The Secret of Transformation

 

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The secret of transformation is to be where we don’t want to be. This – needless to say – isn’t necessarily how we would usually see it. Usually we have an idea of how we’d like to be and then we set out with all due determination on the path to be this way, which isn’t the same thing at all. That is ‘working towards a goal’ and ‘being where we don’t want to be’ isn’t in anything to do with goals –working towards a goal is trying to be where we DO what to be, obviously!

 

‘Being where we don’t want to be’ is easy to say, and simple to understand, but it is another thing again to put into practice. The fundamental principle of our conditioned mode of being is that we are always straining to move from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be and there is nothing we can do to change this. Just as long as we are in the conditioned mode of being, we will be trying to ‘improve our situation’ in everything we do, and – strange as it might sound – trying to improve our situation has nothing whatsoever to do with self-transformation. It is in fact the very antithesis of transformation – that’s simply us doing what we always do!

 

The very essence of the mechanical impulse that rules us when we’re in the conditioned mode of being is to move away from pain, move away from discomfort. It has no capability to do anything else! Whatever we do when we’re in conditioned mode we do by utilizing this mechanical aspect of ourselves – it is our OS, our ‘Operating System’ – and so no matter what it is that we are trying to do we will be trying to do via the logic of ‘aversion / attraction’, via the logic of ‘moving away from the unwanted situation and towards the desired one’. So what this means is that no matter how hard we try to figure a way around it we are never going to be able to deliberately ‘be where we don’t want to be’. This is – as a moment’s reflection will show – the supreme impossibility as far as the conditioned or mechanical modality of being is concerned…

 

The ‘mechanical approach’ just won’t work for this. If I find myself having an aversion to being in a particular place and I make a goal of being in this place (if I ‘force myself to feel the pain’, in other words) then all I have done is switch things around on myself. Now, to be ‘NOT feeling the pain’ is the place where I don’t want to be and so I am busy fleeing from this place! There’s nothing new about this state of affairs – I am after all always fleeing from the place where I don’t want to be. Or suppose – just to give another example of the impossibility that we are talking about here – that I am not able to accept myself as I am, that I hate myself being the way that I am, and so I am trying to turn this situation around so that I can accept myself, so that I don’t experience this aversion to myself. In this case what I am doing therefore is trying to escape from the pain of hating myself, I am trying to get away from ‘the pain of not being able to live with myself’. I am ‘hating the fact that I hate myself’, and so again, nothing has changed. I am still averse to one thing and attracted to the other. Attraction / aversion is still the principle that is guiding my actions; the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve switched the polarity around. As always, I am running away from what I don’t like!

 

What we’re basically saying here is something very obvious. We’re saying that when we orientate ourselves towards the attainment of a goal we are running away from what we don’t like. If we try to turn this around so that we AREN’T running away from what we don’t like then of course all we are doing is ‘running away from our running away’. We have made ‘not running away’ into our new goal and so we are still trying to get away from the place we don’t want to be in. That’s all we ever do – this is (of course) the basis of all goal-orientated activity. My goal is my ‘escape’, my ‘comfort zone’. And if I try to get clever about things and say that I don’t want to escape, that I don’t want to be forever chasing after convenient comfort zones to hide in, then this is simply me trying to escape from the actual reality of my situation. ‘Not having a comfort zone’ is in this case my new comfort zone!

 

Because the mechanical side of ourselves can’t do anything without first making a goal of it, there is no way that it can ever do genuine psychological work. It automatically makes ‘not having a goal’ into a goal. There is no way that the mechanical side or aspect of ourselves can’t turn ‘not having a goal’ into a goal – as we have said, it can only function on the basis of goals. ‘Psychological work’ – we might say – means being wherever you are without having a gaol to be either there or to be not there. This is something we simply can’t do on the basis of our OS – this is the one thing the OS can’t ever do! Not in a million years can the OS ever arrange for us to be somewhere without first having a goal for us to be there. Not in a million years can we ever do psychological work on the basis of our mechanical operating system…

 

What this means – in very simple terms – is that the mechanical self can never ever transform itself. This is an absolutely crucial understanding – it is also an understanding that we are fundamentally resistant to getting anywhere close to. It’s the one thing we don’t ever want to hear. Society itself colludes in the deluded idea that we can transform ourselves on purpose, in accordance with some method or other. Wherever we go we are bombarded with mechanical recipes for change – the self-help section of the high-street bookshop is (of course) crammed with ideas of great stuff we can do to change ourselves. As a culture we are absolutely fixated upon the belief that it must be possible to transform ourselves in a logical/purposeful fashion, if only we can hit upon the right method. ‘Hope springs eternal to the human breast’, as they say, but this is very far from being a good thing! On the contrary, this tendency to go on hoping is an indication of our perennial willingness to go on fooling ourselves, our perennial willingness to go on avoiding the truth…

 

With regard to self-help books and self-development courses and ‘self-change’ therapies we would much rather go on deceiving ourselves for ever, deceiving ourselves until hell freezes over, until pigs learn to fly in formation, until multinational corporations start taking a genuine interest in the well-being of their customers, rather than see the truth! On one level we can observe that this is a deeply perverse manifestation of human nature but on another level we can also observe that this isn’t so perverse at all but rather that there is a very understandable logic to this commitment to self-deception on a grand scale. The point is that we aren’t ourselves – we are ‘something else’ and this ‘something else’ has absolutely zero interest in changing its nature, no matter what it might say, no matter what it might persuade us to believe. This ‘something else’ is what we have been calling ‘the mechanical side of ourselves’, which is not really ourselves at all. In the conditioned modality of being we are totally identified with this ‘mechanical side of ourselves’ – we are absolutely convinced that ‘this is who we are’. We couldn’t be more convinced, in fact…

 

The ‘mechanical side of ourselves’ is also known as the thinking mind. The illusion that we are suffering under is the illusion that we are who we think we are! And yet whatever it is that we think we are, this is guaranteed to be nothing more than ‘yet another generic construct of the thinking mind’ and the thinking mind is only a dead mechanical system. It can’t be otherwise. There’s no life in the thinking mind, no spark in it, any more than there is life (or ‘a spark’) in a bureaucracy (or in a government, or in a multinational corporations). Logical systems aren’t living things – they are the antithesis of living things. These are all mere mechanisms. They are dead things. The thinking mind is a mere mechanism, a mere ‘dead thing’, no matter how much we may exalt it.  As Carlos Castaneda says in The Active Side of Infinity, (1996, P 147) –

Classifications have a world of their own,” he continued. “After you begin to classify anything, the classification becomes alive and it rules you. But since classifications never started as energy-giving affairs, they always remain like dead logs. They are not trees, they are merely logs.

The human predicament is – and always has been – that we place ourselves under the power of dead things. We let our classifications rule us. This is what we do. We place ourselves under the power of the thinking mind and its systems. We let it define everything about us and how much more power could we give it than this?

 

The consequence of being identified with the thinking mind is that we are forever running, forever trying to escape something, forever trying to gain something. And the whole time we don’t really know what it is that we’re trying to escape from, any more than we know what it is that we’re trying to gain. Even when we’re not running away we’re running away – we’re running away by deceiving ourselves, we’re running away by believing in some kind of comforting illusion. This is the reason we find it so hard to be still in ourselves, the reason we find it so hard not to be always ‘active’ in a purposeful way. We’re always ‘itching’ – we’re itching to do this, itching to do that, itching to do the other. Each itch is a thought and we’re always having these ‘thought-itches’. It’s as if we’re swarming with fleas. Every thought is a promise of how we may change ourselves or our situation and get from where we DON’T want to be to where we DO want to be (either this or it’s a threat of something terrible happening when we don’t manage to successfully change our situation, and this of course comes down to exactly the same thing). It’s a goad, either way. Thoughts always want to take us somewhere else; thoughts are distractions from what is.

 

When we’re identified with the mechanical self then we can’t ever stop running because if we do then we are immediately confronted with the blankness of that self, the sterility of that self. We get instantly ‘bored’ when the distraction-stimulus is taken away and if this carries on we go from merely feeling bored to feeling that we are actually going crazy. The situation of ‘not having anything to distract us from unconditionally being with ourselves as we actually are’ turns into unmitigated torture and we see no benefit in it at all. This is ‘where we don’t want to be’ in a big way! The trouble is that there’s no nourishment, no sustenance, no humour, no poetry in the mechanical self. When we stop running, stop distracting ourselves with illusions, then it is as if we are stuck in the most arid of deserts – the desert of the soul. No terrestrial desert was ever as arid as this. The mechanical self is totally sterile and we have no ‘comfort’ in it at all unless we are chasing goals of one sort or another, goals which we invest with a very special ‘magical’ quality…

 

What is this ‘very special magical quality’, we may ask? Simply put, the magical quality we invest our goals with is the promise of ‘radical change’, the promise of relief from the interminable tedium of our current situation, the promise of release from the oppressive burden of being ruled by a mere ‘mechanical thing’. This might in one way seem like a very obvious thing to be saying – that ‘the reason our goals are as attractive to us as they are is because they promise to deliver some sort of change’, but the thing about this is that the type of change which we are so bedazzled by is the type of change no goal can ever bring about.

 

The ‘magical outcome’ that the mechanical self is always dreaming about is the outcome of ‘escaping from itself’ and this is of course the one thing that can never come about as a result of chasing goals. The mechanical self isn’t going to suddenly / miraculously become non-mechanical as a result of behaving mechanically, after all! This would be like a heroin addict hoping to become free from his addiction as a result of regularly taking heroin, or like a worrier hoping to become liberated from worry via the clever tactic of thinking worrying thoughts. Chasing after mechanical goals does not liberate us from the suffering of the conditioned modality of being, which is the modality of being in which we are forever trying to ‘get things right’ in accordance with the thinking mind. Freedom from the mechanical self cannot come about as a result of goals because goals are the mechanical self…

 

This is – needless to say – a very curious situation. The thing that we are really chasing after the whole time – without being able to see it – is ‘escape from being the mechanical self’ (which isn’t who we are anyway, even though we don’t know this either) and this unconscious ‘displacement-type activity’ is the very thing that absolutely guarantees that we will never obtain the result that we are (unconsciously) hoping to obtain. As long as we’re trying to achieve an outcome the true nature of which we don’t understand on the basis of us being what we aren’t (and don’t understand that we aren’t) then the one thing that is 100% for certain is that this type of carry on isn’t ever going to get us anywhere!

 

Once we put things like this then the assertion that we can’t ever change ourselves no matter how much time or effort we put into it becomes a lot clearer. The assertion that I can’t ever change myself (since I’m not who I think I am anyway, and since the means by which I attempt to facilitate this change puts me more in debt than ever to this false way of understanding myself) starts to make very good sense indeed! All that is needed in order for me to get myself out of the situation where whatever I do only makes matters worse (by putting myself more in debt to the false-self system) is to stop acting in accordance with the dictates of the thinking mind. I can’t do this ‘on purpose’ because all purposes, all goals, belong to the thinking mind (because all purposes, all goals are the thinking mind). Whatever the rational mind points out as being to our advantage is only ever going to be to its advantage. Whatever the thinking mind tells us to do is only ever for its benefit, not ours. If it says that something is good, then it means ‘good for itself’, not for us! And as we have already said, it is no help to simply turn things around and disobey or contradict the thinking and take the opposite tack to the one we were going to take. We’re still obeying the thinking if we do this – we’re still doing what the thinking tells us is right to do because it is the thinking that is telling us to disobey the thinking…

 

Yet despite this apparently insoluble dilemma the ‘answer’ is staring us right in the face. It’s there all the time! It isn’t actually that problematical to ‘be where we don’t want to be’ – our situation (from the point of view of the thinking mind) is after all very rarely as we would like it to be. The one thing we are never going to run short of in life is unsatisfactory situations. The one thing we may be assured of is that things are very rarely going to work out exactly as we would like them to and this is – if we are willing to use the opportunity in a conscious way rather than a rational / reactive way – is to our very great advantage. ‘The moment I’m disappointed I’m encouraged’, says Rumi. It’s not that we need to be constantly affirming to ourselves that the unsatisfactory situation is in some way OK, that our disappointment is in some way OK, etc. – that would just be the thinking mind putting its stamp on the proceedings and making ‘Not OK’ into the new ‘OK’…

 

Awareness is infinitely subtler than this, and it is not an action or approach that we can deliberately take. Awareness is there all along, if we pay attention. Awareness means that we simply pay attention to ourselves being in a situation that we don’t want to be in, and we notice ourselves reacting to that situation – we notice ourselves trying to be not in that situation, we notice ourselves thinking about how it isn’t good to be in that situation, and so on. The beauty of this is that we aren’t – in this noticing – trying to change anything. What we’re talking about here isn’t an ‘extra-clever way of trying to escape from where we are,’ this is just us paying attention to what’s going on, paying attention to reality. What usually happens is that registering what is going on turns instantaneously into ‘trying to control what is going on’. Paying attention to reality never actually happens – we just launch straight off into a full-flight of automatic mental processes and activity revolving around how we don’t want to be there and what we might do to not be there and all this automatic activity blocks out anything else, like heavy cloud cover blocking out the sun.

 

We ‘take against’ the situation we find ourselves in, in other words. We say NO to what’s going on even before we really know what’s going on (and we never know what’s going on via the thinking mind anyway because the way the thinking mind works is by ‘jumping to conclusions’. This ‘saying NO’ is an involuntary thing – a force we cannot resist cuts in and takes charge of us. The ‘mechanical impulse’ takes charge of us and leaves us no leeway to be ourselves. We react against what’s happening and this reacting goes to further fuel the mechanical self, it goes to further perpetuate and strengthen the mechanical self. But if we are so powerless against the mechanical impulse – as indeed experience shows that we are – and giving in to the coercive current of the reaction (which doesn’t feel like ‘a reaction’ at all but simply ‘what we want to do’) further perpetuates and strengthens the mechanical self, then how we are ever going to be free?

 

To the extent that who we really are (our ‘essence’) is soaked up into the sponge of the mechanical self (so that there is no effective separation between the two) then there can be no such thing as freedom from mechanical rules, freedom from mechanical compulsions. There can’t even be any sense of us not being the mechanical self – what it wants is what we want. We just go along with everything and we don’t see that we are going along. But as soon as the consciousness within us does start to separate to some degree, so as to form an independent viewpoint, then we start to see that all is not well, that all is not as it should be. Awareness is itself a challenge to the false authority of the mechanical self, which is at root nothing more than a collection of habits. Separation of essence from personality (to use Gurdjieff’s terms) occurs just as soon as we start being sincere, just as soon as we stop lying to ourselves, just as soon as we stop automatically going along with whatever propaganda happens to be going around on any particular day. Until this separation takes place – to some extent or other – nothing of what we have been discussing will make the slightest bit of sense. And contrariwise – if what we have been talking about does make sense, then this means that the separation of essence and personality has already started to take place!

 

‘Separation’ means – as we have already said – that we have a viewpoint that is not the same as that of the mechanical self. We have our own viewpoint, not someone else’s. It also means that we have the capacity to be genuinely interested in our own pain, our own discomfort. The mechanical self has precisely zero capacity to be interested in pain – either its’ own or anyone else’s. All it can do is try to get away from pain, or try to quickly eliminate it by ‘fixing it’. It has no genuine interest in pain – the most it can do is develop some kind of ‘superficial interest’ with a view to helping its ability to manage or control the pain better. It will learn only what it needs to learn about pain in order to (hopefully) get rid of the pain, in other words.

 

The mechanical self has no interest in changing and pain – whether we can understand it or not – is a forerunner of change. The more aversion we experience to being in a particular situation the more potential that situation has to change us! The more we are able to feel the pain of being in the situation we’re actually in, the more transformed we already are!

 

When I am the mechanical self then the pain has nowhere to go (and this automatic pain-refusal is what drives everything in the mechanical or conditioned world) but when the pain does have somewhere to go, when it has somewhere where it can come to rest, then we come back into reality, and reality is the gift in the situation. The ‘gift’ is that we have been transformed into ourselves, transformed into who we really are. This most radical of transformations is what happens when we ‘kiss the frog’…

 

 

 

 

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