What disturbs our peace the whole time is the I-Concept. This isn’t our usual way of seeing things of course – we never think of the I-Concept as being the culprit. On the contrary, we always see things its way and the I-Concept – when it is functioning in its default way – never blames itself for anything. On the contrary, it takes itself for granted, and this automatically means that the fault will be found elsewhere. There is variant on this displacement business and that is when the I-Concept loses its ‘robustness’ and starts blaming itself instead – it starts ‘internalizing the blame’, in other words. This disturbs our peace of mind as well of course and so it’s still the I-Concept that causing the disturbance – either way, it is the very narrow idea that we have of who we are that is the root cause of the agitation.
No matter which way it is working, the I-Concept is incapable of seeing any point of view other than its own. This is its ‘fundamental limitation’, we might say. If it could see things another way, it would no longer be the I-Concept. If it could examine itself (which is of course not the same as blaming itself) it would no longer be the I-Concept. For this reason therefore, its slightest whim immediately becomes law. Self-righteous indignation, resentment, blame and anger automatically follows if this ‘law’ is not respected (which is to say, if things go against us).
Because we can’t question whatever it is that the self-construct wants then naturally the ‘fault’ always seems to lie elsewhere. The universe is refusing to play ball with us and that – from our POV – is quite unacceptable. If we could ‘switch perspectives’, even for just a moment, would see that this attitude of ours is quite preposterous, but the I-Concept can’t look at things any other way, and that’s the whole point. If I am not the way I think I ought to be then it is the same inflexibility that is coming into play here – if I am being self-blaming instead of ‘other blaming’ then it is this very same rigidity that lies behind my ‘toxic or violent attitude’.
The I-Concept represents an ‘unfree way of seeing the world’ therefore – the concrete self can never turn around and laugh at itself for being so ridiculous and this imbues it with a clown-like quality, as Wei Wu Wei says. It’s as if it is always suspecting itself to be the butt of every joke going, both real and imagined, and this makes it inherently touchy, inherently defensive. This makes it inherently aggressive because we’ve always got to be ready to throw the shit right back any time it lands on us. We’ve got to be very quick to ‘deflect the blame’. We’ve got be fast on the draw with some kind of snappy comeback! ‘I’m not the idiot, you’re the idiot’, I say…
This outwardly directed aggression is one way in which the peace gets to be disturbed therefore; put a bunch of I-Concepts together and they will squabble like hell because each one of them wants to blame all the others for anything and everything that goes wrong! Each one of them is determined to shift the blame, without actually focusing on the fact that this is what it is doing. Mutual understanding is an impossibility. Naturally mutual understanding is an impossibility since – when we are identified with the I-Concept – we can’t understand ourselves. We can’t understand ourselves and so how can we hope to understand someone else? Instead of ‘understanding ourselves’ what we do instead is to make up convenient stories and then believe them. We spin narratives, in other words, and then we orientate ourselves to these narratives as if they were constitute the fundamental baseline of ‘what reality is’.
With regard to those around us, we can’t (when we are in the identified state) have any genuine mutual understanding and so what we do instead is to agree to follow a particular shared narrative. This way we are all coming from a common basis, a common point of view, and so this feels like ‘togetherness’. It isn’t really togetherness (or ‘connectedness’) however because it’s on a false basis. I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not (without acknowledging that I’m doing this) and the same is true for you. How then can there be any connectedness? When we relate to others in the world on the basis of the mind-created narrative that is always going to be the case; it’s always going to be the case for the simple reason that narratives are never true. There is no narrative that can define (or explain) who or what we are, either historically or in the present moment. The I-concept and the ‘personal narrative’ are the same thing – without the mind-created narrative there could be no concrete sense of self. The self is the product of the narrative.
So we could say that what ‘disturbs our peace’ (and goes on and on disturbing our peace) is the narrative or story that we have of ourselves and this would also be true. Or we could say what fragments our peace is our thinking, the very nature of thought being that it fragments reality, as David Bohm says. We can therefore talk equivalently about the I-Concept, the personal narrative, and thought itself. We usually (almost always) take it that we are the I-Concept, that the personal narrative is my story, and that thought is my tool to do with as I please, but actually this is the reverse of what’s going on – I’m not the I-Concept, the personal narrative is not the true story of what’s going on, and I am the tool of thought rather than vice versa! The I-Concept is an extension of thought, a construct of thought, so just as long as I am identified with the I-Concept then I am ‘the tool of thought’ – it can’t be otherwise.
Identification means rigidity, as we have said, and rigidity means that there can never be any peace, or any true ‘ease’. Rigidity means ongoing agitation, ongoing strife. We are glued to a limited (and therefore brittle) viewpoint and we are condemned, on this account, to make our way through life on this dreadfully awkward basis. The only freedom we seem to have is the freedom to get things to be the way we want to be – if we can correctly exercise this freedom then – we imagine – we will feel blessed relief from the lack of ease that is driving us. The ‘lack of ease’ and the brittleness of our position are the same thing – if we weren’t so brittle then we wouldn’t be so agitated; the ‘brittleness’ (or lack of ease) is what drives our controlling, in other words.
We will never find relief from our uncomfortable or tormenting brittleness however – the ‘answer’ to our brittleness isn’t to learn to control more effectively, as we think, because when we do this with simply importing this brittleness (which is the self-construct) into every new situation. We are perpetuating the need to go on controlling. The ‘answer’ is much more simple than this – the problem is my brittle idea of myself, not the world’s obstinate refusal to play ball with this idea. Our freedom doesn’t lie in control therefore (control being the way the I-Concept has of extending itself), our freedom lies in not having to control. When I don’t have to control then I am free – when I realise that I don’t have to control then I am free from the I-Concept, free from the personal narrative, and free from thought all in the one go…
So far, it could be said, we doing little more than going around in circles by saying the same thing in various different ways. This understanding can’t be rushed however; it can’t be rushed because it goes so very much against the grain of our ordinary thinking. Once we have a clear understanding of what identification is then we have the possibility of working meaning meaningfully with it – we can’t see identification, but we can see its consequences. The brittleness itself is invisible to us – it’s invisible to us because we mistake it for our own will, our own volition. We don’t experience the brittleness as brittleness (i.e. I don’t feel the pain where it belongs) but rather we perceive it as ‘things not being right on the outside world’. We deflect the pain outwards, in other words so that our inherent rigidity or brittleness is transformed into ‘an external problem that needs to be fixed’.
The very first place for consciousness to come in is therefore exactly here, in the upsets and irritations we experience on an ongoing basis. Every single thing that comes along and niggles or annoys us can be seen in two mutually exclusive ways – either I identify with the reaction in question and perceive it as being the ‘my righteous or rightful response to something that isn’t right’ or I perceive the reactivity to be a function of the rigidity or inflexibility of the I-Concept. When I fall into the trap of identifying with the mechanical reaction then the I-Concept (as it actually is) becomes 100% invisible to me and when I don’t fall into this trap then it straightaway becomes visible for what it is, which is to say – it becomes visible as ‘a mere thing’, ‘a mere mechanism’.
This is a very fascinating thing therefore – the fascinating thing is that when we are living life on the basis of the I-Concept then we have turned ourselves into a thing! We are ‘a thing’ but we can’t see ourselves to be ‘a thing’; we are ‘a thing’ but we perceive everyone out everything else (even other human beings, sometimes) as been things, not us. We’ve got it the wrong way around in other words – we have thingified the world around us when actually it is us that is the thing the whole time! We’re projecting our ‘thingness’ on everything else and making ourselves blind to it in ourselves, and this allows us to become violent in the way that we are. Ultimately, this is what allows us to become psychopaths or narcissists! This is what the state of identification is all about – becoming some ‘rigid reactive thing’ and being doomed to be continuously validating our stubborn rigidity and reactivity so that we never have to actually look at it in ourselves. We inflict it on everyone else instead.
Another way of putting this is to say that when we are living on the basis of the I-Concept then we are ‘clownish without knowing that we are’, as we said earlier. We are foolish, but we don’t know it. We are foolish, but all the same we are liable to go around thinking that we’re the ‘bees knees’; either that or we go around being down on ourselves and feeling that we are unworthy or weak or actually bad. Both of these perceptions – the euphoric and the dysphoric – are equally deluded however. Being great is a delusion just as being crappy is. The truth of the matter is that the I-Concept can never be either good or bad – it’s just ‘a mechanical thing’ and so what is helpful is for us to do it the respect of seeing it for what it is instead of oscillating up and down the whole time with regard to our conditioned self-regard. The ego wants to redeem itself (we might say) by being ‘good’ but it is never anything other than the mechanical ego, which is neither good nor bad but just a mechanism.
Seeing that the I-Concept is the I-Concept isn’t an inherently painful or disturbing thing unless we happen to be identified with it, which of course we are! The pain of seeing the truth about ourselves (or rather, the truth of who we think we are) means that we are always looking in the opposite direction from this truth, which is why we are always deflecting. The truth isn’t recognised as the truth but rather as an insult that we will either protest strongly against or internalise and ‘take to heart’, depending on our inclination. The very fact that there is pain there means that we can use it to draw attention to what is going on, however. In this case the painful sting that I am feeling – be it slight or more than slight – can act as a prompt to enable me to see where the pain is rather than allowing my attention to be deflected safely somewhere else.
When we are not paying attention – which is the usual way – then we automatically resent the pain that we’re feeling and so all our energy goes into reacting. We don’t particularly notice the reacting when we do this but what the reacting is against – we put all up all our attention on what the mind-created narrative says is happening and this reinforces that narrative, increasing its hold over us. The reacting is like a pointing finger and we so obediently look at where the finger is pointing. We find someone (or some situation) to blame for our pain. The I-Concept is thus validated and reinforced by the action of blaming or judging. Turning this around and blaming or judging the self-construct doesn’t help us however because this also solidifies the idea that we have of ourselves – we’re every bit as trapped if we blame ourselves as when we blame someone or something else. ‘Blaming’ means in essence that ‘you should be different to the way you are but you aren’t’ – this is utterly ludicrous however because the I-Concept can never be anything other than what it is! How could it – it is simply a reflex or mechanism that can never be anything different from what it is. Why do we even want it to be ‘other then what it is’, seeing as how it isn’t who we are anyway?