Living In The Bubble

The usual way for us to be in the world is within a sealed bubble of ‘positive pressure’. This might sound like a strange way of putting things on the first hearing, but all that we’re saying here is that we go around in daily life continuously ‘asserting ourselves’. That’s what we actually think life is all about! ‘Our-self’ is an idea and we have to keep on asserting it because the thing about ideas is that if we ever take a break from asserting them, then they stop being there. It’s like ‘putting on an act’ – an act won’t act itself so if we stop acting it then it simply won’t be there anymore! There will be no act.

 

Keeping up the act is a constant effort therefore, even if we don’t feel it; keeping up the idea of who we think we are is constant effort, even though it’s an effort that we’re so used to that we don’t usually notice it. When we are able to successfully assert our selves then we feel good, and when we aren’t able to we feel bad, and this just about sums up all we need to know about the self. People go on and on about ‘psychology’ but – really – when we understand this point then we see all that we need to see about the rules that govern our everyday existence. Contrariwise, if we don’t understand this point then we don’t really understand anything.

 

When things are going well for us and we are able to ‘successfully assert the self’ then this because is euphorically rewarding we don’t notice the effort of having to keep up the positive pressure; we’re getting the payback so we don’t register the unrelenting strain of what we are having to do. When on the other hand we aren’t able to successfully assert our idea of ourselves and this situation lasts for any appreciable length of time then of course we are not getting the payback – we are investing all the energy but we’re getting nowhere, we’re fighting a losing battle and in this case the strain of having to maintain the idea of ourselves does start to make itself known to us. Not only do we have the original suffering to contend with, but there is also the suffering of being aware of the thankless task of ‘having to maintain the bubble’.

 

To exist is to suffer, which is a rephrasing of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. This – which is clearly the part we have to understand first in the Buddhist message – has always been particularly unpalatable to our Western sensibilities! No matter what else we might be interested in hearing about in the Buddhist teachings, we don’t hear this. We might be super-keen on learning all there is to learn about mindfulness, for example, but we don’t really want to be brought face-to-face with the First Noble Truth, and we don’t really want to hear any mention of it made in any mindfulness course that we might sign up for. But if we don’t take this essential teaching on board (which, as the First Noble truth, we clearly have to) what good is anything we learn going to be to us?

 

The suffering of existence is the suffering of having to keep on asserting the self, come what may. It’s rather like a heavy wheelbarrow that we have to keep on pushing ahead of us wherever we go. Maintaining the self construct is the task that we have to keep on labouring at even though we don’t know that we are labouring at anything, and this ‘invisible’ (or ‘unconscious’) task is suffering. The only possible pay-off is the sense of gratification that we will get when we do the job satisfactorily, but this is simply ‘the pleasure of a slave who is rewarded doing his or her job well’! And then following on from the suffering of having to keep up the positive pressure the whole time, other secondary sources of suffering follow-on from this – ‘positive pressure’ equals aggression and aggression always rebounds  back onto us at some stage. Aggression always rebounds on the winner just as it always rebounds on the loser; both are operating on the basis of aggression – successfully in one case and unsuccessfully in the other. There’s no such thing as ‘successful aggression’, in other words – not when we take the long view. It’s just like talking about ‘successfully stretching a length of elastic band’ – we can stretch an elastic band only by storing up potential energy in the fabric of the material, potential energy that will one day have to be released again.

 

Sometimes (generally within the context of religion or morality) we try to deny the positive pressure mechanism because we recognise that ‘blind self-assertion no matter what’ (i.e. self-assertion as ‘an answer to everything’) isn’t ever going to help anyone, least of all ourselves, but when we try this all that happens is that we find ourselves trying to ‘use aggression to defeat aggression’. We might well feel good about ourselves if we think that we are succeeding at the task, but really we’re doing the same thing we are always doing – we’ve just twisted things around so that it so that what we doing seems justified and laudable in the name of ‘morality’. The amount of suffering created is even greater when we engage in this type of deliberate morality however because all that we’ve done is add another level of self-deception into the mix – somehow we imagine that by getting aggressive towards own fundamental aggression we have somehow ‘improved’ ourselves and are ‘better people’ as a result.

 

Another way in which the fundamental aggression of self-assertion gets turned against itself is when we become self-critical or self-recriminatory – what happens here is that the ‘positive pressure’ gets flipped back on itself to become ‘negative pressure’. We’re going around recriminating against ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time. Instead of spraying out our aggression onto the world wherever we go we are directing it against ourselves; we automatically devalidate and repress all of our impulses instead of automatically ‘acting them out’. When we turn our aggression against ourselves in this way (and get to feel that we are unworthy or ‘bad’) we suffer a lot more (or so it would seem) than a person who is always assuming that the fault or error lies outside of them, and who feels good about themselves on this account, but the essential suffering is still there. It’s plainly visible in the first case whilst hidden in the second. We are just running over everyone else with the heavily-laden wheelbarrow instead of letting it slip back down the hill and getting squashed under it ourselves instead. The wheelbarrow is doing damage either way.

 

Ultimately, there is no difference between positive and negative pressure – something artificial has been created either way. On the one hand we have the ‘justified’ sense of self, and on the other we have the ‘unjustified or unworthy sense of the self’. Both modalities work equally well – the self can just as easily see itself as being ‘always right’ as it can as being always wrong’ – these are simply the two sides of the same coin, the two sides of the artificial or contrived sense of self. We can change our metaphor slightly at this point and talk about a heavily-laden rickshaw instead of a wheel-barrow (the difference being of course that we can sit on a rickshaw and pedal it like a bicycle). There are two possibilities here therefore: one is where we are cycling the rickshaw down a long incline and so the weight we are carrying is actually working in our favour – we’re at the mercy of our own momentum but going in the right direction so we’re happy! We can just enjoy the ride… The other possibility is the less happy possibility where the effort to cycle the heavily laden rickshaw up the steep gradient becomes too much for us and we slip back down the hill going the opposite way to the way that we want to. We lose ground rather than gaining it. Because we perceive ourselves to be losing ground rather than gaining it (because we’re moving in a negative rather than the positive direction) we experience dysphoria rather than euphoria – it’s the reverse of what we want to see happening and yet to our dismay we can’t do anything about it. What the rickshaw metaphor shows us however is that the movement in question is a downhill movement in both cases! The movement of the self-concept is always downhill, whatever happens always happens mechanically. The self is a mechanical thing and it can’t ever behave in a way that is non-mechanical, and mechanical movement – by definition – is movement that is downhill. A rule is being obeyed and this means that we are heading towards an equilibrium state – we’re not going anywhere new, we’re not going anywhere that’s going to surprise us, we’re only ever going to stay trapped within the gravitational pull of the equilibrium system.

 

The ‘pressure’ that we started off talking about is a rule – rules are pressure because we have to obey them ‘no matter what’. The rule here is that the self (whenever that might be!) has to be asserted, has to be propagated, has to be maintained. When we obey this rule, when we obey this pressure, then we’re heading to the bottom of the hill, we’re heading straight towards the ultimate equilibrium state. Reacting to the relentless pressure to assert the self – as we always do react – never leads to anything new, very clearly! It’s not supposed to lead somewhere new – how can a rule following the rule lead us ‘somewhere new’? The whole point of a rule is that it won’t lead us somewhere new. The whole point of ‘the Task’ is that we fulfil that task, not that we do something different, something unrelated to the task, something that will lead us in a direction that is unrelated to the all-important fulfilment of that task.

 

What we are really talking about therefore, when we talk about ‘the task of asserting the self’, is simply fear of the new (or we just say ‘fear’, because all fear is ultimately ‘fear of the new’). So are we saying here is that psychological pressure – of whatever sort – equals fear. Fear denies life.  Fear denies life because life is always new, because life is always about ‘becoming something different’. The pressure we are obeying is the pressure to avoid life therefore and it doesn’t matter whether the pressure in question is positive or negative. The true nature of the task that we are engaged in (without knowing that we are) is the task of avoiding life, in other words. Succeeding at the task is therefore perpetuating the basic problem, perpetuating the fundamental source of our suffering.

 

What we can’t understand is that life ISN’T a task, and that ‘being who we are’ ISN’T a task either. How can ‘being who we are’ be a task? How did we ever fall into the trap of believing such a thing? What sort of craziness is that? And if life isn’t a task then this perceived necessity to keep on struggling as hard as we can  to maintain the bubble of ‘the positively-defined self’ is the biggest (and most costly) misunderstanding that it is possible for us to make!

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Is Anxiety

Time is anxiety. Time is anxiety and in time all tasks become the same task. There only ever was the one task really and it is the one task that we are guaranteed never ever to be successful at! All tasks become the one task and that task is the one that can never ever be fulfilled. Time is anxiety and we can never outrun anxiety. We can run as much as we like, but we’ll never get anywhere. We are running on the spot and the running IS the anxiety. Quick, quick, quick – we got to outrun time! Get a move on because there’s no time like the present. There’s no time like the future either. There’s no time to waste, we’ve got to get cracking, we’ve got to get cracking and get on with the task. All tasks become the same task but we never notice this. We never notice this because we’re far too busy to notice, too stressed out to notice. The man is standing there asking if we have completed the task yet. He’s cracking the whip. We never notice that all tasks become the same task because were under too much pressure to notice anything. We’re inundated with tasks and when we finish one there’s another one to take its place. We’ll never see that all tasks are the same task – if we did see this then we’d straightaway be free from it, we’d straightaway be free from the onerous responsibility to fulfil the task. We’d be free from the onerous responsibility of succeeding at the task because we’d see it for what it is. The task is to transcend time with time, the task is to ‘go beyond time in the course of time’. This is why time is anxiety. Time is anxiety because time can never go beyond time. Time can never go beyond time anymore than running can outrun running.

 

The hidden or covert task is the task of creating a self during the course of time (or ‘creating a self in time’). The hidden or covert task is the task of ‘fixing what is wrong in the course of time’ (or ‘fixing what is wrong in time’). Both tasks are impossible, both can never be fulfilled. Both tasks are the same task. A self can never be created no matter how much time we have at our disposal and ‘the problem’ can never be fixed via time – not if we had a million years in which to do so. When we try to fix the problem in time all we do is carry that same problem along with us wherever we go. We can never get away from it – just as we can never outrun anxiety, so too can we never fix the problem no matter how hard we work at it. Anxiety and the self are the same thing – we’re anxious about the problem, we’re anxious about the problem because we know deep-down that it can never be fixed. We know deep-down that it can never be fixed and yet we have to  fix it – or so we are given to understand! What is ‘the problem’, we might ask? What is it that is ‘wrong’ and ‘needs to be fixed’? The problem is that the self doesn’t exist and can never exist, and yet we are given to understand that it has to. Time – which doesn’t exist because we can never get anywhere during the course of it – IS anxiety. Time is anxiety and time is also the self.

 

 

 

Misrepresenting Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been fairly effectively misrepresented in Western culture. We tend to see it as a type of ‘all-purpose performance enhancer’, something that can improve our everyday functioning, something that can reduce stress and anxiety and make us happier as a result. Naturally, this sounds very good to us – it’s what we are always looking for!

 

Mindfulness isn’t really that though – it goes a lot deeper than that. Mindfulness isn’t a tool or instrument that can serve the status quo. Mindfulness (or meditation) is really a way of freeing us from the tyranny of the over-valued thinking mind (which is what lies behind every status quo) – it is ‘a way of liberation’, as Alan Watt says. The question arises therefore, do we really want liberation? Is that what we are really looking for? Or were we just looking for something to smooth out the rough edges of our life, the bits that don’t seem to be working quite so well?

 

This isn’t a minor point. It goes a lot deeper than we might initially think – the thing is that, in everyday life (whether we realize it or not), we feel ourselves to be the thinking mind. It’s not something we want to be free from therefore! That’s not what we’re looking for at all. Too much control and too much thinking causes suffering though – it degrades the quality of our life to the point where it becomes unbearable. It is the fact that the thinking mind has such a deadening grip upon us that makes us interested in ameliorating its influence by practising meditation, but that doesn’t mean that we want to get rid of it entirely! We want to ‘have our cake and eat it’, in other words – we want to ease the squeeze that the overvalued rational mind is putting on us, but we still want to let it run our lives for us.

 

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It is perfectly natural that we should want to find relief from the excessive busyness and perennial restlessness of the thinking mind (not to mention its constant pernicious judgementalism), and yet at the same time not want to be ‘thrown in the deep end’, so to speak, with regard to our fundamental fear of being separated from our mind-created sense of identity, which is what ‘being freed from the thinking mind’ always comes down to. So maybe we’re not looking for the ultimate spiritual adventure, maybe we’re just looking for a bit of ‘stress reduction’!

 

The question – although we are likely to see it as such – comes down to precisely this. The question is, “Do we wish to live our life on the basis of this construct that we call ‘the self’, and make that limited version of life as comfortable and stress-free as we possibly can, or do we wish to be wholly liberated from this mind-created identity, and all of the interminable petty issues it brings with it?” Again, we have to stress that this is not a ‘moral’ choice; it’s not a question of ‘what is the right thing to do?’ When we concern ourselves with the right versus the wrong thing to do, this invariably means ‘the right thing in relation to the mind–created identity’ and so we are seeing things in an inherently biased way right from the start. If we were asking ourselves this question in a more ‘essential’ fashion (if that happened to be possible for as at the time) so as to find out what we want to do in our ‘heart of hearts’ (so to speak) then that will be a different matter. We would probably come up with a different answer in this case.

 

The point is of course that we can’t ask ourselves the question as to which of these two options we would like to put our money on (i.e. whether we would like to make the best life we can for ourselves on the basis of the mind-created identity, or whether we would like to be liberated from this very hard–to–shift illusion) because we simply don’t have the awareness (or perspective) to either formulate such a question, or – indeed – see the sense in asking it. Everything depends on how much perspective we have; if we don’t have the perspective to see through the mind-created identity then obviously our ‘choice’ will be to try and improve the living conditions associated with it. This isn’t the’ wrong’ choice – it’s just the choice that makes the most sense to us! Given our limited perspective, it’s actually the only choice that makes sense to us.

 

When we talk about mindfulness (or medication) being ‘misleadingly represented to us’ therefore, this is not to say that we shouldn’t use it in narrow instrumental terms so as to try to solve psychological problems, reduce anxiety and stress, etc, but simply that by portraying the practice of mindfulness solely in this way we are effectively closing the door on its true significance. We are subverting it (inevitably so, given the nature of our culture) in the cause of enhancing our ability to do what we are already doing. We’re not wanting to do anything differently, we just want to do what we’re already doing in a more effective way!

 

What bigger difference could there be doing what you already doing more effectively, and being freed up from the perceived necessity to keep on doing it? Having asked this question we are bound to observe that this is rather a big difference in emphasis – it’s actually a 180° turnaround. This doesn’t mean that if we do enough meditation we will end up stopping doing whatever we doing and start doing ‘something else’ instead – that would result in pure chaos, obviously. That would be ridiculous. But it does mean is that we will stop doing what we’re doing for the reason that we were doing it! Our orientation will change. This is what gaining awareness/perspective is all about – changing the reason we are doing what we’re doing.

 

This ‘revolution’ is very easy to explain – beforehand we were doing whatever we were doing for the sake of something that doesn’t really exist (we were in other words doing everything for the sake of an illusion). The ‘illusion’ is the narrow view of who we thought we were, which is the illusion that society itself supports and fosters. The illusion in question is ‘the separate sense of being a defined or demarked self’. When we think that we are acting on behalf of ‘a defined entity’ – be it the mind-created identity, a group, a nation, or the organisation we are working for – we are dedicating our efforts to the cause of ‘furthering a fiction’ and no good is ever going to come from this. It won’t even benefit the fiction in question; nothing can benefit a fiction – all the treasures of the world couldn’t do this! We’re barking up the wrong tree when we try to do this…

 

All entities, all ‘things’, all defined principalities disappear when consciousness comes back onto the scene! We see beyond the limits, the boundaries, the demarcations that we ourselves are projecting onto the world, and making so very important. When awareness comes back on the scene we stop serving these limits, these boundaries, these demarcations and – instead – we serve what was previously being limited, bounded, and demarked. Instead of serving one or other of ‘the ten-thousand things’, we now serve the Dao, we now serve ‘the Way’ – which is ‘the way that belongs to no one’…

 

 

Art: Bansky. Taken from streetartnyc.org

 

 

 

 

 

The Purely Conceptual Reality


Positive and negative certainty (which is to say, concrete  facts that we like and which made us feel good, and concrete facts that we don’t like and which make us feel bad) are created by the evaluating mind, rather than having any existence of their own, and yet positive and negative certainty are all we ever take any notice of! Nothing else really registers with us…

 

The key to understanding this lies in the term ‘the evaluative mind’  – the process of evaluation involves (we could say) two steps, one being the act whereby we impose our own framework of meaning on the world, the other being the step in which we reference everything we come across to the framework of meaning. Alternatively, we could say that the process of evaluation involves comparing incoming information to our assumed categories such that when there is a match (or a ‘fit’) it’s a YES and when there isn’t a match then it’s a NO. The YES and the NO are our evaluation, obviously, and no matter how sophisticated the process gets it always comes down to this basic ‘act of comparison’ of information to our assumed framework of meaning.

 

There is huge security in YES and NO; there is immense security. What does this thing we’re calling ‘security’ mean, however? We use the word very easily, and we all think we know what we’re talking about, but what exactly is it? Obviously, security is some we are magnetically drawn to, something we unfailingly gravitate to, and feel safe with, but why? What’s going on here? One answer is to say (the sense of) security is what we get when we live in a purely conceptual reality! A purely conceptual reality is – clearly – a reality in which everything has already been decided; it is a reality in which everything has already been allocated its right and proper place (according to the all-important framework) and where – on this account – nothing will ever radically surprise us. How can our concepts ever ‘surprise’ us after all? Didn’t we make them ourselves? The purely conceptual reality is therefore a reality in which ‘the radically new’ has been forever excluded and it is precisely this ‘impossibility of us ever encountering the radically new’ that constitutes security for us.  That’s what makes us feel safe!

 

So this gives us one way of explaining what is meant by the term ‘security’ (or ontological security as it is sometimes called) and the other, complementary way of approaching this is to say that living in a fully mapped-out terrain represents security for us because it allows or facilitates the existence of the everyday self. Naturally the concept of ‘security’ boils down to the self – what else would it come down to? It’s only ever the insecure everyday self that keeps going on and on about ‘security’, and those things that stand for security; it’s only ever the insecure everyday self that finds ‘security’ so damn important. The reason for this (which we could see as clearly as day if we sat down and reflected on it) is that the everyday self doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely a construct, an arbitrary ‘made-up’ kind of a thing. It’s something we choose to believe in just for the sake of having something solid to believe in! We choose to believe in it and then we conveniently choose to forget that we made this choice. That’s the whole game in a nutshell.

 

The only reason we find validation important is because we don’t actually have any. We don’t have any ‘validity’ and so we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves; we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves because we know dam well (no matter what we say to the contrary) that we wouldn’t have any otherwise. The great thing about the purely conceptual reality is therefore is that the everyday self feels right at home in it – the everyday self feels right at home in the conceptual world because it too is a concept, like everything else in this world. It fits in perfectly – like a key in a lock or like a little cog in a big, smoothly running machine. It never stands out, it never ‘looks weird’, it never fails to engage properly with all the other concepts, all the other ‘machine-parts’. There are no discrepancies anywhere, no odd dissonances, no mismatches, no funny feelings, no unpleasant feelings of ‘not belonging’. The self fits into the purely conceptual world as well as it does because it is a concept in a world that is made up of them, a world where everything has to agree with the all-important ‘assumed framework’….

 

What a situation this puts us in though. We are obliged to maintain the integrity of the conceptual world without ever owning up to the fact that this is what we are doing, which puts a very odd strain on things. What’s more, we are obliged to keep reality itself at bay and make do instead with our cheap plastic substitute. Just to consider this, even for a moment or two, is enough to send a chill up our spines. Who on earth could be OK about this? What a fantastically bizarre (not to mention freakishly unpleasant) business this is and who – in all honesty – could claim that this is not our situation? No matter how dumb we might pretend to be, underneath it we’re not dumb at all – we know more than we let on to ourselves to know. We’re all doing this very strange thing therefore – we’re all keeping up this collective pretence (or pretence for the sake of the collective) that there isn’t a deeper truth than ‘the truth of our concepts’ when actually everyone knows deep down that there is. We have this ‘allegiance’ to the act going on, even though the act (or the pretence) is never actually going to do anything for us other than produce suffering.

 

The ‘deeper truth’ is that certainty doesn’t exist at all in this world; certainty only exists in the game, or – as we might also say – certainty only exists when we are too afraid to look deeply into things.  When we’re too afraid to look deeply into things (which is the usual state of affairs) then the purely conceptual world suits us down to the ground. The PCW suits us down to the ground because there’s nothing beyond it, because ‘what it says on the label is all there is’. It’s true that there can be frightening things in the conceptual world, but no matter how frightening they might be they’re not frightening in the sense that they cause us to question the reality of the conceptual self! The contrary is true – all those fears and worries that are related to the conceptual world confirm the existence of the conceptual self. In terms of ‘the game’, we can equivalently say that being afraid of losing at the game – no matter how afraid we might be – doesn’t cause us to doubt the existence of the game – rather, it makes the game all the more real to us.

 

There are those desires and those fears which belong to the conceptual world, and there are also those feelings that connect us or relate us to the non-conceptual realm, and which can on the one hand be frankly terrifying, but also on the other hand can be marvellously thrilling and magically evocative. Which way it goes depends upon our relationship to the ‘radical unknown’ – whether we are well-disposed towards it or not-so-well disposed to it (i.e. whether we are adventurous or conservative in our outlook). Insofar as our allegiance is to the Polar Self (the self which is made up of YES and NO reactions, positive and negative judgements) then our relationship with the non-conceptual world is going to be one of flat uncompromising terror, terror with no ‘give’ in it at all. This is not the ordinary everyday type of fear, which we can relate to something known, something specified, but the type of ‘super-fear’ that is evoked by the radical unknown, which is something that we have successfully (if temporarily) denied, and then forgotten about.

 

This is of course what happens every time we deny something that we are afraid of – by refusing to admit that it exists we make it not just a thousand times (or a million times) more frightening, it puts what we are afraid of into another league of fear entirely. Our denial (which is supposed to protect us from fear) actually creates a whole new dimension of fear. The PCW is both a support system for the everyday self, and it is our full-scale denial of reality itself, which has no relationship whatsoever with our concepts. What sort of relationship can our literal descriptions have with the non-literal world that they are supposedly describing, after all? Or to put this another way, what sort of relationship does our ‘imposed framework of meaning’ have with the reality that we are imposing this meaning on? Do we really imagine that our cut-and-dried categories of thought are to be found anywhere outside of our thoughts? The whole point of this business of ‘imposing a framework of meaning on the world’ is that if we don’t impose it then it won’t be there; that’s why we have to ‘impose’ it, after all!

 

Reality itself is different order of thing entirely from the models that are made of it by the thinking mind – there’s no comparison. The conceptual reality is made up entirely of boxes, of categories, of YES’s and NO’s; it is made up entirely of ‘predetermined answers to closed questions,’ in other words. Non-conceptual reality, on the other hand, is just what it is – it doesn’t relate to anything and it isn’t an answer to any question. Non-conceptual reality doesn’t have to relate to anything, it doesn’t have to fit into any predetermined scheme of things, any ‘framework’. Reality is free to as be ‘as odd as it pleases’, so to speak. From the point of view of any framework we might be using to orientate ourselves, reality is actually the oddest anything ever could be – it’s right off the scale! That’s why we always discount it. Reality – obviously enough – doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything; it doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything because there isn’t anything apart from itself. What is there apart from reality, after all?

 

Living in the PCR is an utterly preposterous business – there’s absolutely nothing good about it apart from the fact (important to us) that it confirms the existence of the conceptual self! No matter which way we turn we keep on bumping into our own over-used concepts, and if this isn’t claustrophobic then what is? Our house, our dwelling place, is full of junk, and all for the sake of maintaining the conceptual self, which is itself junk! The whole thing keeps chasing itself around in circles. The conceptual self is junk and yet we are very much attached to it, which is to say, we are very much afraid of losing it. We’re very much afraid of losing the conceptual self because we ‘don’t know anything else’ and we’re afraid of ‘knowing anything else’ because ‘knowing something else’ would fatally jeopardize the integrity of the illusory conceptual self! This is nature of the loop we’re stuck in.

 

What a situation to be in! To set it out clearly (as we just have done) is to immediately see how ludicrous it is – we have to live in a world from which everything radically unexpected (everything radically new) has been excluded. Any ‘newness’ (any so-called newness) has to come from endlessly recombining the same old basic conceptual units; the ‘real thing’, the ‘genuine article’, newness itself, has to be ‘off limits’ because if it isn’t ‘off limits’ then that would spell the beginning of the end of the limited self we think we are. We would no longer be able to carry on with this particular illusion. So we have to live in a world in which it is never going to be possible for us to be radically surprised in order to protect this painfully limited concept of ourselves, even though living as this painfully limited concept of ourselves isn’t doing us any good at all. We’re only playing this wretched game because we’re afraid not to, after all…

 

This world that we’re living in a ‘PCR’, of this there can be no doubt. If the world as we experience it is ‘intelligible to the rational mind’ then it must be the conceptual reality that we’re talking about. It wouldn’t be intelligible in the rational mind’s terms otherwise. The world we rationally understand (the intelligible world) is something that – as we have said – we have obtained for ourselves by imposing our ‘assumed framework’ on the world and then compelled everything to make sense in relation to it. The world doesn’t make sense though – not really. Nothing ‘makes sense’. The universe is an enigma, as Umberto Eco says. How often do we find ourselves in that world which fundamentally doesn’t make sense to the rational / conceptual mind however? Or as we could also say, how often do we relate to the world not as the conceptual self, not seeing things only as they appear through the distorting lens of the self with all its biases and prejudices? How often do we ‘step outside of ourselves’, in other words? Are we even interested in such a thing?

 

 

 

 

 

Being In The World Without Thinking About Being In The World…

What we call ‘being meditative’ (or ‘being mindful’) simply means ‘being in the world without thinking about being in the world’. How simple is this? How much more simple and straightforward could anything be? And yet – simple or not, straightforward or not – the point is that we never ever do it. Being in the world without at the same time thinking about it is something that just doesn’t happen. It’s as if that is just too simple for us; we always have to think about we’re doing, we always have to over-complicate it. We always have to add that ‘extra ingredient’ – the extra ingredient of thought.

 

It’s not quite right to say that we never find ourselves ‘being in the world without thinking about being in the world’, however. On the very odd occasion it happens. Sometimes it happens. We’ve all had some experience of ‘simply being in the world’ – it happens every now and again, despite ourselves, despite our best efforts to keep ourselves perpetually busy! If we had to call ‘being in the world without thinking’ anything we’d probably just call it ‘an experience of peace’ or ‘an experience of stillness’. Such experiences are so natural, so unforced, and yet – in adulthood, at least – so very rare…

 

Even if we could just focus on this, and allow ourselves to see just how little genuine peace we have in our lives than that would change our outlook dramatically. It would wake us up somewhat, and then we might stand a better chance of not slipping right back into the busy-ness again. But we never do seem to focus on the startling ‘lack of stillness’ in our lives and as a result we carry on as we are, which is ‘moving from one thing to another without ever a break between them’. There’s no awareness of what we’re missing out on and so there’s no incentive to make any changes.

 

It gets so we think that this is what life is – going from one thing to another, seamlessly, without there ever being a gap. It’s like travelling on an escalator and never getting off because we’ve forgotten that it’s possible to do so. The ‘escalator’ is the thinking mind which keeps trundling on and on forever; of itself, it will never stop. As people often remark, the thinking mind doesn’t come with an ‘off button’ – it will never consider that it might be a good thing to switch off for a while. Or rather, it might sometimes think this but it will never ever do it. Thought will not cease its activity of its own accord any more than a boulder rolling down a steep hillside will suddenly stop by itself.

 

Life isn’t really ‘going from one thing to another’. That isn’t where life is to be found – on the contrary, life is to be found in the gaps, in the discontinuities, in the ‘cracks in the pavement’. It’s not to be found in ‘the official brochure of events’. Or to put this another way, ‘life is what happens when we unaccountably step off the escalator of the thinking mind’. Life is what happens we stop doing what we never do stop, which is thinking! Life – after all – is not a thought. Life isn’t what we think about life, even though we automatically assume (or ‘think’) that it is!

 

The problem is however that the world we live in – which is ‘the world of our structures and systems’ – tells us that life is all about going from one thing to another! In this world the message is that ‘the more things you can cram into the day the better that is’. Our culture doesn’t value peace or stillness – we hear the word used a lot but nothing is meant by it. It’s only lip-service. It’s a hollow word, like ‘freedom’. Our machine culture doesn’t value anything that isn’t constructed, produced or manufactured; it doesn’t value anything that isn’t ‘managed’ or ‘regulated’, anything that isn’t ‘an official or authorized product of the system’ – i.e. something that can be packaged up and sold to us. All the emphasis is on the wrong things; our attention is continually being directed in the wrong direction…

 

This isn’t a conspiracy in the usual sense of the word (although it looks very much like it), it’s just how thought works and the world we live in has been built by thought. Thought – or ‘the thinking mind’ – always directs our attention to ‘things’, which is to say, it always points at its own constructs, its own categories, such what we call ‘things’ are nothing more than the way it organizes the world. The thinking mind can’t focus on ‘the gap between things’ because it if does this then straightaway it turns ‘the gap between things’ into a thing, and this of course defeats the whole point of the exercise! The thinking mind can’t think about something that isn’t the product of its own thinking process – when it tries to then what happens is that it just ends up doing what it always does, which is ‘thinking about its own thoughts’.

 

We can’t blame thought for doing what it does and always directing our attention at its own constructs, its own categories because this is what it does. We can’t blame it for always pointing our attention at the ‘things’ coming down the never-ending conveyor belt rather than at the undefined space within which all of this is happening  since this that is something that it could never do anyway – that would be ‘outside of its design specifications’, so to speak, that would be outside its remit. Thought does what it’s supposed to do, and that’s all it ever can do. If we can actually see this – if we can see that we’re asking too much of thought, if we can see that we asking it to do something that just isn’t within its remit – then this insight would amount to a massive breakthrough in our understanding. This insight changes the whole dynamic of what’s going on…

 

We imagine that thought can do everything. We ‘over-value’ it, as Jung says. The thinking mind can’t deliver the world to us, even though we implicitly believe that it can, even though thought itself – like a clever politician – promises us faithfully that it can. Actually, what thought can do is very limited – it is very good at what it is supposed to do but this doesn’t mean that we should let it run our lives for us, which is what we do let it do. When we trust the machine which is the thinking mind to ‘run our lives for us’ then what we unfailingly end up with is this unremittingly busy world of ours that is made up of nothing else apart from logical systems and structures and which has the unacknowledged (or ‘covert’) function of keeping us distracted on a full-time basis from the reality of our own lives.

 

The reason why we can’t be in the world without at the same time constantly thinking about being in the world (which actually blocks us from being in the world) is before we are always ‘looking for advantage’. That’s one way of putting it, anyway – we’re looking out for the advantage in our situation and at the same time we’re watching out for any possible disadvantage, which comes to the same thing. What’s more – by way of an ironic twist – the reason we’re so busy scanning for the advantage the whole time is because is because the constraining or limiting effect of thought on us is causing us to feel (either unconsciously or consciously) that we are missing out on life  somehow and so we’re trying to make good this deficit. The other way this works is to cause us to be looking out for potential threats and dangers because the ‘invisible constraint’ that thought is putting on us is manifesting itself as a worry, either conscious or unconscious, that some disaster is lurking out there somewhere, and we have to take steps to secure ourselves against it.

 

Where the ‘irony’ comes in therefore is because thought is the cause of our problem as well as the (supposed) cure for it! The reason we have this conscious or unconscious perception that we’re missing out on something (or perhaps that we’re under threat from something, which is anxiety) is because we’re letting the machine of the thinking mind ‘run our lives for us’ and when we do this when end up – as we have said – being kept busy on a full-time basis but never actually getting anywhere real as a result and there’s no way that we can’t know about this ‘hollowness’ on some level or other. Thought constrains us, limits us, boxes us in, and effectively prevents us from having any genuine connection with the wider (or ‘unconditioned’) reality and so of course we feel that we are missing something. We ARE missing out – but thought can’t help us find what we’re missing!

 

When we are living life purely within the systems and structures that the thinking mind has created for us then this gives rise to a type of underlying pain or anguish that we cannot ordinarily be aware of and it is the need to do something about this ‘pain that we do not directly perceive’ that drives us in a lot of what we do. The unacknowledged need to escape this invisible pain is what is driving us to be ‘looking for the advantage’ the whole time. It makes us hungry with a hunger that can never be satiated. It drives us to be always calculating and controlling in our approach to life because we have the fundamental ‘base-line perception’ that something bad is going to happen to us (or could happen to us) if we don’t. We are living in ‘a fundamentally impoverished mind-created world’, in other words, and so of course we are always going to be ‘looking for advantage’, or ‘looking for gain’. This is what always happens when we unwittingly end up letting thought be our master.

 

What facilitates the whole ‘loop’ is our unexamined assumption that thought can solve all our problems, including those problems which it itself has made for us! This unquestioning trust in the power of thought to save us keeps us going around and around in the same old loop – the loop of thought. As soon as we actually see this however this unwarranted ‘trust’ in the thinking mind is undermined, and this insight changes the whole order of things, the whole dynamic of things. It’s like not voting for a politician! Thinking and scheming and analyzing won’t help us – that will just perpetuate our limited or constrained situation. Problem-solving and goal-setting won’t help us – that will just keep us prisoners in ‘the prison of thought’. What helps is to see the jailer for who he is instead of trusting that he is going to somehow save us! What will help us – in other words – is to place our trust in our awareness and intuition, instead of in the over-valued rational faculty…

 

 

Image taken from: photobucket.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overthinking Life

When we think “How do I be in the world?” this jinxes us. As soon as we have this thought (or any variant of it) we are jinxed – we’re jinxed and we can’t back-track out of it again, no matter how clever we might get, no matter what tricks we might try. Once we start trying to solve this problem we can’t ever stop, in other words.

 

As soon as we think “How do I be in the world?” or “What is the right way to live life?” we are overthinking it. This is a simple enough point to make (it’s the simplest point anyone could ever make, actually) but it also doesn’t happen to be a point that we want to hear! It doesn’t make any sense to us, and even if it did make sense we wouldn’t how make use of it. We’ve already gone down the slippery slope and there’s nothing that we can (deliberately) do to get out of the trap. Deliberation is the trap, after all!

 

The reason we are so averse to hearing this message, or any variant of it, is because we are convinced on a very deep level that there is a right way to think about things, that there is a right way to ‘approach life’. This is so obvious to us that we don’t even need to go around saying it. The fact that we have never actually hit upon this ‘right way’ doesn’t seem to discourage us with regard to this belief in the slightest! We’re convinced that there must be a rational (or thought-based) way to approach life, so we keep on doggedly looking for it…

 

This is the snag in a nutshell – that we believe that there must be some special angle that we can cleverly utilize, some special ‘Get-out-of-jail-free’ card that we can play. It makes so much sense to us that we should be able to find the right angle, the right approach. Our whole way of life is based on this unspoken assumption; our very ‘modality of existence’ is founded upon this premise. Our ‘modality of existing in this world’ is based on thought and thought – by its very nature – is always looking for answers, always looking for solutions.

 

Of course, ‘looking for answers’ or ‘looking for solutions’ sounds like a very good thing to us – it sounds like an admirable attitude to have. It sounds right and proper, and the fact that it sounds right and proper shows us something important about ourselves – it shows us that we have become divorced from reality itself. The point is that reality itself is neither right nor wrong, neither this nor that, and yet – when we are in the grip of thought – we go around assuming that everything must be either one way or the other. Because we see the world in this polar (or ‘split’) way we are constantly analysing and controlling; analysing / controlling has, in other words, become ‘our way of being in the world’.

 

The whole world has to fit into our categories of good/bad, right/wrong, valuable/not valuable therefore and this is an absolutely crazy situation. How can we do this to the world? Why would we want to? What is possessing us? And if we do this to the world then this means that we are also doing it to ourselves; we’re going to try to fit ourselves into these categories as well – we’re going to be either good or bad, right or wrong, valuable or not valuable and this is equally crazy. The world has nothing to do with our absurd categories and neither do we, and yet we’re making our sense of well-being dependent upon how well be are doing at the task of trying to make everything (and ourselves) be the way we think it should be (whether this ‘way’ is absurd or not).

 

All angles – without exception – do this to the world and so if we’re coming at everything from an angle (as we almost always are) then we are imposing this false duality both on ourselves and the world. That’s what ‘angles’ do – they split the world into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; that’s the whole point of an angle, after all. So one the one hand we feel that we are going to gain the advantage by ‘having an angle on things’ but on the other hand this cleverness of ours rebounds on us in a way that is not to our advantage at all! Our classifications end up classifying us, just as Carlos Castaneda says. The tool of thought very neatly ‘turns the tables on us’ and we end up being on the receiving end of the stick and catching a whack in the head rather than dishing one out, as we had intended to.

 

This doesn’t (as we have already pointed out) means that we don’t ever need to have an angle. That isn’t the point at all. It’s not that we never ever need an angle but rather that we don’t need to be ‘looking for the right angle’ on a nonstop basis. Specific situations arise in which we do need an angle (problems arise which do need a solution) but then once the matter has been dealt with one way or another the need is no longer there. Life itself is not ‘a problem to be solved’, in other words, even though we generally end up treating it as such. We end up treating life as if it were a problem to be solved because this is how thought works. This is what thought always does – thought always treats everything as a problem!

 

Thought always treats everything as a problem because that’s just the kind of phenomenon it is – it has to fit everything into boxes of its own making when stuff just doesn’t come ‘in boxes’, when life doesn’t come in boxes. More than this however, life becomes a serious problem to us when we have identified with thought and the products of thought. Life (very much) becomes a problem to me when I identify with the idea of myself that the thinking mind furnishes me with. The problem is really with life of course but with ourselves. The problem is with me, not the world! This is of course a classic example of how the conditioned mind always perceives the truth backwards – I say that the problem is with you, or with the world in general, but really the problem is in me.

 

The problem that we always need to be fixing (or trying to fix) when we have identified ourselves with thought (and the image of ourselves that thought provides us with) is that we’re always placing certain demands on life; we’re always wanting things to work out for us in a particular way, in our words. We have very serious ‘preferences’ – not just with regard to the way things work out for us, but with regard to what we unconsciously require reality to be. Being identified with thought means that we’re always seeing reality in a very narrow and stilted fashion – to us, this is what reality actually is and so we don’t see ourselves as imposing our own arbitrary brand of order onto the world around us.

 

The ‘problem’ that we’re trying to fix with our thinking is how to get reality to be the way we think it ought to be, therefore. We’re trying to twist things to be the way we assume they should be and we’re doing this without having the slightest awareness that this is what we’re doing, and this means that we’re locked into a never-ending series of problems, not just the one, because things are never going to inherently be the way that we unconsciously assume that they should be. This is an ongoing problem that we’re never going to solve because we’re looking at it all wrong – as we have said, the problem isn’t out there in the world but in ourselves and we’re never looking at ourselves. We’re only ever looking outwards at the problems that we ourselves have unwittingly projected onto the world. The problem isn’t that the universe doesn’t play ball, the problem is the fact that we are constantly trying to impose our absurdly narrow and stilted viewpoint onto it!

 

Trying to impose our own brand of order onto the world but not seeing that this is what we are doing (because we genuinely do think that this is the way reality should be) is the very essence of what is meant by the word ‘aggression’. This is aggression in a nutshell. When I aggressively try to correct a problem that I wrongly see as existing out there in the world (and all fixing, all correcting is ultimately aggression) then what I’m really doing is fighting against myself. I’m creating the problem and then I’m trying very seriously, very humourlessly to find the solution as if it wasn’t me who created the need for a solution in the first place. I’m fighting myself but I haven’t a clue that this is what I’m doing. I think that the ‘problem’ is out there, but actually it’s my own aggression (or my own ‘unconsciousness’) that’s the problem…

 

This is why any amount of thinking about ‘how to be in the world’ is ‘overthinking’! Thinking is good (sometimes) for small tasks, but not for the ‘big task’ (so to speak) of how to be yourself, or how to be in the world. Thought is no good for existential questions, in other words, only down-to-earth practicalities. Thinking is generally appropriate for practical matters but it most certainly has no applicability at all to any challenges of what we might call an ‘existential’ nature! Within this context, thought is simply unwarranted and painfully counterproductive aggression. We assume certain things to be true (without of course ever properly examining them) and then we automatically start trying to control the world on the basis of these unconsciously-made assumptions of ours. We automatically start trying to fix everything on the basis of ‘how we think it should be’. This is what ‘unconscious living’ is all about – it’s all about conflict, it’s all about us projecting our assumptions on everything without seeing that this is what we’re doing.

 

When we’re living this way (i.e. on the basis of thought) then we never see beyond the conflict, we never see beyond the struggle. Our own assumed reality is the only reality we know, the only one we have any awareness of, and so all we ever know of life is this constant fighting, this constant struggling. The only world we ever know is this unhappy ‘battleground’, this ‘conflict-zone’ of us unconsciously trying to impose our own patented form of order on everything (and everyone) we encounter. When the struggle seems to be going our way (which it never really is of course because our patented brand of order is an artificial construct that couldn’t survive a second on its own) we experience pleasure and satisfaction and feel that all is well with the world, and when we see that things aren’t going our way then we experience the reverse of this – we experience pain and frustration, anguish and demoralization and so on – and we feel that things are fundamentally not right with the world.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we’re in the conditioned or unconscious mode of existing in the world then we never see beyond ‘good and bad’, ‘right and wrong’, ‘like and dislike’. No other reality exists for us. No reality other than this false ‘polar’ one exists – we actually incapable (when we’re in the conditioned modality) of understanding how there could be any other way of looking at things than the dualist or polar viewpoint that is provided for us by the thinking mind. We completely fail to see that this duality is our own projection that we’re imposing on the world, and as a result we never ever see beyond the ongoing struggle or conflict that is us. By thinking at all (when it comes to this question of ‘how to be in the world’) we isolate ourselves from reality as it is in itself, which is infinitely serene, infinitely profound, infinitely harmonious. As the Buddhist teachings say, ‘the nature of all phenomena is perfectly tranquil’. The world we create for ourselves with our aggression however is not serene, not profound, not harmonious. It is – on the contrary – both utterly shallow and irredeemably conflicted. And just so long as we remain helplessly identified with the tool of thought, as we have already said, this is the only reality we are ever going to know…

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem of ‘Sitting with Pain’

When we try to ‘sit with our own pain’ (as we often do try to do when we are involved in psychotherapy or mindful practice) we generally run into a problem. The problem with ‘sitting with our own pain’ isn’t just the pain itself – which is of course what we think it is – but our purposeful attitude to this whole business of ‘sitting with pain’. The problem is that we can’t be present with our pain on purpose.

 

Because we have the aim or purpose of sitting with pain this jinxes the whole process – we want to become more present with ourselves but we become more absent instead! It backfires on us every time. There is no way that being purposeful about wanting to be present with our pain isn’t going to backfire on us because purposefulness is ‘control’ and control causes us to identify with the ‘abstract controller’ (which is another way of saying that it stops us being present). This is the very same paradox of ‘self-acceptance’ that Alan Watts talks about. The thing about self-acceptance, Alan Watts says, is that the self we should be accepting (i.e. the non-accepting self) is the very same self that we are trying to get rid of…

 

There is a point at which we decide that we need to change the way we are and become self-accepting rather than self-rejecting or self-denying and it is at this point that a new and problematic twist gets thrown into the equation. We’ve complicated things by turning our back on ‘how we really are’ in favour of ‘how we’d like to be’ (or ‘how we feel we ought to be’) and this means that our so-called ‘act of self-acceptance’ is really just another act of self-rejection – the latest in a long line of ‘acts of self-rejection’.

 

The problem is that every form of purposeful action that we might engage in is a rejection. Every purpose is a rejection just as every goal is a rejection – every goal is (of course!) a rejection of whatever it is that has not been designated as ‘the goal’. Purposeful behaviour is rejecting behaviour therefore – we’re rejecting anything that interferes with (or stands in the way of) the achieving of the purpose that we have set so much store in. Purposeful behaviour is all about attachment (or ‘like and dislike’) in other words – it’s all about ‘vehemently rejecting or eliminating what we don’t like’….

 

This tends to sound a bit complicated when we try to pin it down in the way that we have just been trying to but this is really just a problem with language (or a problem with thinking, which is the same thing). In short, ‘accepting yourself’ means – if it is to mean anything – accepting the self that you were before you decided to accept yourself and ‘sitting with your pain’ means – if it is to mean anything – being present with yourself as you were before you conceived the notion of ‘sitting with your own pain’. ‘Self-acceptance’ means – in other words – being unconditionally with yourself as you were before you got any clever ideas in your head about changing yourself or adjusting yourself to be some special way!

 

‘Adjusting ourselves so as to be some special way’ IS the jinx that always flummoxes us – that’s the whole problem in a nutshell. We are always trying to adjust, modify or change ourselves so as to be some special way – we do this so automatically, so unreflectively, that we don’t even notice ourselves doing it. We’re always being aggressive to ourselves – we’re not letting ourselves alone, we’re not giving ourselves any peace. Being aggressive towards ourselves doesn’t bear any fruit; it doesn’t change us to be the way we want to be – this has never happened in the whole of human history and it never will! Self-aggression has never resulted in anything other than ‘an increase in suffering’ and never could. Jinxes never stop being jinxes; that’s the whole thing about ‘a jinx’ – that it unfailingly catches us out every time. The whole point of a jinx is that it will never come good for us, no matter how long we keep on trying to beat it.

 

When we automatically try to adjust ourselves, modify ourselves, change ourselves, all that happens is that we create a barrier, a gap, an obstacle. As soon as we try to change or adjust ourselves we create a gap between ‘actually being in the world’ and ‘our experience of what it means to be in the world’ and this gap spells one thing and one thing only – it spells suffering. The ‘gap’ equals suffering and the reason that the gap equals suffering is because it’s a gap between us and life. We are life – we’re not something that ‘possesses’ life or is aiming or planning to gain life or maximize life – we actually are life and so a gap between us and life is a gap that stops us being what we really are!

 

What more terrible thing could there be than a gap between us and life? If there is a gap between us and life then where we are isn’t life – it’s somewhere else. We’re stuck somewhere else in a ‘non-place’ that isn’t life and we’re watching life at a distance through some kind of distorting lens. We’re alienated, dissociated, dislocated. We’re seeing life darkly, as if through glass, as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:12; we’re not seeing it as it is at all.

 

This is how we almost always are – it’s the human condition. It’s the usual state of affairs for us because we’re always trying to adjust ourselves, modify ourselves, change ourselves. That’s the thing we do without even knowing that we’re doing it. To live is to be constantly trying to change oneself and the reason for this is that we’re always living via the thinking mind. The thinking mind is a tool for changing things, a tool for analyzing and solving problems, and the one thing it can never do is ‘leave things alone’! The rational mind can never exist in a state of peace with the world – it always has to be trying to evaluate it and control it. The rational mind is a device for evaluating and cataloguing and controlling and it can’t do anything else.

 

Life’s a scab and we’re forever picking at it, in other words, even though this isn’t the prettiest of metaphors. When we’re coming at it from the point of view of the thinking mind life is continually irritating us, or perhaps even causing us actual pain, and we’re trying to fix that but by trying to fix it we’re maintaining the gap that is causing the pain in the first place. Generally speaking the gap between us and life is fairly imperceptible – it doesn’t cause us any conscious distress or sense of disconnection. For the most part the sense of disconnection and alienation that it creates is invisible to us; we don’t know that it’s there and we will in fact deny that it is if asked. We are used to it; we assume on some level or other that this is what life is supposed to be like so we pay it no heed. We assume that we’re supposed to be ‘separate from life’; we don’t miss that vivid immediacy of life because we don’t remember ever having it and this ‘forgetting’ is concomitant with the conditioned state of being….

 

When we are suffering from neurotic pain of one sort or another then the ‘gap’ that we are talking about gets exacerbated and because it has become exacerbated it becomes visible. The ‘disconnect’ becomes more severe, more pronounced, more painful and so we do notice it. We notice it all of the time; we can’t get rid of it in fact and our attempt to get rid of it, or fix it, makes it worse. Our mind keeps on working away at the problem and this restless activity of the mind keeps widening the suffering-producing gap. We’re caught in a loop, in other words – we’re caught in the loop of the analyzing/evaluating mind.

 

The mind always is a loop, whether we’re aware of this or not, and we’re always trapped in it. It’s only when the loop narrows so that we can feel the pain that it creates that we start to gain the possibility of seeing that we’re caught in a mental loop; otherwise life is full of enough distractions and diversions to keep us from seeing that our situation is in any way ‘prison-like’. That’s what distractions and diversions are for – to prevent us from seeing that we’re in prison, to prevent us from noticing that we’re caught in a mental loop. We could quite easily spend our whole lives without noticing this…

 

What maintains the gap is us automatically reacting to the pain that is created by the gap. We don’t notice that we are continually reacting in this way – it’s so normal for us that of course we don’t notice it. It’s just regular life, as far as we’re concerned. We’re too caught up in this mechanism that is forever ‘feeding on itself’ to ever question what is going on here. It is – as we keep saying – normal for us; the mental loop of the thinking mind is ‘normal’ for us because it’s all we ever know. To be is to react when we’re in the unconscious mode of existence; we’re owned by the mechanical forces of analysing and evaluating and controlling when we’re in this mode – just so long as we’re unconscious we are a vehicle for these forces and nothing more.

 

We often hear that the way to work with this situation (i.e. the situation of being the unconscious pawn of forces we do not understand) is by ‘not judging’, ‘not reacting’ and all this kind of thing, but this is only half the story. It’s only half the story and because it’s only half the story it’s not really going to help us! Being told to ‘not judge’ is actually a very confusing message, despite the fact that it sounds so straightforward. The problem is that the self (i.e. the thinking mind) can’t ever ‘not judge’, can’t ever ‘not react’. This is the supreme impossibility for it – the one thing the self-mind can never do is ‘stop judging’! The reason that this is a supreme impossibility is because the self-mind is created by judging, is created by reacting, so of course this entity is never going to genuinely embrace not-judging. It might pretend to (if it thinks that there’s something in it for it), but that’s as far as it goes…

 

‘Sitting with our own pain’ is a joke as far as the mind-created self is concerned. The very idea of it is ludicrous – the thing or entity that is created by resisting pain is supposed to be able to ‘not resist’, even though unreflective resistance is its very life-blood. All that’s going to happen in this case therefore (when we only have half the story) is that we’re going to learn to resist in a camouflaged way – we’re going to learn to disguise our resistance by calling it ‘spiritual practice’, by calling it ’sitting with my pain’…

 

The ‘missing half’ of the message (which is the half that we in the West don’t seem to be so keen on hearing!) is that we’re not this beleaguered self that is trying (and failing) to sit with the pain. We’re not that self and we never were. The whole thing is a ‘false problem’ therefore – it would be a problem of we were this self but because we’re not there isn’t. There isn’t a problem and there never was one – there’s no one who needs to ‘sit with the pain’ just as there’s no one who needs to ‘do the spiritual practice’.

 

In down-to-earth terms what we’re talking about here could simply be called ‘having a sense of humour’ or ‘not taking things too seriously’ (even though it might seem flippant to say this). We see that the task we’re setting ourselves is impossible and so we don’t take it so seriously. How can we take it seriously if it’s totally impossible? ‘Being present’ is an impossible task – it’s an impossible task because it isn’t a task. It isn’t something to be achieved. When we do treat ‘being present’ as a task we find that the more we try to succeed at it the less present we become. It backfires on us. Being serious about a task that isn’t a task is a double-bind – we’re jinxing ourselves by trying. We’re already present so how can this be a task? ‘Trying’ creates the separate sense of self that wishes to be ‘not separate’ and it tries to be ‘not separate’ (or ‘not disconnected’) by trying even more and this is the mental loop that we’re all caught up in…