Everyone We Meet We Give A Gift

Ram Dass says that we give everyone we meet a present, whether we want to or not, and that this present is ‘ourselves as we really are’, so to speak. Our ‘inner state’ is the gift we can’t help giving everyone we meet We may have a hugely prestigious status in society, we may have an impressive title or numerous letters after our name, but this doesn’t make even a grain of difference – we can still only ‘give what we’ve got,’ we can still only ever give the gift of our own inner state .

The other side of this is that we may have a very lowly status in society, we may have no standing at all, so that no one takes the slightest bit of interest in us or what we have to say, but our inner state might still be much more of a ‘gift’ than that of someone who society thinks to be important or knowledgeable. We place great emphasis on ‘experts’ for example, but no one can be an expert at cultivating a joyful or compassionate inner state! That’s not the way it works at all. We can train people to be experts in this or that technical field but we can’t train our inner state to be the way that we want it to be,or think it ought to be.

Experts are expert at doing certain technical tasks and this is of course something that we very much need – if my computer crashes and I can’t restart it I want someone with the technical expertise to come along and help me, not someone with no technical knowledge of computer systems. Similarly, if I develop a heart arrhythmia it’s a medical expert that I want to talk to not someone who might be a good friend but who knows nothing at all about medicine. When it comes to mental health however, there are no ‘experts’ and this is something that our society is very slow in recognising. Our ‘mental well-being’ isn’t something that is subject to ‘technical fixes’, the matter how skilled or knowledgeable the technician in question might be.

The reason for this is that our inner state can’t be changed by techniques or manipulation, as we have already said. This may sound like a rather strange assertion to make but we can explain it very easily by giving examples of other things that can’t be changed by design, by manipulation. There are lots of examples we could give here! One would be relationships – a good relationship may develop between two people but this can ‘t happen as a result of design or trickery on the part of one or both of the individuals concerned. If I meet you and am trying to manipulate things, or set things up, so that there will be a trusting relationship between us, then no genuine relationship is going to be possible. I might fool you for a while, but sooner or later you are going to see that I’m not authentic, that I am secretly manipulating things, and that is going to be the end of it. This brings us neatly to a second example (which is obviously closely related to the first) and that is authenticity. If I am not authentic in any given situation then there is no way in which I can manipulate things so that I am. This is because ‘manipulation’ and ‘being authentic’, are mutually exclusive modes of being. Paradoxically, the only way I can be authentic is by admitting that I’m not!The same principle applies to what is called ‘being oneself’ – as Alan Watt says somewhere; if I in any way try to be myself, then I am actually moving away from being myself. Any effort to be myself and I straightaway become false, phony, artificial.

The last example we will give encompasses both of the two previous ones and makes the point in the broadest possible way and it has to do with what is called the Dao in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Dao is ‘the natural way of things’, it is the natural way of things that happens all by itself and does not need to be controlled or regulated or set up in advance by some sort of cosmic programmer.This is a somewhat alien idea to us in the West as we can’t accept that anything can happen without being told to happen, or being caused to happen – this ‘rational prejudice’ of ours is exemplified by the idea of ‘God the controller’, without whose express will not even a single leaf may fall from a tree. In terms of the traditional Western paradigm, the whole universe is to be explained by the idea of God as ‘the Great Cause’ where is in Daoism such an idea would be too absurd even to be thought of. In Daoism it is stated that ‘to try to accord with the Dao is to deviate from it’ – in terms of ‘according with the state of universal harmony’ therefore, it is very much the case that trying to manipulate the situation (i.e. the purposeful mode of being in the world) is not ever going to result in us according with reality. ‘Control’ never leads to harmony…

In the case of ‘universal harmony’ or ‘all things being just the way that they naturally are’, it can quite easily be seen that what we might call personal will is very much ‘the fly in the ointment’. The ointment would be great, the ointment would be perfect, if it were not for that damn fly! If everything is ALREADY naturally partaking in the ineffable state of universal harmony then any effort I make to ‘be natural, or’ be in harmony’, is of course going to take us out of harmony and render us ‘strained’ and ‘out of sorts’. The attempt to be natural is artificial, in other words. And, what’s more, if I see this and try to go against my crude inclination to ‘make things natural even though they already are’ via the exercise of my personal will, then this too is me straining to correct matters and ‘make them be the way that I think they ought to be’. I’m ‘trying not to try’ in this case and that is every bit as strained and unnatural as ‘trying’ on its own is. It’s actually double-trying,‘trying on top of trying’, and so I’m actually caught up in a worse knot.

Some things absolutely can’t be done on purpose therefore and ‘being who we are’ or ‘being natural’ is one of them! Being happy can’t be done on purpose, being kind or compassionate can’t be done on purpose, being creative or spontaneous can’t be done on purpose, being still or at peace can’t be done on purpose. Being not sad when we are sad, being not angry when we are angry, and being not jealous when we are jealous, or being scared when we are scared, are also things that ‘can’t be done on purpose’. In short, changing our inner state is something that absolutely can’t be done on purpose, and this brings us back to where we started off in this argument. If we can’t by will or by design change our inner state (even though we might be able to cunningly disguise it) then this means that we are inevitably going to make everyone we meet a present of it, whether we want to or not.

This isn’t a ‘hopeless’ or ‘fatalistic’ viewpoint however. It’s simply ‘how things work’, and – if we reflected upon it – we would see that it is the only way things could ever work. What we are essentially saying here is that ‘the truth is the truth’ and – on a psychological level – what helps is for us to respect what is true as being true and not put all our energy into trying to change it. Since when has it been a good policy to fight against what is true, after all? What possible good could ever come out of such a pointless struggle? Who are we trying to fool?

This is not exactly an unfamiliar principle that we looking at here therefore – the principle is that it’s better to come clean and tell the truth rather than try to smudge or spin-doctor the issue. We all (or most of us) understand – to some degree or other – that it is a good thing to be honest rather than dishonest. The thing about this however is that we very much tend to apply this to our outer or external life and not to our ‘inner’ one. Inner honesty isn’t seen clearly for the profoundly liberating thing that it is. When Jesus said ‘the truth shall set you free’ he was referring to inner honesty above all – after all, if we are inwardly honest we then are not likely to go around trying to deceive others, whilst if we lack in inner honesty then we won’t be able to help playing false with everyone we meet. Our whole life is going to be ‘fake’, or ‘sham’, in this case.

Lots of different methods are prescribed for mental distress and suffering, many different approaches are adopted. The thing about methods and approaches is however there is always ‘an outcome in mind’ and if we have an outcome in mind then this has precisely nothing to do with ‘inner honesty’ or ‘coming clean’ about how we actually are. There is simply no outcome here; we’re not looking for an outcome – it’s not that type of thing at all. We are ‘dropping’ all hopes of any particular outcome, not ‘hanging onto them’ and that’s the whole point – the whole point is that we are dropping all hopes of changing things and facing the situation squarely instead. Doing this activates the principal of‘paradoxical change’ as it is called in Gestalt psychotherapy – when we stop trying to change our inner state then our inner state changes all by itself.

Not trying to change our inner state actually detoxifies is – by establishing a relationship with it the natural healing process is allowed to take place, and this means that when we meet people the gift we give them isn’t a poisoned one…






Recycling Time

The everyday self, according to Joseph Campbell, is ‘a fraction that thinks it is whole’. The everyday self thinks or assumes that it is whole but it is all the same persistently acquisitive, persistently restless, persistently fearful of unwanted outcomes and this shows that it isn’t whole. If it was whole then it wouldn’t be the way that it clearly is. If it were whole then it could ‘rest in itself’ and it can’t ever do that. The defining characteristic of the everyday self is that it can never ‘rest in itself’.

So what does it mean to be ‘whole’? For a start, we can say that being whole is a non-polar situation. Wholeness is not a polarity. It isn’t made up of two opposing things – it doesn’t have a plus at one end and a minus at the other. It doesn’t exist in a continuum with right at one end and wrong at the other so it can’t flip over between the two. The fact that wholeness is not a polarity means that there is no ‘self’ to be found in it, everyday or otherwise. There is no self to be found in wholeness because the self can only really exist in relation to polarity.

The ‘self’ equals striving for the positive and fleeing from the negative. This is what the self is always doing – it can’t ever not reach for the one nor flee from the other. It can’t ever ‘not strive’. It’s always ‘purposeful’ in this way and it is through being purposeful that the purposeful self gets to exist. The self exists through its purposes and whether it succeeds or fails makes no difference. One way the ‘winner self’ gets to be created, the other way the ‘loser self’…

The everyday self constructs itself in relation to the struggle to achieve its purpose. And another way of putting this is to say that the self creates itself (odd though this may sound) via its grasping. Because of its grasping, the everyday self exists. There are two (apparent) things that come about because grasping – [1] equals the ‘grasper’ and [2] equals ‘the thing that is being grasped for’. The self is by its very nature perpetual grasping, in other words. Or we could say that it is perpetual fleeing, if we were to look at it that way around instead. The everyday self is ‘attachment’ in other words; there is no such thing as a self that is not a slave to attachment! That isn’t a situation that can ever come true for the self, seductive though that possibility might seem.

There is a ‘comforting illusion’ that goes with this grasping – the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally secure what we are grasping for (or the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally escape from whatever it is we are fleeing from). So could be said that we are ‘fractional beings in search of wholeness’ and in a way this is true, but in another way it is not true. It is not true because we have no concept or perception of wholeness, and so we can’t seek it. All we can ‘seek’ are our own projections.

What we are really doing is ‘chasing our own projections’, which is – as Alan Watt says – like a puppy chasing its own tail. We can never ‘arrive’ – when a puppy is chasing its own tail there is no ‘arriving’! We can never arrive at our projected destination because projections aren’t real; my projections are just my own fantasies and so I’m not really getting anywhere. There is no distance between ‘me’ and ‘my projected destination’ and so there is no journey, no movement, no prospect of change. There is only ever ‘fantasy gain’ and ‘fantasy loss’ – our hopes of gaining the prize are as vain as our fears of losing it.

Instead of saying that the self is ‘perpetual grasping’ we could also say that it is ‘a recycling of the old’. When we grasp we are always grasping for ‘the old’ after all – there’s no such thing as a ‘grasping for the new’. How can we ‘grasp for the new’ when we don’t know what ‘the new’ is? If we did know what ‘the new’ was then it wouldn’t be new, but only something that we are already familiar with. Grasping means ‘chasing our projections’ and our projections – by definition – are never new.

‘The new’ is essentially ‘that which we have no way of anticipating’ and it is also therefore ‘that which we have no way of gaining the advantage over’. ‘Gaining the advantage’ means knowing something about the situation that is going to arise before it arises so that it doesn’t take us totally by surprise. For a game-player to be taken by surprise is not a good thing; as James Carse says, the last thing a game player wants is to be taken by surprise and the self is nothing if not a game player. Being a game player means that we are always ‘looking for the advantage’, obviously enough! Gaining the advantage is called ‘winning’ and not gaining the advantage is called  ‘losing’ and that’s all we need to know about games.

The thing about this is that there is neither winning nor losing in ‘the new’; both winning and losing (or advantage and disadvantage) equals ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That’s the whole point of games. The point is that neither winning or losing is ‘new’ – both equal ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That is the hidden agenda behind all games – to avoid newness. As we have said, the self can only exist in relation to the polarity of yes and no, winning and losing, advantage and disadvantage, and so this is just another way of saying that the self is just a game, odd though this may sound. It is by pretending to ourselves – as we do in games – that ‘the old’ actually exists (and that there is no such thing as ‘the radical new’) that we create the illusion of ourselves.

Just as Krishnamurti says that ‘thought is always old’ so too is the thought-created sense of identity ‘always old’ and the thing about this is that outside of the creations of thought, there is no ‘old’….








 

 

Disturbing The Peace

What disturbs our peace the whole time is the I-Concept. This isn’t our usual way of seeing things of course – we never think of the I-Concept as being the culprit. On the contrary, we always see things its way and the I-Concept – when it is functioning in its default way – never blames itself for anything. On the contrary, it takes itself for granted, and this automatically means that the fault will be found elsewhere. There is variant on this displacement business and that is when the I-Concept loses its ‘robustness’ and starts blaming itself instead – it starts ‘internalizing the blame’, in other words. This disturbs our peace of mind as well of course and so it’s still the I-Concept that causing the disturbance – either way, it is the very narrow idea that we have of who we are that is the root cause of the agitation.

 

No matter which way it is working, the I-Concept is incapable of seeing any point of view other than its own. This is its ‘fundamental limitation’, we might say. If it could see things another way, it would no longer be the I-Concept. If it could examine itself (which is of course not the same as blaming itself) it would no longer be the I-Concept. For this reason therefore, its slightest whim immediately becomes law. Self-righteous indignation, resentment, blame and anger automatically follows if this ‘law’ is not respected (which is to say, if things go against us).

 

Because we can’t question whatever it is that the self-construct wants then naturally the ‘fault’ always seems to lie elsewhere. The universe is refusing to play ball with us and that – from our POV – is quite unacceptable. If we could ‘switch perspectives’, even for just a moment, would see that this attitude of ours is quite preposterous, but the I-Concept can’t look at things any other way, and that’s the whole point. If I am not the way I think I ought to be then it is the same inflexibility that is coming into play here – if I am being self-blaming instead of ‘other blaming’ then it is this very same rigidity that lies behind my ‘toxic or violent attitude’.

 

The I-Concept represents an ‘unfree way of seeing the world’ therefore – the concrete self can never turn around and laugh at itself for being so ridiculous and this imbues it with a clown-like quality, as Wei Wu Wei says. It’s as if it is always suspecting itself to be the butt of every joke going, both real and imagined, and this makes it inherently touchy, inherently defensive. This makes it inherently aggressive because we’ve always got to be ready to throw the shit right back any time it lands on us. We’ve got to be very quick to ‘deflect the blame’. We’ve got be fast on the draw with some kind of snappy comeback! ‘I’m not the idiot, you’re the idiot’, I say…

 

This outwardly directed aggression is one way in which the peace gets to be disturbed therefore; put a bunch of I-Concepts together and they will squabble like hell because each one of them wants to blame all the others for anything and everything that goes wrong! Each one of them is determined to shift the blame, without actually focusing on the fact that this is what it is doing. Mutual understanding is an impossibility. Naturally mutual understanding is an impossibility since – when we are identified with the I-Concept – we can’t understand ourselves. We can’t understand ourselves and so how can we hope to understand someone else? Instead of ‘understanding ourselves’ what we do instead is to make up convenient stories and then believe them. We spin narratives, in other words, and then we orientate ourselves to these narratives as if they were constitute the fundamental baseline of ‘what reality is’.

 

With regard to those around us, we can’t (when we are in the identified state) have any genuine mutual understanding and so what we do instead is to agree to follow a particular shared narrative. This way we are all coming from a common basis, a common point of view, and so this feels like ‘togetherness’. It isn’t really togetherness (or ‘connectedness’) however because it’s on a false basis. I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not (without acknowledging that I’m doing this) and the same is true for you. How then can there be any connectedness? When we relate to others in the world on the basis of the mind-created narrative that is always going to be the case; it’s always going to be the case for the simple reason that narratives are never true. There is no narrative that can define (or explain) who or what we are, either historically or in the present moment. The I-concept and the ‘personal narrative’ are the same thing – without the mind-created narrative there could be no concrete sense of self. The self is the product of the narrative.

 

So we could say that what ‘disturbs our peace’ (and goes on and on disturbing our peace) is the narrative or story that we have of ourselves and this would also be true. Or we could say what fragments our peace is our thinking, the very nature of thought being that it fragments reality, as David Bohm says. We can therefore talk equivalently about the I-Concept, the personal narrative, and thought itself. We usually (almost always) take it that we are the I-Concept, that the personal narrative is my story, and that thought is my tool to do with as I please, but actually this is the reverse of what’s going on – I’m not the I-Concept, the personal narrative is not the true story of what’s going on, and I am the tool of thought rather than vice versa! The I-Concept is an extension of thought, a construct of thought, so just as long as I am identified with the I-Concept then I am ‘the tool of thought’ – it can’t be otherwise.

 

Identification means rigidity, as we have said, and rigidity means that there can never be any peace, or any true ‘ease’. Rigidity means ongoing agitation, ongoing strife. We are glued to a limited (and therefore brittle) viewpoint and we are condemned, on this account, to make our way through life on this dreadfully awkward basis. The only freedom we seem to have is the freedom to get things to be the way we want to be – if we can correctly exercise this freedom then – we imagine – we will feel blessed relief from the lack of ease that is driving us. The ‘lack of ease’ and the brittleness of our position are the same thing – if we weren’t so brittle then we wouldn’t be so agitated; the ‘brittleness’ (or lack of ease) is what drives our controlling, in other words.

 

We will never find relief from our uncomfortable or tormenting brittleness however – the ‘answer’ to our brittleness isn’t to learn to control more effectively, as we think, because when we do this with simply importing this brittleness (which is the self-construct) into every new situation. We are perpetuating the need to go on controlling. The ‘answer’ is much more simple than this – the problem is my brittle idea of myself, not the world’s obstinate refusal to play ball with this idea. Our freedom doesn’t lie in control therefore (control being the way the I-Concept has of extending itself), our freedom lies in not having to control. When I don’t have to control then I am free – when I realise that I don’t have to control then I am free from the I-Concept, free from the personal narrative, and free from thought all in the one go…

 

So far, it could be said, we doing little more than going around in circles by saying the same thing in various different ways. This understanding can’t be rushed however; it can’t be rushed because it goes so very much against the grain of our ordinary thinking. Once we have a clear understanding of what identification is then we have the possibility of working meaning meaningfully with it – we can’t see identification, but we can see its consequences. The brittleness itself is invisible to us – it’s invisible to us because we mistake it for our own will, our own volition. We don’t experience the brittleness as brittleness (i.e. I don’t feel the pain where it belongs) but rather we perceive it as ‘things not being right on the outside world’. We deflect the pain outwards, in other words so that our inherent rigidity or brittleness is transformed into ‘an external problem that needs to be fixed’.

 

The very first place for consciousness to come in is therefore exactly here, in the upsets and irritations we experience on an ongoing basis. Every single thing that comes along and niggles or annoys us can be seen in two mutually exclusive ways – either I identify with the reaction in question and perceive it as being the ‘my righteous or rightful response to something that isn’t right’ or I perceive the reactivity to be a function of the rigidity or inflexibility of the I-Concept. When I fall into the trap of identifying with the mechanical reaction then the I-Concept (as it actually is) becomes 100% invisible to me and when I don’t fall into this trap then it straightaway becomes visible for what it is, which is to say – it becomes visible as ‘a mere thing’, ‘a mere mechanism’.

 

This is a very fascinating thing therefore – the fascinating thing is that when we are living life on the basis of the I-Concept then we have turned ourselves into a thing! We are ‘a thing’ but we can’t see ourselves to be ‘a thing’; we are ‘a thing’ but we perceive everyone out everything else (even other human beings, sometimes) as been things, not us. We’ve got it the wrong way around in other words – we have thingified the world around us when actually it is us that is the thing the whole time! We’re projecting our ‘thingness’ on everything else and making ourselves blind to it in ourselves, and this allows us to become violent in the way that we are. Ultimately, this is what allows us to become psychopaths or narcissists! This is what the state of identification is all about – becoming some ‘rigid reactive thing’ and being doomed to be continuously validating our stubborn rigidity and reactivity so that we never have to actually look at it in ourselves. We inflict it on everyone else instead.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are living on the basis of the I-Concept then we are ‘clownish without knowing that we are’, as we said earlier. We are foolish, but we don’t know it. We are foolish, but all the same we are liable to go around thinking that we’re the ‘bees knees’; either that or we go around being down on ourselves and feeling that we are unworthy or weak or actually bad. Both of these perceptions – the euphoric and the dysphoric – are equally deluded however. Being great is a delusion just as being crappy is. The truth of the matter is that the I-Concept can never be either good or bad – it’s just ‘a mechanical thing’ and so what is helpful is for us to do it the respect of seeing it for what it is instead of oscillating up and down the whole time with regard to our conditioned self-regard. The ego wants to redeem itself (we might say) by being ‘good’ but it is never anything other than the mechanical ego, which is neither good nor bad but just a mechanism.

 

Seeing that the I-Concept is the I-Concept isn’t an inherently painful or disturbing thing unless we happen to be identified with it, which of course we are! The pain of seeing the truth about ourselves (or rather, the truth of who we think we are) means that we are always looking in the opposite direction from this truth, which is why we are always deflecting. The truth isn’t recognised as the truth but rather as an insult that we will either protest strongly against or internalise and ‘take to heart’, depending on our inclination. The very fact that there is pain there means that we can use it to draw attention to what is going on, however. In this case the painful sting that I am feeling – be it slight or more than slight – can act as a prompt to enable me to see where the pain is rather than allowing my attention to be deflected safely somewhere else.

 

When we are not paying attention – which is the usual way – then we automatically resent the pain that we’re feeling and so all our energy goes into reacting. We don’t particularly notice the reacting when we do this but what the reacting is against – we put all up all our attention on what the mind-created narrative says is happening and this reinforces that narrative, increasing its hold over us. The reacting is like a pointing finger and we so obediently look at where the finger is pointing. We find someone (or some situation) to blame for our pain. The I-Concept is thus validated and reinforced by the action of blaming or judging. Turning this around and blaming or judging the self-construct doesn’t help us however because this also solidifies the idea that we have of ourselves – we’re every bit as trapped if we blame ourselves as when we blame someone or something else. ‘Blaming’ means in essence that ‘you should be different to the way you are but you aren’t’ – this is utterly  ludicrous however because the I-Concept can never be anything other than what it is! How could it – it is simply a reflex or mechanism that can never be anything different from what it is. Why do we even want it to be ‘other then what it is’, seeing as how it isn’t who we are anyway?

Identifying With The Generic Identity

Self-observation is all about not getting sucked into our own (or other people’s) dramas. Dramas pull us in – that’s what they do. We lose ourselves in dramas – it’s like watching a film in the cinema and being so completely absorbed that you forget all about yourself. If my life was one long drama (let us just suppose) then we could lose ourselves in it the whole time, on a non-stop basis. We would in that case get so absorbed in it that we would completely forget ourselves! This is what Anthony de Mello is getting at when he says that we are all ‘asleep’.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we get so absorbed in our reactions to the drama that’s going on that we think we are our reactions! So suppose you say something to me and for some reason I feel hurt by your comment, then it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to identify with this reaction, and get totally sucked into the drama of it on this basis. ‘Identifying’ means that I feel that I am totally right to be aggrieved by the fact that you have said whatever it is that you’ve said, and that you are totally wrong to have said it. There is this right/wrong polarisation that takes place which then get elaborated and reinforced by the thinking process. ‘She should never have said that,’ I might think, or ‘how dare you make a comment like that!’

 

The more we get sucked in by this thinking process more indignant or affronted we feel, the more polarised we get, and this polarisation of ‘right way versus runway’ is what identification means. ‘Identification’ means that we feel intensely gratified and vindicated if things go our way, and equally intensely annoyed and stung if they don’t. In this state of being everything is about the drama, everything is about the reaction, and so as a result of everything being about the drama (or the reaction) there is no actual ‘self-observation’ going on in the sense that we have been talking about. ‘Being sucked into the drama’ is the very antithesis of self-observation as we have said.

 

The process of identification, then, is the process whereby we think that our reactions, which kick off automatically, are us. The intensity of the emotional reaction is my own intensity; it is coming right from the core of me, it is expressive of what I care about the most. My outrage is expressing my deepest most heartfelt feelings – it is coming out of the very centre of my being (or so it seems). More than this, it is an expression of me. In this way we could say that I’m ‘prizing’ my outrage, my anger, my indignation, or whatever the reaction is; it is precious to me just as I am precious to me.

 

And yet at the same time my emotional reactions have nothing to do with who I really am – they certainly don’t define who or how I am in the way that I feel that they do. What they do define is a generic version of us and so what we have here is the situation where I am very intensely identifying with this stance, this posture, this attitude, and we are saying – as strongly as we can – that this is me. I am saying ‘this is my position and I’m sticking to it whether you like it or not…’

 

There is a huge defiance, a huge obstinacy, a huge stubbornness about this and just as long as we have any strength at all left to us, we will defend this position of ours – we will defend it until our last gasp, we will defend it till the very end. This obstinacy of ours is perverse however because what we are defending is not us – what we are defending (or promoting) is ‘the generic version of us’, not the true and unique individuality of who we are. What we are defending is the acquired ‘personality’ not our intrinsic ‘essence’, to use Gurdjieff’s terms, so getting pulled into the drama causes us to think that ‘we are who we aren’t’ and – moreover – think it very strongly! We forget who we are (which is not defined in the crude, black-and-white way, and cannot therefore be ‘defended’) and identify with a ‘generic identity’ instead.

 

The reason we call it ‘the generic identity’ is because it’s the same for everybody – when we look at anyone who has completely lost their temper and has become consumed by rage we can see that everyone becomes ‘the same person’ at this point. All the nuances (the nuances which tell of our individuality) are lost and all that is left is ‘the ego of anger’, which is a generic self. As Jung says, when we allow ourselves to be ruled by ‘the passions’ then we straightaway become ‘Everyman’

The more you cling to that which the whole world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch.

This is without question the most ignominious fate that could ever befall us – Everyman is the graveyard of individuality, a horrific type of ‘living death’.

 

This isn’t just true for anger therefore – every jealous person is the same person (the same person which isn’t actually any true person), every greedy person is the same person, every confused person of the same person, every proud or arrogant person is the same person, every slothful or lazy person of is the same person. What we’re talking about here therefore are the ‘five poisons’ that are spoken of in Buddhism or the ‘seven deadly sins’ that are listed in Christianity. The reason there are seven cardinal sins and only five poisons (or Kleshas) because Christianity counts desire three times as lechery (luxuria); gluttony (gula) and avarice (and avaritia). The point is however (the point that we are never ever told) is that these are states in which we lose our true, compassionate nature and ‘become who we aren’t’. The consumer society in which we live is based upon the manipulation of our passions (greed, envy, insecurity, etc) and it operates by causing us to identify with the generic identity. The generic identity is predictable and easily controlled, after all! Who we really are (the individuality) isn’t.

 

‘Self-observation’ essentially involves bringing awareness to this process whereby we identify with the generic identity. We see it happening. What we are observing is the way in which we get caught up in the mind-created drama and ‘become who we aren’t’, in other words. The crucial point here is that when we have identified with the generic identity we can’t ‘observe’ anything! The generic identity can’t see anything truly; it can’t see anything truly because it sees everything from a false basis – it sees everything in a ‘generic’ way, it sees everything ‘from the basis of an unreal vantage point’. This is the great difficulty inherent in self-observation therefore – the ‘great difficulty’ is that inasmuch as we are continuously identifying with a generic identity, we are also becoming unconscious, and when we become unconscious we are also unconscious of the fact that we’re unconscious. We are convinced beyond any argument that we are conscious, as Gurdjieff says. We might think that we’re ‘observing’ ourselves but we’re not – we’re just getting lost in mind-created illusions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The External Commentator

By commentating on reality, we create the ego. What advantage is there then, we might ask, in creating this ego? What are we gaining by this exercise? The answer here of course is that there is no advantage, except for that self-same ego. ‘The ego gains itself’, which is a doubtful advantage, even at the best of times. It’s only the ego that cares about itself, after all.

 

What we gain, when we gain the separate viewpoint which is the ego, is the possibility of commentating on reality from the outside without really knowing what we are commentating about. What we are actually commenting on is ‘what reality looks like from the perspective of this hypothetical external viewpoint’, which doesn’t really exist). Certainly it doesn’t exist independently of this viewpoint. Any value that the comments in question might have exist strictly in relation to this hypothetical viewpoint, which itself doesn’t exist, as we have just said. The type of value that we talking about here is therefore very ‘provisional’ (which is to say, our comments are meaningful only insofar as the point of view that were taken for granted is a ‘necessary’ kind of thing, which it isn’t at all).

 

Why doesn’t the ‘external separate viewpoint’ exist? This really is the sticking point in the argument – the point beyond which we find it so hard to move. We find it impossibly hard to move beyond it because it feels so much as if there really is an external, separate viewpoint operating. That abstracted viewpoint is ‘me’ – it is the experience that I’m working with (or perhaps working through) every single day of my life. It’s my constant preoccupation! Being a separate self is such an intimate and consistent experience – it is pretty much the only experience which we will ever have and since it is pretty much ‘the only experience which we will ever have’ we find it practically impossible to challenge it. How can anyone come up and say that the ‘me’ isn’t real? It’s the key feature of my existence!

 

The ‘me’ isn’t real because it’s a purely arbitrary point of view – if something is an arbitrary point of view (i.e. if we could just as well look at things in a totally different way) then how on earth can we say that it is ‘real’? It is a misuse of the word. We can say that is ‘familiar’ or ‘persuasive’ (or that is the only thing we know) but we can’t it is real. That – as we have just said – is a blatant misuse of the word. If something’s true it’s true whether I want it to be or not; it’s not a function of my preference.

 

We know that the ‘me’ is only an arbitrary point of view because we can completely drop it in an instant (in meditation for example) and when we do this we discover that we aren’t at all separate from or external to the world. People have been discovering this for tens of thousands of years. As the Buddha says,

In the sky, there is no distinction between East and West, people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.

The very notion of a distinct self or ego is absurd. The question ‘why doesn’t the external separate viewpoint exist’ is ridiculous: how can anything be ‘separate from’ or ‘external to’ reality? If we are ‘outside reality’ (‘outside reality looking in’, as it were) then clearly we’re not real. We have created an unreal or abstract POV and all the comments we make on this basis of this unreal or abstract POV are equally unreal. It’s a closed circuit of illusion. My comments (i.e. my thoughts) are only ‘real with respect where I am coming from’, which is in itself an unreal place.

 

If we wanted to say that something genuinely is real (as opposed to the thinking mind, as opposed to the mind-created self) then we could say that consciousness is real. Consciousness is real because it’s not arbitrary, because it’s not an engineered or constructed thing. If no one set it up, arranged for it to be there, arranged for it to be the way that it is, then that’s got to make it real! It’s ‘real all by itself’, not ‘real just because that we say it is’. Before we say anything, do anything, think anything, we are conscious. Before we commentate we are conscious. That’s where everything comes from therefore. If we wanted to be unconscious, then we’d have to arrange that for ourselves. The ‘conditioned mode of existence’ is a special case – it needs to be set up, it needs to programmed, it needs to be engineered in some way.

 

We are likely to dispute to dispute this, of course. ‘If I do nothing’, I say, ‘then nothing happens – I just carry on just the same as I always do, I carry on being asleep. I carry on in my conditioned mode of existence. I carry on perceiving myself to be a separate ego observer’. ‘That’s a fact’, I say, ‘if I’m unconscious and I do nothing about it then I’m going stay unconscious. Isn’t this what we all do all the time anyway – ‘doing nothing’. This way of thinking would have us ‘straining to be conscious’, as if consciousness were the ‘special state’ or ‘special case’ that has to be brought about in some way.

 

The truth is however that we are ‘doing something’ the whole time – we just don’t notice ourselves doing it. What we’re doing is ‘commentating on reality’ – from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we fall asleep at night we are commentating on reality and ‘commentating on reality’ (as we started off this discussion by saying) is how we create the ego. If we took the trouble to notice our own mental activity we’d see this – we’d see that we’re expressing opinions about reality the whole time, we’d see that we’re making judgements about the way things are, and saying that they are ‘good or bad’. There’s nothing that can happen, that we’re aware of, without us making some sort of comment or judgement about it and the reason for this ceaseless activity is simply to maintain the illusion of a ‘separate viewpoint’ that is so important to us…

 

It’s not really important that we maintain the illusion of the separate viewpoint though, as we have said. That’s only ‘important’ to the illusion of the separate viewpoint – the illusion is hanging onto itself, for no good reason at all! The commentator is commentating in order that the perception that there is a commentator can carry on being there. A tautology is feeding upon itself – the whole thing is just a ‘closed circuit of illusion’, going around and around and around forever….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooked On The Promise

We are as completely absorbed as we are in the ongoing fiction of our thoughts because we are hooked on a promise, because we are waiting for the next much-anticipated treat to come away. This business is wholly absorbing, infinitely absorbing – we really don’t have any interest in anything else, anything that isn’t related to the treat that is supposedly coming our way. We are ‘strung out’ – either in a good way or a bad way – waiting to find out whether the promise is going to be delivered or not. If we are optimistic in this regard then we’re going to find ourselves in the Gardens of Euphoria and if it’s pessimistic we are then we’re going to be lolling around in the Dark Kingdom of Dysphoria instead. It’s one or the other.

 

The curious thing about this that it doesn’t matter how mediocre or insipid the treat that we’re waiting proves to be; even if it’s the most dismal offering ever we are still going to be absorbed by the prospect of receiving it, hypnotized by the prospect of receiving it. The point is that we have to be waiting for something because that’s the only mode of being we know – no matter how tawdry the offering might be it still serves an important function, therefore. No matter how insipid or paltry the treat is it still facilitates the Waiting Game.

 

This isn’t a particularly hard idea to understand of course – we need only think of television and the way in which when we are habituated to watching television we will end up watching any old rubbish, or the way in which when we get habituated to browsing the internet we will end up clicking on all sorts of ridiculously trivial bits of nonsense. This is a very familiar pattern – once the system gets a hold on us that it doesn’t matter what sort of banality is it serves up for us for dinner – will still be there no matter how much our intelligence is being insulted. We’ll still be there because we’ve got nowhere else to go.

 

So it is with our thoughts – we are enslaved to our thoughts because we don’t know what else to be doing other than thinking! We’ve been conditioned by thought and thought is all we know – thought doesn’t have to provide us with anything interesting or valuable because it’s already got the monopoly on us. Thought is providing something that is important to us however, it’s just that we can’t see or understand what this is. On the face of it – on the explicit level of the mechanism – thought of providing us with ‘click-bait’, it is providing us with ‘ongoing distraction from where we actually are’. Beneath the level of the explicit however there is a more insidious mechanism at work and that has to do with the way in which our sense of actual identity is being maintained.

 

This isn’t a straightforward thing to understand because the true nature of our ‘identity’ is opaque to us just as long as we believe ourselves to be that identity. When we no longer perceive ourselves to be that concrete identity then the thick fog clears and we can see what’s going on much more clearly. The actual mechanism is very simple however, even though it’s impossible to grasp from the POV of our ordinary thinking – when we waiting for the next treat to come along came very about then this state of expectation (or hope) implies the existence of ‘the hoper’, it implies the existence of ‘the one who expects’. The euphoria we experience seems to be about the glorious fulfilment of this hope but it isn’t at all – that’s merely the cover story, that’s merely a smokescreen. The euphoria really comes about because we have created the believable illusion of the concrete identity!

 

Likewise, when we are in the state of dysphoric expectation (because we’re anxious about the delivery arriving as or when it’s supposed to, or because we are fearfully expecting a disadvantageous event rather than an advantageous one then this is also the mechanism by which the concrete sense of identity is created. If something is going to go wrong then there must be someone who it is going to wrong go wrong for; if a ‘bad thing’ is going to happen then there must be someone who it is going to happen to! Both ways the fiction of the concrete sense of identity gets to be confirmed, therefore. Both ways we are inferring the existence of a concrete ‘me’, a concrete ‘me’ who is either going to be the happy recipient of the treat or the frustrated/unhappy non-recipient of the expected treat (or in the case of what we might call ‘the negative treat’, ‘the one to whom the bad thing is going to happen’).

 

It doesn’t in the least bit matter whether the concrete sense of self is constructed in the euphoric or non-euphoric way – whether the CSOS is having a good time or not is quite relevant! The crucial point is that there should be a ‘timeline’, an unbroken continuity of one sort or another. Where there is no continuum there cannot be any trace of the self, not even a whisper or a hint of it. This is because the CSOS absolutely cannot exist in the present moment. If there ever was ‘an absolute impossibility’ this is it! This can be readily verified through personal experience: in the present moment there is no continuity of thought, there is no past and no future. Contrariwise, when there is a continuity, where there is a past and future all joined up together in an unbroken timeline, then there can’t be a present moment. The present moment stands alone – it has no history and no existence in this projected scenario that we call ‘the future’. It is a discontinuity, which is to say it is ‘a break in the continuum of thought’, as well as being ‘a break in the continuum of the linear or serial self’.

 

When we are in the present moment we cannot say ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ because all definitions require us to bring ‘something else’ into the picture and in ‘the now’ there is nothing else. That’s the whole point. The present moment ‘stands alone’, as we have just said, it doesn’t exist in comparison or in relation to anything else. It’s not part of the system of thought. The concrete self on the other hand can only exist in comparison to ‘something else’ and this is why we can say that there can’t be ‘a sense of identity’ in the now, in actual reality. The difference between the continuum of thought and the discontinuity of the present moment is inconceivable therefore – there’s no way to ‘compare the one with the other’. The COT is a series of regular events that continue forever with nothing truly new ever happening; the discontinuity of the now – on the other hand – is incomprehensibly unique. We have absolutely no way of saying anything about it at all.

 

When thought isn’t providing us with something to look forward to (either in a euphoric or non-euphoric way) or something to look back at (again, either euphorically or non-euphorically) then we have no way of constructing the concrete sense of self. We haven’t got the wherewithal to do that. The continuity of thought is under threat therefore; the timeline of the identity is at risk of disintegrating entirely. As we have said, we need to be thinking something no the matter how banal and repetitive these thoughts might be. Even if our thoughts are calling us great suffering and anguish, we still need to be thinking them. We still need these thoughts in order to provide the framework with which to construct the believable perception of the concrete sense of self. We’re addicted to thought and we can’t do without it, in other words! And yet the truly weird thing about this is that the concrete sense of identity which thought is providing us with has nothing to with us at all. It’s only a ‘mind-created fiction’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prisoners of Thought

We are so very easily swayed by the mind. It is as if the thinking mind need do no more than merely look at us and we are swayed – we are swayed by the thinking mind just as seaweed is swayed by powerful ocean currents, just as the treetops are swayed by a strong wind. Who we believe ourselves to be and what we believe ourselves to be capable of is determined by this mind. The thinking mind tells us something and we believe it and there is no gap or interval between the two things. These two things have been collapsed into ‘just the one thing’ which is not a healthy state of affairs. It’s not a healthy state of affairs because there is no freedom for us in this situation. We’re ‘prisoners of the mind’.

 

What would be helpful therefore would be if we could open up a gap between these two things – this gap would mean the difference between being controlled by the thinking mind and not being controlled by it. It would mean the difference between ‘being free’ and ‘not being free’, as psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl says in this well-known quote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

To open up such a gap is not such a straightforward thing as it might on the face of it seem however. We can grasp the idea, but to put it into practice is another matter entirely.

 

If I have a thought which triggers me in some way and then I have the thought that ‘I ought to allow a gap’ then there is of course no gap. First there is the original thought, and then there is the thought which follows on from this which says ‘I should allow a gap’ – this is no good at all however because the thought ‘I should allow gap’ is not a gap. It’s just another thought, so nothing has changed. One thought follows immediately in the wake of another and so we are no closer to a gap than we ever were!

 

If I have a ‘triggering thought’ and I respond to this thought up by using a method or strategy to alter or prevent the reaction (which is the principle that CBT is based on) then this is no good either because methods and strategies are created by thought and this means that they are thought. Methods and strategies follow logic and thought is nothing but logic. Thought is logic through and through. Or, as we could also say, both methods and strategies have an ‘aim’ or a ‘goal’ and all aims/goals are created by thought. There is no such thing as ‘a goal that was not created by thought’, after all!

 

Opening up a gap between two thoughts (or between one thought and our reaction to that thought) isn’t as straightforward as all that, therefore. It’s not as straightforward ‘as we might think’! There are two ways to talk about this lack of straightforwardness. One is to say that logic can’t be used to create a gap because there are no gaps, no discontinuities in logic. That’s the whole point of logic – that it is an unbroken continuum, that one thing always follows on from the other. The other way of talking about ‘the lack of straightforwardness’ is to say that forcing or controlling can’t be used to create a gap because the whole point of forcing is to close gaps, not open them. When we force or control we are closing the gap between ‘what we want to happen’ and ‘what does happen’, between ‘our will’ and ‘the fruition of this will’, between what we have in mind (i.e. our ‘goal’) and the actualization of this goal.

 

So just to repeat what we have said so far, our freedom lies not in thinking but in the gap between our thoughts (or in the gap between ‘stimulus’ and ‘reaction’) and this gap cannot be forced or brought about by design. ‘The controlling part of us’ is no good at all here therefore and yet the controlling part of us – which is called ‘the thinking mind’ – is almost always the only part we know. In therapy we talk about developing resilience for learning patience but this is something the mind can never do – the mind can only ever struggle and scheme to bring about the fruition of its agenda, the realisation of its goals. If the mind’s goal is to be ‘patient’ then it struggles to bring this about – in an inpatient way!

 

We can’t understand any way of going about things other than this, other than ‘having a goal’ and then ‘struggling to make it happen’. That’s our god – we place willed action on a pedestal. Who we truly are in ourselves doesn’t depend on control and manipulation however – who we are in ourselves doesn’t need anything ‘from outside of itself’ so it doesn’t need to pin all its hopes on this thing that we call ‘successful controlling’. When we are in touch with our true nature we know on a very deep level that our well-being doesn’t require the attaining of any external advantage! To believe otherwise is to be a slave.

 

We can relate this to the Buddhist virtue of equanimity. Equanimity means ‘it’s OK happen things happen the way we want them to and it’s also OK if they don’t’. In the West we value controlling, and the knowledge-base and skills or methods that facilitate controlling. As we just said, we put willed or purposeful action on a pedestal. The reason we do this however is because – on an unconscious level – we link our well-being or happiness with ‘successful controlling’. This is our ‘core assumption’ in the West – we somehow imagine that ‘being’ comes from ‘successful doing’! Our whole way of life is based on this ‘never-examined but deeply held’ core belief. We go through agonies because of it.

 

This assumption is entirely false however – as we would see if we were to reflect on it for a moment. ‘Being’ and ‘doing’ are two completely different things – our being is completely independent of our doing. ‘Who we are’ has nothing to do with our ability to successfully control – that’s the Western myth, that’s why saying that someone is ‘a loser’ is such an insult, such a put down. There is in reality no such thing as ‘being a winner’ or ‘being a loser’ – there is only ‘being a human being’ and this is something that is beyond winning and losing. Being ‘who we truly are’ is beyond winning and losing. The awareness of this absolute independence of being from doing is ‘the gap’ that we are cultivating through the practice of mindfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Validating the Status Quo

Thought’s ‘cover story’ (i.e. its ‘excuse for being there’) is – obviously enough – that it is actually useful! That’s how thought gets to make such a major claim on our attention, by claiming to be of actual utility. ‘Think me, I’m useful!’ the thought says, and we – gullible as ever – go right ahead and think it. We fall for this claim every time, like citizens who can’t help voting for an idiot leader…

 

Some thoughts really are useful of course but the interesting thing is to try to work out the ratio of ‘genuinely useful thinking’ to ‘useless’ or ‘space-filling’ thinking. This is the same as talking – sometimes we talk because we actually have something to say, at other times we might talk simply to fill an empty space. Is it even possible to work out how much of our day-to-day thinking is genuinely useful rather than being purely redundant? It might be argued of course that thinking doesn’t have to be ‘genuinely useful’ (or ‘genuinely meaningful’) – it could after all simply be comforting to us.

 

This could indeed be true – no doubt thought very often is comforting to us – but just because something is comforting doesn’t mean that it is good for us though. From a psychological point of view the exact opposite is always true – ‘comfort’ leads to addiction/dependency and addiction/dependency robs us of our autonomy, and without our autonomy what are we? Our biggest problem is that we prefer what is comfortable to what is true and so arguing that ‘pointless thoughts’ are okay because they are comforting doesn’t really hold any water! We are simply ‘validating the status quo’, which is pretty much what we always do, come rain or shine. Being committed to validating the status quo (no matter what that status quo might be) is however no way to live.

 

Again, we might ask exactly what the problem is with this business of ‘validating the status quo’ – this sort of thing is after all very highly regarded in some quarters; there are lots of people who think that validating the status quo is pretty much our moral duty (and that not to do so is an act of heinous immorality). We can answer this perfectly legitimate question (and what questions are not legitimate?) by arguing that they are two great tendencies in life – one is ‘conservatism’ (which equals ‘risk-avoidance’) whilst the other is ‘rebelling against the norms’ and pushing ahead into new and uncharted territory. We either ‘hold onto the past’ or risk ‘letting go of the past’, in other words. We either consolidate our supposed gains or we look for a new challenge. It’s not that we’re saying here that we ‘should’ be one way rather than the other, we are simply making an observation. If there were some ‘authority’ saying that we should either be the one way or the other then listening to this authority, wherever it comes from, would constitute a loss of our autonomy and – as we have said – our autonomy is all we’ve got. Lose that we lose everything!

 

Using ‘have to’ or ‘should’ or ‘ought’ as leverage to change our thinking or behaviour is always a sorry joke – it’s a sorry joke because it only ever digs us deeper into the hole that we’re in. It only ever adds to our suffering, and why would we want to do that? From a psychological point of view (rather than a ‘conventional morality point of view’) the only thing we can’t do without is our autonomy and this brings us face-to-face with an intractable paradox because there is no way to ‘leverage’ ourselves to regain our autonomy once we have lost it. We can’t say we ‘have to be autonomous’ because that ‘have to’ is a loss of autonomy in itself. That’s like saying that we ‘have to be free’, when ‘have to’ is itself the very absence of freedom. Submitting to authority (which includes the authority of our own ideas or theories or beliefs) will never free us from the ills that afflict us. No ‘authority’ is ever going to save us – ‘Where there is authority there is no freedom’, as the graffiti on the wall says…

 

So to come back to our argument, we can say that there are these two tendencies or motivations in our lives, one being the conservative motivation and the other being the exploratory motivation and the key observation here is that the former type of motivation always leads to suffering. It can’t not lead to suffering because the movement of life itself is forwards and ‘into the new’ (rather than ‘back into the past’). The ‘holding on’ type of motivation is resistance to life therefore. There is no one saying that we shouldn’t resist life or that it’s wrong to resist life; that would be ridiculous – resisting life is very natural tendency and we all do it! All we are doing is observing that ‘resisting life inevitably causes suffering’, which is of course perfectly obvious. Holding onto the old and fearing the new is clearly never going to do us any good – it’s never going to do us any good because we’re thwarting the process of growth in ourselves. We’re refusing to grow out of fear…

 

Our next observation, which is perhaps not so obvious, is that thinking is itself resistance. All thinking is resistance, without exception – there is no such thing as ‘thinking which helps us to let go of the old’! There is no such thing as helpful thinking (from a psychological point of view) – from purely practical standpoint they can be but from a psychological standpoint there can never be. This may not be immediately obviously, but it is nevertheless abundantly clear once we reflect on it – thinking operates by saying ‘what things are’ (or ‘what things should be’) and what is this but resistance? Thought doesn’t ever allow things to ‘be what they actually are’; that is what consciousness does, not thought. Thought is a tool for fixing problems not allowing them to be there! Thought (we might say) is by its very nature aggressive whilst consciousness is not; consciousness relates as to what is whilst thought relates to ‘what we say reality is’, or ‘what we say reality should be’.

 

Coming back to what we were saying earlier therefore, it can very clearly seen that our constant, space-filling thinking isn’t useful for the point of view of reducing the level of suffering that we going through – our habit of non-stop thinking doesn’t ‘save us from suffering’ (is it implicitly claims to) it actually creates it. There are two fundamentally conflicting ways of looking at this however, not just the one. If our orientation is life is such that we want security above all (and want therefore to ‘stick with the known’) then thinking can indeed be said to be ‘useful’ to us. It’s ‘useful’ in terms of the short-sighted goal of ‘increasing our spurious sense of security in the world’. In this very provisional sense of the word thought is (at least temporarily) ‘saving us from insecurity’. From a wider perspective however thought is not saving us from anything – if we take the bigger view of what’s going on we can see that whilst thought might be helping us with regard to to the goal of obtaining a temporary sense of security, it is doing this at the cost of creating great suffering in the future. Depending upon whether our orientation is towards the short-term benefit of perceived-if-not-actual security, or towards our ‘greater good’ (which inescapably involves relating honestly to ontological insecurity) thought is either ‘useful’ or the exact opposite of ‘useful’, therefore.

 

The key point here – the point that we keep on reiterating – is that we are perfectly free either to be in ‘conservative’ or ‘exploratory’ mode. These are the two possible approaches to life, after all – one, as we have said, is ‘holding on’ and the other is ‘letting go’; one is ‘closing down our horizons’ and  the other is ‘opening them up’. Not only are we perfectly free to be in either mode it is also the case that we can’t deliberately switch from one mode to another. There is absolutely no choice here in other words, even though it naturally seems to us that there is or should be. It’s certainly true that when I am in conservative mode I can act as if I’m interested in or committed to ‘opening my horizons’ but the bottom line is that I’m not – I’m just playing at it. And why wouldn’t I throw myself into this role – isn’t it a very attractive and appealing one? Who wants to know that they are ‘hiding from life’, after all?

 

What are we talking about here is what Chogyam Trungpa calls spiritual materialism, which is where we ‘throw ourselves into the spiritual way of life’ and we ‘do all the spiritual things’ whilst behind the scenes it is the ego that is very much in charge, which makes the whole thing a sham. The ego never wants change – change would be the end of it so of course this isn’t what it really wants. As Chogyam Trungpa says, it wants to make a lovely cosy nest or playground for itself that it never has to come out of! What’s actually happening when I’m in this ‘disguised conservative mode’, is that I am seriously investing in hiding from the awareness that I don’t want to change, which is of course a painful awareness to face up to. That’s like saying that we don’t want to be free – we don’t but we certainly aren’t going to admit to it!

 

For the most part however the conservative mode doesn’t need to be disguised since its usual tactic is to glorify ‘staying the same’ or ‘not wanting to change’ on the grounds that the way we are is actually ‘the right way’ and all other ways are ‘wrong ways’. This is of course this is of course how most of us are – we’re locked into one ‘equilibrium-world’ or another for the sake of security. What else is religion after all if not the situation where our way of seeing things (surprise, surprise) is ‘right’ and all other ways are said to be ‘wrong’? This is the oldest dodge in the book. When we are in the ‘conservative mode’, then, thinking – or rather ‘the right type of thinking’ – is not just ‘helpful’ but absolutely obligatory, and from the point of view of blindly upholding whatever belief structure it is that we are tied into this logic makes undeniable sense! If however we were somehow to catch a glimpse of the ‘bigger picture’ – which as we have said is not something that we can do on purpose, by any kind of clever trick – then we would see that thinking (any type of thinking) is most emphatically not helpful from the point of view of ‘saving ourselves from future suffering’. We’re thinking ourselves into a hole, not out of it! This ‘future suffering’, as we have said, is always going to be lying in wait for us because of the way in which we are ‘holding on’ when life itself is a ‘letting go’. This is simply a restatement of the principle in Buddhism and Vedanta that ‘says attachment causes suffering’.

 

‘Holding on’ – when it is our fundamental orientation in life – stores up suffering (we might say) because [1] it’s not possible to hold on to what we are so trying so desperately to hold onto and [2] because what we are trying so desperately to hold onto doesn’t exist. [And clearly, these two reasons actually come down to pretty much the same thing!] Life is ‘an unfolding of the new’ not a fixed form to cherish or guard jealously; the corollary of this statement is therefore that when we do ‘hold on’ to life what we holding onto isn’t life. It’s something else – it is just some random token that we are sworn to protect and protecting this ‘token’ means (as we might imagine) never questioning it. This is why, when we are in conservative mode, the greatest virtue – as we all know – is ‘never questioning’. Validating the status quo is of course all about never questioning – that’s the agreement we make and we’re free to make it. We’re perfectly free to make it but at the same time we shouldn’t expect this agreement of ours to do us any good!

 

 

Art: Phlegm, on beautifulbizarre.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Psychostatic World

Our fundamental orientation is towards obtaining a sense of security in life and this is another way of saying that our basic orientation is towards illusion. This is of course a rather difficult thing to take on board! How can we take ourselves seriously if this is the case (i.e. if it is the case that we are illusion-lovers rather than truth-lovers’). What kind of relationship would we have with ourselves if we were to see this about ourselves? To say that this would be ‘an uncomfortable awareness’ would be a vast understatement…

 

This is a kind of trick question in a way however because just as long as we are orientated towards illusion rather than the truth we are never going to allow ourselves to see that we are orientated this way. Because we are almost always orientated towards security (or illusion) we simply aren’t going to be able to address this fact and so our relationship with ourselves doesn’t actually exist; it doesn’t exist because the only type of relationship there could be is an honest one and there’s no honesty here. We could call this a ‘basic principle’ therefore – the principle being that when we are orientated towards delusion then we can never know that we are – the former precluding the possibility of the latter. [This is almost too obvious to say but we will say it anyway.]

 

When we are orientated towards illusion we don’t know that we are but instead, it seems to us that we are benefiting ourselves, helping ourselves, it seems that we are (at least potentially) progressing in life in a legitimate or meaningful way. If it were the case that the illusion were not an illusion then this story would have a happy ending but because it is there is never a happy ending! It feels good to move in the direction of increasing security but because this isn’t a real thing the feeling that started off being ‘good’ sooner or later turns ‘bad’.

 

The only way the good feeling wouldn’t turn bad later on would be if our perception of ‘security’ were a real perception instead of a false one and as we keep saying, it isn’t. There isn’t any such thing as security’ (in the ontological sense of the word which is how we mean it) and so the perception – convincing though it might be – can’t be real. There is no such thing as ontological security (or ‘security of being’) because what we essentially mean by it is ‘lack of change’. Lack of change is the one thing we can’t ever have however and this is of course a key principle in Buddhist metaphysics (i.e. the ‘principle of impermanence’). We don’t need to take this principle on trust however – an observation of the world around us shows us that everything is changing – some things quickly and other things less quickly, but either way change is a universal principle!

 

We can it is true also spot examples of ‘non-change’ ‘when it comes to human behaviour or human cognition and this is the principle of conservatism (or the principle of neophobia (or ‘fear of newness’, if we want to call it that). We hang onto our habits, our opinions and our beliefs for decades on end, perhaps even for the whole of our lives. It is very possible indeed for any of us to become ‘frozen in a moment’ or ‘frozen in time’ in this way – more than just possible it is practically an inevitability. The tendency that we all have to resist change is so well known that we hardly need to go into it – to be human is to fear change. The world may change around us, but that doesn’t mean that we have to…

 

This might seem therefore to be a contradiction of ‘the Principle of Change’ – the universe (we have said) never stops changing and yet we human beings – very often if not almost always – don’t change at all (not in any important way, anyway). This turns out not to be such a hard puzzle to work out – real things change, whereas ideas (or beliefs) don’t. An idea can go for any length of time without changing – it’s a fixed or frozen type of thing anyway, it belongs to ‘the abstraction realm’ which is – by definition – ‘the Realm of No Change’. It is like Narnia under the spell of the White Witch Jadis in the story by CS Lewis – frozen forever in time, waiting for a Christmas that never comes. This is the Psychostatic World – the World of Recycled Time, the World of Eternal Reruns.

 

So here we have two worlds which we ordinarily fail to distinguish between – one is ‘the natural world’ – so to speak – (i.e. the world that follows its own inscrutable law) and the other world is ‘the world of our own devising’, ‘the world of our own constructs’, the ‘abstract world’ which we read routinely mistake for the naturally occurring world. In the abstract world there is no such thing as change (since genuine change cannot ever be translated into abstract form) and when we gravitate towards this realm (and define ourselves in terms of it) then we don’t ever change either. This is why we can say that ‘the ego or concrete self never changes’ – because the ego or concrete self is an abstraction and not a real thing. We can optimise ourselves (or our performance) so as to get closer and closer to some abstract standard or value, but optimisation is as far away from true change as it is possible to get. Optimization is worshipping the fixed, the static (even though there is no such thing as ‘the fixed’ or ‘the static’).

 

When we say – therefore – that our fundamental orientation is towards ‘security’ or towards ‘illusion’, then this is about the very same thing as saying that our orientation is towards the abstract world of our thoughts and ideas. Our ideas about reality inexorably replace reality itself (as Jung says) and so it comes about that this whole sorry business of ‘security-seeking’ becomes a legitimate (and indeed laudable) endeavour rather than an exercise in being totally deluded. Security-seeking becomes ‘the way to go about things’, ‘the reasonable course of action’, ‘the officially recommended behaviour’, and so on and so forth.

 

This behaviour is two things at once therefore – it’s what we want to do out of our weakness, out of our prejudice, out of our hopeless addiction or dependency, but it’s also what everyone says is good, what everyone says is advisable and right. This is the ‘social collusion’ in a nutshell and this is more the reason why we invariably band together in groups rather than for any altruistic motives. It would be nice to think that human society is predicated upon both practical good sense and altruism towards our fellows but if we see things like this then we’re failing to pay attention to the true situation! What we are really doing when we join a group is to turn our backs on something we don’t want to know about, something we don’t want to be dealing with; there is an aspect to our lives that we don’t want to pay attention to and so what we do is that we get together in order to collectively ignore this key aspect of what it means to be human being. None of us individually want to confront the fact that what we’re doing on a full-time basis is ‘seeking security’ and collectively we are even more opposed to becoming aware of this truth. Whatever chance we might have had of owning up to our blatantly fear-based behaviour as individuals, we have zero chance of acknowledging when we are in a group!

 

Taking responsibility for our situation means going against the group therefore – not only do we have to ‘go against the group’, we have to ‘go against the group’ and then do the very thing that we were afraid of doing in the first place. Not only do we have to forgo the security that is provided (however spuriously) by the group, we also have to confront head on the very fear that drove us to join the group in the first place.

 

There is difficulty awaiting us both on the outside and on the inside, in other words! There’s nothing we have to ‘do’ as such of course – it’s more a matter of not doing what we almost always do what we usually do, which is to treat our orientation towards security-seeking as if it were some kind of a good thing. We won’t (in all probability) be able to undo the habit of a lifetime and start walking bravely off in the direction of zero security – and head off into the unfathomable mystery of the unknown – old habits die hard, as they say – but what we can do is to start seeing this security-seeking behaviour for what it really is. We see it without automatically legitimising it, in other words. We don’t have to wrestle with ourselves so as to become different from the way that we always have been; there’s no ‘wrestling’ involved here – it’s not a matter of wrestling or fighting and struggling but simply a matter of not blocking ourselves from seeing the truth about our situation in the way that we are so very prone to doing. It can be said that there is a type of struggle involved here perhaps, but it’s not a ‘struggle’ as we usually understand it; we’re not trying to change anything!

 

This is such an extraordinary thing – to be ourselves as we always are and yet at the same time not automatically align ourselves with the mechanical forces that are governing our lives. When we do align ourselves with the security-seeking mechanical motivations (and all mechanical motivations are security-seeking) then we are nothing at all, we aren’t there – we are in this case profoundly unconscious and ‘the mechanical life’ just happens without us ever being any the wiser as to what’s really going on. It’s a predetermined affair, like clockwork winding down.

 

It’s not as (we have just said) that we have to fight against the tendency to gravitate towards what we perceive as ‘a state of increased security’ since  resisting resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of the universe is only going to complicate matters even more. That will complicate things to the nth degree. Resisting what’s going on isn’t going to help us; what does help is to see what’s going on – seeing what’s going on straightaway acts in the opposite direction from  identifying with the ‘mechanical’ or ‘equilibrium-seeking’ forces. This disidentification is a gruellingly painful process but it is at the same time a ‘freeing’ one. ‘Wisdom arises as a result of suffering’, says Aeschylus. Or as he says in his play Agamemnon

Nothing forces us to know / What we do not want to know / Except pain.

Awareness of our mechanical nature isn’t something that comes about because we want it to, because it suits us that it does – this awareness reflects a profound and involuntary change in our inner orientation – instead of being orientated firmly towards the apparent comfort of illusion, the mysterious ‘inner compass’ in our hearts is now pointing in the direction of the truth…

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Absence Of Being…

In the absence of being we need tricks, we need gimmicks, we need dodges, we need strategies. With being no tricks, no gimmicks, no dodges, no strategies are needed…

 

Things being what they are however there is fierce business going on in the buying and selling of tricks, gimmicks, dodges and strategies of all kinds. Things being what they are, the person with the best strategy gets to be the winner. The Holy Grail – as far as we are concerned – is some kind of super-effective trick or strategy.

 

Things being what they are, the question on everyone’s lips is “What’s your angle?”That’s what we all want to know.  Everyone has an angle after all and the player with the best angle wins the game, as we have just said. We are perennially interested in the type of approach the other guy might be taking – just as long as he isn’t an obvious loser, otherwise, of course, we’re not so interested! No one asks a loser what his strategy is!

 

If being replaced ‘nonbeing’ then an entire world, an entire system, an entire way of life, would vanish overnight. The whole economy would collapse. None of that stuff would be necessary – none of that would be relevant. We would no longer have this all-consuming concern with tricks, gimmicks, dodges and strategies. We could take it easy instead. We could hang out. We could enjoy life. We would no longer have to spend all our time ‘trying to make something be what it isn’t’.

 

This seems like such a strange thing – too strange for us to grasp, generally speaking. It’s an alien concept. When our whole way of life is about trying to make something be what it isn’t (even though this may not be how we see it) then how strange must it feel to all of a sudden stop this? What would we do with ourselves? What would our lives be about then? Or would we be then? As Jean Baudrillard says,

It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.

Our sense of self (our identity) is provided for us by our ‘seeking behaviour’ – our seeking behaviour (and the specific strategies by which we enact this never-ending seeking) are our identity. Just as Carl Jung says that through the process of unwise social adaptation we very quickly end up being our masks, being our roles, being our personas, it is also true that we end up being our tricks, our gimmicks, our strategies. What else are ‘masks, roles, and personas’ other than strategies, after all? All of these are a means of seeking; all of these are way of seeking the being that we so painfully lack in our lives.

 

For this reason (because we have ended up becoming our own strategies) we don’t want to ‘give up our ceaseless strategizing’. Giving up our tricks (‘the tricks of the trade’) would mean losing our identity and we certainly don’t want to see that happen. Stumbling across being would mean the loss of our identity as the striver, the seeker, the controller, the master player, etc, and that’s why we don’t want to have anything to do with ‘being‘. Erik Fromm says that if we ever came across freedom then we would run a mile, and the very same could be said for being!

 

This puts us in a very odd position therefore. It puts us in an extraordinarily odd position. Our entire way of life is based on the (unacknowledged) striving for being (since we strive without really knowing what it is that we’re striving for) and yet this being is – at the same time – the very last thing that we want. Our whole identity is defined by our strategies, by our approaches, by our ‘striving to obtain being’ and yet it is this very identity that we would have to say goodbye to if we actually found what we were looking for. We are searching for being on behalf of the ever-hungry concrete identity and yet the concrete identity doesn’t really want to have anything to do with it.

 

It is this very identity that we would have to kiss goodbye to forever and yet – quite understandably – the identity which is based on tricks and dodges and strategies, the identity that is based on the ongoing never-ending doomed attempt to ‘make good its lack of being‘ – doesn’t want to say goodbye to itself. That’s not part of its plans at all. The concrete identity very much doesn’t want to ‘kiss goodbye to itself’ and if it has any say at all in the matter (which it does) then it won’t…