As soon as we start to imagine that we can change our inner state on purpose we have entered into the ‘illusion-making business’ and the illusion-making business is the biggest business there is. We are always imagining that we can change our inner state on purpose. Everyone imagines that they can change their inner state on purpose, just because they want to. Making illusions and then believing in the illusion, getting trapped in the illusion, not seeing the illusion for an illusion, are the two sides of the same coin, and this is just about the only currency we are interested in. This ‘currency’ is what makes the world go round!
Where all this ‘illusoriness’ springs from is our conditioned inability to see a very simple truth. This ‘very simple truth’ has to do with the impossibility of changing our inner state on purpose! This is both the most intuitively obvious of things to understand, and (rationally) the most obscure. We can certainly try to change of inner state on purpose and when we do try there is a certain amount of leeway that we will have in this regard. Saying that we have a certain amount of leeway in this regard doesn’t mean that we can actually do it however – it just means that we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can! The leeway we’re talking about here is the leeway to deceive ourselves therefore. It is the leeway we have to ‘deceive ourselves without us realizing that we are doing so’ – which is very obviously the only sort of self-deception that is worthy of the name!
The way this ‘self-deception’ works – we might say – is by separating the opposites. It is as simple as this – and as hard as this (for the rational intellect, at least) to understand. Jung states that the rational intellect – the ‘sword of rational discrimination’ – operates by separating the opposites. YES is separated from NO and UP is separated from DOWN. This is what creates the rational continuum, this is what creates David Bohm’s ‘system of thought’. Although it comes across as being very loaded, the term ‘self-deception’ doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of moral judgement. It’s not that we’re saying that splitting the opposites is morally wrong or ethically reprehensible in any way. That would be ridiculous. If we did go down the road of saying that separating the opposites was ‘wrong’ this in itself would be laughably self-contradictory since to say that something is wrong automatically means that something else is right and this is in itself is a perfect example of ‘splitting the opposites’! We have made a rule about it in other words and rules operate precisely by ‘splitting the opposites’….
The reason we use the term ‘self-deception’ is because the opposites can’t be separated and if we think that they can then we’re fooling ourselves. The opposites can never exist apart from each other, independently of each other, and yet when we perceive it to be the case that they can then a whole illusory world springs into being – a world of apparent possibilities that aren’t actually possibilities at all. This is the world that comes into existence for us (in a subjective kind of a way) when we believe – as we almost always do believe – that we can change our inner state, change ourselves, on purpose. ‘How I am now’ then becomes one pole, and ‘how I want to be’ becomes the other. ‘How I am’ is what I fight against (or run away from) and ‘how I would like to be’ is what I long to be, what I try to be, what I put my hopes on being. ‘How I am’ is thus magnetic in a repellent or repulsive way and ‘how I’d like to be’ is magnetic in an attractive way, and I’m caught somewhere in-between, struggling to run away from the one opposite and safely reach the other!
This rationale for life might sound fair enough to us (it does tend to sound fair enough, just as long as we imagine we can leave where we are and get to where we want to be) but the thing about it is, as we have said, is that it is all based on illusion. If we are in the business of thinking that we can change our inner state ‘on purpose’ (i.e. if we are ‘non-accepting’ of ourselves!) then the only world we care about, the only world that seems important to us, is the world that exists between the one pole and the other, between how I am and how I’d like to be, and the existence of this world depends – of course – upon these two poles, these two opposites, being separable, and since they fundamentally aren’t, this means that the world I am relating to is entirely illusory! This stretched-out subjective world between ‘where I am’ and ‘where I want to be’ is the world of my projections rather than the world of reality; it corresponds to what Krishnamurti calls psychological time. According to Krishnamurti –
There is a time which is called psychological. So there are two times, the time of yesterday, today and tomorrow, the distance, the time you take between here and your house; that is one kind of time. It takes time to learn a language, collecting a lot of words, memorizing them; that will take time. Learning a technique, learning a craft, learning a skill – all that implies time – chronological time. Then there is psychological time, the time that mind has invented. The mind that says, I will be the President, tomorrow I will be good, I will achieve, I will become successful, I will be more prosperous, I will attain perfection, I will become the Commissar, I will be this, I will be that. There, time is between the goal and the present state. That goal which I have set myself to achieve, will take time – I must struggle, I must drive, I must be ambitious, I must be brutal, I must push everybody aside. These are all projections of the mind and what it wants to achieve; they create psychological time. So we have these two kinds of time, chronological time and psychological time.
Psychological time – says Krishnamurti – differs from chronological time in that it is created by the action of thought – it is an essentially an interval of expectation and that expectation naturally can either be positive or negative, it can be coloured by pleasure or by pain, by hope or by fear. But whether it is one way or the other it is still only a projection, and like all projections it causes us to react. When we don’t see projections to be projections and react to them as if they were objective facts then we have to struggle – we either have to struggle hard make sure that they happen or struggle hard to make sure that they don’t! This requires us – as Krishnamurti says – to be brutal. Living in the world of psychological time, living in the world in projections, requires us to be ‘forcing the issue’ the whole time. Or as we could also say, separating the opposites requires us to be ‘forcing’ or ‘controlling’ the whole time. The opposites don’t get separated by themselves and so it’s a job we have to do ourselves, and what’s more, it’s a job we have to keep on doing ourselves. We can’t take a break, we can’t relax, we have to keep up the struggle on a full-time basis, whether we want to or not…
All of this is a way of saying that the rational intellect is quintessentially aggressive in its nature. Its job is to make the opposites to be separate when they aren’t. YES is the same argument as NO, DO is the same argument as DON’T. The road up and the road down are the same thing, as Heraclitus says. That’s what makes the road the road – the fact that it is both UP and DOWN. It couldn’t be a road otherwise. And yet notwithstanding the essential unity of the opposites, the job of the rational intellect is to push them apart, to force them apart, to make seem it as if we can’t have one without the other. The job of the rational mind is in other words to grant the opposites apparent independent existence. When we think about the world we are looking for that little bit of ‘leeway’, that little bit of illusory freedom which is the freedom to change ourselves on purpose…
Through thinking therefore we introduce a degree of stretching to the picture. We are stretching the truth! How far we are able to stretch the truth varies – sometimes we are able to stretch it a lot, sometimes not so much. Sometimes we are able to stretch it as far as we want and live in a fully-fledged illusion world, at other time the fact that we are stretching the truth (or rather trying to stretch the truth) starts to become apparent to us and we start to become uncomfortable about our ability in this regard. Anxiety is an example of this – when we are anxious we no longer have confidence in our ability to separate the opposites, although this is of not quite how we would put it! We would see it in terms of a ‘lack of confidence’ (inexplicable, perhaps, to everyone concerned) to achieve the outcome we want to achieve, the outcome we feel we need to achieve, and yet this comes down to nothing other than ‘the separation of the opposites’. We are getting to the stage where we can see that we can’t change our inner state on purpose, we are getting to the stage where we can see that we can’t escape what we want to escape. How much leeway we have to play our games varies, in other words, and when we are suffering from anxiety it is because we have less leeway than we did before. We could therefore say that anxiety is a process in which we start to see through our ‘illusory freedom’!
Stretching the truth (or stretching reality) is an ‘energy-requiring’ kind of a thing. We have to strain ourselves to create the stretch that we want, just as we would have to strain to pull a rubber cord, or a heavy-duty elastic band. We have to put energy into it or the stretch won’t happen. Energy is thus stored in the medium which we have induced the stretch in. Understanding this is the key to everything! What we’re looking at here is elastic change and elastic change means that all the energy we put in is going to come out again at some future point. When we try to our inner state we are actually fighting against ourselves therefore, which means that we can only win now to the extent that we will lose later on. The harder we try to force the change the more viciously this so-called ‘change’ is going to rebound on us at some future point. Any advantage we gain is therefore entirely illusory! The ‘territory’ that we imagine we are gaining (and which we feel so good about at the time) is not really territory at all – it’s just a way of temporarily believing that we’ve got something when we haven’t…
The lower mind-states (the ones that are governed by desire, which Sogyal Rinpoche calls the afflictive mind-states) are always like this. We are constantly trying to escape from them, or get relief from them, and they are constantly ‘snapping back painfully’ on us. These mind-states are entrapping – they are entrapping because of the way in which they seem to be offering us release from the pain that is inherent in them. Driven by the urge to escape this pain, we automatically react (in whatever way is characteristic of the mind-state in question) in order to obtain this promised relief, and this is the mechanism that keeps us trapped.
We find this very hard to understand, brought up as we have been within the Western rational paradigm. We just don’t seem to get it – far from getting it, we put an awful lot of energy and ingenuity into trying to get out of these painful inner states ‘on purpose’. We take it as read that this must be possible if only we could try hard enough, if only we could be clever enough or skilful enough to carry it off. If it is suggested to us that this a ‘perfect impossibility’ then we meet this suggestion with blank, uncomprehending stares. It sounds like pure defeatism to us. It sound like ‘giving up’ and our positive philosophy is to keep on trying to the last, to never say that we can’t do it, to never say that it is not possible. What we call ‘failure’ is seen as ‘not being an option’ and we fondly imagine that this blind stubbornness is somehow being courageous!
It could be said that there is a perfectly good reason why we find it so hard to understand this point (i.e. ‘why we can’t use a particular mind-state to escape from that same mind state’) and that is because the rational mind – when it gets the upper hand over us – is also an entrapping state of mind. Naturally it is an entrapping mind since as J. G. Bennett says it can only see one opposite at a time and its whole modus operandi is about pushing for one opposite at the expense of the other without seeing that in this way we are simply going around in circles. Since this ‘one-sidedness’ is the very mechanism by which the ‘trap’ of the rational mind works then of course we can never (purposefully) escape it. The way to play ‘the thinking game’ is after all to pretend that the opposites can have a separate or independent existence (that we can win without losing) and this blinkeredness, this one-sided vision is the very thing that stops us ever breaking free from the closed circle of the thinking mind.
Because purposefulness is a function of (or an extension of) rationality the only way it has of functioning (very obviously!) is by dividing up every situation it comes across into pairs of opposites. As we have already said, when I am being purposeful then ‘what I want’ is one opposite and ‘what I don’t want’ is the other. Straightaway, therefore, as soon as I want to change the way I am (i.e. my present state of mind) I am caught in a trap which I cannot see to be a trap. Implicit in our rational way of understanding things is the idea that putting all our effort and ingenuity into achieving the one opposite is what is going to get us out of the situation that we’re in, and move us in a more desirable direction. But since ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are the same argument (just as YES and NO are the same argument) we’re not going to be moving on from anywhere. We’re actually very thoroughly stuck – we’re as stuck as stuck can be and trying hard to become unstuck is only going to make matters worse!
Just as we can’t change any afflictive state of mind such as anger or jealousy or desire on purpose (which is to say, on the basis of that same state of mind) neither can we change the rational/purposeful state of mind ‘on purpose’ – the idea is clearly ridiculous. There is a Zen saying, “You can’t wash away blood with more blood.” Or as Albert Einstein puts it, “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that has created that problem.” The afflictive states of mind are perpetuated by our automatically acted-upon desire to escape the pain that is inherent in them and so the whole idea of changing them on purpose, by design, because we want to, is clearly jinxed from the very start. The notion that we can do so is based on blindness – it arises out of the inbuilt one-sidedness of the rational mind. We do not acknowledge, we do not ‘join up the dots’ and see that our constant struggle to change how we are (or escape from how we are) is what keeps us firmly stuck in that mind-state. As Dennis Genpo Merzel says:
It is a simple fact: whatever you resist will persist. If you are resisting suffering, you suffer more. If you are resisting confusion, you remain confused. If you are looking for peace, you find yourself constantly disturbed. If you are seeking after clarity, you are in a muddle. If you do not want to be angry, you are going to walk around angry. If you do not mind being angry, you will never be bothered about anger, because you will not be holding on to it. Having no opinion for or against, just being open to whatever comes, you are free.
Not automatically going along with the urge to change the mind-state that we’re in isn’t ‘weak’ or ‘defeatist’ at all therefore – it is heroic, it is courageous. It requires an integrity and an honesty that we are normally quite lacking in. A good way to think about the two approaches (the one that lacks integrity and the one that has it) is to say that we can either resist the mind state that we’re in – which happens automatically – or we can do actual psychological work. ‘Resisting’ is – of course – where we dig in our heels and do our very best to keep the two opposites of ‘how I am’ and ‘how I want to be’ as far apart as possible. Psychological work on the other hand is where we pay attention to the way things actually are (the situation we’re actually in) rather than fixating that attention on our agenda to escape.
Very clearly, the more we resist the more stuck in our misery we get and the more work we assent to, the more liberated we become from that misery. If we could, in our daily life, see this very clearly then would not elect so enthusiastically to go down the road of resisting, but this isn’t how it usually works, as we all know to our cost. It doesn’t work out in this way (it doesn’t work out in the freeing way) because of the way we’re looking at things, because of the way which we have of looking at things is exclusively through the rational intellect, which sees everything backwards…
Of course the rational intellect sees everything backwards; that’s its modus operandi – it sees the opposites as being capable of being separated and more than this, it sees it as being absolutely essential that the opposites should be separated. It tells us to put all of our energy and resourcefulness into either going all out to obtain one opposite or avoid / repress the other and we automatically follow its lead in this matter. We perceive our benefit to lie in the direction that the rational mind indicates it to lie in and so we launch ourselves into resisting with everything we’ve got. We launch ourselves into ‘all-out resisting’ with everything we’ve got and this misdirected effort keeps us stuck in our miserable mind-states on a full-time basis. We might imagine that we’re getting somewhere – or that we stand a chance of getting somewhere – as we initiate our reacting, our goal-orientated behaviour, but really we’re just going around in tight circles…
The rational mind shows us an illusion and we believe in that illusion! We buy into it – the more pain we’re in the faster we are to buy into it, the more fearful we are the faster we are to buy into it, which is why the most miserable (or most fear-filled) states are the ones that are the most entrapping, the most afflictive. These mind-states are the most entrapping or afflictive because we react to them the most, either by ‘pushing back at them’ and trying to repress them, or by running away from them, or by ‘acting them out’ through anger and hatred. All of these various types of reaction are based on illusion because there is an illusory form of relief (or ‘release’) involved in them. If I squash something so that it is no longer there to disturb me then the illusion is that I have actually eliminated it. The illusion here is that the ‘repressed content’ no longer exists. If I run away from it then the illusion is that I actually can run away from it! If I act out my unacknowledged pain then the illusion is that the bad feelings don’t belong to me but to you – the illusion in ‘acting out’ therefore is that when I strike out, when I cause you to feel the pain instead of me, then this is the right thing to do. You have had your ‘just desserts’ and this is what gives me the (short-lived) feeling of release or vindication that I am wanting so badly.
All of these various illusions are based upon a way of looking at things that says there is an external problem there that can be fixed if I apply the right method, the right approach. This makes the projected goal-state of ‘fixing the problem’ magnetically attractive. The goal of ‘success in resolving the problem’ becomes – because of my way of looking at things – blindingly attractive. It is blindingly attractive in the sense that when I am rushing towards it (or straining towards it) I am utterly heedless of any considerations other than obtaining it, securing it, getting it in the bag. My activity has become absolutely driven, absolutely ‘mechanical’: I am rushing to an illusion that has absolute power over me and there is no holding me back. This is of course a crazy situation because we are now in the position where we are sacrificing everything for the sake of this terribly seductive illusion, and no good can possibly come of it. We’re sacrificing everything for the sake of this attractive illusion (the illusion of ‘final release’, or ‘final resolution’, or whatever) but all that happens is that we go around in a circle. We end up coming right back to where we started.
We inevitably come right back to where we started off from, only we have sacrificed everything we had going for us on the basis that we actually were going to get somewhere, on the basis that it actually was going to be worthwhile. We’ve sacrificed everything for nothing. We’ve been conned. We’ve been taken for a ride. We’ve been sold bogus goods. In Biblical terms, we’ve sold our birth-right for a mess of pottage. This is the oldest story in the world – we should know it so well. What we have just described happens all the time – it has always happened all the time. And of course we do know this story very well – it’s just that we choose not to focus on it. We disregard the lesson that we’re being taught over and over again. We’re being taught it over and over again and we disregard it over and over again.
This is really the only lesson there is and we keep on ignoring it. We keep on ignoring it because we are so stubbornly determined to get our hands on something that we don’t actually have (and never could have) which is ‘one opposite without the other’. This isn’t really something that we have to feel bad about – it isn’t some kind of a tragedy or ‘cruel joke’ that life is playing on us (even though we tend to feel that it is). It’s a tragedy or cruel joke only if we choose to look at things that way. We don’t have to feel bad about the fact that we can’t ever get one opposite with the other, in other words, we just choose to feel bad about it. We choose to feel bad about it without realizing that we have done so.
We feel as bad as we do (or as fearful as we do) because we have bought into the idea that our well-being depends upon the successful separation of the opposites. We have put ourselves in the position of believing that our fulfilment (or our salvation) lies within what Krishnamurti calls ‘psychological time’. This is placing ourselves in the very jaws of suffering because what we want so badly to happen never can happen. The opposites can never be pushed apart. Psychological time is an illusion.
But not only is what we are trying to achieve impossible, so too is the one who sets out to achieve it. When we resist our inner state (which we do because of the pain that is inherent in it) what we are actually doing is creating the polar self. Our resistance is what is creating the dual self, the oppositional self. The ‘oppositional self’ is the self which defines itself in terms of its fear of one outcome and its desire for the other, complementary outcome. It only gets to exist (or rather seem to exist) because of the way it sets its hopes on ‘splitting the opposites’!
This then is the real reason the secret reason we are so loathe to drop our resistance. When there is no resistance there is peace, and this peace offers no ‘purchase’ for the controlling self, the self which can only survive through its ongoing drama of ‘loss versus gain’. This is the real reason we are so determined not to see the identity of the opposites – who we mistakenly think we are (which is the polar self, the self which is compulsively driven by like and dislike) depends for its very existence upon this ongoing struggle, upon this on-going belief in the illusion that the opposites can one day be separated…