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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