Life On The Outside

We’re always chasing after ‘the goal’. When are we not chasing after the goal? We will say that this isn’t true of course, we might even be fairly indignant about it – we’ll say that we know how to switch off when the occasion calls for it, we’ll say that we can let our hair down with the best of them. Naturally we’re going to say this – it would come across as being rather strange if we said that we couldn’t switch off! That would be a freaky kind of thing. Only machines can’t switch off, after all…

Switching off from GO Mode (or Purposeful Mode) doesn’t happen nearly as often as we would like to think that it does however; switching off is a much bigger deal than we imagine it to be. When we’re chilling out, engaging in recreational pursuits, partying, and so on, we’re still being purposeful. We’re serious about our leisure time just as we are serious about our work time; we’ve still got some idea in mind, after all. We’ve still got some idea in mind because – whether we realise it or not – it’s all about the ideas. We’ve got some concept of what leisure or relaxation entails just as we have a concept of what work entails and so just as long as we have some sort of idea or concept about what we’re doing, or what we want to be doing, we haven’t ‘switched off’. We’re still taking our ideas about things seriously. ‘Switching off’ means not having any ideas about what we’re doing or would like to be doing; it involves ‘forgetting about ourselves’, as we might also say. This is the crucial point however – it’s the crucial point because deep down we absolutely don’t want to forget about ourselves…

Just so long as we have the goal or intention to relax, we aren’t relaxed. Relaxation doesn’t happen as a result of us enacting our plans, or enacting our ideas about what relaxation entails, it happens when we let go of our plans, when we let go of our ideas. If we keep in mind our intention to have fun, or to be happy, then we won’t be able to! That’s because living has nothing to do with intentions or plans or ideas of whatever kind – if we are to genuinely live (instead of just fooling ourselves that we’re living) then we have to ditch our mental constructs. Mental constructs don’t bring happiness, we might say, no matter how tightly we might cling to them. To imagine that they do is to miss the point big time.

Mental constructs – which is to say, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, theories, methods, etc., – are troublesome things, they require our continual investment, they require us to ‘take care of them’, so to speak. Energy and attention are needed, our allegiance is needed – we have to protect our beliefs / ideas and fight hard on their behalf. Even saying this isn’t expressing things properly – our ideas, beliefs, opinions, etc., actually own us, they enslave us on a daily basis and – no matter what we might imagine to the contrary – they’re never going to give us anything back for being their slaves. That’s not how it works when you’re a slave – we don’t get remunerated for our efforts, we don’t get anything back for being a slave.

Another way of putting this is to say that we imagine it to be the case that we can stop thinking and chill out any time we want. We can’t, but we very rarely see this – if the truth were known to be known (which it isn’t) we are machines and machines – as we’ve just said – can’t switch off themselves off. [If a machine were designed to switch itself off then the part of the machine responsible for doing this would not be switched off, which would be analogous to a person who tries to enter a state of relaxation by telling themselves to – when we do this the part of us that does the telling can’t relax. It’s got a job to do, after all.]  We talk a lot about ‘letting go; and ‘surrendering’ and ‘accepting’ in mental health but what we don’t appreciate is that the rational mind – being a machine – simply can’t do this.

A machine and its designated outcome are not two different things: when there is a goal then this means that we must be in Doing Mode (which we could equally well refer to as ‘Machine Mode’). Doing Mode is very different indeed from Being Mode – when we are in the former then everything is about us geared towards obtaining an important value in the future. ‘What’s happening right now’ is of no value in itself, but rather it only has value inasmuch as it can contribute to the ultimate goal. Being Mode is the value itself however, and this makes all the difference in the world – the one is the meal, the other the menu.

When we’re in Doing Mode then all our attention is on the ‘outside’, all our attention is on our map of the world, and so straightaway we can see that there is no awareness of what’s going on ‘on the inside’, which can never be part of any map. ‘He who looks outside dreams’, as Jung says; we ‘dream’ because we’re wholly absorbed in the world of our ideas. For us, when we are in D-Mode, absolutely everything is hanging on whether we attain the goal or not; the goal is determining everything about us – it is determining everything about us because we have made it into the most important thing. It’s not ‘the most important thing’ because its only our thoughts we’re talking about here and thoughts aren’t as anywhere near as important as they present themselves as being. They’re only thoughts. What’s going on ‘on the outside’ is profoundly irrelevant to our inner state of being despite the fact that we have declared it to be ‘all-important’. This isn’t not the case at all but that is nevertheless the game we’re playing – we’re playing the game that being is to be won via our successful purposeful activity.

All of this is of course just another way of saying that when we’re fixated on the outside then we have no interiority, that everything for us is on the outside. We’re ‘living on the outside’ and yet we don’t realize this because we think that what we’re calling ‘the outside’ here is all there is. If we are to live a good life then our endeavours on the outside have to be successful; if they’re not successful then – we firmly believe – it’s as if we are excluded from life itself. How can we possibly hope to have a good life if we aren’t ‘successful doers’? Losers aren’t allowed to enjoy life after all – everyone knows that! Our well-being depends upon how good we are at controlling, therefore. To be able to control effectively feels empowering and we imagine that this is where our autonomy lies; what we can’t see however is that we have no choice in our controlling, and that we are in fact being controlled by our need to be in control. Our goals are always trivial because they are on the outside of us, because they have nothing to do with who we really are, and yet we have arranged things so that we are held in thrall to them.

True autonomy would be when we are able let go of our goals, irrespective of whether we feel that we can attain them or not, and switch back into Being Mode, which is where our sense of well-being doesn’t depend on how good we are at manipulating what’s going on. This autonomy – we might say – involves two things: [1] it involves us being free (since we are no longer being externally controlled) and [2] it involves us being authentically who we are (since as long as we are striving to obtain some superficial goal we are being defined by that goal). We don’t like to believe that we are defined by our goals (we think it’s the other way around) but this is nevertheless the case. In our rational-purposeful world, the highest praise we will ever receive is that we are this thing we call ‘a success’, just as the most ignominious insult we’ll ever receive is the accusation of being ‘a failure’, so how can we claim that we’re not being defined by our goals, by our successes and failures in our allocated tasks?

This insight turns everything on its head – the goal which supposedly exists only to benefit us has become the supreme value and our worth is measured entirely by how well we’re doing with regard to attaining it. If our worth is determined by our ability to attain the goal, then how can we say that we’re more important than that goal? Where, after all, is the dignity in being controlled by some arbitrary external value? When being is subordinate to doing such that – as far as our understanding goes, at least – we can only attain being as a result of our successful doing, then the natural order of things has been overturned and this is the nature of the artificial world that we have unwittingly created for ourselves. By adapting to this world, and its inverted values, we have, without knowing it, given away every last little bit of our innate dignity. We give away our innate dignity by chasing goals that don’t really matter; we don’t realize it but we’re ‘chasing being,’ and chasing being just doesn’t work…

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