforcing the invisible assumptions that they are based upon. This means that our goals aren’t important to us for the sake that we say they are important, but rather they are important because they reinforce our underlying system of belief. To put this another way, our goals are important to us because they give us a sense of meaning about what we are doing, and when we are ‘busy’ we feel automatically validated – we don’t have to question ourselves. This is ‘the comfort zone of goal-orientated behaviour’.



The validation of the known means that we are able to convince ourselves that ‘what we take to be true’ is the same thing as ‘the truth as it is in itself’, but this is never the case. The truth as it is in itself is always bigger and more expansive than myself, whereas the truth as I see it is the same size as myself – in fact it is the exact same thing as ‘myself’. The ‘known’ is no more than a projection of my own unexamined or unquestioned prejudices, and this bundle of accidentally acquired and unquestioned prejudices is what I call ‘me’.




This sounds like a strange thing to say, but when we reflect on the matter we can see that inasmuch as my thoughts and my beliefs and my conditioned perceptions represent ‘the known’, and inasmuch as I know myself through my thoughts and beliefs and conditioned perceptions, then it is splitting hairs to say that there is any difference between ‘the truth as I see it’ and the self which sees this truth. The self which sees the truth in the way that it unconsciously wants to see the truth is the self which sees its own beliefs as being true, and this self is necessarily part of its own belief system.



The conditioned truth and the conditioned self which sees this conditioned truth as being genuinely (i.e. unconditionally) true are one and the same thing. It couldn’t really be otherwise since the conditioned truth of ‘who I am’ has to be compatible the conditioned world which that conditioned self exists in. It is all ‘cut from the same cloth’ and there is no discontinuity anywhere within that cloth – there is no discontinuity between my ideas and the self that has the ideas.




All this is simply another way of saying that my underlying belief-system produces my idea of ‘who I am’. This means that my idea of who I am and my belief system are one and the same thing. I am my beliefs, or – rather, my beliefs are me. The whole thing is all one seamless unit, and that seamless unit is both the creation of my thinking, and the thinking itself. Furthermore, the whole kit and caboodle is only real (or valid) with respect to itself, which means that – ultimately – it is not real at all. After all, if a belief is merely an arbitrary description of reality that I have decided to go along with because it (secretly) suits me to go along with it, then where is the ‘reality’ in this?



Beliefs are like labels: I can easily label you as a criminal and then proceed to act as if my label actually means something (as if it reflects reality and not my hidden bias) but the very ease with which I can slap a label you on means the label tells me nothing. Beliefs, opinions and labels in general are ten a penny – I can easily come up with one to suit my own unacknowledged needs, and this means that they contain no genuine information at all – they are my own mental projections, and that is all. In other words –


If I can see things any way I want, then what I end up seeing (or believing) as a result of this wanting means nothing at all.




If anything can be true (when it suits me for it to be true), then the word ‘true’ loses its meaning. Yet despite the fact that our beliefs about the world and ourselves are ‘facile’ (i.e. to easily obtained to mean anything), the fact remains that it matters very much that they should appear meaningful and valid. This is the reason that we are all so touchy and defensive about our core beliefs, particularly those beliefs that have a direct bearing on the most central and all-important belief of all, which is the belief-structure that Krishnamurti calls ‘the self-image’. The reason an insult (any insult) stings us so deeply is because it touches upon our innermost insecurity – the insecurity we have about ourselves. There are many buried questions such as “Who am I really?”, “Am I all that I say I am?”, “What does my life actually amount to?” And so on.



The way we cover up or compensate for this insecurity is by the self-image, which has the overt function of providing definite positive picture of my identity. Of course, as we have said earlier, any definite positive statement always involves a tacit recognition of the contrary state of affairs, which is to say, when I say loudly that I am a worthy person, this message contains the implication that I am in fact completely worthless. I try to send out the message that “I am a winner” but – inadvertently – I send out the message of my hidden insecurity, my unacknowledged suspicion that I am a ‘loser’.




As Professor Carse has said, the motivation which we have to be successful in life is a direct measure of how little we already believe this to be true. If I am putting myself out to ‘be someone’ then this is because I secretly know that actually I am not what I want to prove myself to be. I suspect myself to be ‘nobody’. If I did not secretly suspect myself to be a loser, then I wouldn’t be trying so hard to be a winner.


In relation to beliefs, we can reformulate the above to say that if I cling to a positive belief about myself (in order to offset my feeling of insecurity), then what I am inadvertently doing is sending a negative message to myself. I am casting doubt upon myself by the very act of proclaiming myself. It is for this reason that the self-image is as often negative as it is positive – actually positive and negative are inextricable, and if we buy into the former we make ourselves the legitimate prey of the latter. This being the case, it is no wonder that the self-image is as vulnerable to insults as it is. The self-image is always vulnerable to insults, just as a belief is always vulnerable to the equal and opposite ‘counter-belief’.


The belief system (and the self-image) can therefore be seen as an attempt to cure a problem – the only thing is, it actually creates the problem that it sets out to cure. As we have suggested, the function of my system belief is purely to provide security. The perceived problem has to do with my feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability, and the solution that I come up with is the definite viewpoint of my belief structure, which automatically provides me with the possibility of controlling in accordance with ‘how I think things should be’. The definite view of the world is how I fight against the feeling of uncertainty, and the feeling of being in control is how I fight against the feeling of being vulnerable. My fixed understanding of the world along with my attempt to control what is happening on the basis of this fixed understanding are the two prongs of my defence system.




Once I start down the road of ‘fighting against existential insecurity’ I am committed to the struggle, and this means being to committed to maintaining and defending my system of belief (and my self-image) no matter what. It doesn’t matter if the thing I am defending is actually worth defending or not – that is not the issue. In any case, I cannot ever allow myself to question that because ‘not questioning’ is where I get my sense of existential security from. I can’t question whether what I am defending is worth defending and so I am locked into defending it right to the bitter end…


The tragic aspect of this struggle is twofold –


[1] It is a struggle which I can never ever win.


[2] I can never allow myself to question what I am actually doing (which means that I cannot allow myself to see that my struggle is doomed to failure right from the start).


The combination of these two aspects is what creates the basic human situation of suffering and frustration. Aspect 1 is not something that we can do anything about – ultimately, we can never succeed in the struggle to defend our belief system because it is our attempt to defend it that creates the very problem that it is trying to defend against. We can succeed temporarily, but only at the price of an inevitable future setback. Winning creates losing – losing is the other side of the coin to winning, and once we set the coin spinning we get caught into the endless cycle of ‘up and down’.




We have said that the system of belief is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist until we start attempting to solve it. We can also look at this in terms of ‘identification’ (or ‘attachment’) – when I get caught up in a system of belief (i.e. a fixed or unquestionable way of looking at things) then I automatically identify with what that system of belief says I am. I identify with the conditioned self, in other words. From this point on it is inevitable that I will be 100% committed to promoting and defending this sense of ‘me’ – I will be fighting the corner of the conditioned self.


This really means that I am fighting on behalf of the belief system, since it is the belief system which has creating the conditioned self. The belief system is the conditioning which informs (or determines) the conditioned self and when we fight on behalf of this ‘false’ self we are really –without knowing it – fighting on belief of some arbitrary belief system which we have accidentally acquired along the way.




There is no limit to the sort of things we are prepared to do on behalf of our beliefs. We will hurt others, hurt ourselves, commit murders, torture people, start wars, all for the sake of some meaningless belief. As psychotherapist Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, what we are really doing all this for is so that we don’t have to extend ourselves, and by this he means question our beliefs.



Rather than question what we fundamentally believe in we would do the most terrible things – although we will of course rationalize what we are doing, so it seems justified to us. It goes without saying that we are all very good at justifying ourselves! If I am a religious ‘fundamentalist’, then I might be prepared to kill others or sacrifice myself for the sake of my belief, but really I am only doing what I am doing for the sake of not questioning my belief. I am driven by the need not to question my beliefs and this is fear, but I have turned it all around in my head so I get to feel like a hero. Basically, as Scott Peck says, this comes down to the motivation of laziness. My true motivation might be laziness, but I will not of course admit this to myself because facing up to my own laziness involves a tremendous amount of work, and work is the one thing I do not want to do. For this reason, I ‘dress up’ my actions so that they appear presentable, respectable, altruistic, honourable, and so on. Basically, I behave appallingly, but ascribe to myself the pure and selfless motivation of a saint or hero, and this is the wretched state of affairs which is sometimes known as ‘psychological unconsciousness’.



The idea that most of what we do, most of what we feel strongly about, is only (really) as important as it is to us because we cannot bear to challenge ourselves – because we are too afraid of change – is very hard to take seriously. If we did take it seriously then we would have to change and this is reason enough for us to consistently refuse to see our own true motivation. Becoming conscious (or becoming aware) is painful, and it is because of our automatic refusal to feel pain that we stay in the unhappy and ignominious state of unconsciousness.




We said right back at the beginning of this discussion that the one hope that we never give up on is the hope that one day things will work out the way we want to. Of course, often enough we slide into despair – we despair that things will ever work out for us. But despair still contains as a key ingredient the stubborn belief that things ought to work out for us, that life ought to follow our plans for it. If this stubborn belief were to finally evaporate, then there would be no more despair because despair is all about ‘me’ and ‘my plans’. ‘Me’ and ‘my plans’ are the very same thing (as we have already said) and it is the stubborn yet futile obsession that creates so much trouble for us.



It has been said that our situation is like a man who is forever rowing a boat, forever trying to reach a place where he doesn’t have to row any more. Such a place doesn’t exist, but the man keeps hoping, and keeps deluding himself that he will soon find that place where no more effort, no more work, is needed. Because of the futile nature of his struggle, the man is subject to an endlessly alternating repetition of hope followed by despair, hope followed by despair, hope followed by despair…



Another way of putting this is to say that we keep on striving time after time to find a place where there is no more insecurity, not realizing that such a place does not exist, and never could exist. The reason this place could not ever exist is simple – what we mean by ‘security’ is a place where the construct which is our ‘system of belief’ can rest contentedly in itself without having to fight to prove itself, defend itself, and validate itself. This for us is the ‘ultimate goal’ – it represents for us the ‘ultimate solution’ to all of our problems. The desire to reach this place is therefore the desire that we all have to ‘bring all of our troubles to an end’.



We are yearning for closure, yearning for an end to the discomfort, yearning for a final resting place, and we will do anything in the service of this goal. We are always finding ourselves in the situation where it appears that only one last, tremendous effort is needed to bring this about, and so we give it everything we’ve got, only to find ourselves right back at square one again. “This time it’ll be different,” I think, but it never is.



But what’s wrong with wanting all our troubles to be over? This seems reasonable enough, surely? The crux of the problem is that we want peace and happiness, but we want it on the terms of our belief system! We want our belief system to be intact and unchallenged, and for us to be at peace at the same time. The reason this can’t happen is of course because the system of belief is always at odds with reality – it isn’t actually true after all, and so can I find final happiness if I insist on hanging on to all my contradictory and divisive prejudices?



Basically, the goal of getting everything to work out the way I think it should is an impossible goal because ‘the way I think things should be’ is a foolish illusion. And even if things could be the way we want them to be all that we would happen is that we would find ourselves delivered into a nightmare. Every time our wishes come true it is a disaster because we aren’t wise enough to make good wishes – we leave out the most important thing, we miscalculate, we have an erroneous picture of life, we don’t think things out properly in our greedy hurry to make the wish. The wisest wish would be for things to work out the way they are supposed to work out, not the way I want them to work out, on the basis of my absurd and foolish preconceptions. When we think about the metaphor of the man rowing the boat, who always thinks that he is in with a chance of never having to row again, and who is always hankering after this goal, we tend to think “Yes, but how is your man any better off when he realizes that he just has to keep rowing forever? How does that help?”



Well, on the one hand it is obvious that at least he is spared the anxiety and stress of worrying about whether he will be able to ‘win’ in the game that he is playing. All anxiety has to do with the need to win (which is the same thing as the need not to lose), and so anxiety is no longer a feature. In addition, our man’s situation is such that he always has to be in denial of the truth – he has to insist on believing that his goals are meaningful, that his game-plan is meaningful. What this means is that he has to repress all the feelings of meaningless and futility that he is getting (that he is bound to get) and repressed feelings of meaningless and futility inevitably turn into depression. Thus, believing that the game is real creates anxiety and depression. We’re ‘investing in the unreal’ and the unreal isn’t a good investment!



“Even so,” (we might think) “isn’t it awful hard to have to keep on rowing the whole time?” But here too our assumption turns out to be wrong. Rowing seems like an unbearable chore to me when my heart is set on finding a way out, finding a way not to row. When this is the case (which it usually is) then my heart is not in the job, so I am ‘working but wishing I was not working’. I am working, but at the same time always scheming for a way out of working. I am ‘working’ in order that I might find a way not to work, and this is not work at all. All I am doing is waiting, like a man in the waiting room in the GP’s surgery is waiting. Somehow I have the idea that “this isn’t life, this is just a painful and thoroughly undesirable interlude that I have to put up with until the good bit that I’ve been looking forward to comes along later”. But actually I am 100% wrong, because it is life and if I just try to ‘wait it out’ then I am turning my back on life. I am hiding in a hole. And if I think that I will suddenly be able to come into life when the easy bit comes along, then I am sadly mistaken because I’ll still be in my miserable hole. I’ll still be stuck in my narrow beliefs about the world, in other words, and so I will still be incapable of being truly happy.



The advantage of rowing (which is to say, ‘being in a difficult place’) is that by looking at our beliefs in this way we become free from those beliefs. In order to look at our beliefs we have to become bigger than they are and this is what frees us from them. When we want to avoid difficulty that really means that we want to avoid giving up our beliefs – the over-all belief being “I should never be challenged” or “I should never have a hard time”. But how is this helping us? This rejection of difficulty puts us in the position of the man rowing the boat, hoping to reach the place where he doesn’t have to row anymore. The tragedy is that he never learns the ‘secret’, which is that when we give ourselves wholly to the rowing we discover that the rowing isn’t actually a problem.  The rowing’ is life, and life isn’t a problem. It’s only a problem when we decide that it is and refuse to use it as an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to learn that we are actually bigger than our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world….

The Art of Losing


We are all very familiar with the ‘self-empowerment’ model in popular psychology which basically puts across the idea that ‘you can do anything you want once you put your mind to it’. Success and positive living are the key words here and we are encouraged to believe that we have every right to want to be successful in life, and that there is actually nothing to stop us if we drop all of the negative stuff inside us that is holding us back. Interestingly enough, advertising slogans often use the same sort message, urging us to ‘be whatever we want to be’. The reason advertising likes this self-empowerment model is of course because doing whatever we want to do (or being whatever we want to be) is giving us – in theory anyway – both the freedom to fulfil our needs, and the unquestionable right to want to fulfil our needs. This makes us exactly what the advertising men and women want us to be – slaves to whatever whim or desire comes drifting into our head.



Our so-called ‘needs’ are actually conditioned needs, which is to say, we are given needs which before we didn’t have, and then all our attention goes on satisfying these needs, rather than on questioning if we really need the needs. A person with very few needs is no good to the advertising industry, and so naturally they are going to do their best to sell the idea that personal fulfilment comes out of having a rake of needs, and then being able to satisfy them all. If I am ruled by my desires for this, that and the other, then this makes me an ideal member of the consumer society. A desire for some product or service comes into my head, and because of my belief in the self-empowerment model, I take it as my divine right to have that product or service. Wishes exist to be translated into reality, or so it seems to me…




This is all a sneaky trick of course, because although I think that I am the winner (since I have successfully obtained whatever useless piece of inconsequential rubbish the advertising industry has convinced me that I wanted to obtain) actually they are the winner, because they have got me to do what they wanted me to do. I feel great because I got whatever it was I needed, but actually since the need in question was programmed into me, as part of a clever strategy of manipulation, any good feeling that I might have as a result of being ‘successful’ is only evidence of my own utter foolishness. The problem is that ‘success’ is such a powerful kind of a word – as soon as I hear it I find myself thinking “Yes – I want to be successful…” and so I am hooked. Because the right button has been pushed (the button of self-interest), I rush right in without reflecting on what I am doing.



What we are talking about is of course pretty obvious with regard to marketing but what is the relevance to self-empowerment models in popular psychology, models which encourage us to say “I can do…” and “I can be…” ? Our natural inclination is to think that self-empowerment is a legitimate product, to think that it is something that we quite rightly ought to be interested in. However, just as there is a sneaky trick going on when advertising campaigns urge us to stop short-changing ourselves and “be exactly what we want to be” so too is there a trick being perpetrated in ‘can do’ self-empowerment models.



We can try to explain the trick in the following way. Advertising campaigns work by validating certain needs which I have within me and which are clamouring to be satisfied. Rather than question these needs, I am encouraged to go all-out in satisfying them. Similarly, popular self-help type psychology inevitably works by validating certain basic needs that I have. The reason that I am turning to self-help popular psychology in the first place is probably because I find myself dissatisfied, confused and frustrated in what I have set out to ‘do’ in life, or undermined and discouraged in what I am trying to ‘be’. Life seems to consist of an endless series of knock-backs, an endless repetition of blows to my confidence and self-esteem – I find myself thwarted somehow in terms of how I thought life ought to turn out. And then I hear someone telling me that if I do things their way it will all come right for me, and I will be able to actualize all those ideas and goals that I have never been able to actualize up to now. The message is “No longer need you be frustrated…” Instead of being one of life’s losers, destined for mediocrity or worse, you can aim high and actually achieve what you have aimed for.



This is of course just what we have wanted to hear all along and so naturally we go for the bait, but in our hurry to benefit ourselves we don’t do ourselves any favours at all. My most deeply ingrained instinct is the instinct that I have to struggle to benefit myself – this ‘self-saving instinct’ is a reaction that is so basic to me that it happens all by itself, it actually happens whether I want it to or not, but because I immediately get sucked into the urge, and identify with the logic of it, in practice I never find out that I have no choice in the matter. Sometimes the reaction to try to save ourselves is very strong and this is what we call a ‘panic reaction’, and at other times it is more reasoned and methodical and we call this self-development or self-help or something of that nature. Panic is well known for being a totally dysfunctional response (which is to say, we know very well that it is a reaction that does nothing but harm), but with regard to the more methodical type of panicking that we call self-help we somehow imagine that this is not dysfunctional but that it is actually exactly what we should be doing under the circumstances. This is not to say that we shouldn’t ever help ourselves – if my car needs petrol I have to fill the tank and if I am hungry I need to eat. What we are talking about here is something quite different, i.e. the systematic attempt to orchestrate or organize my life so that I benefit as a result. Taking charge of my own ‘self-development’ in this way sounds like a good idea, but in reality it is a disaster. If I go all out in a systematic and methodical attempt to ‘sort myself out’ according to my ideas about what my problems are and how I would like them to be resolved I might naively assume that this response is going to help me, but actually all that is going to happen is that I am going to get hopelessly bogged down and go around in circles. Basically, by fixating narrowly on my ideas of what is best, I am going to thwart my own growth.




Methodically and logically trying to free ourselves from whatever problems and difficulties we feel are holding us back comes down to the ‘actualization of goals’ and this, as we have said, is the hallmark of popular self-help psychology. It’s all about forging triumphantly onwards! It doesn’t matter whether we call this sort of thing ‘problem solving’ or ‘self-empowerment’ – it all comes down to exactly the same thing and that is ‘the unreflective re-iteration of our core assumptions’. ‘Forging triumphantly onwards’ means not questioning ourselves in any deep way… Unreflectively iterating and reiterating our core assumptions suits us down to the ground because, as a rule, we would rather do anything than question the basis of what we’re doing in life. In fact far from questioning our assumptions, we don’t even want to know that they are capable of being questioned!



Actually even this isn’t putting it strongly enough because our core assumptions are so very much taken for granted that we don’t even know that they are there, let alone that they could be questioned. Once this is understood, then it can easily be seen that ‘wanting to win’ – which sounds so innocent – isn’t so innocent after all because what it really means is ‘wanting to win within the particular framework which I have decided is important to me’. In other words, when I say “I want to succeed” this statement masks the fact that I want to succeed on my own terms and so what I am really saying (without admitting it to myself) is that I want the world to be the way I want it to be, i.e. I am covertly insisting on reality matching my assumptions about it.  I don’t want to be disturbed in my safe and secure view of things – I want to ‘stay asleep’ in other words. I’ve got the ‘Do not disturb’ sign hung around my neck…



This is actually our Number One problem when it comes down to it – everyone wants to be happy but as it turns out a lot of the time we are not that happy at all, and even when we think that we are happy we probably aren’t, we are probably just kidding ourselves. It is inevitably the case that being a person means feeling frustrated and thwarted in all sorts of ways and we generally cope either by distracting ourselves from the fact that we aren’t happy and kidding ourselves that we are or by hoping that things will get better, or, if all else fails, by complaining about the fact that they aren’t getting better. But the reason happiness is so hard to come by is because we insist on having happiness on our own terms and ‘our own terms’ always precludes the possibility of genuine happiness. It is of course very hard for us to see this, mainly because on a very deep level we simply do not want to see it. Basically, the bottom line is that our allegiance is to ‘not questioning our key assumptions’ and if not questioning our key assumptions means that we are going to go through hell then we will go through hell. We won’t like it, and we will complain about it and despair about it, but that still won’t be enough to cause us to drop whatever it is that we are refusing to drop. To put this another way, my refusal to questions my key assumptions means that I will look anywhere and everywhere else for the answer to my problems, other than in this one place. I will tackle any other job that I can possibly think of, rather than the one job that really matters. This is sometimes called ‘pseudo-solution’.




So what the hell are these key assumptions that supposedly lie at the root of all my problems? One way of approaching the matter is to talk in terms of ‘the system of thought’, as Professor David Bohm does. The system of thought is basically our way of looking at and understanding the world and the idea is that this way of understanding the world provides us with a particular type of security that we have a tremendous unconscious need for. This is type of security is sometimes called ‘ontological security’, which means ‘security of being’. On a very deep level, we believe that we cannot ever afford to sacrifice this security-providing way of understanding the world, and in fact we are so attached to the viewpoint that we don’t actually see it as a viewpoint at all. Instead of seeing the system of thought as a particular way of seeing the world (which is to say, a set of assumptions that we have chosen to adopt) we take it totally for granted as ‘the only possible way’ and as a result of this the assumptions that we have made become totally invisible to us. It is therefore the fact that we don’t see our taken-for-granted viewpoint as ‘a viewpoint that provides us with the ontological security which we are so addicted to’.




This still doesn’t answer the question as to what the key assumptions are that we are talking about. But the point is that wanting to know what these assumptions are is a red-herring because whatever I am told I will inevitably understand on the basis of the system of thought, and so really I will be learning nothing at all. It is the system of thought which wants to know and the system of thought can never ever see its own assumptions, not matter how it tries. If the truth be known, it doesn’t really want to know at all, all it wants to do is to keep on distracting itself with ceaseless bogus mental activity, endless red-herrings, in other words. It is committed to looking in the wrong place.



‘Wanting to know the answer to some question that seems to be of crucial importance’ is exactly the same as ‘wanting to win’ – in the first case I fixate my attention entirely on the search for the answer to this question whilst totally assuming the context within which the answer is to come, and in the second case I fixate all my attention on the attempt to succeed or win, whilst totally assuming the terms which I think constitute ‘success’. Basically, everything we do comes down to ‘trying to win’, and for this reason everything we do acts against us. Everything we do acts against us because the more we try to win, the more unconscious we become, i.e. –

The more we throw ourselves into trying to win the less insight we have into what it is that we are really trying to do…


On one level this sounds like an utterly crazy assertion, but on another level it makes perfect sense; after all, that is exactly why we all like to throw ourselves into routine tasks sometimes – because when we focus narrowly on whatever it is that we are trying to do we there is a type of comfort in it that comes from ‘not having to think too deeply’. Focussing on goals is a comfort because it is essentially ‘non-challenging’ and for this reason when we feel bad our goals (and the activity that is geared to achieving them) become intensely, magnetically attractive to us. In a nutshell –

We are so in love with the superficial idea of ‘winning’ that we don’t really care what it actually is that we are winning at – we don’t want to ask questions like that because that would spoil the whole game!




Our coping strategy when we feel bad is to retreat into an oversimplified, black-and-white sort of a world, a superficial world that serves as a surrogate for the reality we do not want to face. To put this another way, our unacknowledged insecurity (i.e. our hidden fear) causes us to completely preoccupy ourselves with routines and goals that actually have nothing to do with life at all. This black and white world is attractive to us because it seems to offer us the possibility of a neat solution to our problems, but in reality the oversimplified so-called ‘problem solving responses’ that we preoccupy ourselves with don’t solve anything – they merely provide us with the temporary comfort of thinking that we have solved something, which is to say, they provide us with a ‘pseudo-solution’ to the inherent difficulty of life.



Not only is pseudosolution useless (useless because it doesn’t solve anything) it actually creates no end of fresh problems or difficulties that need to be solved. In fact it is not the apparent problems that seem to be afflicting us that are the real problem – the real problem is the way in which we substitute a crudely oversimplified black and white version of reality for the real thing and then start reacting mechanically on that false basis. Curiously, although the oversimplified approach to life has the psychological function of helping us to avoid pain, the remedy actually causes us misery. This is like a person who drinks or gambles to help forget the misery caused by his drinking or gambling habit; in fact when we think about it a bit more it becomes clear that this sort of vicious circle isn’t such an uncommon thing after all – it is a cycle we are all locked into one way or another.




Since the underlying cause of the trouble is the invisible ‘system of thought’ that lies behind how we see the world, how we think about it, and how we react, our conditioned perceptions, thoughts and actions cannot help us to be free from that cause. For example, if there is a vicious psychopathic bully terrorizing the neighbourhood, and I find an even more viciously psychopathic individual to get rid of the first one, I am no better off at all because I have only replaced one bully with another! The key to weakening and undermining the system of thought so that it no longer controls and bullies us is losing. When I feel the urge to win, that is the invisible framework of thinking within me that wants to win, it wants to be indispensable for ever and ever, that’s all it cares about, after all. Therefore, if I let myself be beaten by whatever adverse situation is threatening me, if I surrender to it, then it is the system of thought which has been controlling my life which has been beaten, not my true self.



This is not really such a strange idea either, although it might seem so at first. Suppose I am a heroin addict and after hours and hours of waiting I fail to score the drug that I am craving. The feeling that I experience when I go home empty handed is one of bitter disappointment but actually this ‘failure’ is a good thing because the habit that has been controlling my life has been weakened as a direct result of it. I haven’t been adversely affected by my failure to score some heroin, my habit has! This is in fact a very good way of demonstrating that the apparently positive word ‘success’ can translate into bad news in a big way – a successful heroin addict isn’t really such a great thing to be, any more than it is a great thing to be a successful anorexic, or a successful self-harmer, or a successful self-deluder. ‘Success’ is actually a very dumb word indeed because the surface-level glamour of it totally distracts from what it actually means…. When it comes right down to it, what the hell are we actually being ‘successful’ about? Do we even care?




Just to recapitulate what we have been saying – when we focus on being successful at whatever goals we want to be successful at, the irresistible motivation that spurs us onwards (and which makes us feel so bad when we are thwarted or denied) is actually not about the goals themselves, even though we think it is, but more about the idea of winning, or rather the feeling of winning (or being a winner). I am so keen to feel like a winner that what I actually do is to look at life in a very over-simplified (or superficial) way, so as to over-value the importance of certain virtually meaningless accomplishments. Society as a whole is a perfect example of this – the social system is created – we might say – when we all agree to be ‘small-minded’ in the same sort of way, so that we all value the same sort of petty, inconsequential things.



We all strive mightily to do well (succeed) within the terms of the social game, so that we can as a result get to feel good about this and we don’t ever question this small-minded game because if we did we would not be able to get a good feeling from winning at it! This ‘inability to question the game’ backfires on me however because if don’t do well then I get to feel bad instead – if somebody looks down on me for being ‘a loser’ this feels absolutely terrible (it feels like the worst thing in the world) despite the fact that the concept of being a loser is quite meaningless outside of the absurdly trivial social game that we all take for granted.



We take the social system (i.e. the social game) as seriously as we do because it is our way of obtaining a ‘pseudo-solution’ for life, in which there are no nice and easy clear categories of winning or losing. After all, if I am wealthy and powerful but at the same time repellently selfish and callously exploitative in my attitude to the world then how can I possibly be said to be ‘a winner’? What is so great about this so-called ‘attainment’? But on the other hand if I am good-hearted and well-loved by all around me I still can’t be said to be ‘a winner’ because this strongly implies that I have managed to obtain some coveted prize or status as a result of being unselfish or good-hearted, which is missing the point completely. The point is that life isn’t about ‘winning’, any more than it is about ‘losing’. It is very bizarre indeed that we think it is.




The social game which we spend most of our lives playing is only one manifestation of the closed (i.e. fundamentally limited) system of thinking that we use to understand things, and to direct or organize our interactions with the universe at large. Just as in the social game we strive to ‘win just for the sake of winning’ (which is just like overtaking every car you meet on the road just for the sake of the superficial good-feeling that you get when you overtake another driver) in the game that we play with life as a whole we very often strive to ‘be in control just for the sake of being in control’. When this tendency – which we all have – becomes exaggerated and easy to spot, it is called ‘neuroticism’ and recognized as the source of much unnecessary mental distress. Being in control (or trying to be in control) is our comfort zone, which means that I am not controlling for the reason I say I am, but rather I am controlling simply to provide myself with the shallow, false sense of security that I get from feeling that I am in control (or feeling that I at least stand a chance of being in control).



In general, having goals and trying to actualize those goals is healthy (or ‘genuinely useful’) just so long as we do not chase goals ‘just for the sake of chasing goals’. We might thing that ‘wanting to win just for the sake of winning’ and ‘wanting to have goals just for the sake of having them’ is an unusual state of affairs, but because we all tend to be unconsciously identified with the pattern of perceiving and understanding the world which is what Professor David Bohm calls ‘the system of thought’ the real reason for almost all of our activity -even though we do not know it – is to keep on validating (and therefore keep on repeating) that pattern.



The basic pattern behind everything we see, think, and do (which is also sometimes called ‘the rational mind’) has this incredibly strong tendency to it and that tendency is to take over completely. Any other ways of seeing the world are sneakily excluded and the established pattern just keeps repeating itself over and over again, for no reason other than the security of doing so. It repeats itself just for the sake of repeating itself, which is of course what ‘habits’ always do. Anything we do to improve or otherwise help ourselves – just so long as we do it on the basis of the way which we already have of understanding the world – only serves to keep keeps perpetuating and propping up that pattern, even though endlessly (and senselessly) repeating the same old pattern is the very antithesis of mental health. Our goals, which we are so very keen to attain, are nothing else at root than this endlessly repeating pattern and it is for this reason mental health can never be obtained by striving for what we see as ‘success’. Success simply means success for the pattern, for the old way of understanding things, and it is the fact that we are terminally addicted to this old way of understanding things that is causing us all our problems in the first place.



To be free from that pattern, and move beyond it, we do not need to win but to lose, and this is of course unpalatable to us in the extreme. All the same, the rational mind is very clever as well as being very stubborn, and so it is quite capable of trying to twist the idea of losing to its own advantage. If I start to believe that that losing is actually a good idea (whereas as before I would have had the more conventional idea that winning is the thing to aim for) then clearly I am going to try to lose rather than to win. But this of course doesn’t change anything at all because any goal that I attain – even if it is the goal of losing – still equals winning when it comes right down to it. If my intention is to lose, then if I do lose then I have obviously been successful at doing what I wanted to do. I have cleverly be managed to successful at losing, and so in this case my losing is really just  sneaky way of winning!



There is no way around this – if my new goal is to lose, and I then set out to achieve this goal, then my interest is purely on winning, just the same as it always is. Nothing has changed at all. The same is true for escaping: sometimes the pattern of my mind will create situations for me that are so hellish that I just want to escape, by drink or drugs or some other self-destructive addiction. I might want to end it all with the act of suicide. But the goal of ‘escape’ (in whatever form this might take) is a goal of the very same mind that I am trying to escape from. In other words, by trying to escape from the underlying pattern of cognition and behaviour I make that pattern stronger since trying to escape from the pattern is an essential part of the pattern.  There is nothing that I can deliberately do, or try to do, that will not exacerbate the original problem, which is my complete inability to look for an answer outside of my narrow and limited way of understanding the world.



Another way of looking at this is to say that the old way of understanding things which we keep trying to assert over and over again, even when it is the cause of so much trouble, is the conditioned self (i.e. the everyday old ‘me’). This sense of ‘me’ is the root of all my problems yet rather than let go of it I keep on trying to change everything else to suit it. The ‘me’ – which is basically the pattern of perception, cognition and behaviour that I have unwittingly identified with – is the most important thing in the world, despite the fact that it isn’t really who I am at all. It is the one thing I just WON’T let go of.


I’ll keep on promoting this delusory idea. I won’t let go of it no matter what, despite the fact that I don’t actually need to hang onto it, despite the fact that it doesn’t really exist, despite the fact that this false idea of who I am  is actually an inexhaustible source of unending confusion, misery and pain.

Far From Equilibrium


An excellent way to study the thinking mind is by seeing it as an equilibrium system – once we understand equilibrium systems then we will understand the rational mind. To start off with we can say that the key thing about an equilibrium system is that every bit of it exists in relation to the base level. Every aspect of it exists in a state of subservience to the ‘boss level’, the level that never changes. Everything is tethered, everything is tied down firmly – there’s nothing loose, nothing that isn’t defined in relation to this base level. A very straightforward illustration of what we’re talking about here is a table with all sorts of bit and pieces sitting on it; the tabletop is the ‘base-level’ because everything comes to rest here, because everything has its position defined in relation to it. The collection of objects sitting on a table is a perfect example of an equilibrium system – everything has settled down to the lowest possible energy level and that ‘lowest possible energy level’ is the surface of the table.


This may not seem at first like a particularly inspiring image to use in relation to a discussion of how the mind works (being as it is rather unexciting, rather lacking in glamour) but the rational mind isn’t really as interesting or as glamorous as we ‘think’ it is. The rational mind is an equilibrium system and equilibrium systems aren’t exactly known for being exciting! Just as the table we talked about is an E-system, so is the everyday thinking mind. Everything we know – all of our thoughts and concepts and models – are tethered firmly to a base-level and that base-level is the framework that the mind uses to understanding everything by. Or we could also say that the base-level is the set of categories (the set of evaluative criteria) that the mind uses to classify, and thus to describe, the world. Everything comes to rest on the floor of our evaluative criteria – when we ‘know’ something then that is simply because we have slotted it into a category! It is (of course) as mechanical a business as this…


When we know something that whatever it is that we got to know as stopped existing at some unspecified location in the air, and has come rest on the basement level, on the cluttered tabletop of the everyday mind. Whatever datum it is has now come to the end of its journey; there’s nowhere else for it to go – it’s sitting right at the bottom of an ‘energy well’ and that is that. That’s the end of the matter. There is therefore something very ‘dead’ about an equilibrium system – it’s not going anywhere, it’s not ever going anywhere. The whole point is that it doesn’t go anywhere! From the POV of the E-system the datum has arrived at its proper destination and that is very satisfactory to it; from outside of the context of the E-system however we can see that the datum hasn’t really arrived anywhere.  It’s only somewhere because we have said that it is – it’s purely arbitrary when we say that it has ‘got somewhere’, when we say that it has reached its allotted destination.


We might object here that even if the datum in question has come to rest at an arbitrary destination, it is still surely ‘somewhere’. Why do we say that it isn’t anywhere? But the point here is that the terminus station which the bus has pulled into stops being an actual place just as soon as we say that it is a terminus station, since there aren’t actually any ‘termini’ in reality! As soon as we see ‘where we are’ as being the end of the journey this makes where we are (or rather where we understand ourselves to be) everything gets abruptly (if imperceptibly) transposed into a realm of unreality. If reality is a continuous becoming, then anything that isn’t part of that becoming isn’t actually real! If there is something that isn’t becoming then that supposed ‘thing’ has been transposed into a realm of abstraction; it’s now unreal – it’s been turned into a formal statement and formal statements are only real in relation to the framework of reference that we have taken for granted. It is ‘relatively real’ therefore – it’s real only in relation to something which itself isn’t real!


Because every part of the E-system is constructed in relation to the baseline (which is thing we assume to be real which isn’t) we can say that everything in that E-system is the baseline. If everything is defined via the baseline then everything is the baseline. This is like saying that everything which happens in the game is the game. From the perspective of the game, all the nominally different states or possibilities that exist within it (all its categories) are indeed different, but from the outside of the game we can see that all these supposedly different states or possibilities are simply ‘the game’. The same is therefore true for the E-system which is thought – no matter what we think it’s still only thought. No matter how new or exciting a thought might seem, it’s still only that same old E-system! This is of course a very peculiar thing to reflect upon – the whole point of thinking is that the different things we think really are different (just as the whole point of a game is that the different outcomes we obtain within it really are different). If all of our thoughts are actually just the same old equilibrium system ‘in disguise’ then this makes a farce of the whole enterprise of thought.


Another way to come at the idea of the irredeemable ‘deadness’ of the equilibrium system (which is an idea which is intuitively of not rationally obvious) is to look at it in terms of information content. It is very easy to show that all thoughts must have zero information content – all of the products of the system of thought have to have zero information content since they are all produced via the mechanism of self-referentiality. After all, any thought or concept only makes the sense that it does make to us because it corresponds to one or more of our pre-existent mental categories. If we didn’t have the category for it then we couldn’t have the thought! This is as obvious as saying that we couldn’t have a picture on a TV screen if we didn’t have the pixels there to represent it – the pixels are what make up the picture so of course we can’t have a picture without any pixels. When we see a picture on TV we are seeing the pixels without noticing that we are seeing the pixels and in the same way when we become aware of a thought then we are seeing our own mental categories without realizing that we are seeing our own mental categories. What we are being aware of is our own ‘instrumentation’ but we don’t of course focus on this fact. In essence, therefore, we are only seeing what we ourselves put there (we only perceive as being real what we ourselves agree to be real) and this is why our thoughts have zero information content.


This is not to say that the thinking mind is ridiculously defunct however! The physical universe itself consists (to a considerable degree) of equilibrium systems so we need the thinking mind to act as mediator or guide. Inasmuch as the equilibrium system of the rational mind corresponds accurately to the equilibrium systems that exist in the physical universe then it is pretty much indispensable to us! All sorts of E-systems exist in the natural world (the atomic structure is itself an E-system) and this is where the machine of the rational mind comes into its own. Classical Newtonian mechanics is a perfect example of this – movement (or change) in the world around us is both explained and predicted by the logical mind (just so long as that movement/change isn’t chaotic, that is). If the universe were nothing other part from an equilibrium system (as most of the early physicists imagines it was) then the thinking mind would indeed be ‘the measure of all things’. But as we now know E-systems are only the most obvious (and least interesting) part of the story. The universe isn’t an equilibrium system at all – it’s a non-equilibrium system!


The deeper non-equilibrium aspect of the universe is where it’s all at, really. This is the hub that we don’t tend to see – this is where all qualitative change comes from. This is where all the interesting stuff happens, all the unpredictable stuff, the stuff that doesn’t get accounted for by our linear equations. We could actually go so far as to say that the ‘predictable’ stuff that happens doesn’t actually happen at all. Events that have been predicted aren’t really events. If something happens the way we always knew it was going to then how can we say that ‘something has happened’? Only if something hasn’t been prefigured can we say that it has truly happened – only then does it constitute actual ‘information’. This is why we can say that E-systems aren’t interesting – because nothing new ever happens in them! If something did happen in an E-system then it wouldn’t be an E-system at all, it would be a Non-E system…


We could say that the mechanical (or rule-based) aspects of the natural world are embedded in the Non-E world, or that they exist as defined ‘subsets’ of the Non-E world. As James Carse says, finite games can exist within the Infinite Game, but this can’t happen the other way around. The regular can never give rise to the random; the generic can never give rise to the unique. From a psychological perspective this principle is extraordinarily significant. If we can only see with the eyes of the machine which is the rational-conceptual mind, then we will never see beyond what this machine is capable of showing us. The machine’s limitations will then be our limitations. We will never ever see beyond the Equilibrium World that the rational-conceptual  mind shows us – as far as we will be concerned therefore the universe we live in will be a Non-E universe, a closed universe, a universe without the possibility of anything radically new ever happening in it. We will be E-creatures inhabiting an E-world, finite game-players existing within a finite game. Our reality will be circumscribed; our reality will be defined by the crude cogs of the thinking machine. Our reality will have limits, and so it won’t be reality at all!


But if we can remember how to see with ‘the eyes of the spirit’ rather than with the eyes of the rational-conceptual mind then we will see beyond the limits that have been set for us. We will see beyond the digitalized ‘self-image’; we will see beyond the digital hologram which is the material universe. When we start seeing with our own eyes rather than with the mechanical eyes that have been given to us by the rational mind (and by society, which is an offshoot of this mind) then we will see that we live in a universe that doesn’t exist within an sort of framework at all, a universe which doesn’t come in categories, a universe which doesn’t have to be compared to an imaginary template in order for it to make sense. We will see a very strange thing – we will see that we live in a universe which exists far from equilibrium…






Recovering Lost Wholeness


By being unreflectively purposeful all the time we lose the ‘essence’ of who we are – which is to say, we identify more and more with the quantitative thinking mind and as a result lose touch with the qualitative nature of our true nature. The more of our lives we spend in purposeful mode the more essence we lose until we have identified completely with what Colin Wilson calls ‘the robot’ and ‘who we really are has become a total stranger. And it is not just that who we really are has become a stranger, it has become an unwelcome stranger, a rejected stranger…


Purposefulness is a dangerous dish to nibble on, therefore! It is a dish with a drug in it that can send us to sleep very quickly, a drug of forgetfulness. It tastes very good – addictively good in fact – but the price we pay for it is our ‘inner freedom’ and our inner freedom (to not be who or what our thinking says we are) is who we really are. The more we nibble away on the dish of purposefulness the less essence we have, the less inner freedom we have, the less Wholeness we have. Very quickly we’ve been compromised; before we know it (literally) we have none left at all…


When we’ve lost our inner freedom (our inner connectedness with who we really are) in this way then the only thing that’s left for us to do is to keep on snacking on the dish of purposefulness. The only thing that is left for us is to keep on drinking the wine of forgetfulness, so that we keep on forgetting who we really are. We keep on with our ‘unreflective purposeful behaviour’ in the unexamined hope of recovering our lost Wholeness, which is the Totality of who we truly are. This Wholeness is what we are really looking for with our ceaseless purposefulness; we’re caught in a trap therefore – we’re using the ‘purposeful mode’ to help us find what that same purposeful mode caused us to lose (or ‘forget’) in the first place!


We are of course going to deny this. We’re going to say that our purposes are legit – we’re going to say that our goals, our purposes are valuable and worthwhile in themselves, not because of what they ‘unconsciously represent’ to us. We’re going to say that there’s no game going on! We’re going to say that the reason we’re so busy all the time is because we’re doing important stuff, stuff that needs to be done. The truth is of course that what we’re really trying to do is to recover our lost Wholeness – that’s what we trying to do but we don’t know it. We’re trying to get back what we lost but don’t know we have lost! We’re scratching an itch we don’t acknowledge ourselves as having – the itch to be Whole when we’re not! In some kind of an unexamined way we imagine that our Wholeness can be found in our purposes, in our goals and this is why – in the Western world at least – we’re so frenetically busy all the time. If we’re not busy working we’re busy entertaining ourselves and we’re doing the same thing with our entertainment that we’re doing with our more serious, goal-orientated activity.


When we go into a city we see great activity all around us. There’s an awful lot of busy-ness going on. The world will tell us that this busy-ness in all about ‘the economy’, or ‘commerce’ or ‘industry’, or ‘progress’, and so on, but really it’s about us trying (in a perfectly futile way) to get our lost Wholeness back. If I get myself a new pair of top-of-the range Nike trainers I think this is me just trying to make sure I have the right gear, but really it’s me trying to get my Wholeness back. If I check into a nail bar to get my nails done I might think I’m treating myself, or making sure that I look the best I can, but again it’s my lost Wholeness that I’m after. I’m always after my lost Wholeness! If I get lots of ‘likes’ for the post I put up on Facebook the pleasant feeling of validation I get is really all about me trying to be Whole again. If people respect or approve of me because of the position I hold in society it’s the same thing. If I’m made keen for gambling it’s because I hope to get my inner freedom back when the dice fall right for me. If the team I support wins the match and I am ‘over the moon’ this represents to me – in an inaccessibly symbolic way – the recovery of my Wholeness. If I get a promotion in my job before my co-worker or manage to buy a better car than my neighbour can afford it’s the same thing...


In general (and even though it might on the face of it sound totally preposterous) whenever we achieve one of our ‘purposes’ we get a little jolt of satisfaction, a little jolt of pleasure and the reason for this is that we have unconsciously allowed ourselves to feel that in this way we have recovered a little bit of what we have lost (even though we do not consciously know that we have lost anything). This is of course also the reason we feel so aggrieved or annoyed when we have been thwarted in successfully carrying out our purposeful behaviour. This is the reason we get in bad form when things don’t work out for us in the way that we would have liked for them to – because (unconsciously) we feel that we have thereby been denied what is rightfully ours, i.e. our Wholenesss. We experience euphoria when we allow ourselves to unconsciously feel that we have regained a little bit of what we have lost but cannot admit to having lost, and we experience negative-euphoria (or dysphoria) when we are denied the possibility of conveniently fooling ourselves in this way!


If there wasn’t this unconscious agenda for me engaging in whatever purposeful activity it is that I am engaged in then there wouldn’t be the satisfaction on the one hand or the dissatisfaction on the other when my plans are either met or thwarted. There wouldn’t be the ‘up’ or ‘down’ in my mood that comes with getting my own way or not getting it. We’re so used to experiencing satisfaction / dissatisfaction with regard to whether things work out for us or not that saying what we have just said sounds rather strange to us. It sounds strange at first (perhaps) but when we reflect on the matter we can of course see the sense in it. If I am in genuinely good form (i.e. if I am genuinely happy in myself) then no matter how things work out for me in the arena of daily life I am going to have my peace of mind. I am OK in myself no matter whether I ‘do well’ or ‘don’t do well’. It’s equal. I’m not invested in outcomes – success or failure in my daily goal-orientated activities does not seem like a ‘life or death’ matter. I don’t get cranky when things fail to go my way, in other words. To give a more extreme example of the same thing – if another motorist slips into ‘my’ parking space before I do I don’t explode into sudden homicidal rage!


When we feel deep-down happiness then we have a ‘lighter touch’ in life. We’re not ‘heavy-handed’; we’re not being viciously competitive in every little thing. We’re not ‘playing to win’ the whole time (even though this attitude is culturally approved of) – winning isn’t actually that important to us (actually it isn’t important at all). People only want to win all the time (and feel the euphoria of winning) when they are miserable inside, when they are driven by unacknowledged inner pain. When we’re genuinely happy then we are no longer ‘heavy game-players’ – no longer are we being so ridiculously serious and humourless about everything. We’ve got nothing to prove, no axe to grind. We know that we’re already ‘rich inside’ and so we don’t have to obsessively chase after external treasures, external prizes. We’re not driven by an inner deficit and so we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to be devious and calculating, we don’t need to be strung out and mean…


We can express all of the above by saying that there are two modalities which we can be in – either we can be serious and driven, or we can be light and playful. Being light and playful doesn’t mean that we aren’t being ‘responsible’ or ‘mature’ or that we’re somehow being flippant about life – it simply means that we haven’t got a hidden agenda in everything we do! It means that we’re being honest with ourselves and others; it means that we have integrity; it means that we are conscious and sensitive rather than being goal-orientated and controlling. It means that we’re not cut off from who we really are. We’re Whole, rather than being ‘fractions who don’t know that they are fractions’ (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces).


There’s a kind of a Catch 22 in this though. If we hadn’t already ‘lost our qualitative essence’ then we wouldn’t be going around being heavily and humourless purposeful the whole time. We won’t be losing our inherent lightness in everything we do. But on the other hand if we already had lost our essential Wholeness (i.e. forgotten our true nature) then we are of course going to be invested in heavy-duty purposefulness, heavy-duty game-playing, heavy-duty rationality, and so we’re going to be in even more of a bad situation than we were to start off with. It’s a slippery slope and we’ve already started slipping! The thing we’re doing to help ourselves is the very thing that is getting us into more and more trouble. The remedy that we’re turning is creating more pain for us rather helping us – the ‘remedy’ is in fact the cause of the pain that we’re trying to escape from…


There is a way out from the Catch 22 however, but it just isn’t the one that we’re looking for. The fundamental cause of our addiction to unreflective purposefulness is our unconsciousness, which is to say our lack of insight into what we are actually doing and why. As long as we allow our attention to be magnetically fixated upon the ‘outer world’ of our goals and purposes (i.e. what we are supposedly hoping to achieve with our purposeful activity) then we are turning our back on what our real motivation is. Our real motivation – as we have been arguing – is to escape from a type of pain that we don’t actually admit to having. But suppose our motivation were different? Suppose that instead of the unconscious motivation to escape from a type of pain that we don’t admit to having we had the conscious motivation to find out what is really happening with us?


In this case, instead of constantly fleeing into the world of external goals we would pay attention to our own interiority (which is to say, the precious inner life that unreflective purposefulness ignores so thoroughly). Purposefulness (or ‘controlling’) has no role to play here, clearly. We’re not trying to do anything with this inner pain that we’re running away from, we’re just being sensitive to it being there. If the truth is that I am feeling pain inside, then I heed that truth. ‘Controlling’ and ‘truth’ aren’t two words that go together, after all! The lack of Wholeness is the injury that we do not admit to, that we dare not admit to. If ever an intimation of this loss comes our way it is tinged with such an intense ‘bitter-sweet flavour’ that we cannot bear it – we instantly move on from it, we habitually disregard it. It is as if we can see how we ourselves have betrayed ourselves and this is of course the one thing we don’t want to see. We therefore engage in unreflective purposeful behaviour and this straightaway causes us to forget! Unreflective purposeful behaviour is our Nepenthe. Keeping ourselves eternally busy (or entertained) is our nepenthe.  It is the lotus fruit / flower we are forever snacking on…


If we didn’t instantly turn away however then it would be a different story – if we didn’t turn away so heedlessly, so disinterestedly, we might realize that ‘seeing that we have forgotten something’ is the same as remembering it! We might realize that (as Kevin Ayers puts it in Eleanor’s Cake Which Ate Her) – ‘maybe what you’ve lost you’ve found’.









Moving Away From the Platform


Humour can only come into play when we move away from the platform of thought. That’s the only time it will ever come into the picture. As long as we are stuck on the platform then there is never going to be any humour. Whatever other stuff there might be going on, there will be no humour…


The same goes for creativity – there’s no way we can be creative and yet sit comfortably on the platform. It’s just not going to happen. Anything we produce whilst sitting comfortably on the platform will be generic, which is to say, anyone could have produced it. Whatever we produce when we’re sitting on the platform will be both generic and humourless, which is of course the usual way of things. When we look around us that’s what we see. We see a world that is both generic and humourless – we see in other words in the world that is produced by the ubiquitous thinking mind.


The designed environment (which is generally all we know) is a dry and humourless kind of a set up and it is not in the least bit conducive to creativity. Creativity actually has no place in the designed environment – following the rules does. Playing the established game does. Being like everyone else does. If we want to do something that is genuinely creative (something that only we could have done) then we are going to have to move away from the platform. This is the only way that it’s going to happen. When we move away from the platform then we’re ‘out there’ – we’re in a place no one else is, in a place no one else has ever been. We’re making our own journey rather than being on a bus with everyone else. The thing about being on the bus with everyone else is that it isn’t really going where we want to go – it’s just going on its allotted route around the platform. The only thing it has going for it is convenience – the route is already established and mapped out and the means of transport is well organized and reliable. All we have to do is hop on and then hop off again. The public transport system has a proven track record and its approved by the authorities and we all know where we are with it. It’s the system, it’s the agreed way of seeing things, doing things…

It’s not just that the platform is ‘convenient’ of course – there’s more to it than just this. The platform of thought has an immense magnetic pull to it that causes us to stick to it like glue. The platform has the crushing power of precedence behind it. According to the platform the platform is the only thing there is, the only show in town. It’s like a fundamentalist religion that denies the existence of any other way, any other viewpoint. Not only does the fundamentalist religion aggressively deny the existence of any other way, it persecutes the hell out of anyone who show the slightest sign of wandering away from ‘the one true path’!


The platform is also like an institution – it’s the only way of doing things that we know and we have been so long doing it that we’re mortally afraid of trying anything else. We’ve lost our curiosity about the possibility of doing things any different way a long, long time ago. Now, the routine is king. Now, anything else equals fear. We’re now defined in every aspect of our being by the institution and so to move away from it is to lose our sense of who or what we are. We lose the safe and secure ‘generic self’ which has been provided for us by the institution and which is the only self we know! When we lost our curiosity about any other way of being, then we lost who we really are. Now there is only the institution, which exists both outside and inside of us.


The thing about the bus that everyone climbs onto is as we have said that it isn’t actually going where we would like to go – we might have the idea that it is, the belief that it is, but that just plain isn’t the case. The reason that it isn’t the case is because the bus isn’t going anywhere! Where can the generic self, the institutionalized self ever go to? The generic can never leave the generic, the institutionalized can never leave the institution. Nothing ever comes out of the generic apart from an endless series of copies of the same thing. The generic can never give rise to the unique no matter how long we wait for it to happen. That is the one thing it can never do and this is why we say that the bus (the public transport system) isn’t actually going anywhere. The only journey that really is a journey is the journey away from the regular, the generic, and for this we have to get off the bus and make our own way…


Getting off the bus means ‘braving existential terror’. We have to brave the terror of leaving the generic self behind. We have to risk the unknown, we have to risk ‘being who we’re not’. Whatever we achieve in life without this quintessential act of bravery taking place will always turn out to be nothing, no matter how much effort we put into it. If we don’t find within ourselves the courage to let go of the generic self (which is all we know) then even if we put an absolutely huge amount of ‘muscle power’ into whatever we’re trying to do the point remains that whatever we produce as a result, anyone else could have equally well produced it. We’re not really in it at all. This means in other words that we didn’t actually have to have been there at all – there was just some kind of mechanical process taking place which we had somehow imagined has something to do with us. We had fallen under the spell of the mechanical process and had imagined that ‘we were doing it’ when actually ‘it was doing us’!


I had imagined that I was an ‘I’, and that I was doing whatever it was I had imagined that I was doing, whereas the reality of the situation was that the mechanical process was doing itself and at the same time as it ‘did itself’ it was also creating a false impression of a ‘me’ who I falsely believed to be in charge of the process! Thought tells us that we are free, in other words, and we believe it. Thought creates the puppet self who supposedly is free and not a puppet creation of thought at all. If this isn’t funny then what is? It is of course only funny if we see it. If we don’t see it – and usually we don’t – then it isn’t funny at all. It’s far from funny – it’s deadly serious and you shouldn’t laugh!


When we don’t see it then we’re stuck in the generic, stuck in the humourless. It’s actually very funny to be stuck in the generic, stuck in the humourless. It’s like meeting someone who is absolutely devoid of any sense of humour, absolutely devoid of any trace of irony about themselves. That’s actually a pretty funny thing. It’s good comedy material – although not for the person themselves because they don’t get it. It’s the fact that they can’t get it (when it’s as obvious as the nose on their face) that makes it such good comedy material. People who take themselves too seriously are funny without meaning to be, funny without being able to see that they are, but it is the fact that they don’t mean it and don’t see it that makes it funny.


When we’re ‘stuck in the generic’ then humour doesn’t come into it. There’s no room for humour here, any more than there is any room for creativity. As we have said, humour can only come into the picture when we step away from the platform and move out into the ‘non-equilibrium realm’ – the realm in which nothing can ever be measured or defined since there are no measuring sticks or templates to measure or define with. There CAN’T be any measuring sticks or templates since that is precisely what we are moving away from when we move out of equilibrium, when we move away from the platform of thought…