It’s not that we don’t exist but rather that we don’t exist as this rigid, sharply-defined sense of self. Existing as the defined sense of self means being trapped in an endless meaningless vibration between opposites however – it means that everything we do is subject to measurement or evaluation and it means – furthermore – that nothing we do can ever free us from this world of measurement, this world of imprisoning comparisons. The vibration we’re talking about is the vibration between winning and losing, better and worse, acceptable and unacceptable. Why then do we value this externally-determined (or ‘unfree’) state of being as much as we obviously do value it? One answer is to say that this is because of ‘competing values’: what we value more than anything else in life is certainty – certainty about who we are, certainty about what the world is. This certainty can only come about however when we look at things in a wretchedly narrow way, and so if the pain of this wretchedly constrained or unfree mode of being is the price we have to pay then we will pay it. We will sign on the dotted line. We will complain about the pain and frustration of it all for sure, but we won’t ever do anything about it.
The wretchedly narrow or constrained modality of being that we’re talking about here is ‘the modality of the concrete self’ and the benefit that we obtain as a result of being identified with that self is that we get to believe in a world that is made up of literal truths. There’s nothing literal or unambiguous about reality ‘as it is in itself’, that is a property which we have forced upon it. We force the property of literal certainty upon the world (and upon ourselves) and this forcing business is painful – this constant forcing means that we can never rest, that we can never find peace. We don’t want peace as much as we want to live in the literally-understood world however and so we had to lie in the bed that we’ve made. We have to lie in the bed that we have made and it’s a rather tortuous one. It’s a bed that is full of little hard little peas and we’re like the Princess in the fairy story. The concrete self is like a Princess in the sense that it has to have things the way it wants them to be or it will find life unbearable, intolerable. The existence of the concrete self is predicated upon controlling in other words, and we live in a world that can never be effectively controlled. The best the CS can hope for is the illusion of effective control and so any good feelings that we are able to enjoy in life have to come from ‘illusory perceptions that we are in control’, therefore. That’s the only place we are ever going to get our comfort from; we’re certainly never going to get any comfort from reality as it is in itself!
Reality ‘as it is in itself’ is a source of terror for us, not existential comfort! Reality is a source of terror because it’s never going to line up neatly with our closed-minded expectations for it, our narrow requirements for it. Reality is a source of terror for the concrete self because this self needs literal truths to relate to (or orientate itself around) or else it cannot exist (as we keep saying) but the big snag here is that these literal truths can only be there for us to rely on when we ourselves arrange for them to be. If control is an illusion so too is the literal, matter-of-fact idea of who we are, therefore. Reality is a source of terror for the everyday self because there is absolutely no validation in it there for it and without continual validation it cannot continue to exist.
The concrete self needs the literally-understood world in order that it might continue to exist, in order that it might continue to construct itself, but this doesn’t mean to say it’s ever going to be happy or at ease in this world! Quite the reverse is true – the literal world is a source of pain for the concrete self. So whilst reality is a source of terror for the CS, the alternative to this (which is the world we have made up for ourselves) is a place of unending, unremitting low-grade suffering. Things only ever get worse here. The CS is caught between a rock and a hard place, other words. As we’ve just said, there’s a type of comfort to be had in the concrete or literal world but it just happens to be an illusory type. The only type of comfort the CS can have is a comfort of thinking that things are going to work out for it when they aren’t! as good as it gets. This takes some thinking about – the only type of good feelings the CS can ever have are the good feelings that come from believing that things are going to work out for it when this just isn’t true. To call this ‘slim pickings’ is to gravely understate the matter – this is a hallucinatory banquet and no mistake. We can feast on this sort of fare all day long without any danger of our cravings ever being satisfied!
The concrete self, for all its concreteness, is a ghost-like entity and – in accordance with its ghostly nature – all of its satisfactions are of the phantasmagorical variety. We are of course very far from seeing this for ourselves when we are identified with the CS – to us, the euphoria-generating outcomes that we are looking at all seem very real, very tangible. They seem like the most real thing there is! As we’ve said, the concrete self relates only to what it sees as literal certainty and as far as it is concerned ‘the literal truth’ and ‘reality’ are synonymous terms. If we were to go into this of course we would very quickly see that reality is always going to be lacking in literal certainty; LC comes out of the framework that we impose upon the world and nowhere else – LC is actually a reflection of the framework that we are imposing on the world and so to go around saying, as we do, that certainty is a property of reality itself rather than being a property of our blinkered way of looking at things (which is to say a function of the way in which we don’t pay attention past a certain point) is pure fantasy. A path has been marked out for us to follow and follow it we do, like so many sleepwalkers, even though this path is only a made-up thing, even though this path is only ever an empty game that we are playing without realising it.
Literal certainty is a projection of the self, therefore – which is another way of putting it. We’re not encountering anything real, we’re encountering our own unacknowledged ‘cut-off point’; we’re encountering our own lack of interest, in other words. We’re encountering our own lack of interest in the world but – at the same time – we’re not in the least bit interested it! Being trapped in a world that is made up of our own lack of curiosity (whilst at the same time being profoundly uninterested in this lack of curiosity) may sound like an utterly bizarre sort of situation (and it is) but it is also very familiar one; it is – after all – a situation that we find ourselves in every day. This is how you and I get to feel that we are this self. Lack of interest in the world is our strategy for creating the self.
As we have said, there is a lot of pain and stuff inherent in this situation. We wouldn’t really expect anything else – as well as it being the case that we are trapped in a world that has been created purely and simply by our absolute disinterest in looking beyond the literal reality that is being presented to us by our thoughts it could also said that we live in a world that has been created by our ‘lack of interest’ in feeling pain or discomfort – finding out that things aren’t what we thought they were (or finding out that our theories or assumptions aren’t correct) and this also includes the pain and discomfort of. The lack of curiosity that we’re talking about is a special case of our neurotic pain avoidance therefore, which we might also call a ‘fear of coming across new stuff’ or ‘a fear of change’, or ‘a fear of growth. Whatever we want to call it, this neophobic attitude of ours is what lies behind our customary existence as the ‘insular’ or ‘isolated’ sense of self. Fear is the architect of both the Positive World and the concrete / literal-minded self which inhabits that world, and this clearly isn’t our usual way of looking at things. This is very far indeed from the way we have of seeing things. We very much see (in an implicit way) the state of encapsulated ego-hood as being a good thing; we very much see it as an ideal state of affairs, a modality of being that has very many wonderful possibilities open to it. Whatever joys there are in life are, they only worth something if they can be enjoyed or appreciated by the self, we say. The self is the enjoyer, the self is the appreciator, and therefore everything must be for its benefit. That’s not the way things are, however: the self isn’t the hero of this show, it’s the victim. The ego isn’t ‘the boss of things’, it’s the stooge…