The Exclusive Existence of the Conditioned Self

Whatever we plan for, hope for, anticipate, dread, whatever we imagine life to have in store for us, whatever we feel life to mean to us, or signify to us, we do on the basis of a conception of ourselves that is entirely wrong, entirely lacking in any truth at all. We do all of this planning, hoping, anticipating, dreading, imagining, etc, on the basis of us having some kind of ‘private’ existence, some kind of existence that is ours alone, an existence which no one else can share. “For the waking there is one common world, but when asleep each person turns away to a private one.” says, Heraclitus [Fragment 22]. This is an ‘exclusive’ type of a life therefore – it is a life that we lead in exclusion of everyone else. We live as if we alone truly have a life, as if ours alone is the only life that truly matters…

 

We will of course strenuously object to this suggestion – it sounds very much as if we are being accused of being narcissist or a psychopath, or something of that sort, and naturally this is not something that we would want to go along with. There is no kudos in being narcissistically self-absorbed and callously indifferent to the lives of all other human beings! Our objections are disingenuous however; we all know well enough that there is a core of truth in this ‘accusation’. It is very much inherent in the actual nature of the concrete self to only really value its own private or exclusive existence – that pretty much goes with the territory. That’s pretty much what everyday egoic existence is all about – that’s the nature of experience that comes with this mode of being in the world…

 

Intellectually, we know that other people exist and have lives that matter and so we are generally respectful of this to some degree or other (although not always, obviously) but this does not mean that we experience other peoples’ lives as being ‘just as real as ours’ – clearly we don’t. As we have said, the experience of ‘being this self’ is the same thing as ‘not being any other self’. This is necessarily an exclusive rather than an inclusive kind of a thing; there is no such thing as an inclusive self, a self that includes everything – there was then that wouldn’t be ‘a self’, it would be reality, which but its nature is unbounded, undivided, unfragmented. The mechanics of the self involves ‘not-self’, just as the mechanics of UP always involves DOWN.

 

All of this talk of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ and ‘psychopathy’ is therefore a bit of a red herring. The ego – by its very nature – is a purse narcissist, a pure psychopath. We just don’t to see this because we are committed to that modality of existence, and so we have to make the best of it. We have to put the best possible spin on it that we can, and part of this spin involves demonizing anyone who makes obvious to us all these less-attractive aspects of selfhood. The state of ‘being a self’ is the state of being an encapsulated and therefore fundamentally alienated narcissist and there is no point being squeamish about this. There are of course varying degrees to which consciousness gets trapped in the capsule of the self – we can be partially free from this grim prison in our everyday lives – but if we imagine (as we do) that the self could ever be ‘non-narcissistic’ or ‘non-psychopathic’ in its essential nature then we are simply fooling ourselves…

 

Once we have got this straight (and we’re not going to get anywhere until we do) then we have at the same time got another thing straight too – we are now able to appreciate the true absurdity of our position as conditioned egos, which comes about as we have said because of the way in which we have been unwittingly compelled to live our lives on a completely false basis. As we started off this discussion by saying, we are – whether we want to admit it or not – living (on some deep unacknowledged level) as if our life were the only one that is truly real, the only one that really counts. Each one of us is doing this (we’re all doing this in tandem) and that’s what conditioned existence is all about! Living life on this basis however guarantees that our so-called ‘life’ will not be real. Life lived within the closed remit of the rational-conceptual mind (which is the same thing as life lived as a compartmentalized self) is always unreal.

 

Consciousness is not exclusive, only the thinking mind is exclusive in its operation and the thinking mind is not who we are. How can the thinking mind be who we are when it is only a device that we are using, when it is only a way of arbitrarily organizing things? The thinking mind is a pattern of organization but who we are is not this arbitrary pattern but what it is that is being organized. We are the medium not the waves that are being propagated through that medium; we are consciousness itself, not the thoughts or ideas or memories that consciousness facilitates. Consciousness is always whole, never divided. Because it is always whole it has no ‘selves’ within it! It is quite ‘selfless’ in other words although using this term tends to confuse matters because it sounds like some sort of lofty moral stance that we are taking; it sounds like some kind of ‘moral attainment’. Selflessness most definitely isn’t a moral attainment however because the only one who could be ‘attaining’ anything is the one we are trying to get rid of! The only one who could be attaining anything is the self and the self can hardly be expected to attain the state of selflessness, very obviously!  This would be like a fish learning how to be ‘unfish’, as Wei Wu Wei says.

 

What this means is that the whole of what we call ‘morality’ and ‘moral behaviour’ is really just a preposterous façade. It’s a big joke that we’re just not getting. It’s the narcissist pretending to be non-narcissistic; it’s the psychopath pretending to care! This is hardly going to prove to be a very popular viewpoint on things but that’s purely because our allegiance lies squarely with the ‘comforting illusion’ rather than the inconvenient truth. This isn’t a cynical approach however – we’re not saying that people are at root psychopaths or narcissists but rather that when we operate on the basis of thought (which inevitably entails imagining ourselves to be this compartmentalized or isolated ‘self’) then we can’t really care about anything other than this ‘self that we mistakenly think we are’. It’s not that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate, just that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate at the same time as being the ‘compartmentalized’ or ‘mind-created self’!

 

The mind-created self possesses no virtues, much as it likes to imagine that it does. It has no virtues because it has no freedom – very clearly there can be no virtue without freedom. If I am being compelled to do whatever it is that I am doing without seeing that I am being compelled then nothing that I do has any ‘virtue’ because nothing that I do has anything to do with who I actually am! This is not too hard to see if we want to see it – if I am pretending to be somebody without letting on to myself that I am doing this, then how could anything that I am doing on this false basis ever be said to be truly virtuous (speaking in the Daoist sense here rather than the conventional Christian sense)? Nothing can come out of a false basis other than further falsehoods, nothing can come of a lie except more lies…

 

Virtue can only arise from who we really are, not from the mask that we are wearing without knowing that we are wearing it. The mask (or persona) cannot care and it cannot genuinely mean anything it says; sincerity is not a possibility for the persona (since it is nothing else but a pose or posture that we have arbitrarily struck) and if there is no sincerity then clearly no virtue can ever arise. We have created an arid situation, therefore. The mind-created self (which is a mere mechanism) can’t really feel, it can’t really care, it can’t ever be genuinely happy and it can never know true peace… P.D. Ouspensky says something to the effect that wherever anger, jealousy, pride, bitterness etc arise, this always points directly to the existence of what he calls ‘the false personality’; the false personality can experience only the lower emotions (‘the six poisons’ in Buddhism and Vedanta) – the higher emotions (for example, love, humour, compassion, awe, sympathetic joy) only being possible when we transcend this concrete self.

 

If there is one thing that we can be sure of it is this – the conditioned identity doesn’t want to know the truth about itself. It doesn’t want to know that it is unfree and that everything it thinks and does is simply the result of it slavishly obeying one mechanical impulse after another. To know this would be to have the bubble of apparent autonomy burst and without this bubble functioning correctly the self cannot continue believing in itself. In order to hide the unpalatable truth of our profound lack of autonomy from ourselves what we do is that we align ourselves completely with each mechanical impulse that comes along; we make the immediate fulfilment of the mechanical impulse the most important thing in the world to us and this is how we create the illusion of self! The self equals ‘the arbitrary imposition of extrinsic order upon the world’ and just as long as we refuse to question or examine just what exactly we are doing here the outrageous absurdity of our conditioned existence is kept safely invisible to us.

 

The absurdity derives from the fantasy image that we have of ourselves, as Gurdjieff. In this fantasy-version of reality we possess all the virtues (or ‘qualities’) that make life worthwhile, that make life actually liveable. We possess free volition and sincerity, we are able to feel love or compassion for other people, we have the possibility of being genuinely happy or peaceful, we have the possibility of connecting with the world around us, and with the people around us; we have the capacity of ‘behaving unselfishly’, and so on. All of this is fantasy however; as long as we are identified with the mind-created self none of this is even remotely true; it’s true for who we really are but not for who we think we are. Buying into this convenient fantasy package means therefore that we have made truth into our adversary; we can only serve one master after all – either we serve the truth or we serve the protective fantasy….

 

This is – as we need hardly point out – an utterly ridiculous situation to get caught up in. Either we live the incredibly constrained (if not to say entirely futile) life of the narcissistically encapsulated self-concept which is forever trying to prove that it is more than it actually is (and more than it ever could be) or we live a life in which we genuinely can be more than just the encapsulated bubble of the unreal private self. These are the two possibilities and – somehow – it is the first one that we have opted for, and steadfastly continue to opt for. It isn’t of course right to represent this as some sort of straightforward ‘choice that we make’ – if it was then it would be very hard (to say the least) so see why we would ever go for option number one, which is, as we have said, where we have to struggle continuously (in what is actually an entirely futile fashion) to achieve something for ourselves that we can never actually have. If this was what life was all about and there was nothing else for it but to create  – as best we can – a fantasy life for ourselves in which we can get somewhere worthwhile on the basis of ‘the encapsulated self’, then that would perhaps be a different matter. But this is not the case – we always do have the ‘option’ (so to speak) of moving towards reality (and all the ‘virtues’ or ‘qualities’ it contains) instead of moving away from it in the direction of ever-increasing futility, sterility and self-deception.

 

If this were a straightforward choice between ‘option 1’ and ‘option 2’ then it would be something of a ‘no-brainer’, as the popular parlance has it, but the whole point of conditioned (or unconscious) life is that we don’t see anything clearly, least of all the path that we have unwittingly opted to go down, which is ‘the path of suffering’.  A perfect example of our blindness is our approach to mental health, which always involves the attempt to repair and return to its proper functioning the everyday conditioned self, which is the self that it made up of nothing other than an arbitrary collection of limits which we have, out of unacknowledged fear, attached ourselves to. The life of this self – which can never honestly relate to anything or anyone, for fear of ‘bursting its own bubble’ – is always going to be prominently blighted with suffering and frustration, no matter how much we try to cover it up and live – as a pain-avoiding strategy – entirely superficially as ‘an image in image world’. This is of course the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, which states that conditioned life is suffering (or dukka); this does not means that life itself is bound to be filled with frustration and pain (which is how the ‘Truth of Suffering’ very much tends to be understood in the ego-orientated West) but simply that the life of the conditioned or partitioned self is always going to be fundamentally unsatisfactory. If we were to cease to identify ourselves so rigidly with our walls, our boundaries, our tight definitions of who or what we are, then life would become much more than it currently is – we would not be arbitrarily it and so of course it would become much more than it currently is!

 

Our whole approach in mental health is however – as we have just said – to repair the ego-self, this isolated (and therefore alienated) narrow notion of who we are. If our problem, as Wei Wu Wei says, is one of ‘mistaken identity‘, then all we’re doing is re-affirming the mistake! then All of our therapies, all of our methods, all of our technologies are about repairing the sense of ourselves as separate isolated (or ‘exclusive’) egos so that we can go back to the consensus world that we have created for ourselves, which is a world made up entirely of ‘ego-games’, a world made up of pointless games for the ego to play….

 

The bottom line is that our hidden agenda – as a collective, as a society – isn’t to heal people or support them on a journey towards their own wholeness, their own individuation. As Robert Anton Wilson says, this was never the aim of any society! Our aim or agenda as a society is always simply to perpetuate the system, to keep it going no matter what price this may require in terms of human suffering. Society has a vested interest in fixing us when we get too unhappy to be able to function in it anymore, but it has no interest at all in our actual mental health. This consumerism-based world of ours actually needs us to be narcissists in order for it to continue functioning, as many commentators (see for example Tim Kasser in this article in the Huffington Post) have said…

 

We may not be having that much fun (in any real sense) but we carry on with the insecurity-driven ego-games that we’re playing all the same and whilst this may not do us any good at all, it’s good for this thing called ‘the economy’! The point is then, that we’re not living life for ourselves (for ourselves as we really are, underneath the facade) but rather that we’re living life for the facade, and this facade isn’t actually a real thing…

 

 

Art: Auguste Toulmouche – Vanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shrinking The Self

We build ourselves up with our thinking – we are constantly building ourselves up with our thinking, and this is not helpful thing! It doesn’t matter whether our thoughts are of the ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ variety as far as this is concerned; it doesn’t matter because we’re building ourselves up either way!  No matter whether our thoughts might be considered destructive or constructive, helpful or unhelpful, realistic or unrealistic, it’s a positive accumulation. All thought (no matter how we may see it) is an accumulation and that’s not doing us any good at all…

 

Now we might of course say that we want to build ourselves up in a positive way, we might say that this is a good and healthy thing. We probably will say this. We implicitly see a ‘positive accumulation’ as something that will give us a better life; we see having a solid well-defined positive self-image as being an indication of good mental-health. Having a positive (i.e. a confident and empowered) self-image is where we see our happiness lying. Happiness doesn’t come about as a result of an accumulation however, no matter what it might be that we are accumulating. Happiness isn’t synonymous with having a positive self-image; far from being synonymous it is fundamentally incompatible – the two cannot co-exist.

 

It is our simplistic preconception that happiness and fulfilment in life can come about as a result of an accumulation of the right sort of things and this is a preconception that – needless to say – has informed our modern way of living. This assumption it what underlies the whole of our Western consumer society – we are all trying to ‘consume our way to happiness’ as fast as we can! ‘Consume’ equals ‘accumulate’ – we add more and more stuff to the pile and the bigger the pile the better it is. Successful accumulation equals a happy life whilst failure to accumulate means an unhappy life – or at least, that’s what the adverts say!

 

Accumulation occurs on two levels. There is the ‘outer’ accumulation of ‘stuff’ and there is the ‘inner’ accumulation of memories, ideas, beliefs, techniques, theories, models, and so on. The two processes run along side-by-side and we can’t really separate the two – there’s the inner clutter and there’s the outer clutter and both of these stand in the way of our genuine happiness. We all know that clutter isn’t conducive to happiness but somehow we don’t see our thoughts about ourselves and the world as being mere ‘clutter’, which they totally are. Thoughts aren’t the ‘real thing’, after all, they are simply stuff we say about the real thing. They are just our comments. Our thoughts and beliefs are an opaque overlay that covers up reality so that – in the end – all we have left to relate to are our own mental constructs. Or as Alan Watts says, all we have to think about are our own thoughts, which is a process that doesn’t take us anywhere good…

 

There isn’t a ‘beneficial’ type of clutter, as opposed to a ‘harmful’ type. Clutter clogs up the space around us, eventually reducing our mobility (our freedom to move) to zero and then we’re stuck, frozen into a single cramped posture. Clutter chokes our creativity and – eventually – turns us into clutter too. This is easy to see with clutter that exists on the outside but not so easy with regard to our positively constructed idea of our self, our memories and habits, our history… We would be shocked, on the whole, to hear that our ‘accumulation of ourself’ (or the ‘personal narrative’) is nothing more than clutter, nothing more than dead wood and not who we essentially are at all. The accumulation of undigested mental impressions and constructs that surrounds us hems us in and chokes who we really are because who we really are is always new, always fresh – it isn’t a ‘yet another reworking of the old’, even though we are totally convinced that it is.  Our thoughts about ourselves become our mausoleum; or as John Berger says, ‘the past gradually grows around one, like a placenta for the dying’. There is no sort of an accumulation of thoughts or ideas about the world and ourselves that does not put a stranglehold on who we really are, and since happiness can only about as a result of us being ‘who we really are’ (and not as a result of us being mistaken or deluded in this regard) the accumulated or constructed self can never be happy.

 

But if the constructed self can never be happy then why do we have such an unhealthy obsession with it? Why don’t we just ditch it? Why don’t we give up it (as one gives up on a bad thing or a road that doesn’t take us anywhere) and stop putting all our energy into it? If obsessing over the mind-created self and its fortunes doesn’t make us happy then why pursue the matter in the way that we do? Unhappiness – we might say – is an indication that we have wandered away from ourselves, an indication that we have got lost along the way, and yet somehow we never go into this enough to see what it is that we have wandered away from. Instead of paying due attention to the loss of our natural happiness (or ‘inner freedom’) we implicitly treat this issue as somehow not being very important, and substituting other values in place of it, so as to try to ‘make do’ in some way. Instead of going down the road of philosophical enquiry, therefore, we opt for whatever cheap tricks we can come up with to mask the pain that we’re in.

 

Modern society is all about looking for substitutes for genuine happiness! We have – even though we will never admit this to ourselves – given up on happiness and have opted for other ‘commodities’ instead. We have made goals of being secure, being approved of, being in a desirable social / financial situation, having a position of power over others, having a belief structure that we don’t have to question and all these types of things. As John Berger says, we have opted for the good feeling that comes with being ‘envied by others’ even though this is a hollow attainment at best because even if we do play the game well enough to get other people to envy us we can’t help knowing – deep down – that we have nothing worth envying. Deep down – no matter what we say – we know very well that there’s nothing there, that it’s all a sham…

 

As a society, we have all agreed together (whether we know it or not)  to play this hollow game in which we strive as hard as we can to accumulate the theatrical analogues of happiness, the markers or indicators that we say show that we are happy, even though we are not. We have opted for the theatrical analogue of happiness which is the outward appearance of happiness, the outward appearance we agree not to look beyond. The best possible outcome of this game is therefore to have the perfect mask which we are not ever going to be able to look beneath, to see who is actually wearing it. Playing this game actually means that the more successful we are the more miserable we are! This is the paradox involved in chasing theatrical happiness – the better we do at the game the worse off we are. And if we fail at the game, if fail at the very serious task of creating an enviable mask that everyone, including ourselves, can believe in, then we aren’t going to be happy either because we’re going to believe (quite wrongly, as it happens) that we’ve missed out, that we’re not getting our slice of the pie that everyone else is enjoying. This is the great irony that we have made ourselves quite incapable of seeing…

 

The question is however, why would we do this? Why would we actively chase misery in the way that we do? Why would we pursue something that actually precludes us ever being genuinely happy? Why would anyone be so denying of themselves that they would want to do this? One answer is simply to say that we do it because we’re confused – we have confused the mental image that we have of ourselves with who we really are. We have confused the ‘positive self’ (the self that can be defined, and made understandable to ourselves and others) with the negative self, which is the self that is not an object of the rational mind with its cut and dried categories.

 

That’s one way of answering the question that we just posed. Another – parallel – way is to say that we aren’t ‘thinking for ourselves’ (so to speak); we’ve handed over responsibility for living our lives to the theatrical self, the mind-created self, the self which exists purely for the sake of appearances. As a result of this endeavour, we obtain, if we are lucky, the plausible appearance of happiness – a version of happiness that we can both buy ourselves and sell to others. When on the other hand we fail to obtain a version of happiness that convinces both ourselves and others, and not only this but start to gain insight into the fraudulent nature of the whole enterprise, then our peers will say that we are depressed. We will be prescribed medications to correct our abnormally negative way of seeing the world; we will be medically treated for the socially-constructed sickness of ‘seeing through the fraudulent nature of the theatrical self’…

 

 

From the point of view of the theatrical self (the self which is who we’re not, but cannot see that we’re not) happiness never really was a goal anyway. It was never our agenda to be genuinely happy. If happiness only exists for the true self (the self that doesn’t define itself) then what good is it to the theatrical self? Naturally enough therefore, the theatrical self has zero interest in real happiness – if the truth were known it would actually run a mile if it ever came across the genuine article. The theatrical self is mortally afraid of happiness because it knows that happiness is only there when it isn’t! Any time genuine freedom or happiness starts to appear on the horizon the everyday self will start sabotaging as fast as ever it can – it knows on which side its bread is buttered. The reason we never want to give up our neuroses is because these neuroses serve a very important function – they are what keep the theatre of ourselves going.

 

This then is the reason we gravitate towards misery in the way that we do. This is the reason we cling to our unhappiness as stubbornly as we do – it’s because we are letting the theatrical self run the show and it’s only interested in itself. It’s only interested in perpetuating itself, whatever the price; the agenda of the theatrical self is simply to ‘hang in there’…  If we’re feeling good because our self-image has been affirmed by events, or by other people, then this makes us think more because we’re trying to perpetuate the experience, and if we’re feeling bad (as a result of the self-image being disrespected by events or other people) then as everyone knows this makes us think more too – we’re thinking more because we’re trying or correct or ameliorate this insult to the self-image. We’re busy spin-doctoring the narrative. But whatever type of thinking it is that we’re engaged in it only ever adds to our misery; we accumulate more and more causes for suffering as we go along and we can’t help doing this. We accumulate suffering no matter which way we turn; we’re powerless – so it seems – to do anything other than accumulate suffering and the causes or suffering!

 

‘Shrinking the self’ (which is the only way to reduce or free ourselves from suffering) is the one thing that can never be done deliberately, on purpose. This isn’t the obstacle it sounds however because the shrinking of the self-concept is something that happens quite naturally just as soon as we develop an interest in seeing the truth. To see the truth is to see that we are not the self-concept and to see that we are not the self-concept is to stop putting so much of our energy and time into maintaining and promoting that construct. The self-image is very greedy for attention and resources; it is very high maintenance and so as soon as we start to see that its benefit is not our benefit then the dynamics of the situation are going to change all by themselves.  The truth is what frees us, not our perennial machinations; as the well-known verse reads in John 8:32 –

 ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.

 

As we stop putting so much of our energy into maintaining the theatrical self (or self-image) it starts to shrink – it stops taking up quite so much space and as it stops taking up so much space we become lighter, we become less driven and therefore more playful. This doesn’t mean that the self-construct disappears but rather that we are no longer restricted to just this one (humourless) perspective on things. We can look at the world in more than just the one way. What this means therefore is that we are living life on two levels at once: we’re living life on the basis of the self-image (just the same as we always do) and we’re also living more freely, not from any fixed or determinate basis. The insight that we’re not who or what the thinking mind says we are means that we have more mobility, more flexibility, more freedom. In this new, more essential way of living we are aware (to some extent, at least) that we are not this concrete self but the space around it. We’re aware – sometimes more so, sometimes less so – that we aren’t our thoughts but the elusive gap between them. We’re not the positive or defined self but rather we’re ‘the negative self’ – if we can say that there is such a thing! We’re something far more subtle and hard to get a handle on than that clumsy old ‘concrete self’….

 

This playful awareness arises just as soon as the self-concept gets small enough for us to see around it. This is the unexpected benefit that we receive as a result of letting the self be shrunk by our ‘willingness to see the truth’! This doesn’t mean that we see it as a good idea to have our sense of self shrunk and take steps to bring that about – it’s not that we’re trying to ‘attain some advantage’! If we were, then that ‘advantage’ would be for the self-concept, and so we would be going around in circles. When it comes to it, the self-concept is only ever interested in expanding itself, not shrinking itself. It can never shrink itself, even though it might pretend that this is what it is doing, or that this is what it is interested in doing. But when we find the courage (or curiosity) within us to let reality shrink the self-image, we discover that we have gained something, not lost it. We have gained space, with all that comes with it. ‘Less is more’, as they say!

 

This isn’t a matter of deliberately ‘humbling oneself’ or ‘denying oneself’ – that would only be another strategy, another mental manoeuvre designed to provide us with some sort of advantage in the game. It’s not some manoeuvre that we’re talking about here but simply not taking ourselves so seriously.  It’s not that we have a found a new and highly effective way to improve our situation, but rather that we no longer feel compelled at every turn to keep on ‘playing the game’…

 

 

 

 

Aggressive Therapy

When we’re psychologically unconscious then the only kind of interaction we’re capable of is the coercive kind. We can’t in other words help ourselves from automatically trying to get other people to see the world in the same way that we do. This is both profoundly unconscious and profoundly involuntary on our part. This is because we are assuming that our way of seeing things is ‘the only way there is’. This is what it means to be psychologically unconsciousit means that we are stuck in the one narrow way of seeing things without knowing that we are. We’re ‘blinkered without knowing that we’re blinkered’ – which is of course the only way there is of being blinkered!

 

When we’re psychologically unconscious then we are slaves to our unexamined assumptions. We’re slaves to them because we serve them in everything we do. Everything we do is on the basis of these invisible assumptions and because we aren’t interested in making them visible (i.e. because we aren’t interested in looking at them) they are determining everything about us. Being unconscious means that we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world and because we are being controlled by our unconscious beliefs about the world we are also trying to control other people in the very same way. So if I am trying to communicate with you what I call ‘communication’ is actually ‘me attempting to unconsciously railroad you into serving the very same unsupported assumptions that I am serving’. I’m being coercive without acknowledging that I’m being coercive, in other words. My aggression is veiled, I’m acting as if it doesn’t exist; I’m claiming that everything is fair and above board….

 

I’m not doing this consciously – nothing that I’m doing is conscious! I don’t have the slightest idea that – by trying to ‘communicate’ with you what I am actually doing is attempting to coerce you into accepted my unexamined beliefs, the beliefs that I don’t even know I have. If I don’t know that I have them then naturally I won’t know that I am trying to foist them upon you! This the whole point that we’re trying to make here – that when we’re in the state of ‘psychological unconsciousness’ (which is the state of being narrow without knowing that we are narrow) we don’t know what we’re doing. Unconsciousness is referred to in Luke 23:34 (King James Version) where we read: ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ We are always going to be violent when we proceed on the basis of a very narrow viewpoint that we cannot see to be narrow because we assuming it to be the only viewpoint that there could ever be. From this basis, there’s no other way that we could behave. When we’re ‘unconscious’ we’re always going to be coercive, we’re always going to aggressive. To be ‘narrow without knowing that we are narrow’ is to be violent to the Whole – being unconsciously narrow (or unconsciously limited) equals ‘being violent to the Whole’. It’s the same thing.

 

We can of course see this sort of thing (the violence of the part against the Whole) happening all around us. When I am very narrow and rigid in my outlook then I am by definition aggressive – I am aggressive to everyone who has a different view to me. I am always aggressive to the world in as a whole because I am constantly fighting against it, constantly trying to impose my will on it. I am like ‘Western Man’ in general! To be very dogmatic or concrete in a religious or political sense is also a perfect example of this type of self-justifying violence. Anyone who is dominated by a particular idea or belief is going to be inherently violent in nature – all thought is aggressive, as Krishnamurti says; all thoughts are aggressive because all thoughts are ‘narrow without knowing that they are narrow’. That’s how a thought gets to be a thought, that’s how any definite viewpoint gets to be definite – by being narrow, by not taking the wider picture into account. There can be no such thing as a black-and-white statement about reality (i.e. a thought) unless we are narrow without acknowledging that we are narrow, and so all definite / concrete views of the world are violent. Our definitions of ourselves are inherently aggressive as Krishnamurti says here –

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Understanding this has immense implications, needless to say. It changes everything. It is an extremely challenging thing to take on board and most probably we won’t want to! If we did take this understanding on board then we’d have to radically revise our view of ourselves – we’d have to stop defining ourselves and it is only through defining ourselves that we have the (false) security of knowing who we are! That’s where all our good feelings about ourselves come from – our definitions of who or what we are! It doesn’t feel very good to learn that we are the slaves of our unconscious assumptions (the slaves of our programming) and so we’ll probably not want to go back to thinking that we’re right to believe whatever we believe, right to have whatever viewpoint we happen to have, rather than entertaining the notion that we’re being controlled to believe whatever we believe, controlled to think whatever we’re thinking. It’s extraordinarily hard work to take such a profound reversal on board and no one likes hard work…

 

This is the reason we are all ‘psychologically unconscious’ – because it is just so much easier / less challenging to relate to our way of seeing the world as being ‘the only possible way’ rather than being aware that it is merely some kind of arbitrary (and ultimately perverse) restriction that we have embraced and based our life on without knowing that we have. Who is ever going to voluntarily take this on board? A good example of ‘an arbitrary and perverse restriction that we have embraced without knowing that we have’ would be prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation. If I am afflicted with a particular prejudice with regard to race or sexual orientation (or anything else) then how much easier it is for me to say that my viewpoint on the matter is ‘right’ rather than accurately perceiving it as being an arbitrary bias that is being imposed upon me whether I like it or not (i.e. rather than perceiving that I am ‘a slave to my prejudices’)? We know from common experience that people very rarely opt to become aware of their prejudices – this is a very painful process and no one likes pain. We run away from pain whenever we can. In the same way therefore, we could ask the same question about our conditioning in general – i.e. how often is it that we start to question (or see beyond) our basic beliefs about life? We almost always assert these core beliefs all the more strongly whenever doubt or uncertainty arises rather than questioning them and this is where all our aggression (of whatever form) comes from.

 

Being unconscious isn’t a ‘moral’ issue, it’s simply the way things are. It is – we might say – the natural order of things. Birds build nests for themselves, squirrels climb trees, and we go around being psychologically unconscious. There is no moral imperative saying that we have to ‘become conscious’! But – having said this – there is an ethic issue that arises when we assume the role of mental-health therapists or counsellors whilst remaining every bit as unconscious as those people we are seeking to help. Helping people is an expression of our compassionate nature as human beings, helping people is great but if it turns out – as we have been saying – that we can’t help anyone unless we first ‘help ourselves’ by taking full responsibility for the unacknowledged narrowness of our own personal unconsciousness then things aren’t as simple as we are making it out to be. If we don’t acknowledge and work with our unconsciousness then all we’re going to be doing is imposing our unconsciousness on someone else under the guise of helping. Imposing our own unacknowledged limitations, our own unacknowledged unconsciousness on everyone we meet is exactly what every other unconscious person in the world is engaged in, which is violence. We’re putting a fancy spin on it though, we’re being violent and we’re calling it therapy!

 

We can of course help in practical ways like giving people directions on how to get somewhere if they ask or carrying someone’s shopping for them if they’re not able but if we try to help someone in a more global way as therapist or counsellor then all we’re doing, as we have said, is imposing our unexamined beliefs on a vulnerable client, which is clearly unethical. There’s no way we can’t be doing this if we are unconscious ourselves. It’s impossible for us not to be doing this. As Ram Dass says, all we can ever do for the people we meet is give them the gift of ourselves – it doesn’t matter what training we’ve had, or what qualifications / credentials we have because it’s our own inner state that counts here, not whatever costume we might happen to be wearing. It’s not the mask or the role or the technical expertise that’s ‘therapeutic’ – if we may use that word – it’s the unique (or unconditioned) individual that’s behind it. This isn’t obvious at all because in our technically-minded culture it’s not the unconditioned person that is valued but the conditioning that they are to be imprinted with! It’s not the individual that we relate to but the professional mask that is worn by the individual. We can measure and verify technical expertise or knowledge but there’s obviously no way that we can do this for the unique individual, and so this is no good for our system of doing things. It’s not possible to train people to be authentically themselves, there’s no way to instruct people on how to do this and so straightaway the system is running into trouble. The system isn’t just redundant as far as ‘creating individuals’ is concerned, it’s actually getting in the way…

 

We can also talk about this essential dilemma in terms of happiness – we can’t train people (or train ourselves) to be happy and yet our own happiness (which is the same thing as ‘inner freedom’ or ‘freedom from conditioning’) is the only thing that may be considered therapeutic, if we were to use that (somewhat suspect) word. This is a curious thing to consider, therefore – whoever spends much time thinking about whether their therapist is happy or not? But the same principle is true here – if I am genuinely happy then I will (unintentionally) transmit my happiness to everyone I meet, and if I am unhappy then I will pass on my unhappiness instead, in some cases involuntarily and in other cases perhaps voluntarily, under some kind of a shoddy pretext. I can’t help giving everyone I meet the gift of my inner state – if there is some degree of freedom within me then this might help others, in some non-volitional way, to become a bit more free in themselves also, and if I have a lack of freedom inside me then I will automatically pass that lack of freedom onto everyone I meet, as a kind of ‘poisoned gift’.

 

This key point is worth reiterating as many times as it takes because – as a culture – we just don’t get it. We don’t get it at all. We automatically assume that we can divorce what we do (our persona, our role, our job, etc) from our inner state. It’s as if our inner state doesn’t matter, or – more to the point – it’s as if there is no such thing as ‘our inner state’. The term ‘inner state’ or ‘inner life’ is not one that we use – everything is about the outer life, the theatrical life. No one ever talks about what our inner state might be on psychology or counselling courses, and yet at the same time our inner state is the only important thing about us – everything else is just so much window dressing!

 

The generic always does violence to the unique. The generic is violence. The generic is always violent – it is violent by its very nature. The generic is always violent to the unique (which is the only thing that is actually real) but the generic is all that we have available to us. Our institutions are all about ‘enforcing the generic’ and this is of course the only way that they could be! Our healthcare systems are all about enforcing the generic, enforcing normatively defined values. They are – of course – like big machines. They are big machines, and since when did mental health (either of the therapist or the patient) ever come out of a machine? The system naturally wants to regulate the therapist, the healthcare worker, because this is the only way it can be sure it is delivering its services ‘to the right standards’. But in doing this it is denying the mental health of both service users and service providers. It pressurizes those who deliver the services to rigorously adhere to the template that it provides, and yet by taking away freedom and responsibility from the therapists in this way it also renders them not just ineffective, but turns them into ‘passers on’ of restriction and restriction. We are part of a coercive machine, we become coercive just as the system we operate within (and are controlled by) is coercive, and the one thing that is never going to come out of this inauspicious set up is improved mental health!

 

As we were saying earlier, to define ourselves and what we do in any way is to be violent and this is of course equally true when we define ourselves (in our own heads) as being ‘therapists’ and what we do as ‘therapy’. When we do this we’re making ourselves blind to the bigger picture and this blindness is only ever going to rebound on us (or our clients) further down the line in a way that we were not expecting and will probably not even be able to recognize. This is what Ivan Illich calls specific counterproductivity and it happens every time we apply a linear solution to a non-linear (i.e. complex) ‘problem’. A mechanical / linear solution is always going to rebound on us when it is applied to a complex, multifaceted reality. The narrower we become in our definition of ourselves, and our understanding of what it is that we are doing (or supposed to be doing) the more counterproductivity we are going to engender. This counterproductivity (or ‘self-contradictoriness’) is the price we pay for handing over responsibility for ourselves to some sort of external authority, to the system that regulates/controls us and determines what we do and what we don’t do. The challenge therefore is simply to be courageous enough (in the face of all the mechanical forces that are ranged against us) to be ourselves. This is the ultimate risk, yet it is also the only thing that’s worth anything!

 

No one knows how to be themselves (no one knows what it involves or entails to do this) and no one can be trained (as we have said) to do this, and so what we’re talking about here is a profound mystery. It can’t be replicated or regulated or validated and we can’t do ‘research’ on it, and so it isn’t what anyone might call ‘scientific’. This sounds utterly unimpressive to our modern ears, therefore. And yet – no matter what we might think to the contrary – this ‘mystery’ (the unmanageable and completely ‘non-technical’ mystery of being one’s own unique self) is the only thing that is ever going to be of any genuine benefit to anyone. Being a technical ‘expert professional’, on the other hand, is the very opposite of being helpful. It’s a poisoned gift. It is simply ‘aggression disguised as helping’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Generic Life

Society is the Great machine for producing the generic life. It’s not that society doesn’t or couldn’t have any other more practically useful functions aside from this but just that these ‘useful functions’ are completely overshadowed by this unacknowledged negative aspect. In this, the social organization of which we are all a part acts as ‘negative parent’. Just as a negative or toxic parent will – when challenged – point to the nurturing functions which they do provide, such as food, shelter, clothing, protection from external harm and make the indignant claim to be benevolent rather than malign – so too will society reject any accusation that it has failed us, and more than just failing us that it is doing us harm. This argument is easily seen through – suppose that I am a parent who does all of these things (and who even perhaps provides emotional support too) but who nevertheless has an underlying agenda to sabotage the developing autonomy of those under my care. Suppose that I am fostering dependence rather than independence. In this case can it still be said that I am acting as a ‘good parent’? This is of course a purely rhetorical question – we all know that a parent who provides food, clothing and shelter but nothing else is abusive. The rudiments of parenting are there but not the ‘higher functions’, which is something an uncaring robot could perfectly well manage. Physical health – in a very narrow sense – may be being fostered but not emotional or mental health. The trauma that is caused by emotional neglect is tremendous and may take many decades to work through. If the child has been kept dependent and subservient and has thus been prevented from reaching the state of true adult autonomy, this is too is a complete failure of parenting – the children then in this case become nothing more than versions or copies of the dysfunctional parent.

 

So the point we are making is that society is an abusive (or ‘negative’) parent in exactly the same way, no matter what claims it may implicitly make to the contrary. The evidence is all around us! We don’t see this – it is true – but blindness is par for the course. That’s how things work – we don’t know anything different, we don’t have anything else to go on. Society – the common system of relations that we are all part of – is a negative parent, an abusive guardian. ‘Culture isn’t your friend’, as Terence McKenna says. The reason society isn’t our friend is because it doesn’t allow us to grow; it doesn’t do all the really important things that a parent quite naturally does if they really care about the well-being of their children. If you care about your children (rather than just caring about yourself) you will let them go, you will let them evolve beyond you. Society never does this – it would never occur to it to do this. As far as ‘growing as people’ or ‘developing as individuals’, this absolutely isn’t going to happen – we have to copy or mimic the template or else we’re misfits, we have to ‘fit in’ or else we’re ‘weird’. It can’t happen – there is no growth within the generic life. The generic life is the generic life and that is that; the only time growth is going to happen is when we go beyond the limits that have been set for us, not when we stay faithfully within them like a machine that always works the way it is supposed to work. Moving beyond the prescribed way that we have of understanding ourselves is growth but this happens to be the very thing that society doesn’t allow – that is illegal, that is prohibited by the whole weight of society. This is of course how systems get to be systems: by enforcing limits, by treating limits in a very serious way. When we look into it, we can see that systems actually are the limits that they enforce, that they take seriously.

 

Whenever we collectively agree – by whatever process – that this is the way we do things and that this is the way we think about things then we have created a system. We have created a set of limits which we are now taking seriously and this set of limits, this system then acts so as to mould and regulate us. This is what we call ‘society’ – it’s a working template that we set above ourselves. The point here is that this template then develops a ‘life of its own’ – it becomes more important than the human units that make it up and so it prioritizes its well-being and survival over that of the individual lives that make it up. Of course it is more important – the mould is always more important that what is being moulded. Naturally the template tells us what to do – it tells us what to do, we don’t tell it what to do. We can’t play fast and loose with society’s laws, society’s conventions. Even the least of these laws or conventions, if we go against it, will bring huge penalties down on our head. Anyone who has ever had the experience, in any way, of ‘not fitting in’, will know what a tremendous force ‘peer pressure’ is to come up against. This is why we always do conform to conventions in the way that we do – because we know how it works, because we know that there is this tremendous coercive force there and we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of it!

 

What happens when we ‘conform’, when we take seriously the limits that the system takes seriously (i.e. when we allow the system to mould and regulate us in accordance with these limits) is that we become generic. As we started off this discussion by saying, the societal life is the generic life. When we reflect on it, this is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying; it’s ridiculously obvious – it’s like saying that people who are sad are no happy or that people who are under five feet in height tend not to be tall. Yet we need to say it because we never actually think about it; we just don’t appreciate the implications of what we have just said here. The ‘implications’ couldn’t be bigger. The implications here simply couldn’t be overstated:

When we are living what we have called ‘the generic life’ – which is the default setting where everything is running smoothly ‘on automatic’ and nothing has happened to knock us off our pre-established trajectory – then we aren’t living as ourselves but simply as an idea of ourselves (i.e. as a generic idea of ourselves).

This is very easily said and it comes across perhaps as being rather glib, but when we come to grips with this idea and actually appreciate what it means to us then we can see that that it is an enormously disturbing revelation. It’s as if someone stole your life when you were still really young and then lived it instead of you, leaving you sidelined, leaving you marginalized, leaving you quite forgotten about. And not only this, it is also the case that the ‘thief’ who stole our life isn’t actually anybody but is only an idea, only a notion that has been passed on randomly from person to person like a cold, like a dose of the flu in winter.

 

This is what it means to ‘lead the generic life’ – it means to catch a cold! It means to catch cold and never get over it because you immune system has been suppressed. This then is not by any means a small thing; the enormity of what has happened to us can’t be overstated, as we have already argued’. When Jean Baudrillard speaks of ‘The Perfect Crime’ and ‘the murder of the real’ he is essentially speaking of this (although he is coming at it from a different angle). He is talking about the murder of who we really are, which is a job that has been started by our parents and then continued by everyone else we have ever met! Obviously, this is not done with any bad intent (or at least not usually) but it is done all the same. We don’t – as parents – have any choice in this: when we are ‘unconscious’ (i.e. unconscious of who we really are) we can’t help passing on the virus. That’s what we do when we’re unconscious – we act as passive vehicles for the generic impressions or imprints. Being unconscious means that we act as a passive medium or substrate which the ‘generic identity’ utilizes in order to propagate itself; our common understanding of ourselves is as this generic self (which is essentially nothing more than a cultural meme) and so naturally we’re going to see nothing wrong with this state of affairs – that’s why we are ‘passive’ in the process. Far from seeing anything wrong about it we’re going to see the situation in which the false or viral idea of self is maximally facilitated in propagating itself (at the expense of the true or ‘non-generic’ self) as being pre-eminently ‘healthy’ and desirable. We will adopt whatever strategies we can to bring this situation about, and maintain it. This is what we consider to be ‘the state of good mental health’, after all – ‘good mental health’ (to us!) means the continued unchallenged ascendancy of the generic self, the generic identity…

 

Nothing about the generic self is true – it doesn’t exist anymore than ‘an average value’ exists. Averages don’t really exist and yet they may all the same loom large in our minds as something to be aimed at or something to be avoided. We may live our whole life in the service of these ‘averages values’, in one way or another (we’re governed by social constructs, in other words). When we lead the generic life we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is’ and not only this, we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is on the basis of who or what someone else thinks we are (or ought to be)’! It’s no good pretending – as we generally do pretend – that this isn’t what the socially-conditioned life is like, that society (or our peers) are actually encouraging us to be our true authentic unique selves. It would be absurd to believe this. You would have to be asleep and dreaming (you’d have to be asleep and dreaming a socially-conditioned dream) to believe this!  When we say that we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of who we are or what life is’ it’s not really ‘someone else’ of course – we’re simply trying to approximate ourselves as best we can to an abstract idea that doesn’t belong to anyone. The generic ideas own us, we don’t own them! The generic idea owns us, but at the same time it doesn’t really exist; we’re putting ourselves through the wringer trying to approximate ourselves to an illusion – sometimes we fail and then we beat ourselves up (or are beaten up by our peers), or we succeed and we then go around feeling good about this, in a perfectly absurd fashion…

 

Life isn’t a matter of fitting into the pattern that we have been given; it isn’t a matter of ‘going along with the obvious answers that have been given to us without ever questioning them’. Life is a test, but it’s not that sort of test, it’s not a ‘test of obedience’ in the way that the fundamentalist Christians tell us it is. That’s just paternalistic bluster, that’s just ‘the Negative Father Image trying to frighten us, as always’! That’s just ‘The Old Tyrant‘! Life isn’t a test to see how good we are at going along with the prevailing bullshit – how could we possibly short-sighted enough to think this? We might like to think that it’s all about doing what we need to do in order to be good girls and good boys and get patted on the back or awarded medals but that of course is just a cop out so we don’t have to think for ourselves. That’s slavery, not life, even if it is slavery that we ourselves willingly walk into. Life’s not about embracing the generic life (and feeling either good or bad depending upon whether we are able to successfully do this), it’s about seeing through it.

 

This might sound like a rather simplistic or limited way of saying what life (which is obviously a pretty big thing) is or isn’t about but it hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways. It’s a pretty accurate way of putting things; after all, it’s only to the extent that we can see through (or beyond) ‘the generic life’ that we can live at all…

 

 

 

 

The Devaluation Of Consciousness

Consciousness is the least valuable commodity there is – we can sell just about everything else but we can’t sell this! Consciousness is garbage to us; we would not stoop to pick it off the street. It’s worse than garbage actually – consciousness is something that we have put on the banned list, it is something that we make every effort to keep at a safe distance. Consciousness is the uninvited guest at the party who will be thrown out unceremoniously by heavily armed security men if she ever dares to show her face…

 

To say that consciousness is inconvenient to us is of course to put it very mildly indeed! Consciousness is the one thing that is guaranteed to upset every apple-cart. It is guaranteed to throw all of our structures into disarray, and reduce them to rubble in moments. Consciousness destabilizes our structures to the point where they are not able to exist anymore. It falsifies all of the assumptions that our systems rest upon. How then can we possibly value consciousness, given that we are so very heavily invested in all of these structures and systems that we have created? To value consciousness is to value truth and truth is the very last thing we want to know about in this modern world of ours, no matter what we say.

 

It might seem that we live in an enlightened era which exists in stark contrast to earlier times when the human race was ruled by ignorance, prejudice and superstition, but if we think this then we’re looking at things with rose-tinted spectacles. People are not behaving very differently, when it comes down to it. What has happened (and it is admittedly very dramatic) is that we have got a lot better at controlling our physical environment and manipulating whatever we are able to manipulate. We can pull off a lot of tricks and they are quite spectacular. We have become very skilful at carrying out certain technical manoeuvres but if this skilfulness exists without any relationship to actual consciousness, then we’re in big trouble – to put it mildly. When there is no consciousness in the picture (and there isn’t) then things can hardly be expected to work out well…

 

If we have this hugely enhanced ability to manipulate the physical world but at the same time our actual level of awareness hasn’t changed very much (if at all) then we are in heading in one direction only and that is the direction of deceiving ourselves, and then enslaving ourselves with our self-deceptions. It has been said many times that when our cleverness outstrips our wisdom then we’re headed for disaster and how could this be otherwise? We don’t tend to see this because we imagine that technological prowess and understanding is the same thing as wisdom, but this is very far from being the case. The tools might be impressive but the user of the tool most definitely is not; our agenda for using all of the tools that we have access to is not impressive – on the contrary, it is distinctly uninspiring. It’s all pretty squalid. We’re only ever concerned with personal advantage; we’re only ever concerned with promoting the interests of the narrow little group that we’re affiliated with and this allegiance to the self or the group is a symptom of unconsciousness not consciousness.

 

Consciousness has no agenda whilst the rational mind always does. The rational mind cannot not have an agenda and its agenda has nothing to do with becoming conscious. The only way we can become conscious (or ‘globally aware’) is when we drop all of our rational agendas and it can be readily seen that our contemporary rational/technology culture has absolutely interest in doing any such thing. If we have an enhanced ability to control, and we are moreover very much invested in control and the outcome of controlling, then why on earth would we want to relinquish all our agendas? Actually, dropping our agendas turns out to be the very same thing as dropping the rational-conceptual mind and we definitely aren’t about to do this anytime soon! When it comes down to it, we think that we are the rational-conceptual mind and so of course we aren’t about to drop it – that would be the psychological equivalent to suicide. That would be throwing away the thing we hold most precious.

 

This – we might say – is our biggest delusion – the delusion that we are the thinking mind, that we are the same as our thoughts about who we are. As long as this is the case then it goes without saying that we won’t have any genuine interest in becoming conscious. Becoming conscious would mean sacrificing our precious illusions about who we are. Instead, we’re going to be very interested indeed in controlling because we imagine that if we get very good at controlling then we will be able to produce some especially favourable conditions for ourselves. Producing especially advantageous circumstances or conditions for ourselves is our chief interest; it’s just about our only interest. Although we may not necessarily put it quite like this, our Number One Assumption in life is the belief that if we get very good at controlling then this will mean that we will be able to bring about the ultimately beneficial situation for ourselves. Naturally enough, this (thoroughly deluded) thought has an enormous amount of appeal! It’s quite intoxicating…

 

We could hardly get things more wrong, however. We couldn’t get things more wrong – that would be an impossibility! The more we invest in controlling the more deluded we are, and the more trapped by our delusions we are. We are always looking for better and better outcomes and because of the intoxicating lure of ‘improving our situation’ we are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in cleverness and controlling. We are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in the rational mind, in other words. The more we invest ourselves in the rational mind however the more alienated from actual reality we become – our viewpoint is getting narrower and narrower the whole time as we focus more and more on the particular details that we are interested in. The more we specialize the less we are aware we are of the indefinable Whole; to know everything (or nearly everything) about one particular set of details at the expense of having any awareness or appreciation of the bigger picture is to be not-conscious. That is to be unconscious and being ‘unconscious’ is very clearly what we as a culture are all about. We’re not about the bigger picture at all – we think that our narrow rational understanding of the world is the bigger picture! We call anything else an illusion…

 

Our assumption is then that the outcome, the special conditions that we will have brought about with our skilful controlling, will be highly beneficial for us, highly advantageous for us. We are on this accounted highly attracted to the goal or outcome that we see in front of us – it exerts a tremendous magnetic effect on our attention. But how can a mind-created illusion (because that’s what it is) possibly be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’? How can it possibly do us any good? The answer is of course that it can’t do us any good; it will actually do us harm – over-valuing a mind-created illusion is bound to cause us harm because we’re neglecting what matters in favour of what doesn’t matter. Only the Whole can be beneficial, only the Whole can do us any good, but we have no regard for it. We have no regard or respect for the Whole – all we care about is our controlling and what this controlling is supposed to bring about for us. We’re obsessed with our narrow agenda and this agenda is purely toxic.

 

On the face of it, what we value is the desired goal-state, as we have just said; we value the special conditions that are going to be so beneficial to us. If we go deeper into it however we can see that this means we must also value the abstract viewpoint that gives rise to the mirage of the goal (or to which this goal seems so meaningful and so important). Without this narrow, abstracted way of looking at the world the goal means nothing at all. In simple terms – if we value the goal at which we are aiming, and which is exciting us so much, then we also have to value the state of ignorance that gives rise to it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we actually value our own ignorance and so – this being the case – of course we don’t value consciousness.

 

We either have it one way or the other therefore – we can’t have it both ways and the way that we have chosen to have it is to protect and preserve our own ignorance at all costs. The thinking mind can’t operate any other way, strange as it may sound to say this. The thinking mind has to ignore the Whole Picture because if it doesn’t then all its deliberations, all its activities, immediately become entirely meaningless. What ‘goal’, what ‘outcome’, what ‘specially-engineered situation’ can hold a candle to the Whole, after all? The ‘Whole’ we’re talking about here isn’t some kind of metaphysical fancy – it’s what actually exists. It’s the only thing that exists. The part, the fraction, the detail, only seems to exist when we pretend that the Whole isn’t there – this is the game that thought is playing. Reality itself doesn’t not contain any divisions; it does not come with any boundaries or limits.

 

The thinking mind is a jealous god and it doesn’t look kindly upon any extra-curricular activities, anything that doesn’t support the party line, anything that doesn’t have anything to do its all-important goals, anything that doesn’t support it’s all-important agenda. As we read in Saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. …

Once we’re in the business of controlling then consciousness goes out of the window straightaway because consciousness is what lies outside of the framework of thought. Consciousness is what doesn’t serve the master of the thinking mind. The engine of thought and all of its devices requires a lot of investment; as we keep saying, this means that anything which has ‘no relevance’ to our viewpoint (i.e. anything that doesn’t fit with our prosaic assumptions) has to be forgotten about. We have no time for it; we have no regard for it. We’re far too busy with the endeavours that the mind sees as important. Yet what we’re forgetting about is Everything because the special goal-state we’re lavishing our attention on isn’t real. It’s not part of ‘Everything’ because it’s a mind-created abstraction. What we think is important is never ‘where it’s happening’ – on the contrary, it’s always where it isn’t happening! There’s nothing more sterile than thought’s creations.

 

We’re always looking in the wrong direction – we’re always looking in a direction that isn’t even a direction. We’re deludely convinced we’re onto something but we’re not. We’re gambling everything on the wrong thing because even if we did win the prize it wouldn’t do us any good. It wouldn’t do us any good because the prize is a mind-created abstraction and so we would have to become a mind-created abstraction too in order to believe in it, in order for it to seem substantial to us. We would have to become a ghost, in other words – we would have to become a ghost whilst still alive. Chasing the glittering images which the mind creates in such abundance means that we have turned our back on reality itself, and what possible good do we expect to come from this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Mind

How can computation, calculation, and data-gathering be the centre of all things; how can the measuring or quantifying mind be the basis for the whole world? And yet it is. There can be no doubt that this is the way things are – all we have to do is to pay careful attention to our day-to-day experience of what it feels like to be us, what it feels like to be a person. What the experience of being a person usually means is that we are always in the middle of a whirlwind of mental activity – evaluating things, judging things, analysing things, categorizing things, quantifying things, thinking about things…

 

We have made computing or calculating (or ‘measuring’) the centre of all things. We have done this without realizing what we have done, without appreciating that this is in any way strange. Whatever happens, we’re in a hurry to measure it, to compare it with the evaluating yardstick of the concept-making mind and see what we make of it. “What is this, what is this, what it this?” the mind is asking all the time. Every time a new datum comes along the mind tries to fit it into its overall picture of reality, to consolidate that picture. All the activity that goes on in the thinking mind is geared towards this end.

 

The questioning that the thinking mind engages in isn’t questioning of a philosophical type – it is on the contrary a pragmatic questioning, a form of questioning that is directed towards consolidating our conceptual ‘grip’ upon the world. We’re not asking open questions with our thinking in other words, but rather what we’re doing is that we’re trying to makes sense of the world within the same narrow framework of understanding that we always use to make sense of things, and this is a different matter entirely. There is no doubt whatsoever that our experience of being in the world is one of being in the centre of this maelstrom of thinking and evaluating – we can hardly pretend otherwise since if this were true then we would be going around in the centre of an oceanic sense of calm and serenity, and how often is this the case? The way things usually are is that we are agitated rather than calm, busy in the head rather than peaceful.

 

The question this raises is “Why?” Why is all this activity going on? Why have we made computation and measuring the centre of all things when it is clearly not necessary that we do so? We don’t need to be thinking about life the whole time, after all – we could just be living it. We don’t need to be analysing and evaluating and second-guessing our situation – we could just be taking it as it comes and enjoying it! Since everything is already perfect at being what it is, what is all this mind-created commotion about? What’s to be gained by it? What are we trying to achieve? What’s behind it all?

 

We have of course already alluded to what the answer to all these questions might be – we’re mentally busy in the way that we are because we’re trying to squeeze everything into a framework when it doesn’t really belong there. All the activity is because we’re trying to make sense of the world so that it makes sense in the way that we want it to. One thing is absolutely for sure and that is that if we were happy for everything to be the way that it already is then we would immediately be in a state of the most wonderful inner peace. Words would not be able to describe how peaceful we would feel – we would be at the centre of a veritable ocean of peacefulness. There would be a quality of serenity such as we are unlikely ever to experience in life. If we did experience it then we would be unlikely to forget it in a hurry…

 

We know that this oceanic sense of serenity and unity with the world comes our way only very rarely therefore – if at all – and so what this shows us is, very clearly, is that we aren’t OK about things being ‘the way that they already are’. Our day-to-day state of mind indicates clearly that we aren’t ‘accepting of things as they are’ but resisting of things as they are. Because we aren’t OK about things be the way that they are we are compelled, instead, to be forever trying to control and manage and regulate them instead. This draws our attention to a very curious thing therefore – how could we be resistant to reality across the board, and only be in favour of it when it meets our special requirements?

 

Even to ask this question is to begin to be aware of what it is that’s going on here. The point (which we have already alluded to) is that our relationship with reality is a controlling one, not a respectful one. If I am in a relationship with you and I am trying to control you (as is often the case in relationships) then I am only going to be happy with you when you do what I want. I’m not happy with you the way you actually are; I’m only happy with you when you’re the way that I want you to be and this is exactly what our relationship with reality is like, whether we like to see it or not.

 

Needless to say, a controlling relationship isn’t any sort of relationship at all, and yet we’re constantly fooling ourselves that it is. We’re constantly fooling ourselves to think that our relationship with reality is an honest and respectful one when this very much isn’t the case. The truth is that we don’t care what reality is in itself – we’re actually frightened to find out – we only care about what we say it is. As long as we have this type of controlling ‘relationship’ with reality we’re never going to be happy; happiness is out of the question, as is peace of mind. Everything is on a strictly conditional footing when we’re in ‘control mode’ – everything is conditional upon how well we do in our controlling. So if our controlling goes well then we’re ‘happy’ but this is only conditional happiness. It’s conditional happiness because it depends upon us getting our own way and what this means is that the so-called ‘happiness’ will turn around at the drop of a hat and become its opposite when things don’t work out according to plan. Satisfaction then turns into dissatisfaction, apparent ‘good’ humour turns sour. Contentment turns into angry frustration, and so on. All conditioned emotions are like this, all are liable to turn around at the drop of a hat, depending on circumstances. There is never any chance of genuine peace or happiness when our relationship with the world is a controlling one, therefore.

 

Peace of mind is alien to the conditioned mentality; it doesn’t belong there – any sense of peace or well-being that might seem to be there can be taken away in an instant and ‘peace that can be taken away in an instant’ isn’t peace! We can fool ourselves that it is, we can tell ourselves that all is well with the world and that the basis of our well-being is as solid as a rock but this just isn’t true. The basis for our sense of well-being is ‘us being successful in our controlling’ and there’s nothing rock solid about this. Our well-being is dependent upon external factors, upon ‘things going a certain way’, and a less reliable basis than this is impossible to imagine. When our sense of well-being is dependent upon successful controlling then, pretty obviously, peace of mind is not going to be the result! This is actually the recipe for anxiety, not peacefulness…

 

The thing that we generally have difficulty in understanding is this assertion that our relationship with reality (or the world) is almost always one of controlling – we don’t see things this way. Obviously we can see that sometimes we are controlling, or trying to control, but we certainly have the perception that this is always the case. This is because we don’t understand that thinking is in its essence all about controlling. Thinking is controlling because it always interprets reality on its own terms. Of course thinking always interprets reality on its own terms – that’s what thinking is. Thinking is the process whereby we subject the world to our rules, to our criteria, in order to it to compel it ‘make sense’. It is so normal for us to do this that we don’t really focus on what we’re doing, but what we’re doing is pulling everything into a framework of reference that we ourselves have decided upon. We’re making sense of things in a way that suits us.

 

If we didn’t think about the world all the time then it wouldn’t look the same at all. Our thoughts don’t exist ‘out there’ in the world, our concepts and ideas and beliefs don’t have an existence of their own – it’s us that make them, it’s us that have put them there. If we didn’t engage in all this mental activity then the picture of reality that we take for granted would wink out of existence immediately, as if it had never existed. This picture of reality – no matter how familiar it might be to us – is a conditioned one. It is conditional upon us making it be there, it is conditional upon the way that we choose to look out at the world.

 

To put this in really simple terms – the simplest possible terms – what we’re trying to do is make something be what it isn’t. This is the big endeavour that we are all engaged upon. Is it any wonder that we are kept so busy at? The bottom line here of course is that we just can’t make something be what it isn’t. That’s just not going to happen, plainly. But what we can do – for a while at least – is make it seem as if we’re getting somewhere, and this illusion will allow us to feel motivated and positive. What we’re actually doing however is that we’re rolling a boulder up a hill – by putting a lot of effort into it we can apparently get somewhere, but the moment we start to slacken it’s all going to go into reverse again. Things are going to start slipping…

 

So straightaway we have two types of activity that are possible, two types of activity that can arise. The first type of activity we can call ‘optimistic’ or ‘hopeful’ activity, the second ‘pessimistic’ or ‘anxious’ activity. ‘Hopeful’ activity is activity is activity that is motivated by the belief that we can roll the boulder up the hill until we reach a point at which it won’t come rolling all the way back down again. This is the outcome that we are working towards, this is the outcome called ‘success’. Anxious activity – needless to say – is still activity where we’re struggling to get that boulder up the hill but we no longer believe that we’re going to be successful at it. This doesn’t mean that we stop trying, it just means that we are now trying on two levels not just the one. We’re fighting to roll the boulder up the hill and we’re also fighting not to see that this can endeavour is never going to work.

 

Both of these are equally strong motivations – when we have our eye on the prize and we’re pressing home for the final advantage this is a strong motivation, and when we’re struggling to avoid missing out on the prize this too is a powerful motivational incentive! But it can be seen all the same that both motivations are also equally illusory – the ‘prize’ that I’m striving for doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist neither does the possibility of avoiding the threat of missing out on it. I can’t avoid not attaining the prize because attaining it was never a real possibility in the first place. The prize we’ve got our eyes on is – as we have said – the prize of not having to be working away forever at rolling the boulder up the hill. The prize is when we finally ‘get there’ but this just isn’t going to happen; we’re never going to reach the summit of the mountain in the way that we hope to and the reason we’re never going to be able to do this is self-explanatory – no matter how long and how hard we work away at maintaining a mental construct that construct is never going to grow legs and stand up all by itself!

 

This then explains why there is always so much thinking, so much mental activity going on – it’s because we’re engaged in a job that has no end to it, it’s because we’re engaged in a non-terminating task. We can look at this in two ways – either we can say that we’re struggling to fit everything into our narrow little framework of reference and that this is a NTT, or we can say that we’re struggling to maintain the artificial construct of who we think we are but aren’t, and this is a NTT as well. It all comes down to the same thing in the end because it’s only by looking at the world via our narrow frame of reference (as if it were the only way to look at things) that we can carry on believing in the reality of the self-construct. The bottom line is that mental activity – both conscious and unconscious – is needed on a constant basis. The best we can hope for is that the unconscious mental activity will carry on without us having to be made aware of it and that the conscious mental activity (the day-to-day thinking) will continue to appear entirely volitional and unconnected with the secret task of maintaining the self-construct. This is ‘unconscious living with no visible snags’, so to speak.

 

The worst that can happen, on the other hand, is where we do begin to become aware of what is going on and have to painfully escalate the thinking activity in order to try to cover up the true nature of what is going on, even though this escalation actually draws attention to what is going on all the more. This situation is called ‘neurotic mental illness’ – this is when our comfort zones start to fail us and we begin the slow and painful movement back to reality – however reluctantly. The irony underlying all this of course is that the thing we’re protecting isn’t really worth it. It isn’t really worth it because it isn’t real – what we’re struggling to protect is a knot of tension and struggling and stress which exists purely in order to maintain the fiction of who the thinking mind says we are, and yet who we really are – behind all this struggling and stress – is something far, far greater than we could ever even begin to imagine! We’re protecting the shoddy copy at the expense of the priceless original! This is the true nature of the ‘ironic struggle’ upon which we are perpetually engaged…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conventional Therapy Is ‘Therapy To Keep Us Asleep’

Therapy’s a funny thing. It’s a funny thing because it isn’t really what we think it is; very often, what we call ‘therapy’ is just a way of confusing ourselves! Or as we could also say, it’s very often a way of delaying or postponing the moment when we get to see the truth about ourselves, and if we’re ‘delaying the moment when we finally get to see the truth about ourselves’ then this isn’t therapy, it’s merely a way of keeping ourselves asleep!

 

‘Therapy’ is a very comfortable and familiar word to us. It sounds like giving ourselves a bit of a treat, it sounds like something that’s going to take all those mental aches and pains away. Sometimes it is. But the problem is that these aches and pains have some sort of message to give us – they’re telling us something we need to know about. The pain we’re experiencing is serving a function rather than just being an annoyance or irritation to be gotten rid of. As Anthony De Mello says, most of us go to see a psychotherapist to get our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We don’t want to grow up and leave the safety of our beloved play pen!  We don’t want to face reality. We understand the outcome of effective therapy as being the elimination of all the symptoms that are afflicting us so that we can go back to the way we were before things started getting difficult for us…

 

What does it mean to ‘leave the play pen’ though? What is the ‘playpen’ that we are talking about here? The play pen – we could say, by way of a simple answer – is everything we know, everything we are familiar with, everything we habitually see as ‘being true’. It’s the status quo; it’s what we want to hang onto. The movement of life, on the other hand, is the movement of adventure, which is the movement away from all this. What could be more natural than to want to explore the world beyond the known, the world that lies outside of the safe perimeters of our well-managed everyday world? And yet there is of course another tendency at work here too and this is the tendency to flee from the unknown and pretend that it doesn’t exist. This ‘tendency’ is more commonly known simply as fear.

 

When therapy becomes synonymous with ‘returning us safely to the play pen’ (which is what professor of nursing Margaret Newman calls linear-interventionalism) it is no more than ‘fear in disguise’, therefore. It is us obeying fear. Linear interventionalism with regard to psychological therapy is in effect the legitimization of fear, the legitimization of ‘security-seeking’. The symptoms of neurotic pain that we are experiencing – and which we, naturally enough, want to see cured – are the inevitable side-effects of ‘hanging on’, the inevitable side-effects of fearing the unknown, legitimizing this fear, and resisting it for all we’re worth. There is no way that we can free ourselves from neurotic suffering and yet at the same time hold on to the known (or stay safely resident in the play pen) – that would be a perfect example of ‘wanting to have our cake and eat it’! When we resist the natural movement of life – which is of course our prerogative – then we are going to taste the lash of neurotic suffering, which is ‘the pain of having our growth arbitrarily restricted’.

 

Just as the yearning to go beyond our boundaries and move out into the Great Unknown is a natural impulse, so too is the impulse to run in the opposite direction. There are the two forces of life – the conservative and the exploratory (or ‘fear and love’, as Bill Hicks puts it). It’s all a natural process – it’s all the same natural process, working itself out. What happens in this process is that we resist our natural impulse to let go of the known and so instead we end up clinging to it for dear life. We attempt to make the play-pen the whole world and deny that anything else exists – we validate our ‘holding on’, in other words. We make a virtue of it and blame anyone who doesn’t do the same as us. We call them bad names. But what happens then is that the pain of trying to cling onto what can’t be clung onto (because it isn’t a real thing, even though we say it is) gets more and more unbearable – it grows and grows until in the end it becomes quite untenable. We finally see that what we’re fighting against is our own true self, our own true nature, and then it naturally happens – as part of the process – that we accord with our own true nature rather than fighting against it. To see that we are not according with our own true nature is the same thing as according with it! So then we become the explorers that we truly are and we embrace what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey rather than shirking it, rather than outlawing it, or pretending that ‘there is no such thing’.

 

There is a ‘problem’ with the unfolding of this process however and this ‘problem’ is our collective way of seeing things. The problem is society, to put it bluntly. The problem is our culture. Our collective understanding of ‘therapy’ is that it ought to be something to help return us safely to the equilibrium values from which we have accidently departed. Our understanding of therapy is that it is an essentially normative process, that it is an intervention designed to return us to the linear time-line of our normatively defined lives. The symptoms of neurotic pain – whatever they are – are seen as ‘errors’ to be eliminated. We have no interest in these symptoms, beyond what we need to know in order to eliminate them. We have no curiosity about what they might be implying. When we have been effectively therapized then we can get back to so-called normal life again; we can take up our allotted roles in society where we left off. The only thing is, normal life equals ‘the play pen’; normal life equals ‘the known which we are afraid to let go of’. We make a whole world out of our equilibrium values and we (implicitly) say that there is no other legitimate world, no other legitimate way of doing things, when the truth is that our established, collectively-validated way of life (i.e. society) is an exercise in conservatism and nothing more. It’s ‘conservatism for the sake of conservatism’. It’s the rule of fear. It’s what Joe Campbell calls ‘the refusal’ – it’s refusing the call on a grand scale. It’s global refusal. We are refusing the call to be who we are and the price we pay for this refusal is neurotic pain  – instead of life all we’re going to get is a shoddy and degraded copy of the true thing. Anything else is a ‘cheap debased counterfeit’, as Rashid Dossett says. That’s our lot – that’s all we’re going to get…

 

Our way of understanding mental health perfectly illustrates our confusion. Mental health is implicitly seen as being the same thing as ‘being adapted to the reality that society has defined for us’. It is seen as being adapted to the reality that society presents us with in such a way that we don’t have any problems with it. We are supposed to value our lives (to see our lives as being ‘worthwhile’) on this basis.  A good illustration of this is the way in which we are widely supposed to find our lives meaningful (i.e. ‘worth living’) on the basis of our goals, which are when it comes down to it provided for us by society itself. It’s not put quite like this of course – the meaning of life is said to come from us being ‘free to pursue our goals’, whatever those goals (or ‘dreams’, as it is also said) might be. The thing about this however is that these goals are the goals that make sense to us within the structure or framework of society, which is itself an avoidance of reality. Our goals never have anything to do with ‘leaving the play pen’ – they are on the contrary ways of distracting ourselves from seeing that we’re in the play-pen. Our goals are the play pen…

 

Our goals and dreams are society’s goals and dreams because we see the world in the way that society wants us to. Society has given us its mind. That this should be so if pretty much a foregone conclusion seeing that the social milieu has been telling us ‘how things are’ from the cradle onwards. My map of reality has been given to me by society and this ‘map’ doesn’t permit me to see beyond it. In another way, it doesn’t matter whose goals they are anyway – the notion that we can obtain our sense of meaning in life with regard to a bunch of goals (whether they are ours or not) is fundamentally nonsensical. Waiting for our agendas to be fulfilled (or not fulfilled, as the case may be) does provide us with a type of ‘meaning’ of course – it’s just not a very wholesome one! This isn’t a wholesome type of meaning because it’s based on delusion. How can I possibly base my sense that life is ‘meaningful’ on something that hasn’t happened yet, something that only exists in my own head, something that is nothing more than a projection of my unconscious programming? What kind of craziness is this?

 

The sense of meaningfulness (or ‘worthwhileness’) we get from goals is an illusory sense of meaningfulness, an illusory sense of worthwhileness. It’s based on shadows, on fictions. It’s only a game that we are playing – whatever way I am feeling now, I think that there’s going to be some value added to it (hopefully a lot of value!) when I attain the goal, when I reach that special destination that I am aiming at. I live in expectation of this happening therefore – I live in expectation of the great thing happening and it is my belief in this happy eventuality that provides me with my motivation in life. The more I believe the more motivation I feel, the more ‘anticipatory excitement’ I feel. I’m essentially trying to ‘solve life’ therefore; I’m trying to solve life with my goal-orientated activities, although I won’t see it like this. But whether I see what I’m doing or not doesn’t change anything – it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very shaky basis for feeling good about things, a very shaky basis for me to say that ‘my life is meaningful’…

 

Goals don’t make our life meaningful. That’s the Western Delusion. That’s samsara. If my life didn’t feel OK before I get the outcome that I want then it certainly isn’t going to feel OK because of this! Life can’t feel meaningful (or ‘worthwhile’) because of something outside of me – it is completely nonsensical to think this! We might imagine – in some half-baked kind of a fashion – that good mental health can be obtained by ‘filling the hole inside of us’ but this is just not going to work for us. It is good for capitalism, it’s good for all the corporations that sell us stuff, it is good for the ‘Consumer Society’, but it’s not good for us. Looking for solutions for our emotional / mental pain outside of us just isn’t going to work. Therapy isn’t supposed to provides answers or solutions to our inner pain –that’s a false understanding of therapy. It’s sleep we’re looking for, not any type of psychological growth. Getting rid of the symptoms is just playing a delaying game, as we have already said – what’s needed is for us to get to the root of our suffering, and see clearly what this root is. Waking up is what helps, not taking more sleeping pills!

 

This doesn’t tend to sound too good to us. Looking into the root of our suffering (rather than ‘solving it’ or ‘making it go away’) doesn’t sound very good at all – it sounds suspiciously like saying that we have to sit with our pain, it sounds as if we’re saying that we’re stuck with our pain and can’t get rid of it. It comes across (perhaps) as a pessimistic message that tells us we just have to put up with the misery and learn to live with it, as far as that is possible. This is understanding things the wrong way around, though. The root cause of our suffering is that we just want to get rid of our symptoms every time they arise so that we can go back to our beloved play-pen, and carry on ‘playing with our toys’, as Tony De Mello puts it. This is the attitude that created the pain and misery in the first place. But when we understand this clearly then we don’t have to keep on suffering – if we weren’t 100% invested in clinging to the world of the known and pretending to ourselves (and each other) that this is the right thing to do then there would be no more neurotic misery. All of these neurotic ‘problems’ only exist because of our refusal to see the bigger picture, because of our resistance to change. ‘Not resisting’ doesn’t mean that we have to ‘put up with the pain forever’ (which is what the thinking, problem-solving mind tells us), it means that the pain doesn’t arise in the first place…