The Mythological Life

We’re living life in two ways at once and it is of absolutely crucial importance not to lose sight of either! One if these ways is  – we might say – when we live life on a down-to-earth pragmatic basis and only concern ourselves with issues that have undeniable ‘concrete’ significance to us. Pragmatic issues have a way of driving out all ‘non-pragmatic’ ones and when this happens we fall into seeing the concrete way of life as being the only way. Everything else gets dismissed as being ridiculous and fanciful – we don’t have time for people who talk about things in any other way, we very quickly lose patience with them…


‘Concrete mode’ is very easy to understand – it’s the default mode, the mode that everything very easily settles down into. It’s the mode in which we do everything ‘on purpose‘, as part of some prosaic logical plan.The other mode is what we might call ‘mythological mode’ and this isn’t so easy to understand – if the concrete mode is where we relate to everything in this down-to-earth, no-nonsense way as the down-to-earth practical everyday person we are, then the mythological mode is where everything unaccountably takes on some ‘bigger’ type of significance. Life in the mythological mode is more than just obtaining this concrete goal and then that concrete goal, and going from A to B and then B to C in the prescribed logical fashion and ticking all the boxes in an orderly fashion, it has some strange and essentially ‘impersonal’ meaning. It’s ‘impersonal’ in the sense that it’s not just on this tiny scale where we are living our mundane personal life where we are endlessly preoccupied with all these petty meaningless details – it is significant in a way that goes entirely beyond this mundane sphere. Our affairs are no longer ‘purely personal’ but meaningful in some epic sense, a sense that goes far, far beyond the trivial things that society says we are to concern ourselves with. This ‘non-trivial’ or ‘mythological’ aspect of life is the aspect that the everyday concrete mind dismisses out of hand.


As we have said, because of the overwhelming ‘pressure of the practical’ it is almost a foregone conclusion that we are going to ‘lose sight of the mythological’ – in our culture losing sight of the mythological is actually part of becoming an adult! If you don’t then you’re not considered to be an adult – you’ve got ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, you refuse to grow up and be sensible about things. When we lose sight of the mythological this isn’t a step towards maturity however – it’s a step towards inner death, which isn’t quite the same thing. When we live purely on the concrete-personal level then we diminish ourselves tremendously. Life is so very much more than we take it to be. We ourselves are so very much more than we take ourselves to be. We are so much more than our family and friends take us to be, which is why families and friendship groups very often inhibit any possibility of inner growth. We are so much more than society takes us to be and this is why society – despite being a necessary support to us on one level (the concrete level!) is a psychological threat to us on another, crucially important level. What’s the point in being kept alive and entertained and well-fed if our ‘inner life’ is totally suppressed and denied?


When we live purely on the concrete level we’re ‘living beneath ourselves’ and the consequences of this are tremendous. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.


We cannot live beneath ourselves, and fail to bring forth what is with is us (because our rational society implicitly tells us every step of the way that there is nothing remarkable within us, nothing that needs to be brought out) with impunity – the consequence of this is our neurotic suffering, which gradually eats us alive, one way or another. It is no mere accident that the rates of depression and anxiety have been steadily increasing for the last one hundred years – we often like to say that there is a genetic component to mental disorders but how do we imagine that after millions of years of evolution our DNA is suddenly developing faults? Antidepressants are hardly going to prove a remedy for the fact that our modern way of living life is entirely shallow and neglectful of any non-trivial meaning! What Jung calls (not in his exact words) ‘an epidemic of soul-sickness the like of which we have never known’ is scarcely going to be cured by the judicious prescription of psychiatric drugs to dull our existential anguish!


On the other hand, if we lose sight of our ‘feet’ and get swallowed up by the mythological world, this has very great consequence too. If we lose our connection with our actual practical, pragmatic life and find ourselves adrift in what Jung calls ‘the realm of the unconscious’ then we may never come back to ourselves. This is a dangerous journey and we cannot treat it as if it were not; Joseph Campbell refers to this as ‘the hero’s journey’ for a reason – the reason being that it tests us to the limit. Since when did heroes have an easy time of it? The terrible dangers that we read about in myths and legends all have their psychological meaning and this comes down to our ‘sense of ourselves’ being overpowered by the tremendous forces that exist in the mythological realm. We cannot simply launch ourselves into this world, as we are, and naively expect it to somehow work out for us on this basis. The mythological realm is powerfully intoxicating to the everyday mind – either we get intoxicated with hubris or we get intoxicated with fear, and either way spells disaster.


Somehow, we have to live life both ways at the same time – we have to ‘walk the tightrope’, so to speak. As we have said, on either side lies disaster – if we fall to one side we get swallowed up by the banality of everyday life and disappear without a trace, and if we fall the other way we get swallowed up by the mythological realm and also disappear without a trace. By far the biggest danger – for most of us – is that we will be browbeaten and intimidated by the concrete world and prevailed upon to renounce the world within us that – on some level – we know to be true. We are bullied into abject submission by sheer peer-pressure – fifty million people (or however many it is) can’t be wrong, after all! But actually X million people can be ‘wrong’ and – from a psychological point of view – always will be. Only the individual can be ‘the carrier of virtue’, says Jung – the state (or the collective) never can be. Virtue can never reside in the collective or the social group because no one in the group is truly being themselves – the mass mind has no conscience, no sense of responsibility and there is no way that it can be compelled to be conscientious or responsible by legislation. To be subsumed with ‘group-mind’ is to lose yourself – if we have lost ourselves then we’re simply not there and if we’re not there then how can we possibly ever ‘take responsibility’?


The process of social adaptation is the process of losing the mythological aspect of life because the mythological aspect of life can never be consciously experienced (or acknowledged) on the level of mass consciousness. It can be experienced unconsciously, as Jung of course says, but this is another matter entirely! We are not consciously participating in life in this case, but merely resigning ourselves to the fate of being puppeted by external forces which we have zero awareness of. We are ‘mere mechanical units’ and the reason we think we are doing things is not the real reason. Instead of a genuine inner life, we internalize some crude external script (the ready-made narrative that our society provides for us) and we imagine that this tawdry second-hand generic artefact is our inner life. We imagine that when we read from this script then that is ‘free will’…


The mythological mode of living life cannot be taken from a script or template and it cannot be the same for ten million people – somehow, we have to discover it ourselves and in order to discover it for ourselves we have to see the reality that lies beyond the concrete, matter-of-fact one. This can only happen when we find the courage to stop believing automatically in everything the super-pragmatic rational mind tells – rationality is what represses us, in other words, and at the same time that it represses us it will not let us know that it does, but rather (like a bad parent!) it always persuades us that it is acting in our best interests! If we do allow ourselves to be thus persuaded then this is the same thing as ‘losing touch with the mythological dimension of life’ and when we lose touch with the mythological dimension of life then we are consigned to an existence of ‘merely surviving’, and existence in which the only option left to us is to entertain ourselves as best we can until we die. The rational mind – if we let it reign over us – will always reduce us to this level; the rational mind is a device for carrying out pragmatic or concrete tasks and so if we let it ‘take over’ and ‘run everything for us’ then it will turn our lives into no more than ‘a concrete or pragmatic task’. What else can it do?


Rationality, by its very nature, always denies anything that it cannot – in principle, at least – understand and it is crucially important to see this. Rational thought – as is often said – is a very powerful servant but an appalling bad master. It’s a bad master because when it takes control it permanently (and invisibly) limits us to a very narrow little world – the narrow little world that it itself creates for us. In this world the only purposes are logical purposes, rational purposes, concrete purposes and no one can live their life on such an arid basis. Or rather we can, but when we do we end up suffering from the all-pervading sense of meaningless and alienation from life that Jung calls ‘soul-sickness’. Soul-sickness is the inevitable result of being confined to that narrow and juice-less world that the rational mind creates for us. It is the inevitable result of living life without the mythological dimension, which is the one thing the RT cannot provide us with. It can provide us with rules and regulations aplenty, but not a mythological dimension…


To the logical mind any talk of ‘mythological dimensions’ is simply nonsense, as we have already said.  Myths are not real, it says. Myths are just myths! The logical mind will inform us over and over again that only cold hard facts are real, that only the concrete everyday world is real. Its argument is very persuasive – and ultimately crushingly persuasive – but at the same time what it lead us to believe in is entirely false. There’s something silly about us if we believe it. ‘Facts and figures’ are not real at all – they are mind-created abstractions. The concrete world that we are compelled from an early age to believe in is similarly a fiction – it’s a world that is made up purely of our own descriptions and our descriptions are our own. They have nothing to do with the world as it is in itself. The world as it is in itself is an inscrutable mystery and it can never be penetrated by us. It can never be rationalized and explained and if we fall into the trap of doing this then we end up prisoners in a dead world. We end up as inmates serving a life sentence in the ‘prison of the rational mind’. We can’t rationalize or explain the world as it is in itself, but we can live it, which is the complete antithesis of existing exclusively in ‘concrete mode’, through the profoundly dubious auspices of the thinking mind…



Art: Ann Marie Zilberman






Engaging With An Unreal World

The more we engage with the fast-moving machine that is society the more unreal we become. This isn’t particularly obvious though – far from being obvious, it is almost impossible to see. The type of unreality we’re talking about here is camouflaged; it’s unreality that is dressed up to look like the bee’s knees. It is unreality disguised as ‘the main event’. This is we could say a super-charged unreality – it’s a reality which really does seem to have a lot going on in it, like some kind of a high-speed super-frenetic cartoon. Because there’s so much frenetic activity we think that we are getting somewhere, that ‘progress’ is being made. We think that the machine is actually doing something; we think that it’s actually producing something.


The fast-moving machine that is society doesn’t produce anything, though. What do we imagine that it’s producing with all its activity? What kind of thing is it that the machine – which demands so much labour, so much man/woman-power, for so much of our lives – actually make for us? If we were to look closely we would see that the machine produces nothing but itself – it’s like a closed loop. All its energy (all our energy!) gets used up by the machine maintaining itself, perpetuating itself, promoting itself. As we have said, it’s a closed loop, a pointless, self-validating merry-go-round. We know this well enough – that’s why we talk about ‘the rat-race’. We know well that it’s a pointless merry-go-round; we know well that we are having to run as fast as we can just to stand still. We know it alright but we aren’t going to do anything about it.


We know it but we don’t know it at the same time. We know it but we won’t really admit to ourselves that we know it. We know it but when it comes down to it we’ll deny that we do. The official story is that the fast-moving machine that is society produces a good standard of living for us that we can enjoy. The machine turns over goods and services and these goods and services are supposed to be what gives us a decent standard of living, or whatever other phrase it is that we might use. Somehow, it is assumed that our standard of living is a function of the ‘economic growth’ that is going on in the part of the world where we are living – why this should be so doesn’t make much sense outside the heads of economists or politicians but it’s a dogma that they seem to be able to get away with.


This notion that we need to have a ‘certain standard of living’ – which comes down to ‘the ability to enjoy all the goods and services that society can provide us with, whether we really need them or not – is easily confused with the non-economically defined notion of ‘quality of life’. In practice it is undoubtedly true that we assume an equivalence. It’s not hard to see that the two are the same thing at all however. ‘Standard of living’ – to a large extent, at least – has to do with our ability to satisfy all the various conditioned needs that we have been implanted with – that’s how this thing called ‘consumerism’ works, after all. We are persuaded that we have to have all these things and so if we can’t have them then we will say that we are suffering from an unsatisfactory standard of living. We’re living a ‘sub-standard life’. But to acquire a habit or an addiction and then be given the means of satisfying it does not translate into ‘quality of life’! This is actually a self-cancelling sort of business as we can clearly see – first we create a need where before there was none (for example, the need to own a high-spec Android or iphone) and then we are provided with the means of satisfactorily servicing this need on an ongoing basis. We’d be in the same place after it all if we never had the need in the first place!


This sort of business doesn’t increase or enhance our quality of life at all, as most of us would probably have no problem in admitting. Quite the reverse is true – our quality of life deteriorates (sometimes to the point of being seriously unwell or troubled) as a result of owning buying into the conditioned needs that society brings. What we are essentially doing with our high-tech culture is acquiring more and more attachments and attachments don’t equate to ‘mental health’, even when they are being satisfactorily taken care of! The more attachments we have the more degraded our ‘quality of life’ is going to become. This is actually a good way of describing what QOL – we can define QOL as something that exists in inverse proportion to the number of attachments that we have. Or to express this the other way around, we can say that what we are calling ‘quality of life’ (for the want of anything better to call it) is actually just a way of talking about our essential ‘autonomy’ – the degree to which we are free to be (or express) ourselves without things that have nothing to do with us (attachments or conditioned needs) getting in the way, or getting ‘first priority’. To be alive is to have needs it is true, but our essential needs are relatively few – our ‘non-essential’ (or ‘artificial’) needs have on the other hand multiplied beyond all measure. When we talk, as we do, about the ‘complexity of modern life’ and all the demands that this put on us this is what we are referring to.


The state of being attached (i.e. the state of being in thrall to a host of conditioned needs) substitutes itself very neatly for genuine freedom; it substitutes itself for genuine freedom in such a way that we never notice that any such substitution has taken place. So instead of the freedom not to have anything to do with the attachments (and the deterministic or defined world they create) we see freedom in terms of our ability to service or satisfy these needs. The ideal state of freedom thus becomes the situation where we can satisfy whatever ‘needs’ we have just about as soon as we experience them. If we could satisfy them instantly that would be perfect! In this way ‘freedom’ becomes something that we can only have when we have successfully adjusted ourselves to the artificial world with which we have been presented and are therefore able to operate effectively within. This is – needless to say – very convenient for the artificial world that we are being persuaded to buy into. If we want freedom, then adjusting successfully to society is the only way in which we are going to be able to get it, in other words! The substitution that we were just talking about means that we can’t see that the so-called ‘freedom’ which we are chasing only exists as an artefact or construct of an artificial system, and it itself not a real thing therefore. The ‘freedom’ which we’re buying at such a high price is freedom of an artificial nature and so it really isn’t the bargain we take it to be. We’re buying a dud product. Real freedom isn’t actually a product and it doesn’t cost anything!


So this is why we can say that ‘the more we engage in the fast-moving machine that is society the more unreal we become’. There is no reality without freedom; reality and freedom are two ways of talking about the same thing – if we are compelled / directed / controlled / determined then we are simply no longer real. We are no longer who we are and this means that we ‘unreal’. We aren’t ourselves anymore, we are simply extensions of the machine. Our goals are the machine’s goals; our dreams are the machine’s dreams… To be controlled or regulated is to be defined and as soon as we are defined we have ceased to be real. Instead we have become ‘part of the socially-validated fiction’. Reality cannot be defined; similarly, if I am defined (or ‘regulated‘) then I’m not actually real. I’m lost in a virtual reality world. I’m a player within the game, a construct of the system. And what I’m being defined by are my needs, my attachments. When it comes down to it when we are wholly adapted to the artificial world that society creates for us, then we are our conditioned needs!


Ironically, we regard those who do not engage 100% with society as being misfits and oddballs and eccentrics who have ‘opted out’ of life for whatever reason whereas the truth of the matter is that it is us who have ‘opted out’! We have opted out of reality; we have opted out of reality without even acknowledging that we have done so. We have opted out of reality by opting in to the virtual reality social game that ‘everybody who is anybody’ is playing. We’ve bought into ‘the false self’. We’re looking for a slice of the pie and we think that this is where it’s to be found! Everyone else is looking for the prize here and we don’t want to get left out or left behind. Everyone else is playing the game so the pressure for us to be doing so too (and not be ‘the odd one out’) is absolutely immense. Everyone else is doing it and X millions of people can’t be wrong, surely…


So for this reason we end up unwittingly embracing unreality on a mass scale and shirking the one responsibility that we do have, which is to always keep an eye on the truth and not wander off into ‘illusion-land’. When we wander off blithely into illusion-land then this means ‘losing ourselves’ and if we lose ourselves (if we lose sight of who we really are) then nothing we do can benefit anyone, either ourselves or others…


Image taken from: Cyborgology, in




The Illusion Of Things

The rational mind – which is our way of knowing about the world around us – sings only the one song to us, and it sings it over and over again. We think that this mind of ours is telling us accurate and useful information about the world, and – up to a point – it usually is, but along with this function it is doing something else that is too subliminal for us to be able to pick up on – it is singing this very repetitive ‘siren-song’ for us, a song that is keeping is very effectively trapped.


What is this song then? What kind of a song is it? The first point that we could make is to say that it isn’t really very much of a song – it isn’t exactly what you would call ‘melodious’. What it is is an ‘affirmation’, or a ‘confirmation’. There is a starting-off point, a type of a basic assumption, and then thought confirms this assumption over and over again, come what may. Thought always confirms this starting-off point of ours – that’s all it ever can do.


The rational mind can never not confirm its own starting-off point – rational thought is after all an extension of that point, a projection of that point out onto the world. If we wanted to be very clear about it then we could say that the rational mind is this starting-off point, this static framework. It is its own fixed point of reference and so it can never leave this reference point behind. To say that the rational mind always confirms or affirms its own starting-off point is rather missing the point therefore – the rational mind is the starting-off point, it is the basic assumption.


What then is this ‘song’ that the thinking mind keeps on singing to us over and over again? What exactly are we on about here? Talking about affirming or confirming our basic assumptions is one way of putting it but this is rather dry and intellectual. It is somewhat removed from the realm of human experience – it doesn’t really make that much sense on a personal level. So if we were to use more everyday down-to-earth terms what we’re talking about here is the ‘feedback’ that tells us who we are…


The ‘song’ of the rational mind is all about affirming that we are this self, in other words – this self that we started out thinking we were. Everything we think – without any exception – tells us this basic message. There isn’t a thought that we ever thought that didn’t affirm the existence of the thinker that thought the thought! It never happens that we discover anything else through thinking. This then is just another of saying, as Krishnamurti says, that the thinker and the thought are one.


It is therefore entirely misleading to say, as we always do say, that the thinker creates the thought! It would be more accurate, more to the point, to say that the thought thinks the thinker (or that ‘thoughts think us’). The thinker is a construct of the thought; thought goes on, thought happens and then we assume (and identify with) the one who is responsible for thinking the thought. But the truth of the matter is that thought isn’t causally and volitionally produced by some autonomous ‘thinker’ – that isn’t it at all! As David Bohm says, the perception that we are there in the driving seat (or the ‘thinking seat’), freely deciding to think this or that thought, is an illusion produced by thought. This illusion comes as ‘part of the package’ – thought tells us that we are thinking the thought when actually thought is thinking us…


Sometimes we call the song of the thinking mind ‘the personal narrative’. The personal narrative – which is the ongoing story of ourselves that thought spins for us – can go one of two ways – it can make us feel good about ourselves or it can make us feel bad. It can be ‘positive’ and it can be ‘negative’ (as we commonly say). Naturally we see this as being an ‘all-important’ difference – we actually see it as the all-important difference – but when we look at it from the perspective that we have been exploring here in this discussion we can see that it doesn’t matter at all which way around the personal narrative works – it is confirming our basic assumptions either way.


It makes no difference what type of song the rational mind is singing to us – it doesn’t matter whether it is making us feel good or feel bad, whether it is optimistic or pessimistic, whether it makes us love ourselves or hate ourselves – it is the same either way because either way we’re being told that this thinker, this ‘decider’, this ‘enactor of purposes and goals’ is an actual real bone fide ‘entity’ in its own right and not merely an artefact of the thinking mind. The mind-created self is being reified in both cases in other words, one way positively as ‘the winner self’ and the other way negatively as the ‘loser self’, as the ‘failed self’.


The song is always telling us that we are either doing well or not doing well, that we are either winning or losing, and this is an entrapping message for us to take on board because both ways we get tricked into identifying with the mind-created self. This is a difficult point for us to understand of course because we are so very identified with the MCS that the notion that this is not who we are is frankly incomprehensible to us. We have no way of grasping what that means. It is as if we are sitting there in our living room in our favourite armchair (in our only armchair) and we have somehow become so extraordinarily habituated to sitting there (watching TV or whatever) that we can no longer see ourselves as being essentially different to and independent of this deeply familiar armchair of ours. We’ve forgotten that we have the possibility of acting independently from it, we’ve forgotten that we have legs and that we can have the ability to get up and walk freely around the place!


This might seem like a very far-fetched and not particularly plausible analogy but it is all the same exactly our situation with regard to the MCS. We’ve just got lazy! The MCS is, when it comes down to it, nothing other than a viewpoint, nothing more than a static position that we have gotten used to, nothing more than a set of assumptions that we can’t see beyond anymore. We stood in this spot so long that we’ve forgotten that it is possible to move around, to change our position and look at the world in a different way, see things from a different viewpoint. We have somehow grown into the armchair, our behinds – due to lack of movement – have got stuck fast to the armchair and so now it’s not just that we can’t ever get up out of this all-too—comfortable position, we’ve become incapable of seeing that this is even a possibility.


The ‘problem’ – so to speak – is that the thinking mind always presents everything (its vision of the word) in terms of static viewpoints, whilst the nature of reality itself – which is not a category, not a construct of the thinking mind – could be less ‘static’. The principle of reality is, we might say, antithetical to that of thought. This doesn’t means that reality is the ‘opposite’ of what we think it is because opposites exist only in thought, nowhere else. ‘Yes’ is the opposite of ‘no’ but there is neither yes or no in the world itself! The world itself is neither right nor wrong. ‘Yes’ means that the thing fits into the category that we have made and ‘no’ means that it doesn’t but our categories are our own affair – reality itself has nothing to do with our categories. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are both equally irrelevant; the thinking mind can’t actually relate to reality, in other words. It has no terms for reality – it has no terms for reality because reality doesn’t have any ‘terms’…


Reality has no place within the static framework and neither do we. How could we have possibly imagined that it does, or that we do? How could we have been that crazy? We are so very used to seeing and understanding everything in terms of the static framework of thought that we just can’t ‘get it’ that this is a wholly artificial (and therefore fundamentally misrepresentative) way of presenting the world. A good way to look at this is by saying, as Alan Watts has done, that the universe isn’t a noun (i.e. a subject or an object in the sentence) but a verb. The universe, in other words, is ‘a happening not a thing’. The verb (e.g. running, jumping, loving, laughing) can contain nouns but it is not produced by them. There is no one doing the running, the jumping, the loving, the laughing, there is just the ‘happening’ of it. There is the happening of the happening and that is it. ‘The verbs are verbing’,as David Mermin says here (quote taken from Jason Silva’s short video):

Matter acts, but there are no actors behind the actions:the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns. Actions act upon their actions. Properties are all there is. Indeed: there are no things.

There is therefore no isolated or abstracted entity there in the background causing the happening to happen – that’s just an erroneous perception caused by the way thought works. ‘God is a verb‘ as Buckminster Fuller says!To quote Piet Hut, professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton:

No thing exists, there are only actions. We live in a world of verbs, and nouns are only shorthand for those verbs whose actions are sufficiently stationary to show some thing-like behavior. These statements may seem like philosophy or poetry, but in fact they are an accurate description of the material world, when we take into account the quantum nature of reality.

In the same way then we can say who we are is a verb not a noun, not a subject or object. Who we are is a happening, with no one ‘making it happen’. We are actually the very same happening as the universe – there’s only the one happening happening, not a whole bunch of them, not a collection of them! How could there be any ‘separate happenings’, anyway? ‘Separation’ belongs only to the world of things – separation is what makes things into things. In the Great Happening which is every-‘thing’ there is no separation. In the Great Happening which is everything there are no things! As Bodhidharma said one thousand five hundred years ago, ‘From the very beginning, not a thing was’. There never was any ‘thing’ – it’s only the rational/categorical mind that says there was. Even though there never was any ‘thing’, the rational mind keeps on telling is that there was, and is, and will be. This is its song. The rational mind keeps on telling us that there are such things as things and furthermore, it keeps on telling us that we are one of them!



Image: Jeda Villa Painting by Jan Wils. Photo Credit: Wiki Commons.
Taken from:









Getting The Genie Back In The Bottle

Anything that comes out of the rational mind is ‘non-therapeutic’! There simply isn’t any possibility of the thinking mind coming out with anything therapeutic even if we waited around for a million years. That’s not its job – its job is to fix specific abstract problems in the outside world, not look at the psyche, or look at the big picture of what is going on in our life.


What we call ‘mental health’ is all about wholeness. It isn’t about anything else other than wholeness and it never could be – the word ‘health’ and the word ‘whole’ come from the very same root. No matter what is happening to us, no matter what our situation, as long as we’re whole (i.e. not divided against ourselves) we are healthy. Fixing loads of little things (or specific details) is never going to lead to better mental health – that’s only going to fragment us further. We can’t tackle the difficulties in our lives piecemeal – as if the problem lies in them – and we can’t use the ‘piecemeal mind’ as a guide to tell us anything useful – that is only increasing our suffering.


We can never think our way back to wholeness, in other words. We can never recover our wholeness via strategies, methods, via any sort of ‘purposeful effort’. We can never recover our essential wholeness via anything involving time, or goals! To make a goal of becoming whole is to hand the whole process over to the mechanism of thought, and this mechanism is never going to deliver it. The rational process is never going to ‘put us back together again’ – it can’t do because its movement is always in the other direction, towards fragmenting us further. Thought divides, it does not synthesize!


The fundamental mechanism of thought is to divide, to fragment reality. It focuses on its chosen particular field and ignores everything else – the one thing it can never do is ‘focus on everything’! The word focus means looking at one thing and ignoring everything else. ‘Focussing’ is a goal-oriented activity and so just as we can’t ‘make a goal of everything’ neither can we ‘focus on everything’. Goals only get to be goals by excluding what is not the goal (by saying what is not the goal) and the detail which the rational mind focuses only gets to be exhaustively defined in the way that it is because we have thrown away information relating to any other perspectives that we might have taken. ‘Knowing requires not knowing’, as Stuart Kauffman says.


This is how logic works – logic works by creating boundaries, or ‘polarities’, and wholeness – obviously enough – is not a polarity. Wholeness is not made up of two ‘opposites’ that work by excluding each other – that’s pretending that wholeness isn’t wholeness! That’s a game! The thinking mind, therefore, can differentiate but never integrate, it can analyse but never synthesize. It can take apart but never put back together. Rational mentation is an irreversible process, in other words; any process involving the production of entropy is always irreversible and thinking’ – by its very nature – always produces entropy. That is how thinking works, by producing entropy, just as Stuart Kauffman says. The more we know about the part the less we know about the whole from which that part was abstracted! This is good in way because there is a pay-off involved in knowing a lot about the part, but – psychologically speaking – there is a price to pay because we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. We’ve become blind to what really matters, in other words – we’ve become ‘technically-proficient idiots’…


The point that we are making here is that the everyday thinking mind is good for solving specific problems in the outside world but not good for recovering ourselves, recovering who we really are when that awareness has been lost, as it almost always does get lost in everyday living! It’s not just that the thinking mind is ‘no good’ for this – it makes matters worse! It makes matters worse because the awareness of ‘who we really are’ gets even more obscured, even more hidden as we utilize the machine of the TM. This is actually the ‘danger’ of the TM – the danger that no one ever talks about. As children we are told about the danger of walking across the street without looking but we aren’t ever told about the danger of using the thinking mind without due care and regard! Fairy tales mention this danger, in their own metaphorical idiom, but our problem is that we don’t believe fairy tales – we believe technically-trained ‘experts’ instead!


The problem is that there is always a type of trade-off going on when we use the rational faculty to adapt to the structures that we have been presented with. The trade-off in question is the one between ‘functioning more effectively within the context of the structure or system that we have adapted to’ and ‘forgetting who we really are’! The more adapted we are to the system the more we lose ourselves in it; the more adapted we are to this ‘explicit or rule-based world’ the less we can know of ourselves as we are outside of it. We won’t actually know that there IS any aspect of ourselves that exists outside of the game that we have been taught to play. In practical terms, we can say that this thing that we are calling ‘the system’ or ‘the Designed World’  or ‘the game’ is simply a long list or sequence of logical tasks laid end-to-end such that there isn’t any gap or discontinuity between them. Or – we could also say – it is simply society. It is the ‘socially-constructed world’, which is the only reality most of us know.


On the smaller scale of things – leaving aside for the moment the question of being globally adapted to a determinate system – we can say that the danger of thought lies in the way that repeatedly fixing (or trying to fix) problems traps us full-time in the narrow (or ‘focussed’) frame of mind that is needed to solve (or try to solve) these problems. We don’t generally see ourselves as solving one problem after another the whole time but we are – every time we engage in thinking we are trying to solve a problem of one sort or another, even if it’s just the problem of how to describe the situation we find ourselves in to ourselves correctly. That’s what thought is – it’s a problem-solver. If everything was just perfect in itself and we didn’t on this account need (or want) to change anything, not even a little bit, then why would we need to think? We’d be content just to let things be ‘just as they already are’ and for this no thinking (no ‘problem-solving’) is needed…


To use thought in such a way that we don’t get trapped on a full-time basis in its frame of reference it is necessary not to get carried away by thinking. We need to remember what we’re thinking for, in other words – we need not to lose sight of the actual utility of the thought and not go beyond this and into whatever sort of ‘territory’ it is that lies on the other side of this point! [Which is actually the simulated ‘territory’ of the hyperreal, which is where thought feeds on itself] When we do go beyond this point (and into the realm of the hyperreal) then thought becomes not just useless, but worse than useless – thought turns against us at this stage and creates more problems than it solves. And quite possibly it doesn’t solve any problems at all! Society is full to the brim of this sort of thing – we’re always creating more problems than we’re solving and this of course means that we have to do even more thinking in order to solve (or try to solve) the problems that were caused by thought, and so the whole circus just goes on and on. We can’t banish the spirit that we have summoned! We can’t get the genie back in the bottle; we can’t prevent the enchanted salt-grinder from grinding salt; we can’t get the magic porridge pot to stop producing porridge, etc. As far as the thinking mind is concerned therefore this is the best news ever because now it has a reason to keep on being there; it has an excuse to stick around forever. As far as we’re concerned however this isn’t such good news because excessive thinking is degrading our quality of life and so creating suffering.


When our thought-created suffering grows beyond a certain point the chances are that we will look for help and the irony of ironies here is that it is to thought we look for help, which is the very cause of our woes! We look for answers from the thinking mind, as if this were a perfectly legitimate job for it. ‘Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?’ asks Jesus. If my quality of life has been downgraded by thought (which is what always happens when we can’t get the genie back in the bottle) then thinking about the problem is only going to exacerbate the situation. The only thing that does help is to be aware of our situation because consciousness does not fragment everything in the way that thought does. ‘The seeing is the doing’, Krishnamurti says. Being aware of our situation is a very different thing indeed to thinking about it, analyzing it, trying to control or change it – it’s as different as anything ever could be! It’s the difference between gentleness and sensitivity and violence and insensitivity, the difference between intelligence and insight and blind, fear-driven counter-productive forcing….


Saying as Krishnamurti does that ‘the seeing is the doing’ doesn’t make any sense at all to us, of course – the thinking mind can’t understand how ‘being aware of our situation’ can do any good. We imagine that we are only too aware of it already! But we’re not really aware of it – we’re only seeing it from the outside, we’re only seeing it via our resistance to it. We can’t ‘let it alone’, in other words. In order to see our situation as it really is we would have to let it be what it really is and that’s the one thing we can’t do with the TM. The TM can’t let anything be ‘the way that it already is’ – that just isn’t something it can do. The TM is a device for solving problems, not a device for allowing them! But something happens when we become aware of our situation, our pain, just as it is – we see something then, we get to understand something then. What we get to understand is that ‘the cure for the pain is in the pain’, as Rumi says. The cure isn’t ‘somewhere else’, which is what the thinking mind will always tell us. The remedy is in us, and it was never anywhere else. The thinking mind is always making us look in the wrong place for ‘the cure’ therefore, and this is why the rational faculty is not cut out to be ‘therapeutic’! How can it be therapeutic when it operates precisely by making us look elsewhere for the remedy that is never ‘elsewhere’, but only ever ‘here’?



The Phantom Striver

Meditation isn’t a way that we can get to be calm or still peaceful or wise or compassionate or anything like that. That’s all crazy talk! That’s entering into a world of projections, that’s entering a world of hallucinations. That’s a fever dream…


Meditation isn’t a way to improve or augment or develop ourselves, which is just about the only reason we ever do anything. The urge to improve ourselves or make things better for ourselves is just about all we know. For the most part, it’s the only motivation we know. Meditation isn’t this, though.


Meditation is where we drop backwards into a place where we aren’t, and where the things we believe in aren’t either. It’s a place of discontinuity – a place where whatever it was we thought was happening is seen not to be happening. There’s no logic, no cause-and-effect, no before and after, no striving and no results. It is ‘somewhere else’ – a place that hasn’t been created by the thinking mind’s narrative.


In this place there isn’t us being calm, us being still, or peaceful, or wise, or compassionate, or anything like that. There isn’t us being anything. There’s no augmentation, or anything being improved. There aren’t any of the things that we think are good – these things are only ‘good’ in relation to our idea of things, our idea of ourselves, and those ideas are all gone now! These things that we used to think were good were only ‘good’ in relation to the mind’s narrative and there’s no narrative any more – the narrative has been broken off…


Generally speaking, as we have said, we’re always trying to improve our situation in relation to this all-important narrative. It could also be said that what we’re always trying to do is reach some sort of personalized ‘heaven’ – the optimum situation for ourselves, the solution or resolution of all our problems… The point is therefore that ‘heaven’ is always about me and my assumptions, me and my unexamined expectations of reality. What I see as ‘the ultimate good’ is a delusory projection, in other words – it’s a fever dream…


When we drop backwards into the discontinuity (rather than straining forwards towards the idealized state) then what we’re dropping into a state of complete surprise – it’s not a ‘trivial’ surprise, it’s not the surprise of ‘something is going to happen to me but I don’t know what’ because there isn’t the constant of the mental framework into which everything has to be (or the constant of the ‘me’ to which everything has to be related). It’s not that the uncertainty involved is only about ‘what is happening’; it is equally about the framework which we use to make sense of whatever it is that is happening – radical surprise (we might say) is when there’s no way of knowing what is happening and also no way of knowing who it is happening to. But saying this isn’t quite right either because there’s no separation of the two – there is only a separation of ‘what is happening’ and ‘who it is happening to’ when we feed reality through the mental framework of the rational mind, and thus turn everything into a narrative…


When we drop backwards into the discontinuity then there is no more polarity, in other words. The mind-created polarity of ‘me’ and ‘the world’ is no longer there; this basic orientation is gone. That polarity was never there anyway really – it was just a strange game that we got caught up in. Nothing at all has been achieved as a result of ‘dropping into the discontinuity’ therefore because ‘achieving’ and ‘not achieving’, ‘gaining’ or ‘losing’ only exists within the game, only exists within the polarity.


So the question is, ‘Are we really interested in being radically surprised in this way by a situation that we can never get a handle on, or are we – when we practice meditation – simply looking for ‘an improved position’ in life, so to speak? Are we merely looking for a better way to play the game, or are we happy to let go of the game entirely and see what happens then?’ The glitch that comes in here is that when we are operating on the basis of the polarity which is self/world, the polarity which is the thinking mind, then we’re always going to be looking for a way of improving our situation. That’s the only way we can look at things when we’re looking from the standpoint of the polarity – everything is always good or bad, better or worse, improvement or disimprovement. Everything is always about control, in other words. Or as we could also say, when we’re operating on the basis of the polarity of self/world then we’re always chasing life…


When it comes right down to it, we’re always trying to get a hold on life so that it can’t run away from us. We’re trying to pin it down but the thing about this is that when we do this we end up with a situation where life is always running away from us and we are always chasing it! We might – every now and again – that we have it but then at some point or rather we realize that it’s gone and what we have clutched in our tightly-closed hand is nothing at all and so then we have to start searching for it all over again – hunting for it, dreaming up schemes to catch it, investing in control and power, playing games, setting clever traps for it…


The most essential way in which we try to ‘catch life’ is by conceptualizing it, by ‘knowing’ what it is, but as soon as we ‘know’ what it is then, as we all know, it stops being interesting. The allure appears somewhere else, it appears in an adjacent pasture, but then when we get to that adjacent pasture and set up camp there the same thing happens all over again – we’ve ‘killed’ what we’re interested in by trying to secure. We’ve cleverly trapped the song-bird and put in a golden cage but now it has stopped singing! Our relationship with the world is aggressive, coercive, demanding and so what this means is that we just don’t have a relationship with it! Instead of a relationship we’re caught up in a self-perpetuating polarity – we keep chasing ‘the thing’ and it keeps on running away from us. The elusiveness of the principle of life is symbolized in alchemy by the motif of the ‘fugitive stag’ and what we’re really seeing here, when we look at the continual ‘fleeing’ of everything that is precious in life away from us, is our own sterile aggression reflected back at us.


Everyday life, which is always based on ‘trying’ or ‘striving’, is quintessentially frustrating therefore. We create a polarity such that the desirable or valuable aspect of life is outside of us and then we grasp at it. Polarity is always going to be like this – we are always in the place where we don’t want to be! From a naïve point of view it seems that skilful or cunning enough action on our part can bring about an end to this painful separation from the ‘good stuff’ that we see all around us on the inside but as we have said, this never actually works out for us! It never can work out for us because it is our trying that is causing reality to flee away from us – the more we try (i.e. the more aggressive we are) the more estranged and alienated from the world we become! And yet all we know is trying, all we know is aggression…


When we’re operating on the basis of a mind-created polarity then what’s actually happening is that we’ve played a trick on ourselves – we’ve divided everything into two when actually this isn’t the case. Reality isn’t ‘two’, it isn’t a polarity! Because we insist on perceiving the world in this way however (and just as long as we’re listening to the thinking mind there is no way that we can help from perceiving things this way) we’re always seeing the good stuff as being somewhere where we’re not. It’s always on the outside, as we have said. But the thing about this is that there isn’t ‘an outside’! How could there be ‘an outside’? However did we get to see life in this way? The ‘outside’ doesn’t exist – it’s a ridiculous abstract notion and yet we take this ridiculous abstract as seriously as we could ever take anything! There isn’t anything we take as seriously as this notion of there being an outside – we even see ourselves as living in this ‘outside’.


Both the outside world and the self that supposedly lives in this outside world are ‘the polarity’ – both equal ‘the ridiculous abstraction’. We might live out our lives there, we might pursue our dreams or goals there, but that doesn’t mean that it’s real! All of our achievements in this abstract realm are phantom achievements, just as all of our ‘failures’ here are phantom failures. The sense of concrete selfhood that we cherish so much and cling to so fearfully equals ‘the phantom striver’ – the one who perpetually strives after illusory gains and perpetually tries to run away from illusory set-backs… If we meditate on the basis of this phantom striver, therefore, all we’re doing is perpetuating the game, perpetuating the fever-dream, perpetuating the fantasy….



Art: Dream Striver, by Grace H. Gutekanst



Ideas Are Never True

Every single thing we believe to be true only gets to be true to us because of the way in which we secretly select the context of understanding that makes it seem true. We make such a big song and dance about ‘these things that we hold to be true’ – we couldn’t make a bigger song and dance than the song and dance we make about ‘these things that we hold to be true’! The history of the human race is full of the bloody dramas that have resulted from disputes over ‘what we hold true’, and yet – as we have just said – what we claim so portentously to be true only gets to seem true to us because of the way in which we have chosen a particular way of looking at the world without admitting to ourselves that we have done so. This is the irony that underlies all of the conflicts that makes up human life, both in the past and in the present day. It is also an irony that we are oblivious to…


This is a remarkable thing to consider – our view of ourselves and our history tends to be rather pompous and overblown but really human history comes down to nothing more than an endless series of squalid squabbles over ‘what gets to be accepted as true’ when actually all our so-called ‘glorious truths’ are nothing more than self-serving fictions. We have a strange relationship with the truth both on an individual and a collective level – we hoot and bray about how much we value it and yet at the same time we couldn’t actually care less about it! If any one of us were confronted and told that the things we most seriously hold to be true are no more than fictions that we have set ourselves up to believe in we would deny this in the most vigorous way that we possibly could. Because we put so much energy and dedication into saying something is true when it just plain isn’t it stands to reason that we are going to react particularly violently to anyone who comes along and asks us to be so good as to acknowledge the fact of our self-deception in this regard. There is no way we can be unbiased about our bias – it wouldn’t be a bias otherwise! Maintaining the bias is the name of the game – this is our ‘major obsession’, this is the ‘pet project’ that takes up pretty much the whole of our life. Saying that the thing which isn’t true actually is true is a full-time job because we can never afford to relax too much in case it all starts to come unravelled on us.


‘Maintaining the fiction’ isn’t just a thing we do at weekends therefore – it subsumes everything else and becomes our whole life. What’s more, we all get together to form collectives dedicated to saying that the fiction we uphold isn’t a fiction at all, that it’s totally for real. When we all get together to say this it seems like the greatest thing in the world to us – it seems noble and wonderful to us, it stirs our spirit and makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us want to wave a flag and cheer. And yet the bottom line is that what we so fervently hold to be true, isn’t true. We’re just conforming to the party lines – we’re just conforming to what everyone else is busy doing and at the same time we’re all telling each other that doing this is a great thing. It doesn’t matter how fervent we are, it doesn’t matter how many of us conform to upholding the narrative – none of this hoo-ha is going to make the slightest bit of difference, obviously. We simply don’t have the power to make what isn’t true be true, no matter how zealous we might be at the task. Just because fifty million people believe unquestioningly in a fiction that doesn’t make it any less fictitious!


What a tremendous thing it would be – we might say – if we put all of that effort, all of that dedication into something that wasn’t a lie. When we go against the truth then we don’t get anywhere, despite all the fine talk and elegant clothes, when we go with the truth however then there’s no limit to how far we can go. When we band together to go against the truth then there might be a fine spectacle that gets produced, there might be a great display of pomp and circumstance, but underneath all that show the misdirected energy is only ever going to turn into rivers of toxicity. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘lie’ we are claiming to be true is the ego, the organization we are a member of, or the nation or country we see ourselves as belonging to – toxicity is always going to be produced as a result. To paraphrase Philip K Dick, ‘we are in service to a wrong thing’ so toxicity or pain-displacement is inevitable; pain is produced and ‘passed on to someone else’. When we are unconscious we have to pass pain on since psychological unconsciousness may be defined as ‘that state in which we automatically displace pain’.


When we aren’t in service to a false master however, and we don’t turn all our energy against ourselves (like the scorpion which stings itself) then instead of toxicity and socially-sanctioned lies something happens – something which is necessarily mysterious and indescribable and yet at the same time the truest expression of what it means to be human. Our true nature – very clearly – is not to be as we are now. What we find so very hard to see is that it is perfectly possible to live, and yet not turn this living of ours into the fervent embracing of a socially-sanctioned lie! We can’t see this – of course – because the very last thing we are ever going to do is consider, even for a moment, that the things which we hold to be true are actually only fictions that we have ended up – for whatever reason – promoting and defending. Life – as we have said – has become synonymous with this business of ‘promoting and defending fictions’. The fact that this is a complete travesty of what life ‘ought’ to be never dawns on us. We never pause to consider this. What happens with us is that our ‘basic energy’ (if we may call it that) goes immediately astray – it goes astray because our fundamental way of being when we are in the unconscious mode is to defend our ‘idea of ourselves’ whilst remaining oblivious to who we actually are. The idea always comes first, in other words!


The effect of this orientation is to profoundly alter our way of interacting with the world, and with each other. The simplest way to explain this is to talk in terms of ‘sensitivity versus aggression’. When we are operating on the basis of our ideas then we are inevitably aggressive – everything then becomes about changing the world in accordance with our presuppositions about how it should be. Everything becomes about control, in other words. If you were to ask why there is such a pronounced tendency for us all to want to be in control, and to consider this a ‘good thing’, then this is the reason – it is because we are always operating on the basis of our ideas. Everything is always about making the world (and other people, of course) conform with our ideas for it (or for them). We create systems and then we put all our energy into trying to get everything to fit into these systems of ours, on the basis that when that happens then this will be a ‘good thing’. But everything is not just about trying to get the world and other people to conform to our ideas – it’s about trying to the world and other people to conform to our untrue ideas, our false ideas. It’s about trying to get everything to fit into a system (or construct) that isn’t actually real!


Ideas are always untrue. This is because they are ideas! Ideas (or thoughts) are necessarily unreal – they are only ‘provisional conjectures’, exercises in ‘what if…?’ Thoughts or ideas are ‘simplified descriptions of reality’ rather than being reality itself. We could also say that our ideas are metaphors, even though we very rarely understand them as being so. This is the ‘truth’ of ideas – that they are playfully made ‘versions’ of reality that aren’t really meant to be taken seriously. Having said this, we have to make the qualification that although thoughts aren’t ‘serious’, they very much do present themselves as being so! We could say that thoughts play at being literal descriptions in a very serious or deadpan fashion. The way our thoughts work is that they make ‘playful statements about reality’ that don’t in anyway declare themselves to be playful – their nature is akin to that of a person who is telling a joke whilst keeping a very straight face the whole time. Their deadpan expression doesn’t mean that they aren’t joking, it just means that they are pretending that they aren’t joking for the sake of the joke. Pretending that you aren’t joking is an essential part of the joke, in this case. The bottom line is that thoughts simply don’t have the flexibility to be ironic. Thoughts don’t have the flexibility within them to be ironic because – as Robert Anton Wilson says – they are based on Aristotelian logic and Aristotelian logic can either say YES or it can say NO and that’s about the size of it. Very clearly, there’s not a lot of humour or playfulness in this! Actually there’s no humour or irony in it at all. There’s zero humour in it and there’s also zero reality.There’s simply no category or facility for irony (which is to say ‘YES-that-doesn’t-really-mean-YES’) in logic and this is just the way logic is. That’s logic’s ‘necessary deficiency’. This doesn’t mean that the universe itself is lacking in irony or humour, though! The deficiency lies with us, not the universe. The joke’s on us, though we can’t see it…


When we operate on the basis of our literally-understood thoughts then we are fundamentally unreceptive to any new information – this is of course going to be the case because ‘new information’ is precisely that information which will contradict what we already understand to be true. That’s what ‘information’ is – it’s something that we don’t already know! ‘Aggression’ means therefore that we are both fighting against anything new, and struggling to consolidate what we already know (or rather think we know). When we are living life on the basis of ‘our idea of who we are’ then, as we have already said, this means that our actual raison d’être is to be perennially fighting against new information, even though we will never admit this. The ongoing struggle to humourlessly and aggressively assert our ‘truths’ – which aren’t actually true at all – has become synonymous with life itself. The antithesis of aggression is(as we have said)sensitivity and sensitivity – needless to say – is where we are very much open to new information, very much open to new ways of looking at the world. Sensitivity – we might say – is where we understand all of our constructs as being essentially playful and once we understand our constructs in this way we can use them to honestly investigate reality instead of dishonestly shutting it down.


What bigger difference could there be than this, therefore? What bigger difference could there be than the difference between open to the truth, interested in the truth, and fighting tooth-and-nail against the truth whilst at the same time claiming dishonestly to be championing it?  Or as we could also say, what bigger difference could there be than the one that exists between of being ‘a lover of the truth’ (i.e. literally – ‘a philo-sopher’) and a ‘fearer of the truth’? When we are in ‘control mode’ we are forever chasing this fantasy outcome, this mirage that everything is going to work out for us just so long as we control successfully. We ‘know best’ so all we have to do is stick to our guns – all we have to do is to push ahead to make it happen regardless of what obstacles might lie in our path. The stubborn conviction that ‘we know best’ is of course nothing more than a ridiculous illusion – we’re simply charging blindly ahead because we’re afraid to open our eyes and see what’s actually going on. We actually know nothing at all but we’re far too scared to ever admit it…


When we’re being sensitive, or ‘exploratory wrt reality’, then we know that we don’t know best. We’re open to new ways of being, new ways of looking at the world. We’re not meeting life with a hard, unyielding surface – which means of course that we’re not meeting life at all. We’re not playing – we’re shut down! When we’re in ‘aggression mode’ then we’re having nothing to do with life. We only relating on our own terms, which means that we’re not relating. We’re making the experiment of ‘not being part of life’, but only ‘part of what we think life should be’. What we think life should be isn’t life, however; it’s just a fantasy, it’s just an extension or projection of our frozen mind-state. There is no happy outcome to this fantasy however, no matter how far we push it, no matter how good at controlling we are. Saying that ‘there is no happy outcome’ tends to sound pessimistic to us. It actually sounds worse than pessimistic; it sounds heretical – we aren’t going to take that on for a moment. The other way of looking at this however is to say that discovering that ‘the experiment of not being part life’ is never going to work out for us is actually the best news ever! What could be better than this?


Through this failure of our project (the project of making what is untrue be true, the project of making our fantasies be real) we find ourselves in the situation of being able – finally – to discover that there is infinitely more to life than we ever thought there was! What a happy discovery this is! Who wants to be proved right, after all? The impulse to ‘want to be proved right’ is the most terribly perverse impulse we could ever entertain – how is this ever going to be a ‘good thing’? What are we going to do when we have proved ourselves to be right? When we have authoritatively and indisputably ‘validated our own lie’ then just where do we go from this? Just what do we think is going to happen next…?





The Branch That Denies The Tree

‘Arrogance and anxiety are co-arising with the conditioned self’, says Tilopa. Which would we prefer?  Is one any better than the other? Clearly not – if arrogance is ‘setting ourselves up for a fall’ then anxiety is ‘the fall’! Is setting oneself up for a fall any better than the fall itself? Hardly! The only reason we might think that it is would be if we fail to see what exactly it is that we are doing, which actually happens to be the case…


What we don’t understand is the nature of this arrogance – the ‘arrogance’ that Tilopa is talking about implies rather a bit more than we usually understand by this word. We could perhaps explain this use of the word ‘arrogance’ by saying that it is when we are ignorant of our source. We’re like a twig that denies the reality of the branch it stems from, or a branch that imagines itself to be the whole tree.


Even to say this – even to say that we are ignorant of our source – sounds obscure to us. ‘Source’ – what ‘source’, we ask? We see ourselves as being self-contained units, not extrusions of some higher reality. We have no conception of ‘a higher reality’ – necessarily so since if we can conceive of it then it is of the same order of reality that we already know about. We don’t admit that there is a higher order of reality than the one we can conceptualize (or rationalize) and this is precisely this that is causing us all our problems!


Our basic understanding of ourselves is as ‘the rational agent’, so to speak. ‘The rational agent’ is the one who decides, the one who chooses in accordance with his or her rational picture of the world. The choices we make are therefore extensions of our logical understanding of the world – it’s all the one thing. So we see ourselves as ‘the one who makes the decisions’, ‘the one who is in control’. I am ‘the unequivocal author of my own actions’ – ‘the source of my own doings’. This perception of ours isn’t as obviously true as it might seem to us however; the understanding that we have of ourselves as ‘a self-contained unit or rational agent’ is itself only any artifact of the rational mind, the mind that (necessarily) operates by putting everything in tightly sealed categories. It’s not a universal truth, just a conditioned picture of reality.


It’s not too hard to see through the illusion that we are self-contained units. Whenever we are being creative we can easily sense that we are not the source, but only the channel! It is very clear in the case that I am not ‘the one who creates’ – the flow of creativity comes from beyond me, it comes from a place that I cannot see or lay claim to. There wouldn’t be any ‘flow’ otherwise – it has to come from outside of me. What flow could there be when it is my necessarily circumscribed ‘idea of myself’ (or ‘category of myself’) that is the (so-called) source? What we would be talking about in this case isn’t flow – it is on the contrary just pure naked aggression! Anything that isn’t creativity is aggression.


‘Arrogance’ and ‘aggression’ are therefore two perfectly interchangeable terms. There is a joy in creation that can’t be found in aggression, no matter how (apparently) successful that aggression might be. Even when we completely get our own way there’s no real joy in it – we might think that there is but there isn’t. We might think getting our own way makes us happy but it doesn’t. Actually, ‘completely getting our own way’ is a form of suffering – it is nothing else but loneliness and alienation in disguise! No one really wants to get their own way, we only imagine that we do. To completely ‘get one’s own way’ is to lose all contact with reality; it is to be sealed off in a sterile, separate universe of self and this is a ‘stuck’ rather than a ‘joyful’ situation…


There is no joy in controlling but there is something else, some ‘substitute’ for joy, when we are acting as if we ourselves are the source, the true author of what is coming out of us. Instead of joy we experience what we might call ‘personal gratification’ – the sense of self that we are clinging gets to be validated and this validation (of the false idea of ourselves is very sweet to us! It tastes sweet but ultimately it turns out to be very bitter indeed, but we don’t know that at the time. Vindication for the false (or ‘shallow’) idea of ourself tastes sweet but there is a grim penalty to be paid later on because we have been seduced into being untrue to who we really are. The validation – as overwhelmingly attractive as it appears at the time – is leading us astray…


This is not to say that ‘arrogance’ (in the sense that we are using the word) is in any way some kind of moral failing, or ‘sin’ that we are committing – we have simply become disconnected and as a result of this disconnection we have ended up feeling that ‘it’s all up to us’ and that whatever our situation might be, it is our responsibility to do something about it. We end up feeling that we have to do something about it! We start buying into terminology such as ‘fixing’ or ‘coping’ or ‘problem-solving’ because it sounds empowering, but really we’re just alienating ourselves even more. These are all ‘arrogant’ ways of speaking, ‘arrogant’ ways of looking at the world and so we are just making our situation more difficult for ourselves. We’re making the situation more difficult for ourselves because we’ve put ourselves in the impossible position of thinking that all the answers have to come from us.


When we feel that we have successfully ‘fixed’ or ‘coped with’ or ‘solved’ the difficult situation that were in then this is gratifying for us – the rational (or ‘closed’) idea that we have about ourselves gets validated because we feel that we have ‘won out’ against all the odds. This is the good feeling of ‘being a successful controller’, the good feeling of ‘being a winner rather than a loser’. This is the best feeling our culture knows of – to be ‘a winner’ is the ultimate accolade as far as we are concerned! Really however – as we have just said – all that’s happening here is that we are setting ourselves up for a fall. We have been suckered by the sweet feeling of having our idea of ourself validated into going down a road that leads only to more and more suffering. We’ve actually committed ourselves to this road so that when things get rough we have no other option other than to invest even more in controlling, even though it is this reliance on controlling that is the root cause of our problems. This is the via erratum that Jung speaks of – the ‘way of error’.


As a result of going down this road we see no other way other than ‘the way of controlling’ and so if we can’t control the situation well enough then very great trouble is going to be in store for us. ‘Not being able to be a successful controller’ equals ‘very great trouble’ and this is anxiety in a nutshell! Everything hangs on how good I am at controlling – I can either ‘do well’ and my sense of self gets validated, or I can ‘do badly’ and my sense of myself gets painfully devalidated.  Naturally enough, we don’t complain just as long as things continue to go well for us. No one complains about success! Just as long as things continue to go my way I am receiving pleasurable validation for my illusion of myself as ‘the competent controller’ but sooner or later this honey-coated illusion is going to let me down – sooner or later this cherished illusion of mine is going to backfire on me very nastily and then I am going to start complaining…


Being the controller upon whose actions everything depends is a very isolated place to be in when things start to go wrong and our attempts to control are no longer working for us. This is a very profound form of suffering so we are very likely to be complaining about it! Anxiety is the inevitable result of believing that we are this ‘reified self’, this self which is by its very nature fundamentally disconnected from the rest of the universe, so that we feel that we feel that we have to be always fighting against the world (or ‘getting the better of it) in order to maintain our integrity. As we have already said, we get seduced into this unenviable position by the euphoria that comes with being ‘a successful controller’ – we really do think that we have this power to assert our will upon the world and so when we discover that this so-called power was only an illusion (because the self which wielded it is an illusion) the distress and fear that come with this discovery is so much the greater. The more we enjoyed ‘being in control’ when things seemed to be going well the more cruelly we suffer from the inevitable reversal. The ‘reversal’ of which we speak is inevitable simply because we have linked our well-being with a fictional thing – the brittle idea of who we are which has been created for us by the thinking mind. Things can never work out for us in the way that we blindly hope because we’ve ‘put our money on the wrong horse’.


It’s not just that we don’t know how reverse the process of identification with the reified (or ‘conditioned’) self but rather that we have no way of seeing that this isn’t who we are. The suggestion that we aren’t the conditioned self simply doesn’t make any sense to us – it makes zero sense to us. We don’t know what it means to say that we have become ‘disconnected from our source’ – we have ended up forgetting about our source, just as the twig forgot about the branch or the branch forgot about the tree. We have forgotten about our source and as a result we’ve become confused into thinking that we actually ‘are our own source’. This is what the ancient Greeks knew as hubris (or hybris).


‘Anxiety’ and ‘believing that we are this separate reified self’ (the self which sees itself as being but one ‘thing’ in a world made up of infinitely many other ‘things’) are forever inseparable. The reified self is ‘an anxiety-producing illusion’ and so as long as we are operating on the basis of believing that ‘this is who we are’ then anxiety is going to be our constant bed-fellow. We’ve been suckered into this situation by the nice feeling that arises as a result of our (imagined) successful controlling but once we’re caught on the hook then it all turns against us and the euphoria reverses into dysphoria. We then experience the ‘nasty’ side of the illusion. We have lost our freedom to ‘be otherwise’ at this stage – we’re locked into the game we started playing and now the game has become real. We’re stuck with the limited reified self, which sees the world world in terms of itself! We’re locked into the pointless merry-go-round of this self’s life. Our freedom ‘not to play the game’ has become invisible to us, inaccessible to us and as a result we have to take the illusion-based highs along with the equally ‘illusion-based’ lows, the euphoria along with the dysphoria. That’s all the conditioned self is at the end of the day – it’s a ceaseless cycle of pleasure and pain, hope and despair, both of which belong to a self that we aren’t!