The Phantom Striver

Meditation isn’t a way that we can get to be calm or still peaceful or wise or compassionate or anything like that. That’s all crazy talk! That’s entering into a world of projections, that’s entering a world of hallucinations. That’s a fever dream…

 

Meditation isn’t a way to improve or augment or develop ourselves, which is just about the only reason we ever do anything. The urge to improve ourselves or make things better for ourselves is just about all we know. For the most part, it’s the only motivation we know. Meditation isn’t this, though.

 

Meditation is where we drop backwards into a place where we aren’t, and where the things we believe in aren’t either. It’s a place of discontinuity – a place where whatever it was we thought was happening is seen not to be happening. There’s no logic, no cause-and-effect, no before and after, no striving and no results. It is ‘somewhere else’ – a place that hasn’t been created by the thinking mind’s narrative.

 

In this place there isn’t us being calm, us being still, or peaceful, or wise, or compassionate, or anything like that. There isn’t us being anything. There’s no augmentation, or anything being improved. There aren’t any of the things that we think are good – these things are only ‘good’ in relation to our idea of things, our idea of ourselves, and those ideas are all gone now! These things that we used to think were good were only ‘good’ in relation to the mind’s narrative and there’s no narrative any more – the narrative has been broken off…

 

Generally speaking, as we have said, we’re always trying to improve our situation in relation to this all-important narrative. It could also be said that what we’re always trying to do is reach some sort of personalized ‘heaven’ – the optimum situation for ourselves, the solution or resolution of all our problems… The point is therefore that ‘heaven’ is always about me and my assumptions, me and my unexamined expectations of reality. What I see as ‘the ultimate good’ is a delusory projection, in other words – it’s a fever dream…

 

When we drop backwards into the discontinuity (rather than straining forwards towards the idealized state) then what we’re dropping into a state of complete surprise – it’s not a ‘trivial’ surprise, it’s not the surprise of ‘something is going to happen to me but I don’t know what’ because there isn’t the constant of the mental framework into which everything has to be (or the constant of the ‘me’ to which everything has to be related). It’s not that the uncertainty involved is only about ‘what is happening’; it is equally about the framework which we use to make sense of whatever it is that is happening – radical surprise (we might say) is when there’s no way of knowing what is happening and also no way of knowing who it is happening to. But saying this isn’t quite right either because there’s no separation of the two – there is only a separation of ‘what is happening’ and ‘who it is happening to’ when we feed reality through the mental framework of the rational mind, and thus turn everything into a narrative…

 

When we drop backwards into the discontinuity then there is no more polarity, in other words. The mind-created polarity of ‘me’ and ‘the world’ is no longer there; this basic orientation is gone. That polarity was never there anyway really – it was just a strange game that we got caught up in. Nothing at all has been achieved as a result of ‘dropping into the discontinuity’ therefore because ‘achieving’ and ‘not achieving’, ‘gaining’ or ‘losing’ only exists within the game, only exists within the polarity.

 

So the question is, ‘Are we really interested in being radically surprised in this way by a situation that we can never get a handle on, or are we – when we practice meditation – simply looking for ‘an improved position’ in life, so to speak? Are we merely looking for a better way to play the game, or are we happy to let go of the game entirely and see what happens then?’ The glitch that comes in here is that when we are operating on the basis of the polarity which is self/world, the polarity which is the thinking mind, then we’re always going to be looking for a way of improving our situation. That’s the only way we can look at things when we’re looking from the standpoint of the polarity – everything is always good or bad, better or worse, improvement or disimprovement. Everything is always about control, in other words. Or as we could also say, when we’re operating on the basis of the polarity of self/world then we’re always chasing life…

 

When it comes right down to it, we’re always trying to get a hold on life so that it can’t run away from us. We’re trying to pin it down but the thing about this is that when we do this we end up with a situation where life is always running away from us and we are always chasing it! We might – every now and again – that we have it but then at some point or rather we realize that it’s gone and what we have clutched in our tightly-closed hand is nothing at all and so then we have to start searching for it all over again – hunting for it, dreaming up schemes to catch it, investing in control and power, playing games, setting clever traps for it…

 

The most essential way in which we try to ‘catch life’ is by conceptualizing it, by ‘knowing’ what it is, but as soon as we ‘know’ what it is then, as we all know, it stops being interesting. The allure appears somewhere else, it appears in an adjacent pasture, but then when we get to that adjacent pasture and set up camp there the same thing happens all over again – we’ve ‘killed’ what we’re interested in by trying to secure. We’ve cleverly trapped the song-bird and put in a golden cage but now it has stopped singing! Our relationship with the world is aggressive, coercive, demanding and so what this means is that we just don’t have a relationship with it! Instead of a relationship we’re caught up in a self-perpetuating polarity – we keep chasing ‘the thing’ and it keeps on running away from us. The elusiveness of the principle of life is symbolized in alchemy by the motif of the ‘fugitive stag’ and what we’re really seeing here, when we look at the continual ‘fleeing’ of everything that is precious in life away from us, is our own sterile aggression reflected back at us.

 

Everyday life, which is always based on ‘trying’ or ‘striving’, is quintessentially frustrating therefore. We create a polarity such that the desirable or valuable aspect of life is outside of us and then we grasp at it. Polarity is always going to be like this – we are always in the place where we don’t want to be! From a naïve point of view it seems that skilful or cunning enough action on our part can bring about an end to this painful separation from the ‘good stuff’ that we see all around us on the inside but as we have said, this never actually works out for us! It never can work out for us because it is our trying that is causing reality to flee away from us – the more we try (i.e. the more aggressive we are) the more estranged and alienated from the world we become! And yet all we know is trying, all we know is aggression…

 

When we’re operating on the basis of a mind-created polarity then what’s actually happening is that we’ve played a trick on ourselves – we’ve divided everything into two when actually this isn’t the case. Reality isn’t ‘two’, it isn’t a polarity! Because we insist on perceiving the world in this way however (and just as long as we’re listening to the thinking mind there is no way that we can help from perceiving things this way) we’re always seeing the good stuff as being somewhere where we’re not. It’s always on the outside, as we have said. But the thing about this is that there isn’t ‘an outside’! How could there be ‘an outside’? However did we get to see life in this way? The ‘outside’ doesn’t exist – it’s a ridiculous abstract notion and yet we take this ridiculous abstract as seriously as we could ever take anything! There isn’t anything we take as seriously as this notion of there being an outside – we even see ourselves as living in this ‘outside’.

 

Both the outside world and the self that supposedly lives in this outside world are ‘the polarity’ – both equal ‘the ridiculous abstraction’. We might live out our lives there, we might pursue our dreams or goals there, but that doesn’t mean that it’s real! All of our achievements in this abstract realm are phantom achievements, just as all of our ‘failures’ here are phantom failures. The sense of concrete selfhood that we cherish so much and cling to so fearfully equals ‘the phantom striver’ – the one who perpetually strives after illusory gains and perpetually tries to run away from illusory set-backs… If we meditate on the basis of this phantom striver, therefore, all we’re doing is perpetuating the game, perpetuating the fever-dream, perpetuating the fantasy….

 

 

Art: Dream Striver, by Grace H. Gutekanst

 

 

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Ideas Are Never True

Every single thing we believe to be true only gets to be true to us because of the way in which we secretly select the context of understanding that makes it seem true. We make such a big song and dance about ‘these things that we hold to be true’ – we couldn’t make a bigger song and dance than the song and dance we make about ‘these things that we hold to be true’! The history of the human race is full of the bloody dramas that have resulted from disputes over ‘what we hold true’, and yet – as we have just said – what we claim so portentously to be true only gets to seem true to us because of the way in which we have chosen a particular way of looking at the world without admitting to ourselves that we have done so. This is the irony that underlies all of the conflicts that makes up human life, both in the past and in the present day. It is also an irony that we are oblivious to…

 

This is a remarkable thing to consider – our view of ourselves and our history tends to be rather pompous and overblown but really human history comes down to nothing more than an endless series of squalid squabbles over ‘what gets to be accepted as true’ when actually all our so-called ‘glorious truths’ are nothing more than self-serving fictions. We have a strange relationship with the truth both on an individual and a collective level – we hoot and bray about how much we value it and yet at the same time we couldn’t actually care less about it! If any one of us were confronted and told that the things we most seriously hold to be true are no more than fictions that we have set ourselves up to believe in we would deny this in the most vigorous way that we possibly could. Because we put so much energy and dedication into saying something is true when it just plain isn’t it stands to reason that we are going to react particularly violently to anyone who comes along and asks us to be so good as to acknowledge the fact of our self-deception in this regard. There is no way we can be unbiased about our bias – it wouldn’t be a bias otherwise! Maintaining the bias is the name of the game – this is our ‘major obsession’, this is the ‘pet project’ that takes up pretty much the whole of our life. Saying that the thing which isn’t true actually is true is a full-time job because we can never afford to relax too much in case it all starts to come unravelled on us.

 

‘Maintaining the fiction’ isn’t just a thing we do at weekends therefore – it subsumes everything else and becomes our whole life. What’s more, we all get together to form collectives dedicated to saying that the fiction we uphold isn’t a fiction at all, that it’s totally for real. When we all get together to say this it seems like the greatest thing in the world to us – it seems noble and wonderful to us, it stirs our spirit and makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us want to wave a flag and cheer. And yet the bottom line is that what we so fervently hold to be true, isn’t true. We’re just conforming to the party lines – we’re just conforming to what everyone else is busy doing and at the same time we’re all telling each other that doing this is a great thing. It doesn’t matter how fervent we are, it doesn’t matter how many of us conform to upholding the narrative – none of this hoo-ha is going to make the slightest bit of difference, obviously. We simply don’t have the power to make what isn’t true be true, no matter how zealous we might be at the task. Just because fifty million people believe unquestioningly in a fiction that doesn’t make it any less fictitious!

 

What a tremendous thing it would be – we might say – if we put all of that effort, all of that dedication into something that wasn’t a lie. When we go against the truth then we don’t get anywhere, despite all the fine talk and elegant clothes, when we go with the truth however then there’s no limit to how far we can go. When we band together to go against the truth then there might be a fine spectacle that gets produced, there might be a great display of pomp and circumstance, but underneath all that show the misdirected energy is only ever going to turn into rivers of toxicity. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘lie’ we are claiming to be true is the ego, the organization we are a member of, or the nation or country we see ourselves as belonging to – toxicity is always going to be produced as a result. To paraphrase Philip K Dick, ‘we are in service to a wrong thing’ so toxicity or pain-displacement is inevitable; pain is produced and ‘passed on to someone else’. When we are unconscious we have to pass pain on since psychological unconsciousness may be defined as ‘that state in which we automatically displace pain’.

 

When we aren’t in service to a false master however, and we don’t turn all our energy against ourselves (like the scorpion which stings itself) then instead of toxicity and socially-sanctioned lies something happens – something which is necessarily mysterious and indescribable and yet at the same time the truest expression of what it means to be human. Our true nature – very clearly – is not to be as we are now. What we find so very hard to see is that it is perfectly possible to live, and yet not turn this living of ours into the fervent embracing of a socially-sanctioned lie! We can’t see this – of course – because the very last thing we are ever going to do is consider, even for a moment, that the things which we hold to be true are actually only fictions that we have ended up – for whatever reason – promoting and defending. Life – as we have said – has become synonymous with this business of ‘promoting and defending fictions’. The fact that this is a complete travesty of what life ‘ought’ to be never dawns on us. We never pause to consider this. What happens with us is that our ‘basic energy’ (if we may call it that) goes immediately astray – it goes astray because our fundamental way of being when we are in the unconscious mode is to defend our ‘idea of ourselves’ whilst remaining oblivious to who we actually are. The idea always comes first, in other words!

 

The effect of this orientation is to profoundly alter our way of interacting with the world, and with each other. The simplest way to explain this is to talk in terms of ‘sensitivity versus aggression’. When we are operating on the basis of our ideas then we are inevitably aggressive – everything then becomes about changing the world in accordance with our presuppositions about how it should be. Everything becomes about control, in other words. If you were to ask why there is such a pronounced tendency for us all to want to be in control, and to consider this a ‘good thing’, then this is the reason – it is because we are always operating on the basis of our ideas. Everything is always about making the world (and other people, of course) conform with our ideas for it (or for them). We create systems and then we put all our energy into trying to get everything to fit into these systems of ours, on the basis that when that happens then this will be a ‘good thing’. But everything is not just about trying to get the world and other people to conform to our ideas – it’s about trying to the world and other people to conform to our untrue ideas, our false ideas. It’s about trying to get everything to fit into a system (or construct) that isn’t actually real!

 

Ideas are always untrue. This is because they are ideas! Ideas (or thoughts) are necessarily unreal – they are only ‘provisional conjectures’, exercises in ‘what if…?’ Thoughts or ideas are ‘simplified descriptions of reality’ rather than being reality itself. We could also say that our ideas are metaphors, even though we very rarely understand them as being so. This is the ‘truth’ of ideas – that they are playfully made ‘versions’ of reality that aren’t really meant to be taken seriously. Having said this, we have to make the qualification that although thoughts aren’t ‘serious’, they very much do present themselves as being so! We could say that thoughts play at being literal descriptions in a very serious or deadpan fashion. The way our thoughts work is that they make ‘playful statements about reality’ that don’t in anyway declare themselves to be playful – their nature is akin to that of a person who is telling a joke whilst keeping a very straight face the whole time. Their deadpan expression doesn’t mean that they aren’t joking, it just means that they are pretending that they aren’t joking for the sake of the joke. Pretending that you aren’t joking is an essential part of the joke, in this case. The bottom line is that thoughts simply don’t have the flexibility to be ironic. Thoughts don’t have the flexibility within them to be ironic because – as Robert Anton Wilson says – they are based on Aristotelian logic and Aristotelian logic can either say YES or it can say NO and that’s about the size of it. Very clearly, there’s not a lot of humour or playfulness in this! Actually there’s no humour or irony in it at all. There’s zero humour in it and there’s also zero reality.There’s simply no category or facility for irony (which is to say ‘YES-that-doesn’t-really-mean-YES’) in logic and this is just the way logic is. That’s logic’s ‘necessary deficiency’. This doesn’t mean that the universe itself is lacking in irony or humour, though! The deficiency lies with us, not the universe. The joke’s on us, though we can’t see it…

 

When we operate on the basis of our literally-understood thoughts then we are fundamentally unreceptive to any new information – this is of course going to be the case because ‘new information’ is precisely that information which will contradict what we already understand to be true. That’s what ‘information’ is – it’s something that we don’t already know! ‘Aggression’ means therefore that we are both fighting against anything new, and struggling to consolidate what we already know (or rather think we know). When we are living life on the basis of ‘our idea of who we are’ then, as we have already said, this means that our actual raison d’être is to be perennially fighting against new information, even though we will never admit this. The ongoing struggle to humourlessly and aggressively assert our ‘truths’ – which aren’t actually true at all – has become synonymous with life itself. The antithesis of aggression is(as we have said)sensitivity and sensitivity – needless to say – is where we are very much open to new information, very much open to new ways of looking at the world. Sensitivity – we might say – is where we understand all of our constructs as being essentially playful and once we understand our constructs in this way we can use them to honestly investigate reality instead of dishonestly shutting it down.

 

What bigger difference could there be than this, therefore? What bigger difference could there be than the difference between open to the truth, interested in the truth, and fighting tooth-and-nail against the truth whilst at the same time claiming dishonestly to be championing it?  Or as we could also say, what bigger difference could there be than the one that exists between of being ‘a lover of the truth’ (i.e. literally – ‘a philo-sopher’) and a ‘fearer of the truth’? When we are in ‘control mode’ we are forever chasing this fantasy outcome, this mirage that everything is going to work out for us just so long as we control successfully. We ‘know best’ so all we have to do is stick to our guns – all we have to do is to push ahead to make it happen regardless of what obstacles might lie in our path. The stubborn conviction that ‘we know best’ is of course nothing more than a ridiculous illusion – we’re simply charging blindly ahead because we’re afraid to open our eyes and see what’s actually going on. We actually know nothing at all but we’re far too scared to ever admit it…

 

When we’re being sensitive, or ‘exploratory wrt reality’, then we know that we don’t know best. We’re open to new ways of being, new ways of looking at the world. We’re not meeting life with a hard, unyielding surface – which means of course that we’re not meeting life at all. We’re not playing – we’re shut down! When we’re in ‘aggression mode’ then we’re having nothing to do with life. We only relating on our own terms, which means that we’re not relating. We’re making the experiment of ‘not being part of life’, but only ‘part of what we think life should be’. What we think life should be isn’t life, however; it’s just a fantasy, it’s just an extension or projection of our frozen mind-state. There is no happy outcome to this fantasy however, no matter how far we push it, no matter how good at controlling we are. Saying that ‘there is no happy outcome’ tends to sound pessimistic to us. It actually sounds worse than pessimistic; it sounds heretical – we aren’t going to take that on for a moment. The other way of looking at this however is to say that discovering that ‘the experiment of not being part life’ is never going to work out for us is actually the best news ever! What could be better than this?

 

Through this failure of our project (the project of making what is untrue be true, the project of making our fantasies be real) we find ourselves in the situation of being able – finally – to discover that there is infinitely more to life than we ever thought there was! What a happy discovery this is! Who wants to be proved right, after all? The impulse to ‘want to be proved right’ is the most terribly perverse impulse we could ever entertain – how is this ever going to be a ‘good thing’? What are we going to do when we have proved ourselves to be right? When we have authoritatively and indisputably ‘validated our own lie’ then just where do we go from this? Just what do we think is going to happen next…?

 

 

 

 

The Branch That Denies The Tree

‘Arrogance and anxiety are co-arising with the conditioned self’, says Tilopa. Which would we prefer?  Is one any better than the other? Clearly not – if arrogance is ‘setting ourselves up for a fall’ then anxiety is ‘the fall’! Is setting oneself up for a fall any better than the fall itself? Hardly! The only reason we might think that it is would be if we fail to see what exactly it is that we are doing, which actually happens to be the case…

 

What we don’t understand is the nature of this arrogance – the ‘arrogance’ that Tilopa is talking about implies rather a bit more than we usually understand by this word. We could perhaps explain this use of the word ‘arrogance’ by saying that it is when we are ignorant of our source. We’re like a twig that denies the reality of the branch it stems from, or a branch that imagines itself to be the whole tree.

 

Even to say this – even to say that we are ignorant of our source – sounds obscure to us. ‘Source’ – what ‘source’, we ask? We see ourselves as being self-contained units, not extrusions of some higher reality. We have no conception of ‘a higher reality’ – necessarily so since if we can conceive of it then it is of the same order of reality that we already know about. We don’t admit that there is a higher order of reality than the one we can conceptualize (or rationalize) and this is precisely this that is causing us all our problems!

 

Our basic understanding of ourselves is as ‘the rational agent’, so to speak. ‘The rational agent’ is the one who decides, the one who chooses in accordance with his or her rational picture of the world. The choices we make are therefore extensions of our logical understanding of the world – it’s all the one thing. So we see ourselves as ‘the one who makes the decisions’, ‘the one who is in control’. I am ‘the unequivocal author of my own actions’ – ‘the source of my own doings’. This perception of ours isn’t as obviously true as it might seem to us however; the understanding that we have of ourselves as ‘a self-contained unit or rational agent’ is itself only any artifact of the rational mind, the mind that (necessarily) operates by putting everything in tightly sealed categories. It’s not a universal truth, just a conditioned picture of reality.

 

It’s not too hard to see through the illusion that we are self-contained units. Whenever we are being creative we can easily sense that we are not the source, but only the channel! It is very clear in the case that I am not ‘the one who creates’ – the flow of creativity comes from beyond me, it comes from a place that I cannot see or lay claim to. There wouldn’t be any ‘flow’ otherwise – it has to come from outside of me. What flow could there be when it is my necessarily circumscribed ‘idea of myself’ (or ‘category of myself’) that is the (so-called) source? What we would be talking about in this case isn’t flow – it is on the contrary just pure naked aggression! Anything that isn’t creativity is aggression.

 

‘Arrogance’ and ‘aggression’ are therefore two perfectly interchangeable terms. There is a joy in creation that can’t be found in aggression, no matter how (apparently) successful that aggression might be. Even when we completely get our own way there’s no real joy in it – we might think that there is but there isn’t. We might think getting our own way makes us happy but it doesn’t. Actually, ‘completely getting our own way’ is a form of suffering – it is nothing else but loneliness and alienation in disguise! No one really wants to get their own way, we only imagine that we do. To completely ‘get one’s own way’ is to lose all contact with reality; it is to be sealed off in a sterile, separate universe of self and this is a ‘stuck’ rather than a ‘joyful’ situation…

 

There is no joy in controlling but there is something else, some ‘substitute’ for joy, when we are acting as if we ourselves are the source, the true author of what is coming out of us. Instead of joy we experience what we might call ‘personal gratification’ – the sense of self that we are clinging gets to be validated and this validation (of the false idea of ourselves is very sweet to us! It tastes sweet but ultimately it turns out to be very bitter indeed, but we don’t know that at the time. Vindication for the false (or ‘shallow’) idea of ourself tastes sweet but there is a grim penalty to be paid later on because we have been seduced into being untrue to who we really are. The validation – as overwhelmingly attractive as it appears at the time – is leading us astray…

 

This is not to say that ‘arrogance’ (in the sense that we are using the word) is in any way some kind of moral failing, or ‘sin’ that we are committing – we have simply become disconnected and as a result of this disconnection we have ended up feeling that ‘it’s all up to us’ and that whatever our situation might be, it is our responsibility to do something about it. We end up feeling that we have to do something about it! We start buying into terminology such as ‘fixing’ or ‘coping’ or ‘problem-solving’ because it sounds empowering, but really we’re just alienating ourselves even more. These are all ‘arrogant’ ways of speaking, ‘arrogant’ ways of looking at the world and so we are just making our situation more difficult for ourselves. We’re making the situation more difficult for ourselves because we’ve put ourselves in the impossible position of thinking that all the answers have to come from us.

 

When we feel that we have successfully ‘fixed’ or ‘coped with’ or ‘solved’ the difficult situation that were in then this is gratifying for us – the rational (or ‘closed’) idea that we have about ourselves gets validated because we feel that we have ‘won out’ against all the odds. This is the good feeling of ‘being a successful controller’, the good feeling of ‘being a winner rather than a loser’. This is the best feeling our culture knows of – to be ‘a winner’ is the ultimate accolade as far as we are concerned! Really however – as we have just said – all that’s happening here is that we are setting ourselves up for a fall. We have been suckered by the sweet feeling of having our idea of ourself validated into going down a road that leads only to more and more suffering. We’ve actually committed ourselves to this road so that when things get rough we have no other option other than to invest even more in controlling, even though it is this reliance on controlling that is the root cause of our problems. This is the via erratum that Jung speaks of – the ‘way of error’.

 

As a result of going down this road we see no other way other than ‘the way of controlling’ and so if we can’t control the situation well enough then very great trouble is going to be in store for us. ‘Not being able to be a successful controller’ equals ‘very great trouble’ and this is anxiety in a nutshell! Everything hangs on how good I am at controlling – I can either ‘do well’ and my sense of self gets validated, or I can ‘do badly’ and my sense of myself gets painfully devalidated.  Naturally enough, we don’t complain just as long as things continue to go well for us. No one complains about success! Just as long as things continue to go my way I am receiving pleasurable validation for my illusion of myself as ‘the competent controller’ but sooner or later this honey-coated illusion is going to let me down – sooner or later this cherished illusion of mine is going to backfire on me very nastily and then I am going to start complaining…

 

Being the controller upon whose actions everything depends is a very isolated place to be in when things start to go wrong and our attempts to control are no longer working for us. This is a very profound form of suffering so we are very likely to be complaining about it! Anxiety is the inevitable result of believing that we are this ‘reified self’, this self which is by its very nature fundamentally disconnected from the rest of the universe, so that we feel that we feel that we have to be always fighting against the world (or ‘getting the better of it) in order to maintain our integrity. As we have already said, we get seduced into this unenviable position by the euphoria that comes with being ‘a successful controller’ – we really do think that we have this power to assert our will upon the world and so when we discover that this so-called power was only an illusion (because the self which wielded it is an illusion) the distress and fear that come with this discovery is so much the greater. The more we enjoyed ‘being in control’ when things seemed to be going well the more cruelly we suffer from the inevitable reversal. The ‘reversal’ of which we speak is inevitable simply because we have linked our well-being with a fictional thing – the brittle idea of who we are which has been created for us by the thinking mind. Things can never work out for us in the way that we blindly hope because we’ve ‘put our money on the wrong horse’.

 

It’s not just that we don’t know how reverse the process of identification with the reified (or ‘conditioned’) self but rather that we have no way of seeing that this isn’t who we are. The suggestion that we aren’t the conditioned self simply doesn’t make any sense to us – it makes zero sense to us. We don’t know what it means to say that we have become ‘disconnected from our source’ – we have ended up forgetting about our source, just as the twig forgot about the branch or the branch forgot about the tree. We have forgotten about our source and as a result we’ve become confused into thinking that we actually ‘are our own source’. This is what the ancient Greeks knew as hubris (or hybris).

 

‘Anxiety’ and ‘believing that we are this separate reified self’ (the self which sees itself as being but one ‘thing’ in a world made up of infinitely many other ‘things’) are forever inseparable. The reified self is ‘an anxiety-producing illusion’ and so as long as we are operating on the basis of believing that ‘this is who we are’ then anxiety is going to be our constant bed-fellow. We’ve been suckered into this situation by the nice feeling that arises as a result of our (imagined) successful controlling but once we’re caught on the hook then it all turns against us and the euphoria reverses into dysphoria. We then experience the ‘nasty’ side of the illusion. We have lost our freedom to ‘be otherwise’ at this stage – we’re locked into the game we started playing and now the game has become real. We’re stuck with the limited reified self, which sees the world world in terms of itself! We’re locked into the pointless merry-go-round of this self’s life. Our freedom ‘not to play the game’ has become invisible to us, inaccessible to us and as a result we have to take the illusion-based highs along with the equally ‘illusion-based’ lows, the euphoria along with the dysphoria. That’s all the conditioned self is at the end of the day – it’s a ceaseless cycle of pleasure and pain, hope and despair, both of which belong to a self that we aren’t!

 

 

 

 

 

The Spectre At the Feast

When we’re living in the unreal world pretending that its real this is always going to make us anxious. We’re anxious that we’ll be found out! That would of course be the ultimate disaster because then we’d know – the cat would be out of the bag. The cat would be out of the bag and no mistake and so then we’d have to admit that there’s no cat! We’d have to admit that there’s no bag either…

 

So this is of course the prefect recipe for anxiety. There’s none better, in fact. What could be better than this? We’ve hit upon the thing, the very thing we need to do in order to create the spectre of anxiety – the spectre which is going to haunt us for just as long as we keep up the pretence. This is ‘the spectre at the feast’, the ghostly presence that we can never confront. This, naturally enough, is what gives anxiety its power over us! We can never allow ourselves to find out what we are anxious about because finding that out will take us in the one direction we don’t want to go down – we’ll happily go down any road but not this one…

 

We can never allow ourselves to find out what the actual reason for our anxiety is – that is after all the very thing that we are never supposed to find out. If the game we are playing is the game of pretending that the game is real (and not a game) then we can find out anything we want just so long as we don’t find out this one thing, this one thing that changes everything. We have the freedom to discover anything at all just as long as we don’t discover that it’s all a big charade. We’re free to discover anything at all just so long as we don’t discover that we don’t actually have any freedom!

 

If we were to find out that we’re living in an unreal world pretending to be real then this wouldn’t be bad in relation to any of the terms of reference that we have available to us in the game. No terms of reference exist to explain why finding out that ‘everything is just a charade’ would be so very bad! And yet we know that it would be bad – we know that it would be bad in a way that we can’t even allow ourselves to understand and straightaway therefore this makes it really, really bad. Engaging in this particular sneaky manouevre makes the unwanted outcome superbad. It potentiates it to the nth degree.

 

Knowing that the unwanted outcome is bad in a way that we can’t even allow ourselves to know about (because it is so very bad) is the worst and most frightening category of ‘bad’ that there could ever be. This is the ‘perfect recipe for anxiety’ – this is anxiety in a nutshell. This is what makes anxiety be anxiety – the fact that we can’t allow ourselves to know what it’s all about. This the fear that swallows everything up – we’re afraid of the fear and so we’re caught up on the vicious circle that Alan Watts talks about – running away from fear is fear. The fear feeds voraciously on itself and the outcome is anxiety…

 

We don’t need to know anything about the unwanted outcome other than the fact that it is bad. That’s enough – the unwanted outcome is bad and so we’re not allowed to let it happen. There are no other levels of meaning, no other possible interpretations. Everything is black and white – we just have to make sure that the bad thing never gets to happen and that is that. Getting interested in why the bad thing is so bad is not allowed and so that makes it a bad thing too. It’s actually the same bad thing – knowing about the bad thing is the same as the bad thing. Knowing that knowing about the bad thing is also the bad thing is also a bad thing. It’s all the same bad thing…

 

Certain tasks are impossible and one such task in never letting ourselves know about the bad thing. The very fact that we have made a rule about the bad thing saying that we should never let ourselves know about it draws our attention to it. By denying it in the way that we have done we’ve actually made it the most important thing in the whole world. Everything we do is done for the covert reason of not thinking about the bad thing and that means that we have to make sure to live our lives only on the overt level of meaning, the theatrical level of meaning. This doesn’t leave us much space for living, however. It doesn’t actually leave us with any space and this lack of space is in itself anxiety-provoking because it tells us that something dodgy is going on in the background.

 

We have to keep on pretending that the lack of space that we are so painfully suffering from (the lack of space that is unrelentingly oppressing us) isn’t there.  We have to keep on pretending that the lack of space that we’re living in actually is space. We have to keep on pretending that the theatre is real. We have to keep on living in the unreal world whilst pretending that it’s real, and this is why the spectre of anxiety is always with us. Even when we manage to temporarily forget about him by immersing ourselves as much as we possibly can in the superficial theatrical world (so that we can at least make a good pretence at enjoying the feast) he’s never very far away. He’s watching over our shoulder…

 

 

 

 

The Wrong Horse

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Displaced Insecurity of the Self-Concept

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Pantomime

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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