Our basic situation is that we are solidly, very solidly, enmeshed in the ongoing concrete drama of our lives. We’re caught up in it to the exclusion of anything else. It’s all we know or care about. This sounds like a stupid thing to say – of course I am enmeshed in (or caught up) my life, wouldn’t it be very weird or unnatural if I wasn’t? What else is there to be ‘caught up in’? Why wouldn’t I be absorbed in my own life?
This is a point worth thinking carefully about though. It is not that I am ‘one with life’ or anything like that (which would of course be a wonderful and wholesome thing), but rather that I am enmeshed with the on-going concern that is ‘MY life’, which is not the same thing at all. ‘Life’ and ‘my life’ are two totally different things – they couldn’t be more different. Life is life, but ‘my life’ is just me…
‘My life’ is just a kind of a narrow drama. It’s a kind of ongoing sterile obsession that I get absorbed in, sucked up in. Needless to say we don’t see it like this however! We see it in the most glowingly positive of terms! We validate the drama. The on-going concern that is my life is – we could say – like a party political bandwagon that is buoyed along by a constant supply of good old-fashioned ‘hype’: there is the outer appearance of an endeavour that is positive and progressive and worthwhile, that is running along the correct tracks to the correct destination, but actually this bandwagon isn’t going anywhere. Or, we could say, it is ‘going to hell in a hand-cart’. It’s a sterile obsession. It is a form of ‘sleep’; it’s a way of ‘not being awake’.
This is a very strong thing to say, but for anyone who is willing to stick around and hear the argument, it will inevitably start to sound all-too-true. A good way to express the argument is to say that the on-going concern, the on-going band-wagon, the on-going drama, that is my life is actually a red-herring. It’s a diversion, a distraction from reality. This ‘ongoing concern’ consists, as we all know, of innumerable details and issues that I have to keep attending to. It is the show that I am keeping on the road, the ‘three ring circus’ that I am involved in maintaining. It’s my prize ‘project’!
It feels good to be so busy, to have plans and goals and ‘things on the go’. It feels good to have a career, a set of interests, a vibrant social life, a busy social calendar. There is the feeling that there is something positive happening, that I am a real person with a real life. “It’s all happening,” or so I think. “My life is progressing as it should be doing….” I might think. The endeavour of ‘trying to get things to work out’ is wholly engrossing and when things seem to be working out this feels very good indeed – it is like a narcotic drug. It’s euphoric and as a result of this euphoria I go into a type of trance – the trance of Narcissus!
The same principle applies even when I am depressed and upset and fed-up about my life (which is the inevitable ‘let-down’ phase that occurs when I can no longer believe the hype). Even when I am feeling bad I strive to keep myself busy with my daily habits, with all the various forms of self-distraction and entertainment with which I am familiar. Or perhaps I can distract myself from my unhappiness by believing that I might turn things around, that I might get somewhere, if only I can work things right, if I can only get the break, if only my luck turned. I can seek solace in dreams, in other words…
But actually ALL the type of stuff that we are talking about here (‘good’ or ‘bad’) is ‘strictly theatrical’. It is for show only; it is ‘for the sake of appearances’, and it doesn’t connect with who I am on the inside at all. Who I am on the inside (the inner self) does not thrive on habitual routines, predictable patterns, distractions, entertainment and socially validated games. Winning and losing are both equally irrelevant to the inner life. Success and failure are only distractions for the outer self, the theatrical self. The inner self needs something real to make it manifest and grow in our lives, it needs for us to be true to our own inner nature and strike out in our own unique way, rather than falling in with the crowd, rather than trying to get better at ‘playing the game’.
When I ‘fall in with the crowd’ I get caught up in the sort of socially prescribed life that other people (and myself) think I ought to have. I end up living the sort of life that society recognizes and validates. I end up following the path that has been laid out for me, rather than finding my own way. I end up enmeshing myself with the life that I have been given, a mass produced sort of a life, a generic life, a life that could be anybody’s and yet which really belongs to no one, since it’s really only the mass-produced ‘shell’ of a theatrical life, a phoney life that is not really worth the paper it is printed on.
The life that I am so enmeshed in seems like an on-going concern, but really it is a stone. It is a dead lump of lethally immovable deterministic weight, and it is going nowhere but down. The concern that I am enmeshed with is a stone, and so is the ‘me’ that so busy getting enmeshed. Actually, ‘my life’ isn’t my life at all, it is ‘somebody else’s movie’ and the role that I am playing in this movie isn’t me either. So the question I need to ask myself is, “What am I doing here? What the hell am I doing playing the leading role in someone else’s story of ‘my life’?”
The role that I am playing isn’t who I really am at all – it is in fact as Alan Watts says a case of ‘mistaken identity’. It’s not who I am at all. It is a bus I jumped on one day, not realizing that it wasn’t really going where I wanted to go, and with every minute that passes it is taking me further and further in the wrong direction. What is worse, the longer I stay on this bus, the harder it is for me to take the initiative to ‘jump off’ and walk all the way back to where I had started off, so long ago. The bus has gone too far, I have been on it too long, and so now it seems less painful to stay on (and kid myself that the bus is going where I want to go) than to face the fact that I am on the wrong bus, a bus that is busily going to the wrong place.
But I am falling into a deadly trap here: the longer I stay on the bus the more I fall into the trance of denial, the deadly and deadening trance of unconsciousness. When this happens the ‘life that isn’t mine’ and the ‘me that isn’t who I really am’ takes over and the whole thing hurtles onward and onward like a runaway lorry on a mountain road heading for the final catastrophic disaster. At this stage I don’t actually want to see the truth – in one way it suits me to be 100% preoccupied with endlessly proliferating trivia, with time-consuming superficialities. It suits me to be caught up with the ongoing empty drama of what I absurdly call ‘my life’.
Now and again, though, I get a flash of awareness – “What am I doing here? Where am I going?” This awareness is beautifully articulated in this verse taken from the Eighth Century devotional hymn Bhaja Govindam:
Who is your wife? Who is your son? Exceedingly wonderful, indeed, is this empirical process! Of whom are you? Who are you? Whence have you come? O brother, think of that truth here.
Like in the Talking Heads song, I may find myself saying “This isn’t my beautiful wife / house / car….” The question is, however, as always, “What am I going to do about it?”
What am I going to do? Go back to sleep – allow myself to get sucked up into the pointless, empty, going-nowhere drama again, or wake up?