The question is, are we interested in stepping outside of the mind, or are we not interested? This isn’t a loaded question. There’s no right or wrong answer – it’s not a question of what we ought to do – but it is a crucial question all the same. Do we even care what it might be like to see the world without the conceptual filter of the mind? And if not why not? The thing is that this rational-conceptual mind that we’re talking about is only a tool or an instrument, and yet it is a tool or instrument that we can rarely see beyond. Essentially, it is no different to a hair-drier or a toaster or a food mixer even though it might sound ridiculous to say this. The thinking mind might be a hell of a lot more complicated than a food mixer but it runs on exactly the same principle – it’s a bunch of mechanical processes linked together in a specific way…
The ‘special thing’ about this instrument (as opposed to a hair-drier or toaster or food mixer) is that is has the rather unique job of representing reality to us in a particular way, within a particular format. It does this job continuously, and yet at the same time it doesn’t tell us that it is doing so. It doesn’t have a function ‘built into it’ whereby it informs us that it is representing reality to us in a particular way. It isn’t required to do that. This of course is rather significant because it means that the instrument of the rational-conceptual mind is invisible to us in its operation, unlike hair driers, toasters or food mixers. What it is doing is of absolutely crucial importance to us, but we can’t see what it is doing!
According to David Bohm, the system of thought (the logical system which is the thinking mind) points to divisions in the outside world without ever making reference to the fact that they only exist within it, not anywhere else –
Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.
As a result of this ‘omission’, we automatically take the world that the rational-conceptual mind shows us to be the whole story, the whole of reality. We take it as being the ‘final word’, the ‘ultimate authority’. This being the case, of course we don’t look beyond the mind-created world, of course we don’t have any curiosity as to what the world would look like without the filter of our concepts, without our conditioning (or ‘programming’) getting to process everything for us. This possibility simply doesn’t exist for us. It doesn’t exist because the thinking mind doesn’t tell us that it exists and we rely totally upon this mind to tell us everything that exists and doesn’t exists. Or rather, we rely on it totally to tell us what is important, what is significant, what is worth taking notice of, and anything else we simply have zero interest in!
So the question as to whether are interested in stepping out of the everyday mind or not is really a question about whether we are interested in reality as it is in itself, or whether we are content simply to stick with the everyday mind’s mind’s patented version of reality. And the thing here is that if we don’t know that the world we relate to every day isn’t the genuine article then how are we going to be curious about anything else? And – generally speaking – we AREN’T going to know that the world that the everyday mind shows us isn’t the same as reality as it is in itself, we aren’t going to know because the mind isn’t going to tell us!
This is a curious situation, therefore. The rational-conceptual mind really ought to come with some sort of warning printed on the package telling us to be extremely careful with it since the moment we start using it we are liable to get lost in it forever! The whole point is that there isn’t such a warning however. There’s no government health warning on the packet. We have to work it out for ourselves, we have to learn to be careful…
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use the instrument or tool which is the thinking mind. Like all instruments, like all tools, it is very useful when used in the right situation. Everything comes down therefore to a question of what we might call ‘appropriate’ versus ‘non-appropriate’ applications – which is to say, it all comes down to understanding the difference between things that the tool can do and things that is can’t do. If we know that then we’re OK! This difference is very easily explained: the appropriate use for the rational-conceptual mind is for logical problem-solving, and the non-appropriate use is everything else!
Straightaway this shows us something very curious – we use the instrument of the rational-conceptual mind for just about everything. We use it for living life, and this is not an appropriate use for it! What we’re actually doing here therefore is that we’re treating life as if it were a logical problem, which is utterly ridiculous. If life is a ‘problem’ then there must be a ‘solution’ to it therefore and so what would that solution be? What would the solution to life’ look like? What would happen if we were to use it, if we were to utilize the solution? What exactly does it mean to ‘solve’ life anyway? In relation to a logical problem or puzzle the idea of a ‘solution’ is of course perfectly appropriate; in relation to life the term becomes distinctly sinister. What does life turn into after we have solved it? What’s the story then? The only thing it could turn into (after being thoroughly packed and regulated by thought) is a ‘plaything of the thinking mind’. Life will get turned into a ‘game’ in other words, and what does it mean to turn life into a game, into the plaything of the thinking mind?
It is evident that – for the most part – we have turned life into a logical puzzle. If this wasn’t the case then we wouldn’t be trying to ‘fix’ it the whole time and this is exactly what we always are trying to do. This is what thinking is – it’s ‘searching for a solution’. Every time we engage in rational thinking we are trying to fix something – that’s what rational thinking is for after all, as we have already said. So if we’re thinking all comment, the time (and we are thinking all the time!) then what this means is that that we’re trying to fix life. Even if we’re only naming something, or making some kind of a comment, we’re ‘looking for a solution’ – we’re trying to cure life of its inherent uncertainty, we’re trying to ‘say what it means’, we’re trying to say ‘what it is’, we’re trying to fit life into a specific, pre-made template of meaning when actually life only ever has the concrete meaning that we believe it to have because we ourselves have given it that meaning.
Instead of relating to the world simply as it is therefore, we are continually aggressing it, continually trying to force it to be the way that we think it ought to be. Instead of being conscious of the world as it actually is in itself we are in other words forever trying to control it, this is what the thinking mind does after all – it packages, it labels, it controls. That’s its job…
There is a consequence to us trying to control things the whole time however – by doing this we automatically tune into a very narrow ‘band’ of reality, and we very easily fall into the trap of thinking that this narrow band of reality is all that there is. When we’re engaged in controlling we are necessarily involved in a ‘negative feedback loop’ whereby all our attention goes into registering ‘error’ and then doing our best to correct it. I notice how close I am to obtaining my goal and then I use this information to improve my performance. This means that I’m only interested in stuff that can help me optimize my performance, stuff that will enable me to reduce my margin of error, and so everything else goes out of the window. This is how things are when we are in ‘control mode’ (or in ‘purposeful doing mode’) – we have identified with the thinking mind, we have allowed it to ‘take us over’, and so we have allowed its limited perspective to be our perspective. Or rather – as we could also say – we have allowed its horizons to become our horizons, its limitations to become our limitations, its ‘blindness’ to become our blindness.
Perspective itself – in the true sense of the word – is the one thing we DON’T have when we are in control mode! The world ‘perspective’ really means openness – it means that we are aware of a bigger, more expansive context than whatever narrow frame of reference it is that we might be using at the time. When we’re ‘relaxed’, when we’re not in control mode (or ‘analytical mode’), then we are always going to have a sense of perspective on things. Perspective is always going to be there – perspective is naturally there. It’s there ‘all by itself’! When we’re relaxed we’re going to have a bit of perspective on our situation simply because we’re not busy screening out information, simply because we’re not narrowly focussed on a particular task. Being focussed on a particular task means – as we have already said – that we are only interested in those details that are relevant to what we are specifically trying to achieve. We are not interested in ‘the irrelevant’ and this means that we are not interested in anything outside of the frame of reference that we happen to be using at the time.
This therefore is what it means to be identified with the rational-conceptual mind – it means that we have no perspective, it means that we’re not aware of anything outside of the frame of reference that we’re operating within. What has actually happened here is that the virtual world associated with the particular frame of reference that we have identified with has swollen up and become the whole world, the whole of everything that is possible, as far as we are concerned. We’ve switched from an open–ended view (which is ‘perspective’) to the closed view, the view which has only the one possibility of seeing things, the view which is associated with the particular frame of reference that we’re stuck in without realized that we’re stuck in anything. We can’t know that we’re ‘stuck in the FOR’ because in order to know it we’d have to have perspective and the whole point of the closed mind-set, the whole point of the closed FOR, is that there’s no perspective in it!
When we switch from open awareness to the closed mind-frame which switching from a humorous, playful and unconstrained mode of being to one that is humourless, ‘serious’, fixated and essentially ‘driven’. We’re going from ‘spontaneous’ to ‘directed’. It is of course a very familiar kind of a thing that we’re talking about here – we see this type of switch-over from the one mode to the other taking place around us all the time. It happens when the thinking mind takes over (for whatever reason), to the detriment of our inner freedom, to the detriment of our ‘lightness of touch’, to the detriment of our sense of humour. It happens when we get sucked up into some kind of negative state of mind, and it also happens when we start taking some particular idea or theory more seriously than it deserves, and in the case of negative emotions, or negative mind states, it could be said that the idea we are taking too seriously is the idea of ourselves!
We also switch from open awareness to a closed frame of mind when we are engaged in performing some kind of a demanding logical task, which is of course something that we all need to do from time to time. Logical tasks are part of life and this goes back to what we were saying about this being the ‘appropriate’ use of the rational mind. The only thing here however being that our modern rational-technological culture demands that we spend more and more time in control mode, in fixing mode, in purposeful doing mode and the result of this is that we are very likely lose the ability to ‘switch out’ again! The odds are very much stacked against being able to do so. What happens then is that we become identified with the rational-conceptual mind on a full time basis, and we won’t realize that anything is amiss because everyone else has done the same thing as us. We’ve all made the same mistake and so it becomes normal. We’ve all got the same sickness and so it becomes healthy! It’s actually become a requirement. We are required to be in ‘purposeful doing mode’ in order to be employed, just to give one particular example of how the pressure on us to be more ‘machine-like’ than ‘human-like’ operates. Generally speaking, we’re required to ‘play the game’ in order to fit in.
As far as our rational-technological society is concerned the fact that we are identifying with the thinking mind pretty much on a full-time basis is very useful. It makes people much easier to direct, to predict, to motivate and to control. Actual human beings are a hell of a lot trickier to deal with – they are notoriously prone to questioning rules and refusing to conform to mechanical systems. The fundamental difficulty here being (for the mechanical system that is society) that its agenda is not going to be shared by the people that are making it up, not unless – that is – they too are rendered ‘mechanical’. From the point of view of society, therefore, it makes sense that everything we do should be based upon rules. Not just our work-time is to be spent identified with the thinking mind therefore, but also our leisure time, our recreational time. On the collective level, it makes sense that this should be the way things are. But although it makes sense for society for us to be like this, it does not make sense from the POV of the actual individual. As Jung said over sixty years ago, the needs of the collective and the mental health of the individual are two very different things – the former is not in sympathy with the latter. What is ‘healthy’ for society is most emphatically not healthy for the individual human being – society needs everyone to be thinking the same way, behaving in the same way, seeing reality in the same way, and in order for the individual to be individual (in order that we might ‘be ourselves’!), we cannot be ruled by unexamined beliefs or game-rules that are imposed upon us from the outside, from the mechanical ‘group mind’.
In our society – as we have said – it is normal to be identified with the thinking mind on what is practically a fulltime basis. This means that it looks right, this means that it looks in fact like the definition of ‘good mental health’. But what happens as a result of this identification is that we end up being tuned into a very narrow band of reality. We only get to know about (and care about) that part of reality which corresponds to that rule-based mind and this means that we lead a very impoverished form of existence – even though we won’t know it because to be this way is validated at every turn. We’ve lost something crucial in other words but the rules of the game are that we’re not allowed to know it!
Even if we do well in the social game and gain status, wealth and power as a result, we’re still impoverished. We’re impoverished on the inside – our inner life has been curtailed to the point of non-existence. Our ‘inner life’ is a reflection of the outer one and so what we’re talking about here therefore isn’t an inner life at all – it’s the outer generic one. One size fits all! All we have left to us is this ‘outer’ life, which is the one that has been designed by society, the one that has been provided for us by the mechanical group mind. When it comes right down to it, full-time identification with the thinking mind means that we lose contact with reality (since reality is at root that sense of perspective that we no longer have) and become wholly caught up in what is essentially a meaningless mechanical game – doing stuff because we think it is the right thing to do, doing stuff because we have been told it is the right thing to do, doing stuff because the unexamined rules of the game say you have to do them…
There is no way a fundamental alienation from reality can be seen as ‘a good thing’. When we allow ourselves to be possessed (however unwittingly) by the rational conceptual mind so that it ends up defining reality for us then we are cut off from everything that lends magic to life. We’re cut off from our own wholeness, our own happiness, our own creativity and this makes us prey to whatever sort of malign influences might happen to be at large in the world. The ‘malign influences’ have a field day in fact! Because we’re coming from such an impoverished place they can offer us this and offer us that and we’re going to go for it every time. We’re not going to be able to see it happening because we’re automatically allowing reality to be defined for us. We’re allowing our own best interests to be defined for us. We’re in the position of being infinitely manipulable by whatever collective forces happen to be out there. Because we’re coming from a place where our connection with the true self has been severed we’re at the mercy of all the threats and promises that are being used against us. We’re hoodwinked and taken advantage of at every turn…
And when we do go along with the narrow version of reality that we’re being offered (compulsorily offered, so to speak) things still don’t go well with us – the incidence of anxiety and depression have been increasing over the last hundred years to the point where almost one third of the population will suffer majorly from them. Our culturally-approved way of looking at such disturbances of the psyche is to say that they are due to mechanical malfunctions of the hardware. We assume that our brains have for some reason become rather unreliable in recent times and need to be given a helping hand. A better explanation is that the culprit is not nature and its failure to provide us with properly working brains (despite all those millions of years of evolution), but our tendency to spend our entire lives being operated by the run-away instrument of the thinking mind! This is the elephant in the room. How can living on the basis of a generic inauthentic identity not give rise to depression? How can the loss of the true self (and the tremendous inner resources that come with it) not cause anxiety? The only wonder is that more of us don’t experience acute neurotic distress as a result of having to live life on such a narrow and artificial basis…
The current popularity of meditation (repackaged as mindfulness) as a way of recovering our peace of mind might be taken as evidence that at last we have ‘come to our senses’ and have realized that the thinking mind cannot be given free rein to run our lives as it pleases. It would seem that we are starting at last to redress the balance between the psyche as a self-governing system and the faculty of the rational intellect and move in the direction of becoming more human (rather than continuing to move as we have been doing in the direction of becoming more mechanical). But if we imagine this to be the case we might be in danger of being hoodwinked yet again! The question is this: have we at last understood that the rational-conceptual mind, which ought to be the tool or instrument, has ‘turned the tables on us’ so that it is now our master instead of our servant? Or is it just that we are quick (in our narrowly clever way) to seize upon any advantage that we might come across, and are using the ‘advantage’ of meditation to offset or ameliorate the burden that living the rational-mechanical life has placed upon us (the burden that living as components in a machine, in a system, has placed upon us)?
If the first answer is true then this is evidence of true wisdom – which is the rarest of fruits! If it is the second that it true on the other hand then what we are seeing is no more than a case of the slave-owner trying to squeeze an extra mile or two out of his poor slave, as clever slave-owners always do. This is one of the points made by Ron Purser and David Loy in their article Beyond McMindfulness.
The question we’re asking here would seem to be a rhetorical one. Is there really any sign of our culture turning in its tracks, so to speak, and valuing wisdom over mere cleverness? Do we really want to change what we’re doing? Or is the runaway tool of the rational-conceptual mind simply getting better at managing us, by providing us with a watered-down version of meditation designed to improve our productivity rather than radically liberate us? Are we really interested in stepping outside of the everyday mind, or do we just want to live more comfortably within it?